A group of scientists conducted a 10-year study to find the six lifestyle choices that slow down memory decline and reduce the risk of dementia.

The study, published in the journal BMJ, found that positive lifestyle behaviors like a healthy diet, regular exercise, active social contact, cognitive activity, non-smoking, and not drinking alcohol had a significant impact on softening the speed of memory decline.

“A combination of positive healthy behaviors is associated with a slower rate of memory decline in cognitively normal older adults,” researchers from the National Center for Neurological Disorders in Beijing, China, wrote in the paper.

It is known that memory declines with age. This deeply affects both quality and productivity in life. Moreover, the decline in memory increases the risk of dementia.

Combining different healthy lifestyle choices “was associated with a lower probability of progression to mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” researchers said.

In the study, 29,000 adults aged over 60 with normal cognitive function from the China Cognition and Aging Study were enrolled.

In 2019, when the study began, participants were tested for memory function. They were also checked for the APOE gene--the strongest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were then followed for 10 years with regular assessments.

The subjects were scored from zero to six based on their lifestyle. Participants were categorized into groups--favorable (four to six healthy factors), average (two to three healthy factors), unfavorable (0 to 1 healthy factors)--and into APOE-carrier and non-carrier groups, according to The Guardian.

A healthy diet was considered the one where a person ate the recommended intake of at least seven out of 12 food groups: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts, and tea.

Cognitive activity entailed writing, reading, playing cards, or other games at least twice a week. Social contact at least twice a week was another healthy behavior. It included activities such as visiting family and friends, attending meetings, or going to parties.

Other healthy parameters that were factored in included not drinking alcohol, exercising for more than 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity or more than 75 minutes at high intensity, and being a non-smoker or an ex-smoker.

Each individual healthy behavior was associated with a slower-than-average decline in memory over 10 years, the study found.

Of the six, a healthy diet had the most effect on slowing memory decline. It was followed by cognitive activity and then physical exercise.

Furthermore, APOE carriers who led healthy lives exhibited a slower rate of memory decline compared with carriers who were the least healthy.

Also, following four to six healthy behaviors was associated with almost 90% fewer chances of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment in comparison to those who were the least healthy. The figure was almost 30% for those who followed two to three healthy behaviors.

“This is a well-conducted study, which followed people over a long period of time, and adds to the substantial evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help to support memory and thinking skills as we age,” Dr. Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, as per the outlet. “Too few of us know that there are steps we can all take to reduce our chances of dementia in later life.”