Research has shown that healthy behaviors are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but less is known about the potential link between positive lifestyle choices and milder memory complaints.
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"We found that the more healthy lifestyle behaviors were practiced, the less likely one was to complain about memory issues," said senior author Fernando Torres-Gil, a professor at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs and associate director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
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UCLA researchers and the Gallup organization collaborated on a nationwide poll of more than 18,500 individuals between the ages of 18 and 99.
The goal was to examine the impact of lifestyle choices on memory throughout adult life.
Respondents were surveyed about both their memory and their health behaviors, including whether they smoked, how much they exercised, and if they ate healthy.
The research findings were published in the June issue of International Psychogeriatrics.
- For the survey, Gallup pollsters conducted land-line and cell phone interviews with 18,552 adults in the U.S.
- As expected, healthy eating, not smoking, and exercising regularly were related to better self-perceived memory abilities for most adult groups.
- Older adults (age 60–99) were more likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors than middle-aged (40–59) and younger adults (18–39). This finding runs counter to typical stereotypes.
- Surprisingly, a higher-than-expected percentage of younger adults complained about their memory.
"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 the study's first author, Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.
- In particular, the study 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 behaviors.
- Those with two positive behaviors were 45 percent less likely to report problems, those with three were 75 percent less likely, and those with more than three were 111 percent less likely.
- The poll found that healthy behaviors were more common among older adults than the other two age groups.
- 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.
- Only 12 percent of older adults smoked, compared with 25 percent of young adults and 24 percent of middle-aged adults.
- 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).
- Older adults may participate in more healthy behaviors because they feel the consequences of unhealthy living and take the advice of their doctors to adopt healthier lifestyles.
- 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.
"Memory issues were to be expected in the middle-aged and older groups, but not in younger people."The study was supported by the Gallup organization, Healthways, the Parlow–Solomon Professorship on Aging, the Ahmanson Foundation, the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation Fund for Alzheimer's Disease Research, the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and the UCLA Longevity Center. Torres-Gil is a consultant with Healthways.
Additional study authors included Prabha Siddarth, Linda M. Ercoli, Stephen T. Chen and Dr. David Merrill of the UCLA Longevity Center and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA's Semel Institute.
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