September 7, 2022
Activities that keep you physically and mentally active are linked to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a new report. Compared to their sedentary peers, people who exercised regularly had a 35 percent lower risk of dementia years down the road, the study found. Frequent household chores were linked to a 21 percent reduced dementia risk, while daily visits with family and friends was tied to a 15 percent lower dementia risk.
The findings add to growing evidence that keeping the mind and body stimulated is good for brain health.
“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 study author Dr. Huan Song of Sichuan University in China. “Our study found that exercise, household chores and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia.”
For this very large study, researchers looked at 501,376 men and women who were part of the UK Biobank, a large storehouse of health and medical information for people living in England, Scotland and Wales. None had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia at the start of the study. Their average age was 56.
Participants filled out detailed questionnaires about their daily habits, including how often they exercised, including working out or participating in sports, climbing stairs, going for walks, or biking to work. They were also asked about whether they regularly did light or rigorous household chores, which include cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, and how often they visited friends and family, including church, social outings or visiting the local pub.
The researchers followed the study volunteers for an average of almost 11 years. During that time, 5,185 of them had developed dementia.
They found that engaging in any of these physical, household or social activities reduced dementia risk, regardless of whether someone had a family history of dementia. “Our results are encouraging that making these simple lifestyle changes may be beneficial,” said Dr. Song. The findings appeared in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The findings are consistent with earlier studies showing that physical activity may lower dementia risk and also delay the onset of the disease. Regular exercise improves blood vessel health, including the blood vessels that nourish the brain. Exercise may also boost levels of brain chemicals that foster the growth of new brain cells. Vigorous household chores, like vacuuming and scrubbing, are a form of exercise that may also help to boost brain health.
Other studies show that maintaining social connections is critical for aging well. Studies suggest, for example, that lack of social interaction may be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social isolation and loneliness may contribute to depression, which has also been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Source: Jianwei Zhu, MD, PhD; Fenfen Ge, PhD; Yu Zeng, MD2; et al: “Physical and Mental Activity, Disease Susceptibility, and Risk of Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study Based on UK Biobank.” Neurology, July 27, 2022