Leisure Activities Help the Brain Stay Sharp
Source: Tufts University
February 25, 2002
Research has shown that keeping your brain intellectually “active” may provide some protection against Alzheimer’s disease. But what about less intellectual pursuits, like taking a walk or visiting with friends? Could they also protect your brain? It’s possible, according to a study published recently in the journal Neurology.
Focusing on the leisurely life
While previous studies have found intellectual activities, such as career-related and educational work, to be associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease, few studies have looked at the potential effect of leisurely pursuits on brain health. So researchers in New York set out to do just that. They recruited a group of 1,772 older men and women with no clinical signs of dementia, and asked them how often they participated in any one of 13 leisure activities. The choices ranged from physical activities such as walking and participating in an exercise class, to social activities such as playing cards, listening to music, and going to movies. The researchers then tracked the participants for up to 7 years, noting those who developed dementia during that time.
The results showed that those with a high participation in leisure activities were 38% less likely than others in the study to develop dementia. This effect held even after the researchers factored in other things, like occupation and health limitations, known to affect risk of dementia. The activities most strongly associated with lower risk were walking, visiting with friends, and going to movies or restaurants.
It can’t be said for sure why high participation in leisure activities was associated with a lower risk for dementia in this study. The researchers speculate that participating in leisure activities may give people a “reserve” that allows their brain to stay sharp for a longer period of time before symptoms of dementia set in. It’s also possible, say the authors, that the constant thought that goes into all kinds of activity, even leisure pursuits, helps the brain to function properly.
It’s important to note that low participation in leisure activities may not reflect increased risk of dementia. These people may perhaps have already had the beginnings of dementia, and that impeded their ability to participate in leisure activities.
While further research is needed to confirm and expand upon these results, this study is evidence that living a life rich in both intellectual and leisurely pursuits may be good for both physical and mental well being.
- Influence of leisure activity on the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. N. Scarmeas, G. Levy, M-X. Tang, et al., Neurology, 2001, vol. 57, pp. 2236–2242