Chores, physical activity, and social visits were all linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
A new study recently published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that physical and mental activities, such as doing chores around the home, exercising, and visiting family and friends, may help reduce the risk of dementia. The research examined how these activities, together with mental activities and the use of electronic devices, affected individuals with and without increased hereditary risk for dementia.
“Many studies have identified potential risk factors for dementia, but we wanted to know more about a wide variety of lifestyle habits and their potential role in the prevention of dementia,” said study author Huan Song, MD, Ph.D., of Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. “Our study found that exercise, household chores, and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia.”
The study involved 501,376 people from a UK database without dementia. The participants had an average age of 36.
At the start of the trial, participants completed questionnaires, one of which inquired about their physical activity. They were questioned about how often they engaged in activities including walking, climbing stairs, and playing demanding sports. They were also questioned about their household chores, work-related activities, and mode of transportation, including whether they traveled by bike or foot.
Another questionnaire on mental activity was completed by the participants. They were questioned on their level of education, if they participated in adult education classes, how often they visited friends and relatives, went to bars, social clubs, or religious organizations, and how frequently they used technology such as computers, TVs, and phones.
Participants also disclosed if they had any members of their immediate family who were suffering from dementia. This helped in determining if individuals had a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Participants in the study were followed for an average of 11 years. At the conclusion of the study, 5,185 participants had dementia.
After adjusting for multiple factors such as age, income, and smoking, researchers found that most physical and mental activities studied showed links to the risk of dementia. Importantly, the findings remain after considering the high correlations and interactions of these activities. People who were highly engaged in activity patterns including frequent exercises, household chores, and daily visits of family and friends had a 35%, 21%, and 15% lower risk of dementia, respectively, compared to people who were the least engaged in these activity patterns.
Researchers also looked at dementia incidence rates by identifying activity patterns. The rate in people who exercised frequently was 0.45 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared to 1.59 for people who rarely exercised. Person-years take into account the number of people in a study as well as the amount of time spent in the study. Those who frequently did household chores had a rate of 0.86 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared to 1.02 for people who rarely did household chores. People who visited family daily had a rate of 0.62 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared to 0.8 cases for those who only visited friends and family once every few months.
“Our study has found that by engaging more frequently in healthy physical and mental activities people may reduce their risk of dementia,” Song said. “More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging that making these simple lifestyle changes may be beneficial.”
The researchers found that all participants benefited from the protective effect of physical and mental activities, whether or not they had a family history of dementia.
A limitation of the study was that people reported their own physical and mental activity, so they may not have remembered and reported these activities correctly.
Reference: “Physical and Mental Activity, Disease Susceptibility, and Risk of Dementia” by Jianwei Zhu, Fenfen Ge, Yu Zeng, Yuanyuan Qu, Wenwen Chen, Huazhen Yang, Lei Yang, Fang Fang and Huan Song, 27 July 2022, Neurology.
The study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, and the National Clinical Research Center for Geriatrics.