One reality of life is that as we age, our organs—particularly our brains—get weaker. Forgetfulness, memory loss, and even neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia start to prevail and not much can be done about it. A recent study reports, however, that these very normal physiological changes can be slowed down with modifications as simple as a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet.
Researchers who conducted a decade-long study on thousands of Chinese adults older than 60 reported that indulging in healthy living habits slows down memory loss in the twilight years of a person’s life. They also reported similar effects even in individuals with the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, a well-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
The very natural process of aging comes with plenty of physiological changes within organs and systems of the body and the brain isn’t excluded. Structural and functional changes start to occur that manifest as cognitive changes, from mild forgetfulness and memory loss to more severe changes like age-related diseases.
With a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet, the study authors report that this decline can be slowed down considerably but not eliminated.
The researchers involved a total of 29,072 participants who were all above the age of 60 for the study. Each participant had their memory function assessed over ten years starting in 2009 using Auditory Verbal Learning (AVL) tests. They were also tested to check for the Alzheimer’s gene APOE.
A healthy ‘lifestyle score’ was used to assess the lifestyle of each participant. It comprised six factors: a healthy diet, regular exercise, active social contact, cognitive activity like reading and writing skills, and alcohol and cigarette consumption. Based on each participant’s entry, they were scored between 0-6 with 0-1 classified as “unfavorable”, 2-3 classified as “average”, and 4-6 classified as “favorable”.
The results reflected a steady decline in memory in all participants over the ten-year observational period as expected with participants with the APOE gene experiencing a steeper decline.
A direct comparison of the participants’ lifestyle scores and their memory function tests, however, revealed that each healthy behavior was associated with a slower memory decline over the ten-year observational period. Of all healthy behaviors, a healthy diet had the strongest effect on slowing down memory decline, followed closely by cognitive activity and then physical exercise.
Also, participants with favorable and average lifestyles, as reflected by their lifestyle scores, had a much slower memory decline in ten years compared to participants with unfavorable lifestyles. Those with the APOE gene and with favorable and average lifestyles experienced a slower rate of memory decline in comparison to those with unfavorable lifestyles.
Given the absence of definitive treatments for memory-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, this study provides great insight into how these diseases can be avoided altogether. The study authors also recommend further research to see how a positive lifestyle could affect the memory of the younger population.