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Blog - Rural living keeps the mind sharp into old age, new study finds

Living in the countryside preserves people’s cognitive powers as they get older, a new study has found.

A ten-year analysis of more 6,500 people living in the UK showed mental decline was slower among those who lived in villages and rural neighbourhoods.

Scientists believe an absence of pollution, a more active lifestyle and reduced noise and stress all contribute to the trend.

Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the study followed participants aged between 56 and 68, subjecting them to a series of cognitive tests at three intervals, which assessed their verbal and mathematical reasoning, verbal fluency, short-term memory, as well as the decline of these functions.

Over a decade, the cognitive decline of the country dwellers was on average 4.6 per cent less than the urban residents.

“There is evidence that the risk for dementia and cognitive decline can be affected by exposure to urban-related environmental hazards, such as air pollution and noise, and lifestyle, such as stress and sedentary behavior,” said Carmen de Keijzer, who led the study at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

“In contrast, living near green spaces has been proposed to increase physical activity and social support, reduce stress, and mitigate exposure to air pollution and noise.”

Recent evidence has pointed to cognitive benefits of green space living among children, however research into older adults has so far been scarce and thrown up inconsistent results.

The results in the new study indicated the association between rural living and slower cognitive decline was stronger in women than in men.

The proportion of people over 60 years old in the world is expected to nearly double between 2015 and 2050 and the number of dementia cases has been predicted to grow at a similar pace worldwide.

Payam Dadvand, another of the researchers, said: “If confirmed by future studies, our results may provide an evidence base for implementing targeted interventions aimed at decelerating cognitive decline in older adults residing in urban areas and hence improving their quality of life.”