Taking part in leisure activities ‘may lower dementia risk’

Having a range of leisure interests has been linked to a lower risk of developing dementia

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Taking part in leisure activities such as reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends may help to lower the risk of dementia, a study suggests.

Reasearch focused on existing studies that looked at the effects of mental activities, physical activities and social activities, and the risk of developing dementia.

Leisure activities such as crafts or playing sports were linked to a reduced risk of dementia, researchers found.

The study said those who engaged in leisure activities had a 17 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not engage in leisure activities.

“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 author Prof 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.”

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The meta-analysis involved a review of 38 studies from around the world involving a total of more than two million people who did not have dementia.

They provided information on their leisure activities through questionnaires or interviews.

Leisure activities were defined as those in which people engaged for enjoyment or well-being, and were divided into mental, physical and social activities.

During the studies, 74,700 people developed dementia, and after adjusting for factors such as age, sex and education, researchers found that leisure activities overall were linked to a reduced risk.

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Mental activity mainly consisted of intellectual activities and included reading or writing for pleasure, watching TV, listening to the radio, playing games or musical instruments, using a computer and making crafts.

People who participated in these activities had a 23 per cent lower risk of dementia, the study found.

Physical activities included walking, running, swimming, bicycling, using exercise machines, playing sports, yoga and dancing.

Researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a 17 per cent lower risk of dementia.

Social mainly referred to activities that involved communication with others and included attending a class, joining a social club, volunteering, visiting relatives or friends or attending religious activities.

The study found that people who participated in these activities had a 7 per cent 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," said Prof Lu.

“Future studies should include larger sample sizes and longer follow-up time to reveal more links between leisure activities and dementia.”

The findings are published in the Neurology journal.

Updated: August 10, 2022, 11:55 PM