Overview: The research shows that doing household chores, exercising and social interactions significantly reduces the risk of dementia.
Physical and mental activities, such as household chores, exercise and visiting family and friends, may help lower the risk of dementia, according to a new study published in the July 27, 2022 online issue of Neurology.
The study looked at the effects of these activities, as well as mental activities and use of electronic devices in people with and without a higher genetic risk of dementia.
“Many studies have identified possible risk factors for dementia, but we wanted to learn more about a wide range of lifestyle habits and their potential role in dementia prevention,” said study author Huan Song, MD, PhD, of Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. “Our study found that exercise, household chores and social visits were associated with a reduced risk of several types of dementia.”
The study included 501,376 people from a UK database without dementia with an average age of 56 years.
The participants completed questionnaires at the start of the study, including one about physical activities. They were asked how often they participated in activities such as climbing stairs, walking and strenuous sports. They were also asked about household chores, work-related activities, and what type of transportation they used, including walking or cycling to work.
Participants completed another questionnaire about mental activities. They were asked about their level of education, whether they attend adult education classes, how often they visit friends and family, visit pubs or social clubs or religious groups, and how often they use electronic devices, such as playing computer games, watching TV and to call.
In addition, the participants reported whether they had immediate relatives with dementia. This helped researchers determine whether they had a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Study participants were followed for an average of 11 years. At the end of the study, 5,185 people had developed dementia.
After adjusting for multiple factors such as age, income, and smoking, researchers found that most of the physical and mental activities studied were associated with dementia risk. Importantly, the findings persist after considering the high correlations and interactions of these activities.
People who were highly involved in activity patterns, including frequent exercise, household chores and daily visits from family and friends, had a 35%, 21% and 15% lower risk of dementia, respectively, than people who were least involved in these activity patterns.
Researchers also looked at the incidence of dementia through identified activity patterns. The rate in people who exercised frequently was 0.45 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared with 1.59 for people who exercised infrequently. Person years take into account the number of people in a study and the amount of time spent in the study.
Those who frequently did household chores had a rate of 0.86 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared with 1.02 for those who rarely did household chores.
People who visited family daily had a rate of 0.62 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared with 0.8 cases for those who visited friends and family only once every few months.
“Our study has shown that by participating in healthy physical and mental activities more often, people can reduce their risk of dementia,” Song said. “More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging that making these simple lifestyle changes can be beneficial.”
The researchers found that all participants benefited from the protective effect of physical and mental activities, regardless of whether they had a family history of dementia.
One limitation of the study was that people reported their own physical and mental activity, so they may not have correctly remembered and reported these activities.
Financing: The study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, West China Hospital, Sichuan University and the National Clinical Research Center for Geriatrics.
About this research news about dementia
Author: Natalie Conrad
Contact: Natalie Conrad – ON
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original research: The findings appear in Neurology