Living in the countryside linked to having a better memory in over 50s

Living in a city or living in the country have their own different appeals and advantages, such as access to shops and public transport, versus access to nature.

It seems country folk in England have a surprising advantage over their townie cousins – a better memory.

UCL research found people over 50 in England living in rural places did better in memory tests.

The research team also aimed to find out if memory performance and memory decline could be linked to factors such as education and wealth. They studied people in England and China to see if there was any difference between the two countries.

In England, after taking into account the effects of education and wealth, they discovered living in a rural area was linked to a significantly better ­performance in memory tests.

In China, by contrast, living in a rural area was linked to much poorer memory performance as well as a steeper decline in memory.

The researchers’ explanation for this difference is better access to outdoor green spaces among rural dwellers in England, while in China, they have less access to education and cultural activities in rural settings. Having less education and less household wealth, meanwhile, were associated with worse memory performance in both countries, and in China, were also linked to a steeper decline in memory.

The study encompassed data from 6,687 English participants who answered questions every two years between 2010 and 2019, as well as from 10,252 Chinese participants who answered questions from 2011 to 2018.

Lead author Dr Dorina Cadar at UCL said: “English participants had overall higher ­baseline memory scores and declined less over time, while Chinese respondents started with significantly lower scores and dropped a bit faster.”

She added: “The access to education and pattern of lifestyle behaviours influencing overall health and cognitive performance might be different between England and China.

“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.”

Senior author Professor Andrew Steptoe, at UCL, said: “Comparisons across countries 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.

“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.”