Worldwide, around 55 million people suffer from dementia, with more than 60% living in low- and middle-income countries. “As the proportion of older people in the population increases in almost all countries, this number is expected to rise to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050,” warns the World Health Organization. Interventions aimed at reversing this trend are desperately needed. Fortunately, the search continues to find them.
A new study published in the Medical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology has identified three activities that can increase brain health.
The meta-analysis concludes that leisure activities such as reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends can help reduce the risk of dementia.
“Previous studies have shown that leisure activities were associated with several health benefits, including a lower risk of cancer, a reduction in atrial fibrillation and a person’s perception of their own well-being,” said study author Lin Lu, PhD, of Beijing. Peking Sixth University Hospital, China.
“However, there is conflicting evidence for the role of leisure activities in preventing dementia. Our research found that leisure activities such as doing 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 totaling more than two million people who did not have dementia. Participants were followed for at least three years.
Participants provided information about 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.
What did the researchers learn?
During the studies, 74,700 people developed dementia.
After adjusting for factors such as age, sex and education, the researchers found that leisure activities in general were linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
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Those who engaged in leisure activities had a 17% lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not participate in leisure activities.
Mental activity consisted mainly of intellectual activities and included reading or writing for pleasure, watching television, listening to the radio, playing games or musical instruments, using a computer, and doing crafts.
The researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a 23% lower risk of dementia.
Physical activities include walking, running, swimming, cycling, using exercise machines, playing sports, yoga and dancing.
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The researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a 17% lower risk of dementia.
Social activities mainly referred to activities that involved communication with others and included attending a class, joining a social club, volunteering, visiting family or friends, or attending religious activities.
The researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a seven percent lower risk of dementia.
“This meta-analysis suggests that being active has benefits, and there are many activities that are easy to incorporate into daily life that can be beneficial for the brain,” Professor Lu said.
“Our research found that leisure activities can reduce the risk of dementia. Future studies should include larger samples and longer follow-up time to reveal more links between leisure activities and dementia” .
A limitation of the study was that people reported their own physical and mental activity, so they may not have recalled and reported the activities correctly.
Speaking about the link between leisure activity and dementia, Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Our brains are incredible, responsible for our memory, as well as what we think, feel and do. Keeping our brains healthy as we age can help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, which physically attack brain cells, destroying the very essence of who we are.
“Previous research has suggested that staying sharp by keeping the brain mentally active can help increase the brain’s ability to resist damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s for longer. There is no conclusive evidence that programs or activities particular brain workouts that are particularly good for staying fit, but activities that are mentally challenging, sociable, and also enjoyable are likely to be better for the brain than spending time alone or engaging in passive hobbies.
“Loving your heart, staying sharp and staying connected to other people are three easy rules to follow to help keep your brain healthy as you age. Visit www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk for information and advice on brain health”.
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