A senior man resting during exercise, taking in a view of hills.

A study published Jan. 10 in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people who stick to at least some of the six lifestyle factors that support brain health can lower their risk for dementia. 

For the study researchers assessed 2,537 people over the age of 60 with physical exams and tests for cognitive function and cardiometabolic diseases. The team evaluated the people based on how well they stuck to six lifestyle factors previously shown to support brain health: physical exercise, social interaction, sleep quality, leisure activities, smoking status and alcohol consumption. Each person was assigned a lifestyle score for each of the factors; each factor was worth one point. The researchers followed up on the individuals after two years.

Of all the people evaluated, 35.2% participants adopted five to six of the healthy factors, while only 5.4% were sticking to all six healthy lifestyle choices. 

People who had inactive lifestyles and two or more cardiometabolic diseases (heart attack, stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) had a nearly 3.4-fold higher risk for early cognitive decline compared to those without cardiometabolic diseases who had intermediate to active lifestyles.

In total, the team found that each one-point increase in the peoples’ overall lifestyle score was linked to having an 18% reduced risk of early cognitive decline. Adhering to a mix of lifestyle factors instead of just one could be linked to the slower rate of cognitive decline.

“A healthier lifestyle is associated with a significant reduced risk of early cognitive decline, but lifestyle changes can’t be piecemeal,” Haowei Li of the National Clinical Research Center for Geriatrics Diseases, and Shige Qi from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a Newsweek article.

“The most beneficial protective effect is seen when clustering multiple lifestyle factors together, showing just how powerful exercise, socializing, sleeping, and healthy consumption habits are in combination,” they added