Study Results Show Leisure Activities May Help Lower Dementia Risk by up to 23%

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The meta-analysis reviews 38 available studies on the effects of cognitive, physical, and social activities on brain function.

Leisure activities, including doing yoga, reading and spending time with family and friends, may help lower the risk of dementia, according to the results of a meta-analysis published online on August 10, 2022, in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The meta-analysis is a review of available studies on the effects of cognitive, physical, and social activities on the dementia risk.

“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 [individual]’s perception of their own well-being,” Lin Lu, PhD, of Peking University Sixth Hospital in Beijing, China, said in a statement.

“However, there is conflicting evidence of the role of leisure activities in the prevention of dementia,” he said. “Our research found that leisure activities like making crafts, playing sports or volunteering were linked to a reduced risk of dementia.”

The meta-analysis included a review of 38 worldwide studies and involved more than 2 million individuals who did not have dementia. All participants were followed for at least 3 years.

Investigators analyzed information on the individuals’ leisure activities through either interviews or questionnaires. Leisure activities were defined as activities in which individuals participate for enjoyment or well-being. They separated activities into 3 categories: mental, physical, and social.

During the course of the study, investigators noted that approximately 74,700 individuals developed dementia.

After investigators adjusted for factors, including age, education, and sex, they found that individuals who engaged in leisure activities had a 17% lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not.

Activities consisting of activities, such as listening to the radio, making crafts, playing musical instruments, reading, watching television, or writing for pleasure, were associated with a 23% lower risk of dementia. Investigators considered these task mental activities.

Activities, such as biking, dancing, playing sports, running, swimming, or yoga were considered physical activities and were associated with a 17% lower risk of dementia.

Social activities, such as attending a class, taking part in a social club, visiting friends or relatives, or volunteering were associated with 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,” he said. “Future studies should include larger sample sizes and longer follow-up time to reveal more links between leisure activities and dementia.”

Investigators reported that a limitation of the study was that individuals reported their own mental and physical activities, so some of the activities may have been reported incorrectly.

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

Reference

Which leisure activities are linked to lower risk of dementia? News release. EurekAlert. August 10, 2022. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/961376

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