Healthy Lifestyle Keeps Memory Sharper
May 31, 2013

Eating Healthy, Exercising, Not Smoking Can Ward Off Memory Problems

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

People who engage in healthy behaviors are less likely to complain about memory-related issues later on in life, experts from UCLA and the Gallup organization report in a new study.

Previous research has shown that making positive lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, the researchers said, but little had been known about a link between making good choices and milder memory complaints, particularly those that occur earlier on in adulthood.

In order to examine what impact these types of lifestyle choices has on memory throughout a person´s adult life, the investigators joined forces to conduct a nationwide poll of over 18,500 individuals between the ages of 18 and 99. Participants were asked about their memory and health behaviors, including whether or not they smoked, how frequently they exercised, and what types of foods they typically ate.

“As the researchers expected, healthy eating, not smoking and exercising regularly were related to better self-perceived memory abilities for most adult groups. Reports of memory problems also increased with age,” the Los Angeles-based university explained in a recent statement. “However, there were a few surprises.”

One of those unexpected findings was that older adults (those between the ages of 60 and 99) were more likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors than middle aged (40 to 59) or younger adults (18 to 39). In addition, the researchers reported that a higher-than-expected percentage of younger adults had memory-related complaints.

“These findings reinforce the importance of educating young and middle-aged individuals to take greater responsibility for their health — including memory — by practicing positive lifestyle behaviors earlier in life,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and first author of a the study, which appears in the June issue of the journal International Psychogeriatrics.

“We found that the more healthy lifestyle behaviors were practiced, the less likely one was to complain about memory issues,” added senior author Fernando Torres-Gil, a professor at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs and associate director of the UCLA Longevity Center.

Specifically, the researchers found that survey participants of all age groups were 21 percent less likely to report memory problems if they engaged in just one healthy behavior. Those with two positive behaviors were 45 percent less likely to report issues, while those with three were 75 percent less likely and those with at least four were 111 percent less likely.

“Interestingly, the poll found that healthy behaviors were more common among older adults than the other two age groups,” the university said. “Seventy percent of older adults engaged in at least one healthy behavior, compared with 61 percent of middle-aged individuals and 58 percent of younger respondents.”

“In addition, only 12 percent of older adults smoked, compared with 25 percent of young adults and 24 percent of middle-aged adults, and a higher percentage of older adults reported eating healthy the day before being interviewed (80 percent) and eating five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables during the previous week (64 percent),” they added. “While 26 percent of older adults and 22 percent of middle-aged respondents reported memory issues, it was surprising to find that 14 percent of the younger group complained about their memory too.”