A study published in the BMJ has identified “six healthy lifestyle factors” proven to lower the risks of memory decline and dementia in older people. More than 29,000 participants above the age of 60 took part in the research, which was held in China from 2009 to 2019. The study found that even if people who carry the APOE4 gene adhered to the six lifestyle changes can still enjoy reduced dementia and memory loss.
The six lifestyle factors upon which the researchers based their findings are physical exercise, diet, alcohol, smoking, brain exercise, and social relationship.
The study found that people who engage in up to 150 hours of fitness exercise per week; eat a balanced diet comprising fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and cereals; drink occasionally or abstain from alcohol; quit smoking; exercise the brain by solving mathematics, playing games, and reading; and relate with friends and community members raise their chances for improved cognitive health.
The researchers found that people who are able to observe 4-6 of the factors fare better with lower memory decline as they age, and people who combine 2-3 of the factors fare next; but people who do not observe any of the factors or do only one of them suffer faster and lasting mental loss over time as they get older. The authors of the study said the more factors people can combine, the better it is for their overall health and mental wellbeing.
“These results provide an optimistic outlook, as they suggest that although genetic risk is not modifiable, a combination of more healthy lifestyle factors are associated with a slower rate of memory decline, regardless of the genetic risk,” the authors wrote.
The study came with a few limitations. These include the fact that some of the respondents may have provided inaccurate self-reports, lived healthier lives before enrolling in the study program, and that the results differ significantly from similar studies conducted in the United States and Europe. However, it tallies with other studies in that it agrees there is an association between people’s lifestyle and their cognitive functions as they age, and that brain health can be modified.
“The overall message from the study is a positive one,” said Snorri B. Rafnsson, associate professor of aging and dementia at the University of West London. “Namely, that cognitive function, and especially memory function, in later life maybe positively influenced by regularly and frequently engaging in different health related activities.”