It’s natural to worry about losing your memory as you grow older – but just because it’s not uncommon, that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.

A study from the National Centre for Neurological Disorders in Beijing, published in the BMJ, has found a combination of lifestyle factors that lower your chance of cognitive decline.

Analysing 29,000 adults over 10 years, they found that the following behaviours are associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia:

  1. Eat a healthy diet – this means hitting your recommended daily intake of at least seven of the following 12 foods: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts, and tea.
  2. Exercise regularly – more than 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
  3. Give your brain a workout, too – whether it’s writing, reading, doing puzzles, playing games, or other mentally stimulating activities.
  4. Keep up your social contact – at least twice a week, try to get together with friends or family, go to a meeting or attend a party.
  5. Don’t drink alcohol, and
  6. Don’t smoke – and if you already do, quit!

The researchers found that the most helpful behaviour was a healthy diet, followed by regular cognitive activity and regular exercise.

Of course, practicing multiple healthy behaviours together proved even better – people who practiced two to three of the above were 30% less likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia, increasing to 90% among those who practiced four to six.

“This is a well-conducted study, which followed people over a long period of time, and adds to the substantial evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help to support memory and thinking skills as we age,” said Dr Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Too few of us know that there are steps we can all take to reduce our chances of dementia in later life.