- A new study finds that being active can help offset signs of cognitive decline.
- A new study has found that physical activity, good nutrition and avoiding smoking and alcohol can all help slow mental decline.
- Even people diagnosed with dementia had fewer falls by adopting these healthy habits.
It’s well known that a healthy lifestyle can have a huge impact on our physical and mental health, and new research shows it can keep our brains sharper as we age.
More research is needed to understand why lifestyle factors have this impact, but scientists suspect that healthy behaviors promote brain cell growth and plasticity, fight inflammation in the brain and enhance vascular function.
“Even for people with cognitive impairment and dementia, complying with and improving many lifestyle factors may be able to slow cognitive decline or improve behavioral outcomes such as mood or some aspects of cognitive function,” Ryan Glatt , CPT, NBC-HWC, a. senior brain health coach and director of the FitBrain Program at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.
The researchers evaluated the health data of 586 people who participated in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a longitudinal study that ran from 1997 to 2022.
The participants were dead and had been autopsied.
The study included information about the subject’s cognitive function, lifestyle factors and results from neuropathological assessments.
A lifestyle score, from 0 to 5, was given to each person based on how much regular physical activity they got, whether they smoked or drank alcohol, what their diet was like, and whether they engaged in cognitive activities.
The researchers found that a healthier lifestyle was associated with better cognitive function, regardless of whether the participants had brain pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Higher lifestyle scores were also associated with lower levels of beta-amyloid plaque, a protein that builds up in the brain in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
This suggests that lifestyle factors may have a protective effect on brain function in older adults, even in those who are actively experiencing cognitive decline.
“Using a large autopsy study sample, the authors showed that this relationship between lifestyle and cognitive ability is largely independent of the burden of dementia-related changes,” said Dr. Irina Skylar-Scott, board-certified in board, fellowship-trained cognitive and behavioral neurologist at Stanford Medicine.
The evidence consistently shows this
“This study provides more evidence that leading a healthy lifestyle is important in almost all aspects of our lives,” said Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, Director of Adult Complex and Spinal Deformity Surgery at Staten Island University Hospital.
Rasouli did not participate in the study.
More research is needed to better understand how and why lifestyle factors affect cognition, but scientists have a few theories.
“When engaging in healthy lifestyle factors for brain health, lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity and cognitive stimulation can help increase blood flow to the brain, improve heart health, increase brain activity and in increasing brain volume,” says Glatt.
In addition, lifestyle factors may promote neurogenesis, or brain cell growth, along with neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections between brain cells, according to Skylar-Scotts.
A healthy lifestyle can prevent
Skylar-Scott recommends getting 150 minutes of physical activity a week, spending time with friends and family, doing cognitively stimulating tasks, and eating a well-rounded diet.
Lifestyle effects on cognition are stronger in older adults without dementia.
“It’s like investing in retirement,” says Skylar-Scott.
But even those with existing brain pathologies may benefit from participating in social, cognitive and physical activities.
“In older dementia patients, being healthy can be extremely beneficial and help improve outcomes, so it is imperative that we focus on holistic as well as pharmaceutical approaches to dementia patients,” Rasouli says.
A new study has found that healthy lifestyle choices—including physical activity, good nutrition, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption—may slow cognitive decline, even in people with neuropathologies such as dementia. Healthy behaviors are believed to promote brain cell growth and plasticity, fight inflammation in the brain, and enhance vascular function.