Exercise, Chores, Visits Can Lower Dementia Risk

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Exercise is one of the daily activities experts say can help lower the risk of dementia. Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images
  • Researchers say staying active both physically and mentally can help lower the risk of dementia.
  • They say these activities can include exercise, household chores, and social visits with friends and family.
  • Experts say it’s also important to eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and participate in mindful activities such as yoga.

Exercising, doing household chores, and visiting with friends and family are all ways of reducing dementia risk by up to 35%.

That’s according to a new study published in the journal Neurology that involved more than 500,000 people.

Participants had an average age of 56. None of them had been diagnosed with dementia.

The participants self-reported physical activity levels at the beginning of the study. They also documented additional activities such as how they commuted to work or spent leisure time, their use of electronic devices, and personal information including education level.

Researchers then followed up for an average of more than 10 years. They reported that they found a link between certain activities and a reduced risk for dementia.

The researchers said people who frequently participated in specific activities had a much lower risk of developing dementia than people who didn’t frequently participate.

  • Vigorous exercise was associated with a 35% lower risk of developing dementia.
  • Household chores created a 21% lower risk.
  • Daily visits with people (friends or family) produced a 15% lower risk.

Where you spent time with others and what you did while socializing also mattered in the study. For example, visiting a bar or a social club and watching television didn’t lower risk as much as other activities.

Genetic risk factors for developing dementia alongside family history of the condition were taken into consideration.

By the end of the follow-up period, more than 5,000 participants developed dementia. Those most likely to develop dementia in the study were older, male, with a history of hypertension or hyperlipidemia, and with a lower socioeconomic status and higher body mass index.

“More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging that making these simple lifestyle changes may be beneficial,” Dr. Huan Song, a study author and a research professor at Sichuan University in China, said in a statement.

Dana Plude, PhD, the deputy director of the National Institute for Aging’s (NIA) Division of Behavioral and Social Research, told Healthline that this study re-enforces the nation that positive relationships, physical activity, and social engagement can potentially lower the risk of dementia.

However, he said, “we simply don’t know the causal relationship(s).”

“It might be that people with a lower risk of dementia are able to engage in these activities rather than the other way around,” Plude explained.

Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, told Healthline these study findings echo what has been long known to be true in the mental health community: Prioritizing self-care and a mentally healthy routine benefits your overall health.

“Mental health is no different than physical health and this includes incorporating healthy habits as a way of [dementia] prevention,” she said.

“Self-care basics such as sticking to a routine, regular exercise, and connecting with friends and family either in-person or over the phone are all incredibly supportive to overall mental wellness, and this study further illustrates that these simple habits can have extremely positive benefits in the long-term,” said Patel-Dunn.

Patel-Dunn suggests finding activities that you genuinely enjoy doing, as this is more likely to create lasting habits.

These activities can be different for each person, she says, but some suggestions include the following:

Maintain a set sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day and practicing good sleep hygiene (i.e., avoiding screens before bed).

“I’d suggest reading, listening to relaxing music, or doing a meditation before bed to replace screen time,” Patel-Dunn said.

Organize your home environment

Keeping your environment organized and clean can be calming and enable you to focus more effectively if you’re working or taking a class from home.

“Pairing house chores with your favorite podcast or audiobook can help this to become an activity you look forward to,” Patel-Dunn suggested.

Move your body daily

Making sure you are scheduling time to move your body every day is a healthy coping technique for dealing with stress.

“I’d prioritize taking a short walk outside whenever possible, as connecting with nature can also be extremely grounding,” said Patel-Dunn.

“While these are all relatively simple techniques to lean on in support of mental wellness, the truth is that they can produce wonderful results when practiced consistently,” she added. “It truly is the basics that are so critical in building a healthy foundation for our mental and physical well-being.”

The National Institute on Aging offers these additional tips for boosting brain health as your age:

  • Eat healthy foods (such as foods rich in nutrients that support proper brain functioning).
  • Manage stress with mindful activities such as yoga or journaling.
  • Keep learning new things (take a class or join a club, for example).
  • Maintain frequent doctor checkups.

Prude says current advice about reducing Alzheimer’s risk is drawn largely from a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017 report that suggests three promising areas where more research is needed: increased physical activity, blood pressure control, and cognitive training.

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