3 Types of Leisure Activities That Can Lower Your Risk of Dementia

Alzheimers Dementia Brain Disease Concept

The scientists found that people who engaged in leisure activities had a 17% lower risk of dementia.

Scientists answer: Which leisure activities are associated with a lower risk of dementia?

According to a recent meta-analysis recently published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, leisure activities like reading a book, practicing yoga, and spending time with family and friends may help reduce the risk of dementia. The meta-analysis examined existing studies on the effects of cognitive, physical, and social activities on the risk of dementia.

“Previous studies have shown that leisure activities were associated with various health benefits, such as a lower cancer risk, a reduction of atrial fibrillation, and a person’s perception of their own well-being,” stated study author Lin Lu, Ph.D., of Peking University Sixth Hospital in Beijing, China. “However, there is conflicting evidence of the role of leisure activities in the prevention of dementia. Our research found that leisure activities like making crafts, playing sports or volunteering were linked to a reduced risk of dementia.”

In the meta-analysis, 38 studies from across the globe including more than 2 million adults without dementia were examined. The participants were observed for at least three years.

Participants gave information on their leisure activities through questionnaires or interviews. Leisure activities are those individuals participate in for their pleasure or well-being. Scientists classified leisure activities into one of three categories: social, physical, and mental.  74,700 individuals developed dementia throughout the studies.

After controlling for age, gender, and education, researchers discovered that leisure activities overall were associated with a lower incidence of dementia. When compared to individuals who did not participate in leisure activities, dementia risk was reduced by 17%.

Mental activities mostly consisted of intellectual pursuits such as reading or writing for enjoyment, watching television, listening to the radio, playing games or musical instruments, using a computer, and doing crafts. These activities were shown to have a 23% lower risk of dementia in participants, according to researchers.

Physical activities included walking, running, yoga, swimming, playing sports, bicycling, using exercise machines, and dancing. Researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a 17% lower risk of dementia.

Social activities mainly referred to activities that involved communication with others and included attending a class, volunteering, joining a social club, visiting relatives or friends, or attending religious activities. Researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a 7% lower risk of dementia.

“This meta-analysis suggests that being active has benefits, and there are plenty of activities that are easy to incorporate into daily life that may be beneficial to the brain,” Lu said. “Our research found that leisure activities may reduce the risk of dementia. Future studies should include larger sample sizes and longer follow-up time to reveal more links between leisure activities and dementia.”

The study was limited by the fact that people reported their own physical and mental activity, so they may not have remembered and reported the activities correctly.

Reference: “Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” by Sizhen Su, Le Shi, Yongbo Zheng, Yankun Sun, Xiaolin Huang, Anyi Zhang, Jianyu Que, Xinyu Sun, Jie Shi, Yanping Bao, Jiahui Deng and Lin Lu, 10 August 2022, Neurology.
DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200929

The study was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China, the China Association for Science and Technology, and the PKU-Baidu Fund.

5 Comments on "3 Types of Leisure Activities That Can Lower Your Risk of Dementia"

  1. What is the margin of error on the claimed reductions? Is the claimed 7% statistically significant?

    • Something that seems not to have been considered is that early-stage dementia (pre-diagnosible) cohorts might self-select to not participate in the various supposedly beneficial activities, particularly social activities. They may become withdrawn, like “Grumpy Old Men.”

  2. Lance Studsteele | September 4, 2022 at 6:18 am | Reply

    Re: Clyde Spencer’s comments. Good point: Which is the cause and which is the effect? Does cognitive decline decrease one’s interest and/or ability to participate in the activities mentioned, rather than those activities decreasing or preventing cognitive decline?

  3. Lance Studsteele | September 4, 2022 at 6:21 am | Reply

    Mental, physical, and social activities.

  4. Other than mental, physical and social activities, leisure-wise, what is there? Genuinely curious …

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