Relax to save your brain! Leisure activities can significantly lower dementia risk

MINNEAPOLIS – Making crafts, playing an instrument, or doing puzzles might lower a person’s risk of developing dementia by nearly a quarter, according to a new study.

A review of previous dementia reports involving two million people found some leisure activities have the power to reduce someone’s chances of cognitive decline by 23 percent. The research, published in the journal Neurology, divided leisure activities into mental, physical, and social categories — defining all of them as activities people engage in for their enjoyment.

Engaging in mental pastimes had the best impact, with people 23 percent less likely to experience dementia onset. These hobbies include reading or writing for pleasure, watching television, playing games or musical instruments, and making crafts.

Physical activities, such as walking, dancing, running, swimming, and cycling lowered the risk of dementia by 17 percent. Chatting with others, attending a social club or a class, seeing family and friends all fell into the social activities list and they reduced the likelihood of dementia by seven percent.

A little bit of leisure also cuts cancer and heart disease 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 person’s perception of their own well-being,” says study author Lin Lu, PhD, of Peking University Sixth Hospital in a media release.

“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.”

The team reviewed 38 studies from around the world, which together looked at over two million people who did not have dementia and followed them for at least three years. Of the two million participants, 74,700 developed the disease over that time.

“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 concludes.

“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.”

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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