How you spend your free time could play a substantial role in preventing dementia, according to a new study appearing in Neurology. Researchers from Peking University found that engaging in active leisure activities (as opposed to passive ones) could lower your risk for dementia by 17%.
Engaging in active leisure activities (as opposed to passive ones) could lower your risk for dementia by 17%.
Researchers broke leisure activities down into three categories in order to assess their potential effects. Overall, socially engaging activities were estimated to lower dementia risk by 7% while physical pursuits lowered it by 17%. And leisure activities that engage participants’ cognition came out on top with a 23% associated reduction.
One of the researchers – Lin Lu, PhD, from Peking University Sixth Hospital – explained the motivation behind the research in SciTechDaily:
“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,” she said. “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.”
Leisure activities like making crafts, playing sports or volunteering were linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
Let’s get physical
It’s probably no surprise that exercise can reduce your risk for dementia; in fact, being physically active is associated with better cognitive and physical health. But reaping the benefits doesn’t have to mean dedicating yourself to a grueling gym routine. Study participants engaged in a variety of physical leisure activities, including walking, jogging, dancing, group classes, sports and more. What mattered most was the act of movement, not the intensity.
That’s great news for caregivers who either can’t get away for regular recreation or want to include their loved one in their activities. The following low-key leisure activities are a great way to get physical and possibly lower your risk of dementia in the process:
- Tai chi
- General stretching
- Dance party in the living room
- Low-intensity workout video
- Playing fetch with a furry friend
- Badminton in the backyard
Although it may be difficult, it’s important to find time to participate in recreation away from your caregiver duties as well. Here are a few options to make the most out of your leisure time:
- Go for a hike.
- Take a bike ride.
- Pick up pickleball.
- Learn a form of martial arts.
There’s no need to fret if you’re unable to participate in physical activities daily; there are still plenty of ways to reduce your risk for dementia. Participants in the study reported a number of different leisure activities that engaged their brains instead of their bodies.
“We found that time spent watching TV was associated with increased risk of developing dementia, while time spent using a computer was associated with decreased risk of dementia.”
Instead, relax and engage your mind at the same time with:
- Word finds
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Video games
- Arts and crafts
- Journaling or writing
- Brain training apps
- Taking an online class
- Solving a mystery
Social leisure activities may not have had the most noticeable effect on dementia prevention, but they’re still an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
“The mental stimulation involved in face-to-face interactions plays a crucial role in staving off cognitive decline and can actually be a useful way to improve current cognition over time by seeking out meaningful human interactions that help us form bonds that support brain health and overall health,” Mylea Charvat, PhD, wrote in Psychology Today.
Life as a busy caregiver often means social time is limited to a quick cup of coffee with a neighbor or grocery shopping with a friend. Social engagement can be one of the first things to slip through the cracks for many caregivers, so it’s important to commit to social activities. Besides, you have to take care of yourself in order to care for others. Examples of social leisure activities from the study include:
- Social clubs
- Religious services
- Visiting friends and family
Of course, plenty of other possibilities exist as well, such as:
- Book clubs
- Cooking clubs
- Walking groups
- Writing groups
- Photography groups
- Other hobby groups
- Caregiver support groups
- Dance lessons
- Art or pottery lessons
Take part in active R&R to stay sharp
With the pressures of caregiving and life in general, it can be tempting to let your mind and body turn off while indulging in mindless entertainment. While there’s nothing wrong with this from time to time, consider making active relaxation and recreation a regular part of your lifestyle. After all, one small change could dramatically cut your chances of developing dementia in the future.