Memory declines over the years as we age. For some it can be mild (being forgetful), but very severe for some others. The good news is that there are things we can all do to prevent, slow, or even reverse (!!) the memory decline. Studies suggest the key is adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
A large study found that there are six healthy lifestyle habits that were linked to a slower decline in cognitive decline (memory) in older adults followed for a decade. The more healthy habits, the slower the memory decline. The average age of participants was 72 years when the study started.
The six healthy lifestyle habits are a healthy diet, cognitive activity (use your brain!), regular physical exercise, not smoking, and and not drinking alcohol. Having a healthy diet (e.g., Mediterranean style diet) was the most important thing one can do, followed by cognitive activity (e.g., reading, writing, playing cards) and physical exercise or activity.
Excerpts from Medscape: Six Healthy Lifestyle Habits Linked to Slowed Memory Decline
Adhering to six healthy lifestyle behaviors is linked to slower memory decline in older adults, a large, population-based study suggests.
Investigators found that a healthy diet, cognitive activity, regular physical exercise, not smoking, and abstaining from alcohol were significantly linked to slowed cognitive decline irrespective of APOE4 status.
After adjusting for health and socioeconomic factors, investigators found that each individual healthy behavior was associated with a slower-than-average decline in memory over a decade. A healthy diet emerged as the strongest deterrent, followed by cognitive activity and physical exercise.
Memory "continuously declines as people age," but age-related memory decline is not necessarily a prodrome of dementia and can "merely be senescent forgetfulness," the investigators note. This can be "reversed or [can] become stable," instead of progressing to a pathologic state.
Factors affecting memory include aging, APOE4 genotype, chronic diseases, and lifestyle patterns, with lifestyle "receiving increasing attention as a modifiable behavior."
To investigate, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study, known as the China Cognition and Aging Study, that considered genetic risk as well as lifestyle factors. The study began in 2009 and concluded in 2019. Participants were evaluated and underwent neuropsychological testing in 2012, 2014, 2016, and at the study's conclusion.
"Lifestyle" consisted of six modifiable factors:
- Physical exercise (weekly frequency and total time)
- Smoking (current, former, or never-smokers)
- Alcohol consumption (never drank, drank occasionally, low to excess drinking, and heavy drinking)
- Diet (daily intake of 12 food items: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts, tea)
- Cognitive activity (writing, reading, playing cards, mahjong, other games)
- Social contact (participating in meetings, attending parties, visiting friends/relatives, traveling, chatting online)
Healthy diet had the strongest protective effect on memory. Those with favorable or average lifestyle were respectively almost 90% and 30% less likely to develop dementia or MCI [mild cognitive impairment], compared to those with an unfavorable lifestyle.