Researchers who have highlighted six lifestyle choices that can protect against memory decline have said ‘the more the better’ when it comes to effectiveness.

A healthy diet, exercise and socialising are just some of the ways that people over the age of 60 can help to protect their memory, according to Beijing researchers who say that combining more of these lifestyle choices is linked to a slower decline in memory.

Researchers examined data from 29,000 adults aged over 60 with normal cognitive function over a 10-year period.

They found that eating healthily was the lifestyle choice which had the biggest effect on slowing memory decline. Cognitive activity was the second most effective, followed by physical exercise.

The team, from the National Center for Neurological Disorders in Beijing, said: “A combination of positive healthy behaviours is associated with a slower rate of memory decline in cognitively normal older adults”, adding that combining healthy practices “was associated with a lower probability of progression to mild cognitive impairment and dementia”.

Memory declines as people get older, which can increase a person’s risk of dementia.

At the start of the study, tests were used to measure participants’ memory function. They were also checked for the APOE gene, which is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and were then monitored with periodic assessments.

The six lifestyle choices researchers analysed were:

  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercise (exercising for more than 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity or more than 75 at vigorous intensity)
  • Active social contact
  • Cognitive activity (writing, reading, playing cards or other games)
  • Non-smoking
  • Not drinking alcohol.

Participants who adopted four to six of the healthy lifestyle choices were 90% less likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment, while those who combined two to three of the healthy behaviours were almost 30% respectively less likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment.

Dr Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This is a well-conducted study, which followed people over a long period of time, and adds to the substantial evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help to support memory and thinking skills as we age.

“Too few of us know that there are steps we can all take to reduce our chances of dementia in later life.”

Read the study in The BMJ.

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