Reading a book, doing yoga and spending time with family and friends may help lower the risk of dementia, according to a study.
Researchers reviewed existing studies that looked at the effects of mental activities, physical activities and social activities and the risk of dementia.
They found that leisure activities such as making crafts or playing sports were linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
According to the study, those who engaged in leisure activities had a 17% lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not engage in leisure activities.
Study author Lin Lu, of Peking University Sixth Hospital in Beijing, China, said: “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 wellbeing.
“However, there is conflicting evidence of the role of leisure activities in the prevention of dementia.
The meta-analysis involved a review of 38 studies from around the world involving a total of more than two million people who did not have dementia.
They provided information on their leisure activities through questionnaires or interviews.
Leisure activities were defined as those in which people engaged for enjoyment or wellbeing and were divided into mental, physical and social activities.
During the studies, 74,700 people developed dementia, and after adjusting for factors such as age, sex and education, researchers found that leisure activities overall were linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
Mental activity mainly consisted of intellectual activities and included reading or writing for pleasure, watching television, listening to the radio, playing games or musical instruments, using a computer and making crafts.
People who participated in these activities had a 23% lower risk of dementia, the study found.
Physical activities included walking, running, swimming, bicycling, using exercise machines, playing sports, yoga, and dancing.
Researchers found that people who participated in these activities had a 17% lower risk of dementia.
Social activities mainly referred to activities that involved communication with others and included attending a class, joining a social club, volunteering, visiting with relatives or friends, or attending religious activities.
The study found that people who participated in these activities had a 7% lower risk of dementia.
Professor Lu said: “This meta-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.
“Our research found that leisure activities may reduce the risk of dementia. Future studies should include larger sample sizes and longer follow-up time to reveal more links between leisure activities and dementia.”
The findings are published in the Neurology journal.