Research on the impact of healthy lifestyle activities on brain health has long been an area of focus in aging and disease prevention. However, many studies focus on the impact of ONE activity at a time--diet, physical exercise, cognitive exercise, mindfulness, yoga, stress management, etc. This week, the National Institutes of Health highlighted new research evaluating the COMBINATION of healthy lifestyle behaviors and risk of Alzheimer's disease. I encourage you to read the full news release by the NIH here. To be clear, this was not a HABIT based study. Rather, data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) and Memory and Aging Project (MAP) were analyzed and published in a high impact peer-reviewed medical journal Neurology (published by the American Academy of Neurology). You can see that paper here, if you like.
The bottom line is that those in the study who adhered to four or all five of the health behaviors they studied had a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. The health behaviors studied included physical activity, not smoking, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, following the MIND diet, and cognitive activity. Now, this is an observational study, which is not quite the same as an intervention study, but still informative. In the news release, the NIH highlights several studies that are ongoing that ARE intervention studies to try to further answer the question of how CHANGING behavior impacts us if we are not naturally developing these health habits on our own.
This research is especially interesting to the HABIT team. HABIT is a health behavior change and cognitive rehabilitation program for those living with Mild Cognitive Impairment. We also focus on developing a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors in addition to cognitive rehabilitation strategies to aid the memory symptoms themselves. We're glad to see others reinforcing the message that no one behavior change is THE change for healthy aging, but rather a combination of healthy behaviors are likely to be most beneficial for brain health.
It can feel like a lot to focus on so many lifestyle changes at once--That's ok! First note what you are already doing (how much exercise do you already get?), and then set small goals to gradually build your healthy habits over time. You can do it!