Can a healthy lifestyle ward off memory decline?

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An increasing amount of evidence suggests that a healthy lifestyle is linked to better thinking skills later in life. But few studies have looked at healthy lifestyle effects on memory in particular, and none have considered the effects on memory in people with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Now a study from China offers insight. The study, published online Jan. 25, 2023, by BMJ, involved more than 29,000 people without dementia (average age 72). Participants initially underwent cognitive testing as well as genetic testing for genes known to raise risk for Alzheimer’s, and reported how well they stuck to six healthy lifestyle habits (eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, not drinking alcohol, being socially active, and engaging in brain-challenging activities). Participants were followed for 10 years, periodically reporting their lifestyle habits and undergoing cognitive testing. At the end of the study, people who stuck to at least four healthy habits showed significantly slower memory decline than people who didn’t practice any healthy habits. This was true even among people with Alzheimer’s-related genes. The habits associated with the biggest effects were diet, cognitive activity, exercise, and social contact. The study was observational and doesn’t conclusively prove that a healthy lifestyle protected memory. But a healthy lifestyle has many health benefits, and you’ll only win by improving yours.


Image: © Heide Benser/Getty Images

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