6 Lifestyle Choices That May Slow Memory Decline

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Forgetting where you placed your keys or struggling to recall someone’s name are rites of passage for many of us as we age.

But even though we expect such struggles, it doesn’t make them any easier to accept. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do that may help slow memory decline.

A decade-long study of more than 29,000 older adults — age 60 and older — in China found that the following half-dozen healthy lifestyle factors are associated with a slower rate of memory decline.

That study finding, published in a journal of the British Medical Association in 2023, held true even among the 20% of participants who have the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, the strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and similar dementias.

Following are the six healthy lifestyle factors the researchers defined.

Eating a healthy diet

Senior couple eating a meal at home
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Perhaps surprisingly, consuming healthful foods has the strongest effect on slowing memory decline.

In determining which folks had the most healthful diets, the researchers looked at their intake of:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Eggs
  • Cereal
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Tea

According to the study:

“Ultimately, these factors were deemed healthy when participants consumed appropriate daily amounts of at least 7 of the 12 food items for diet, and they engaged in cognitive activity or social contact at least twice weekly in this study.”

For more tips on what you should — and should not — eat, check out:

Engaging in cognitive activity

Reading a book
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Keeping your mind active and engaged has the second-strongest effect on preserving memory, according to the study. Examples of such activities — which should be undertaken at least twice weekly, researchers say — include:

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Playing mahjong and other games

For more, check out “Crossword Puzzles or Online Games: Which Better Protects the Brain?.”

Staying active through physical exercise

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Exercise has the third-strongest effect in keeping memory from declining, according to the study.

At least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly is considered a “healthy factor,” the researchers say.

Remaining active socially

Happy seniors outdoors
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Having regular social contact — such as seeing family and friends — also helps preserve memory, the researchers found. Doing so at least twice weekly is most likely to confer a benefit.

Other examples of social interaction the researchers cited include:

  • Participation in meetings or attending parties
  • Traveling
  • Chatting online

Quitting or never starting smoking

Couple with healthy heart symbol
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Both former smokers and those who have never smoked see memory benefits from avoiding cigarettes.

Smoking is also expensive, which endangers the health of your wallet. For more on how you should not spend your money during your golden years, check out “10 Dumb Ways Retirees Blow Their Savings.”

Abstaining from alcohol

Man filling a drinking glass at home
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Never drinking a drop of booze is deemed most likely to protect memory from declining as the years roll on.

In the study, researchers note that the more of the healthy lifestyle factors on this list a person pursues, the better off they are likely to be:

“Although each lifestyle factor contributed differentially to slowing memory decline, our results showed that participants who maintained more healthy lifestyle factors had a significantly slower memory decline than those with fewer healthy lifestyle factors.”

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