Whether it’s taking a bike ride, reading a book or having dinner with friends, leisure appears to be beneficial to your cognitive health, according to a review of dozens of research studies from around the globe.
The metanalysis, published in the online issue of Neurology, found that participation in physical, mental or social activities appeared to lower the risk of dementia among more than 2 million adults, who participated in 38 research studies that were reviewed. “Our research found that leisure activities like making crafts, playing sports or volunteering were linked to a reduced risk of dementia,” study author Lin Lu, president of Peking University Sixth Hospital and director of Peking University Institute for Mental Health in Beijing, said in a statement.
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Adults in the studies were followed for at least three years. Those who engaged in leisure activities had a 17 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not, according to the analysis.
Meanwhile, a separate study published in JAMA Network Open in 2022 finds that older adults who walk, jog, swim laps, play tennis or engage in other leisure activities may have a lower risk of death from any cause, as well as death from heart disease. Taken together, the research demonstrates the importance for older adults to engage in leisure activities that they enjoy and can sustain.
“Although we report differences between the associations of activity types with mortality, all types of activity were associated with lower mortality risk; therefore, finding an activity that older, inactive individuals enjoy (and so may sustain) is likely of a greater benefit than choosing a particular activity based on the differences between risk estimates reported,” the researchers wrote in JAMA.
Not all leisure is equal
Although all mental, physical and social activities provide some brain benefits, the researchers found that participating in mental pursuits may have the greatest impact on lowering the odds of dementia. Here’s the breakdown.