Habitual memory

The right lifestyle choices pay off in powerful ways. This isn’t a foreign concept. It’s a well known fact that study after study continues to support.

So I can’t understand why it’s so hard to get people on board with healthy living.

Obviously, this particular case requires a little more pleading. So I’m going to do my part today with the help of some new research on the power of positive change.

A recent survey of more than 18,500 adults showed that memory complaints dropped with increases in healthy habits–like eating right, not smoking, and getting regular exercise.

And the benefit wasn’t exactly small, either. Subjects who reported even a single healthy behavior were 21 percent less likely to complain of memory loss. Those who reported two good habits were 45 percent less likely to lose their memory–three healthy behaviors slashed risk by 75 percent.

And participants with four healthy habits? Well, they were 111 percent less likely to report memory loss. While those who didn’t report any healthy habits faced double the risk.

Some other noteworthy findings:

  • Older adults with poor diets had nearly twice the risk of memory problems compared to their healthier eating peers. (In fact, healthy eating was tied to better memory in all of the groups.)
  • Smoking nearly doubled the risk for memory loss among young adults.
  • Regular exercise was associated with better memory among middle-aged and older participants.
  • Obesity was a strong predictor of memory loss in the older groups.

As you can see, age is a major risk factor in memory loss. Statistics show that roughly 10 percent of adults over 65 struggle with dementia–and that number shoots up to 45 percent among people older than 85.

So I suppose it’s a good thing that the older participants in this study reported much healthier habits than their younger peers.

Results showed that the oldest subjects had a mean Healthy Behavior Index score of 69.8. (That’s compared with scores of 60.7 and 57.9 for the middle-aged and younger groups, respectively.)

Dietary choices in particular were healthier, with just over 80 percent of the older subjects reporting better eating habits.

What’s more, only 12.4 percent of the older study participants smoked. That rate doubled among the younger groups.

Not that this is surprising at all. Most young people are convinced they’ll live forever no matter how bad their choices are.

And it’s unfortunate–because being healthy, like most things, takes time, energy, and practice. If we only committed to it earlier, we would get so much more out of it.

This is a constant battle I wage with my patients. And these are the usually some of the most health savvy people in the population.

So you can imagine how unhealthy habits are affecting the average American. In fact, this study showed that 14 percent of young people (that is, between the ages of 18 and 39) reported problems with memory.

I’m willing to bet that’s a much higher number than most people would have predicted. So much for so-called “senior moments.”

I do worry about young people today. (I know… I’m starting to sound like my father.) With all the technology, it’s difficult to focus on any one thing. To make matters worse, we use it as a crutch to takes the place of memory.

I mean, how many of you remember phone numbers anymore? Or what about a grocery list? These days, you just need to set a reminder on your phone.

But I digress. Now… what was my point again?

Just kidding. This message isn’t one I’m likely to forget anytime soon. And if you play your cards right, you won’t either.

Healthy behavior and memory self-reports in young, middle-aged, and older adults. Int Psychogeriatr. 2013 Jun;25(6):981-9.