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Activity Is Healthy Aging’s Gateway

Can Reduce Memory Loss

Exercise and social connections can help reduce cognitive decline.

By John Salak

Okay, maybe to just rage against the dying of the light isn’t the best advice for healthy aging despite the best intentions of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Chances are those raging away might be doing themselves more harm than good anyway if all they’re doing is raising their stress levels.  

Activity, light exercise and maintaining social connections is probably a better option and may have a larger combined impact for warding off dementia and other elements of cognitive decline than any other individual pursuit.  

Canada’s Simon Fraser University, in fact, reports this engagement trifecta can reduce memory decline in individuals 65 to 89. What’s more, these Canadian researchers found that the impact of engaging in a variety of activities increased with age. Ultimately, the effect was greater on reducing memory loss than other elements such as historical factors or education levels.

The study’s findings were based on data from more than 3,210 individuals ages 65 to 89, who were asked how often they engaged in 33 different activities, which included hobbies, walking, cooking, playing games and connecting with friends. The researchers delved further by creating a machine learning model to analyze the impact of these activities on memories.  

“Our study results show that the risk of developing dementia can be reduced through a combination of daily activities, things like using a computer and playing word games,” reported the study’s co-author Sylvain Moreno, an associate professor at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology. 

“Scientists believed that genetics were the main factor influencing cognitive health, but our findings show the reverse. With age, your choice of daily activities is more important than your genetics or your current cognitive skills,” Moreno adds. 

The Simon Fraser team believes the results of their research could have a sizeable impact on healthy aging public policies, including the creation and implementation of cost-effective social programs designed to keep older adults mentally active. This could include, among other communal activities, gardening, art classes and volunteering. 

“Today, around 55 million people have dementia and this number will almost triple by 2050 with an aging population,” Moreno explained. “Care for patients with dementia is challenging, labor-intensive, and chronic, which generates high costs for health systems.” 

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