Countryside retirement may boost your powers of memory

Countryside and memory - iStockphoto/SeanEvisonSussex
Countryside and memory - iStockphoto/SeanEvisonSussex

Retiring to the countryside may improve your memory, scientists have found.

Memory tests on over-50s in urban and rural areas revealed those who live in the countryside perform better than their peers in towns and cities.

A study of more than 6,000 people in England and 10,000 in China found that English people performed better if they lived in rural areas, whereas the opposite was true in China.

Better access to green spaces

The researchers investigated if memory decline was linked to education, wealth and whether or not people lived in rural or urban areas.

Better access to outdoor green spaces might explain the advantage in memory tests among rural dwellers in England, they said.

In China, however, the worse memory performance could be caused by other factors, such as a lack of access to education and cultural engagement in rural communities.

Lower standards of education and less wealth were also found to be associated with poorer memory.

‘Higher baseline memory scores’

Dr Dorina Cadar, first author of the study from University College London (UCL), told The Telegraph: “This specific cross-country examination of socioeconomic and contextual factors on memory decline revealed several aspects.

“First is that English participants had overall higher baseline memory scores and declined less over time, while the Chinese respondents started with significantly lower scores and dropped a bit faster.

“Second, the access to education and pattern of lifestyle behaviours influencing overall health and cognitive performance might be different between England and China. Furthermore, the difference in baseline memory scores could be related to the overall lower level of literacy in China (up to 70-80 per cent of the population).

“However, as demonstrated here, socioeconomic and contextual differences had a significant influence on cognitive health, especially in China, and more needs to be done to reduce socioeconomic inequalities around the world.”

Complexities of memory decline

Prof Andrew Steptoe, senior author of the paper, also from UCL, said that scientists compare different countries to fully understand complex issues such as memory decline.

“Comparisons across countries like this one are important, both for estimating the burden of memory decline and dementia risk as we get older and for understanding the factors contributing to these changes,” he said.

“Some factors, such as education, may be protective across the board. But others, such as whether you live an urban or rural life, appear to vary in their association with cognitive function in the two countries we studied.”

The study is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.