Healthy lifestyle linked to improved memory

Survey reveals healthy lifestyle choices make a real difference

 a whole family out running - healthy lifestyle

Introducing a healthy lifestyle can benefit the whole family … and be a whole lot of fun too!

A recent healthy lifestyle survey in the United States (and funded by the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation Fund for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, among others) supports the view that healthy choices make a positive and measurable difference to a person’s mental wellbeing.

The survey of more than 18,000 adults showed that healthy eating, not smoking, and taking regular exercise were all linked with better memory. And interestingly, those older than 60 often reported having healthier habits than their younger counterparts.

“As expected, we found that memory complaints increased with age and that healthy behaviors were associated with better memory,” lead author Gary W. Small, MD, said. He is a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioural sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and director of the UCLA Longevity Center.

“A little more surprising was that 14% of the young people in our study had memory complaints. So these are issues that are affecting people of all ages,” added Dr. Small.

The healthy lifestyle study was published in the June 2013 issue of International Psychogeriatrics. The findings underline the importance of educating younger people on the importance of practising healthier lifestyles to help guard against the possible onset of dementia of one sort or another.

Dementia levels rising dramatically

About 10% of those over 65 (in the US) have dementia, with the proportion rising to a shocking 45% in the over-85 age group.

The healthy lifestyle study was conducted between December 2011 and the end of January 2012, and involved a randomly selected group of over 18,500 adults. There were 4,423 in the 18-39 age group (the ‘younger group’), 6,356 in the 40-59 age group (the ‘middle-aged group’), and 7,773 in the 60 and older age group (the ‘older group’).

The pollsters asked questions about smoking, exercise habits, diet, etc. Results showed that the older group scored better overall than the middle-aged group, who in turn beat the younger group. Additionally, only 12.4% of the older group were smokers, compared with 23.7% and 24.8% of the other groups, respectively. The older group also reported having healthier diets.

Healthy lifestyles choices affect memory performance

a mix of fruit pieces - important in a healthy lifestyle

Small changes to a healthy diet can contribute to an overall more healthy lifestyle

When taking into account the respondents’ answers regarding memory problems, older people who did not have a particularly healthy diet seemed to fare worse. On the other hand, healthy eating was linked with better memory in all three groups.

Smoking was also shown to be a factor in poor memory. Weekly exercise, on the other hand, was linked to better memory in the middle-aged and older groups, but not so with their younger counterparts. Obesity also seemed to be linked to memory problems in the two older age groups.

It seems that there is a direct correlation between the healthy choices people make and their memory performance.

“In our study, respondents engaging in just one healthy behaviour … were 21% less likely to report memory symptoms than those who did not,” the researchers write, adding that those who engaged in two healthy behaviours were 45% less likely, those who engaged in three behaviours were 75% less likely, and those who engaged in four behaviours were 111% less likely”.

With age comes wisdom …

Could it be that as people get older they get more concerned with making better and more healthy lifestyle choices? And is this connected to the obvious and inevitable approach of old age, and ultimately death? Let’s face it, we’re all heading in the same direction, and it all ends the same way. The sooner we make healthier and wiser choices, the better. After all, the final destination may be identical for every single one of us, but what we make of life in the meantime is always a matter of choice.

A healthy lifestyle need not depend too much on technology

Dr. Small also noted that there is a growing dependence on technology these days. Whereas we used to have to remember phone numbers and addresses and the like, nowadays it’s all done for us with smart phones and other devices.

“I think the problem is that we overuse these devices and it distracts us from what’s going on in everyday life”, he says. “So we’re not paying attention. It’s also training our brains to think in a different way — to jump from idea to idea just as we jump from Web site to Web site.”

The investigators note that encouraging healthy behaviours in all age groups has the potential to effect real changes in people’s health in general, and particularly regarding dementia.

“These programs don’t have to be daunting to get people on the right track,” added Dr. Small. “And once they get started, they begin to notice those immediate improvements in memory, which motivates them to continue until these behaviors become habits over the long haul.”

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