Leisure activities such as reading a book or spending time with family and friends may reduce dementia risk. The corresponding meta-analysis was published in Neurology.
"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 Lin Lu, Ph.D., 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," he added.
For the meta-analysis, the researchers reviewed 38 studies from around the world. The research included over 2 million people who did not have dementia at baseline and who were followed for at least three years. During the follow-up periods, the researchers recorded 74,700 cases of all-cause dementia, 2,848 cases of Alzheimer's disease, and 1423 cases of vascular dementia.
Alongside dementia status, the researchers also had access to data on participants' engagement in various leisure activities via questionnaires or interviews. Leisure activities were divided into mental, physical, and social activities.
After adjusting for factors including age, sex, and education, the researchers found that leisure activities were linked to a lower risk of dementia. Overall, they noted that those who engaged in leisure activities were 17% less likely to develop dementia than those who did not.
Mental activities- such as reading, watching television, using a computer, making crafts, and listening to the radio were linked to a 23% lower risk of developing dementia.
Meanwhile, physical activities such as walking, running, yoga and swimming were linked to a 17% lower risk of dementia. Social activities such as attending a class, volunteering, visiting relatives or friends, or attending religious activities were linked to a 7% reduced risk of dementia overall.
The researchers concluded that their findings suggest leisure activities are inversely linked to dementia risk. They noted, however, that their results may be limited as participants self-reported their physical, mental, and social activities. They noted that their findings might thus be subject to recall bias.
"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 Dr. Lu, "Our research found that leisure activities may reduce the risk of dementia. Future studies should include larger sample sizes and longer follow-up time to reveal more links between leisure activities and dementia."