Healthy lifestyle may slower memory decline in older people

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Memory continuously declines as people age, but evidence from existing studies is insufficient to assess the effect of a healthy lifestyle on memory in later life.

And given the many possible causes of memory decline, a combination of healthy behaviors might be needed for an optimal effect.

In a study from Capital Medical University and elsewhere, scientists found a healthy lifestyle, in particular a healthy diet, is associated with slower memory decline in older people.

They found even for carriers of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene—the strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias—a healthy lifestyle could slow memory loss.

In the study, the team analyzed data from 29,000 adults aged at least 60 years (average age 72; 49% women) with normal cognitive function who were part of the China Cognition and Aging Study.

A healthy lifestyle score combines six factors: healthy diet, regular exercise, active social contact (eg. seeing friends and family), cognitive activity (eg. writing, reading, playing mahjong), non-smoking, and never drinking alcohol.

Based on their score, ranging from 0 to 6, participants were put into favorable (4 to 6 healthy factors), average (2 to 3 healthy factors), or unfavorable (0 to 1 healthy factors) lifestyle groups and into APOE carrier and non-carrier groups.

The team found that each individual healthy behavior was linked to a slower-than-average decline in memory over 10 years.

A healthy diet had the strongest effect on slowing memory decline, followed by cognitive activity and then physical exercise.

Compared with the group that had unfavorable lifestyles, memory decline in the favorable and average lifestyle groups was slower over 10 years.

The team also found with the APOE gene with favorable and average lifestyles also experienced a slower rate of memory decline than those with an unfavorable lifestyle.

What’s more, those with favorable or average lifestyles were almost 90% and almost 30% less likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment relative to those with an unfavorable lifestyle, and the APOE group had similar results.

The team says their results provide strong evidence that adherence to a healthy lifestyle with a combination of positive behaviors is linked to a slower rate of memory decline, even for people who are genetically susceptible to memory decline.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and a new way to treat memory loss linked to Alzheimer’s.

The study was conducted by Jianping Jia et al and published in The BMJ.

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