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Leisure activities greatly lower the risk of dementia

Leisure activities could help lower the risk of dementia, according to a new meta-analysis published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. These activities include reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends.

For the investigation, the experts reviewed available studies on the effects of cognitive, physical, and social activities and 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,” said study co-author Lin Lu 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.”

The meta-analysis involved a review of 38 international studies involving more than 2 million people. The participants were followed for at least three years.

The individuals provided information on their leisure activities – those in which people engaged for enjoyment or well-being and were divided into mental, physical and social activities. During the study period, 74,700 people developed dementia.

The researchers found that, overall,  leisure activities were linked to a reduced risk of dementia. Those who engaged in leisure activities had a 17 percent lower risk of developing dementia.

Mental activity included reading or writing for pleasure, watching television, listening to the radio, playing games or musical instruments, using a computer,  and making crafts. The researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a lower risk of dementia by 23 percent.

Physical activities included walking, running, swimming, bicycling, playing sports, yoga, and dancing. Those who participated in these activities had a 17 percent lower risk of dementia.

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

There are plenty of activities that are easy to incorporate into our daily lives that have many benefits for the brain. 

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

Learn more about dementia at, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. 

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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