A new she studies with more than 29 thousand people with 60 years or older identified six habits — from eating a variety of foods to regular reading or playing cards — that are associated with a lower risk of folly and a slower rate of memory decline.
Eat a balanced diet, exercise your mind and body regularly, have regular contact with other people, and don’t drink or smoke – six “healthy lifestyle factors” – were associated with better cognitive outcomes in the elderly in a large Chinese study conducted over a decade and published in the scientific journal BMJ last Wednesday 25.
While researchers already know there is a link between dementia and factors such as social isolation and obesity, the size and scope of the new study adds substantial evidence to a global body of research suggesting that a healthy lifestyle can help the brain age better.
It also suggests that the effects of a healthy lifestyle are also beneficial for people who are genetically more susceptible to memory decline – a “very promising” finding for the millions of individuals worldwide who carry the gene. APOEε4an important risk factor for the Alzheimerssaid Eef Hogervorst, chair of biological psychology at Loughborough University, who was not involved in the study.
Memory naturally declines gradually as people get older. Some older people can develop dementia, an umbrella term that can include Alzheimer’s disease and generally describes a deterioration in cognitive function that goes beyond the normal effects of aging. But for many, “memory loss may just be senescent forgetfulness,” write the authors of the BMJ study — like forgetting the name of that TV show you loved or that pesky fact you wanted to look up.
Memory loss is no less harmful because it is gradual, and age-related memory decline can in some cases be an early symptom of dementia. But the good news, say the researchers, is that “it can be reversed or become stable rather than progressing to a disease state.”
The study was conducted in China between 2009 and 2019, testing more than 29,000 people aged 60 and over. The researchers tracked their progress or decline over time, what’s known as a population-based cohort study. Although more than 10,500 participants dropped out of the study over the next decade—some participants died or stopped participating—the researchers still used data collected from these individuals in their analyses.
At the start of the study, the researchers performed memory tests and tests for the APOE gene. They also interviewed participants about their daily habits. Based on the responses, they were classified into one of three groups – favorable, medium and unfavorable – according to their lifestyles.
The six modifiable lifestyle factors the researchers focused on included:
- Exercise: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
- Diet: Eat adequate daily amounts of at least seven of the 12 foods (fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts and tea).
- Alcohol: never drank or drank occasionally.
- Smoking: never smoked or a former smoker.
- Cognitive activity: Exercise your brain at least twice a week (by reading and playing cards or mah-jongg, for example).
- Social Contact: Engage with others at least twice a week (attend community gatherings or visit friends or relatives, for example).
Over the course of the study, the researchers found that people in the favorable group (who had four to six healthy factors) and the medium group (two to three) had a slower rate of memory decline over time than people with no healthy factors. lifestyles with unfavorable habits. (from zero to a healthy one).
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People who lived supportive lifestyles that included at least four healthy habits were also less likely to progress to mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
The results show that “the more of these behaviors the better,” says Hogervorst — in other words, the more healthy lifestyle factors you can combine, the better your chance of preserving your memory and avoiding dementia.
Surprisingly, this is also true for people who carry the APOE gene associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
“These results provide an optimistic perspective, suggesting that although genetic risk is immutable, a combination of healthier lifestyle factors is associated with a slower rate of memory decline, independent of genetic risk,” the authors wrote. research authors.
The study is notable for its size and follow-up over time and for being conducted in China, while “the majority of publications are based in high-income Western countries,” said Carol Brayne, professor of public health medicine. at the University of Cambridge. she researching elderly people and dementia, she said in an email.
However, the study authors acknowledge several limitations, including that people’s reports of health behaviors may not be entirely accurate, and that people who participated in the study were more likely to lead healthy lives to begin with.
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Some of the study’s findings differ from the results of other large studies conducted in the United States and Europe, Hogervorst says. For example, the Chinese study found that the lifestyle factor with the greatest effect on reducing memory decline was a balanced diet. Other studies have suggested that diet is less important in old age than mental and physical exercise, says Hogervorst.
However, their findings are in line with the broad scientific consensus that there is a link between the way we live and our cognitive function as we age, and perhaps more importantly, they suggest that it is never too late to improve health. of the brain.
“The overall message of the study is positive,” said Snorri B. Rafnsson, associate professor of aging and dementia at University of West London, in an email. “Namely, this cognitive function, and especially memory function, in adult life can be positively influenced by regular and frequent engagement in various health-related activities.”
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