A Dose of Good Medicine – Healthy Lifestyle and Cognitive Health


We are living longer. That is the good news. On the flip side, there is the ever-increasing threat of developing dementia, the risk of which increases with age. Estimates suggest that one in 9 people over the age of 65 will develop some form of dementia. And these statistics have yet to account for the anticipated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which most scientists and gerontologists believe will only exacerbate the incidence of dementia across the senior population. So, is there anything we can do to shield ourselves from this threat to our cognitive health? Research suggests there may be. And it is easier than you might think.

Those of us with a family history of dementia may be particularly worried. It is well-established that there is a genetic component to dementia – having a parent or grandparent who has experienced dementia increases one’s chances of also developing the disease. But what if there was something we could do to offset that risk? To lower our odds of facing dementia as we age?

The answer might come down to lifestyle. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019 suggested that living a healthy lifestyle can lower the likelihood of developing dementia, even when there is a genetic risk of dementia baked into one’s background.  This broad research study out of the U.K. tracked nearly 200,000 subjects for several years, monitoring them for lifestyle choices, genetic history and signs of dementia. Overall, study subjects who had lived a healthy lifestyle were far less likely to develop dementia than were those who had adopted an ‘unfavorable’ lifestyle. But for those subjects with a family history of dementia, the effect of a healthy lifestyle was also encouraging – healthy habits seemed to significantly mitigate against the risk of developing dementia.

So, what are these ‘healthy lifestyle’ habits that we should all embrace to improve the odds of maintaining our cognitive health? The British study measured four indicators of a healthy lifestyle – a nutritious and balanced diet, physical activity, not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. Each of these was shown to offset the risk of dementia. While not specifically included in the study, getting enough sleep and engaging in meaningful social interaction are also seen as critical components of maintaining a holistically healthy lifestyle.

The time to start overhauling our lifestyle so to protect our cognitive health is now. It is likely unrealistic to expect that one can upend one’s lifestyle overnight. But there is nothing stopping us from embracing change incrementally. Start by honestly assessing where your lifestyle might fall short, and develop some benchmarks for healthier habits. For example, transitioning away from a diet high in trans fats and processed food, in favour of more grains, fruits and vegetables is an attainable goal. Also walking every day or every other day, or engaging in exercise such as gardening, bicycling, yoga or tai chi would be a step forward (especially if done with others in a social context). Cutting back on that last glass of wine or resisting that last beer would help. Above all, develop and follow through with a plan to stop smoking. And the best part is that each of these lifestyle-changing initiatives are not only beneficial from a cognition standpoint. They are the cornerstones to promoting good health generally.

While adopting a healthy lifestyle will not guarantee that you can stave off dementia as you age, it has been proven to mitigate that risk. As an added bonus, it will make you feel better. You may even find that you discover new activities or indulge in new, healthier foods that bring you real happiness and enhance your energy. And one day, what originally felt like a deprivation (such as swearing off potato chips or resisting the nicotine urge) will feel as natural as breathing fresh air!

Stay well,

Amy Lewtas, Founder, RetroSparX

New to RetroSparX

We are pleased to announce the following new RetroSparX memory game unit which has recently been released and can be found on our website (www.retrosparx.com). We invite you to delve into the topics and tackle the memory games for seniors that comprise this unit. And we wish you happy reminiscing while you recall, relive and revel in these moments.

Revel in The Carol Burnett Show

The Carol Burnett Show was a staple of Saturday night television during the late 1960s and most of the 70s. Burnett’s zany humour and the madcap antics of her supporting cast members left us chuckling for long after she tugged on her earlobe and wished us good night. Read about this unique talent and the iconic variety show she created.

Included memory games for seniors

  • In Ladies Who Make Us Laugh, use clues to rediscover some of the most accomplished comediennes of the entertainment industry. Then rearrange letters to complete the lyrics to the song Carol Burnett sung at the close of each show.
  • Shuffle around words in Variety Is the Spice of Life to build the titles of many of the most memorable variety and entertainment shows on television.