A new study suggests that older adults can slow their memory loss with six healthy habits: healthy eating, physical exercise, social interaction, cognitive activity and abstaining from smoking and drinking.

Although there have been many studies that link lifestyle to memory decline, most focus on only one habit; this study claims to be the first to include multiple behaviors.

Chinese researches conducted the study, published Wednesday in the BMJ , by following more than 29,200 participants, ages 60 and up, for 10 years.

What were the results of the study?

Diet was found to be the most controllable factor of the six. Participants who ate seven of 12 healthy food items daily experienced slower memory decline than those who did not.

Following diet in order of effect on memory is cognitive activity at least twice a week. These activities include reading, writing and even playing cards and other games.

Then comes consistent physical activity. The study deemed a healthy amount of weekly exercise to be at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity.

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Social interaction at least twice a week was fourth on the list. The social activities that evidently helped slow memory decline included attending meetings or parties, visiting friends or relatives, traveling and chatting online.

The last factors were an abstinence from smoking and alcohol. The memories of participants who had smoked more than three years prior or drank only occasionally faired better than those who smoked during the study or drank heavily.

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The study emphasized that all this was true even for the older adults who possessed the APOE gene, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

How did the study work?

Participants enrolled in the study in 2009 and were given memory tests in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2019. The memory tests entailed hearing 15 nouns and being asked to repeat them immediately after, three minutes after and 30 minutes after.

The researchers categorized participants into groups based on how many of the six healthy habits they consistently demonstrated: four to six habits was “favorable,” two to three was “average” and zero to one was “unfavorable.” As implied by the names, the memories of those in the favorable group declined slowest.

The introduction of the study notes that memory decline in old age does not always indicate the onset of dementia and can be reversed — perhaps making these six lifestyle adjustments is a good place to start.

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