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Read, relax, and engage in leisure activities to fight against dementia

Leisure activities have been found to play a crucial role in modifying cognitive reserve capacity. Previous research has highlighted the important contribution of intellectual and social leisure activities to cognitive reserve.

A new ELSA study funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and carried out at UCL’s Department of Behavioural Science and Health found that increased engagement in intellectual activities is associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia for married individuals over a 15-year follow up period.

For this investigation, the intellectual domain of leisure activities was composed of the following 6 individual activities: reading newspapers, having a hobby or pastime, using a mobile phone, using the internet or email, attending art or music groups, and cultural engagement. These associations were independent of other important risk factors such as education, wealth, health conditions, depression, and other lifestyle behaviours (physical activity, smoking, and alcohol intake).

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, used data from 8,030 adults aged 50 years and older, who took part in ELSA.

The first author Pamela Almeida-Meza said: “In the fight against dementia, it has been well established that certain modifiable risk factors such as cardiovascular health and depression management are essential for prevention. However, our new findings contribute to the evidence showing that in addition to this, we can provide our brains with the ability to tolerate damage while retaining function by choosing to engage in enjoyable lifestyle. Most importantly, our research was carried out in individuals aged 50 years and older, showing that it is never too late to finish that book, re-visit our hobbies, or even start practising a new skill.”

Professor Andrew Steptoe, director of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) study, said: “This study adds to the evidence that our activities in middle-age and later years may promote brain health in old age. We all hope that effective treatments will emerge before too long, but it is important to prioritise prevention. An active mental and social life in older ages is vital for maintaining well-being as we get older, and it would be a great bonus if it contributes to reduced dementia.”

Dr Dorina Cadar, the senior author, said: “We were interested to see if the type of leisure activities across midlife, being either intellectual and social, will show differential contributions to dementia risk in later life. Moreover, we wanted to examine if such engagements were different for men and women and for those who were married or not. Our results highlighted some differences in dementia incidence with a reduced risk for women who read, men who use a mobile phone, and married individuals who participate in hobbies, denoting a more engaged intellectual and social lifestyle. These findings highlight once again that it’s never too late to make your brain healthier and reduce your dementia risk through healthy lifestyle habits, hobbies and cognitive leisure activities.”


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