Staying socially and physically active lowers risk of dementia, study finds

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Keeping the mind and body sharp are keys to older consumers’ cognitive health

A new study conducted by researchers from the American Academy of Neurology explored some of the ways that consumers may prevent cognitive decline. According to their findings, keeping up with household chores, regularly seeing friends and family, and being physically active are all linked with a lower risk of dementia. 

“Many studies have identified potential risk factors for dementia, but we wanted to know more about a wide variety of lifestyle habits and their potential role in the prevention of dementia,” said researcher Dr. Huan Song. “Our study found that exercise, household chores, and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia.” 

The mind and body connection is strong

The researchers had over 501,000 people who were enrolled in a U.K. database answer several different questionnaires for the study. One survey focused specifically on mental activities, including how often the participants socialized, played games, and talked on the phone.

They then reported on how often they climbed the stairs, how often they walked or drove, what household chores they regularly completed, and the types of exercises they did. Lastly, they answered questions on their family dementia history, and the team followed up with them for over a decade. 

The team found a strong connection between physical and mental activities and long-term cognitive health. While both types of activities were linked with a lower risk of dementia, participants who regularly engaged in both mental and physical tasks had the strongest cognitive health at the end of the study. 

The rate of dementia in people who regularly exercised was 0.45 cases for every 1,000 person-years; for those who didn’t exercise, the rate of dementia was 1.59 cases for every 1,000 person-years. Visiting with family daily had a rate of dementia of 0.62 for every 1,000 person-years; that number rose to 0.8 cases per every 1,000 person-years for those who had monthly visits. 

Exercising proved to have the strongest protective benefit from dementia, as those who consistently exercised had a 35% lower risk of the condition. This was followed up by regularly doing household chores, which was linked with a 21% lower risk of dementia, and daily socializing, which had a 15% lower risk of dementia. 

The team says their findings held up regardless of the participants’ family histories of dementia. They hope their work encourages more consumers to prioritize their physical and mental health in older age. 

“Our study has found that by engaging more frequently in healthy physical and mental activities people may reduce their risk of dementia,” Dr. Song said. “More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging that making these simply lifestyle changes may be beneficial.” 

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