A study has linked a healthy lifestyle to slower memory decline in older adults. Researchers followed 29,072 older adults (60 and older) for 10 years to study the link between lifestyle choices and memory loss. They found a link between a healthy lifestyle and slower memory decline, even in the presence of the APOE Ɛ4 gene, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers hope their findings will inform public health initiatives aimed at preventing memory loss in older adults. The gradual loss of reasoning skills such as memory, reasoning, and psychomotor speed is a natural part of aging. However, cognitive decline can be prevented by improving lifestyle.

The impact of lifestyle factors on memory has been widely studied. However, past research has typically focused on a single lifestyle factor, such as diet, physical activity, smoking, or alcohol consumption. It is important to understand the combined effect of multiple lifestyle factors on memory decline.

That’s why researchers at Beijing Medical University (China) investigated the combined effects of six lifestyle factors on memory decline in a large study population over a 10-year period. the researchers believe that effective strategies to protect against memory decline could benefit large numbers of older people. Our results showed that adherence to a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors was associated with slower memory decline in older adults, including those who are genetically susceptible to memory decline.
The results of the study are published in the BMJ.

A large study with a decade of follow-ups

The researchers recruited 29,072 study participants from northern, southern and western China who were 60 years of age or older and exhibited typical cognitive functions. Their average age was 72.2 years, and 51.5% were male. Genetic testing at baseline showed that 20.43% of study participants carried the APOE ε4 gene, the strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The researchers followed the participants at regular intervals over the following ten years, in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2019. At baseline and at each follow-up, the researchers assessed participants’ memory using the Verbal Learning Test (AVLT), which includes measures of immediate recall, recall without short delay (3 minutes later), recall without long delay (30 minutes later), and recognition without long delay.

Six factors of a healthy lifestyle

For this study, the researchers used the results of previous studies to define a healthy lifestyle. They identified six factors:

a healthy diet: compliance with the recommended intakes of at least 7 of the 12 eligible foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts and tea)

regular physical exercise: at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week

active social contacts: attending meetings or parties, visiting friends or relatives, traveling and chatting online, at least twice a week

active cognitive activity: writing, reading, playing cards, mahjong and other games at least twice a week

never smokes: participants who smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime or used to smoke, participants who quit smoking at least 3 years before the study

never drinks alcohol or drinks it occasionally

The researchers categorized the participants into groups based on the number of factors related to a healthy lifestyle:

0-1 healthy lifestyle factors = unfavorable lifestyle (6967 participants).
2-3 healthy lifestyle factors = average lifestyle (16,549 participants)
4-6 healthy lifestyle factors = favorable lifestyle (5556 participants)

A healthy lifestyle slows down memory decline

The average memory test scores of all participants declined steadily over the decade, consistent with the decline in memory with age. However, the highest scores on memory tests were observed in the group with a favorable lifestyle and the lowest in the group with an unfavorable lifestyle, indicating that participants with a favorable lifestyle had saw their memory decline more slowly than those with an unfavorable lifestyle (by 0.028 points/year).

The results showed that a healthy diet had the strongest effect on memory, followed by active cognitive activity, regular physical exercise, active social contacts, never or ever having smoked and never to drink. This study failed to identify the mechanisms responsible for modifying memory loss. However, the researchers hypothesized that they could include: a reduction in cerebrovascular risk, an enhancement of cognitive reserve, an inhibition of oxidative stress and inflammation, and a promotion of neurotrophic factors.

These results echo heart-healthy behaviors: diet, exercise, and no smoking in particular, with the addition of active social and cognitive activity. Cardiovascular health in turn is important to our cognitive health, so either directly or indirectly [bénéfique pour la mémoire]these results seem credible and consistent with other well-conducted studies.

Healthy lifestyle and genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease

The APOE ε4 allele, present in 20.43% of study participants, is correlated with earlier and more rapidly progressive memory decline and represents a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
In this study, the researchers observed that a healthy lifestyle had a positive effect on the memory of all participants, whether or not they carried the APOE ε4 allele. Some people are discouraged to discover that they carry the ε4 allele. The results of this study should give these people hope that they can actively mitigate their genetic vulnerability.

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