What Popular Word Game Can Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s?

September 21, 2022

More good news on the Alzheimer’s prevention front: a large analysis found that leisure-time activities may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by more than 20 percent.  

For the study, the researchers combined results from 38 large studies that looked at the effects of leisure-time activities on dementia risk. Combined, the studies involved more than 2 million men and women, who filled out detailed questionnaires or completed interviews about their leisure-time activities. They were followed for at least three years. 

The researchers defined leisure activities as those that people engaged in for enjoyment or well-being. They identified three main areas of leisure-time activities: cognitive activities, physical activities and social activities. 

Cognitive activities consisted of intellectually stimulating activities like reading books, magazines or newspapers; watching television; listening to the radio; writing for pleasure or calligraphy; playing games such as cards, checkers, crossword puzzles or other kinds of word games or puzzles; playing a musical instrument; using a computer or browsing the Internet; painting or drawing; and engaging in handicrafts. 

Physical activities included walking for exercise, hiking or excursions, jogging or running, swimming, stair climbing, bicycling, using exercise machines, playing ballgames or racket sports, participating in group exercises, performing Qigong or Yoga, performing calisthenics, and dancing.  

Social activities mainly referred to activities that involved communication with others and included, but were not limited to, attending a class, joining a social center, participating in volunteer work, meeting up with relatives or friends, attending church or other religious activities, and participating in organized group discussions like book groups. 

The researchers found that cognitive activities had the biggest impact on Alzheimer’s risk. They were associated with a 23 percent reduced risk of dementia. Engaging in physical activities was tied to a 17 percent reduced dementia risk, while social activities were linked to a 7 percent decline in risk. 

“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, 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.” The findings were published in the journal Neurology. 

The findings add to growing evidence that our daily activities can impact brain health over the long term. Numerous studies suggest that staying mentally and physically active, even later in life, may reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Activities that we take up today can have an impact years down the road. 

“This 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,” Dr. Lu said. Find activities that you enjoy, whether it’s a word game like Wordle, going for a daily walk, or joining a book group; enjoyment will help you stick with it. And your brain may thank you years from now. 

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: Sizhen Su, Le Shi, Yongbo Zheng, et al: “Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Neurology, August 10, 2022 


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