Healthy living can fend off forgetfulness: study

02 June 2013 - 11:13 By AFP Relaxnews
File picture of a gym.
File picture of a gym.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

Feeling forgetful? A new study finds that adopting healthy behaviours could help sharpen your memory.

While research has already shown that a healthy lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, less is known about the potential link between positive lifestyle choices and milder memory complaints, the researchers said.

To find out, a team from UCLA and the Gallup organisation in the US collaborated on a poll of more than 18 500 adults between the ages of 18 and 99. Respondents were surveyed about both their memory and their health behaviours, including whether or not they smoked, how much they exercised and how healthy their diet was.

As expected, healthy eating, not smoking and exercising regularly were related to better self-perceived memory abilities for most adults. While reports of memory problems typically increased with age, there were a few surprises, the researchers said.

For one, older adults were more likely to report engaging in healthy behaviours, such as eating balanced meals and exercising, than middle-aged and younger adults, the researchers said. In addition, a higher-than-expected percentage of younger adults complained about their memory.

"Memory issues were to be expected in the middle-aged and older groups, but not in younger people," said the study's first author, Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. He added that stress may play more of a role -- with the ubiquity of technology, including the Internet, texting and wireless devices that can result in constant multi-tasking, young people may have a harder time focusing and remembering. 

The study also found that respondents across all age groups who engaged in just one healthy behavior were 21 percent less likely to report memory problems than those who didn't engage in any healthy behaviours. Those with two positive behaviours were 45 percent less likely to report problems, and those with three were 75 percent less likely.

"We found that the more healthy lifestyle behaviours were practised, the less likely one was to complain about memory issues," said senior author Fernando Torres-Gil.

Findings, announced Friday, appear online in the journal International Psychogeriatrics.