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Healthy lifestyle choices mean fewer memory complaints

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Scientists have found that the more healthy lifestyle behaviours people practiced, the less likely they were to complain about memory issues.

Research has shown that healthy behaviours 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.

To examine the impact of lifestyle choices on memory throughout adult life, University of California, researchers and the Gallup organisation collaborated on a nationwide poll of more than 18,500 individuals between the ages of 18 and 99.

Respondents were surveyed about both their memory and their health behaviours, including whether they smoked, how much they exercised and how healthy their diet was.

As the researchers 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 behaviours than middle-aged (40-59) and younger adults (18-39), a finding that runs counter to the stereotype that ageing is a time of dependence and decline.

In addition, 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 behaviours earlier in life," said the study's first author, Dr Gary Small.

For the survey, Gallup pollsters conducted land-line and cell phone interviews with 18,552 adults in the US. The inclusion of cell phone-only households and Spanish-language interviews helped capture a representative 90 per cent of the US population, the researchers said.

"We found that the more healthy lifestyle behaviours 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.

In particular, the study found that respondents across all age groups who engaged in just one healthy behaviour were 21 per cent less likely to report memory problems than those who didn't engage in any healthy behaviours.

Those with two positive behaviours were 45 per cent less likely to report problems, those with three were 75 per cent less likely, and those with more than three were 111 per cent less likely.

The study was published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics.

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