That’s according to research published in the 10th August online version of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study (a meta-analysis, a statistical assessment of the results of other research), researchers took a deep dive into 38 studies from around the world involving more than 2 million people who were free of dementia at the start of the studies.
Participants were interviewed or filled in questionnaires asking them to detail their leisure activities – defined by the researchers as activities engaged in for enjoyment or wellbeing.
Participants were followed for at least three years, during which time 74,700 of them developed dementia.
After taking into account factors such as age, sex and education that can also influence the risk of developing dementia, researchers concluded that people who took part in leisure activities had a 17 per cent lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t participate in such activities.
Specifically, people who took part in mental leisure activities – think reading, writing, listening to the radio, playing games or musical instruments, using a computer and crafting – had a 23 per cent lower risk of dementia.
People who took part in physical activities such as walking, running, swimming, bicycling, using exercise machines, playing sports, yoga, and dancing, had a 17 per cent lower risk of dementia.
Those who took part in social activities – including attending a class, joining a social club, volunteering, visiting relatives or friends, or religious activities had a 7 per cent lower risk of dementia.
Author Dr Lin Lu, of Peking University Sixth Hospital in Beijing, China, comments: “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 wellbeing.
“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.”
More research is now needed to verify these findings, suggests Lu, include larger sample sizes and longer follow-ups.
What it means to you
The study mirrors the results of other recent studies suggesting that staying active in body and mind can help fend off dementia.
The encouraging news is that a wide variety of leisure activities – all of which are easy to fit into everyday life – appear to be beneficial.
That means that whether you’re someone who likes to hunker down with a good, join a dance class or spend an afternoon catching up with friends, there’s sure to be something that can help keep your brain sharp. So, take your pick and mix them up.