3 Hobbies Found to Slash Dementia Risk

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paintThis article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

If you consider yourself an “artsy-craftsy” type, or have ever wanted to become one, then this research will delight you. Research shows that spending time enjoying these types of hobbies may be one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from developing dementia.

A study at the Mayo Clinic found that middle aged and older adults who engaged in painting, drawing and sculpting reduced their risk of memory or thinking problems by 73 percent. Those whose regular pursuits included activities such as woodworking, sewing, quilting, quilling, pottery or ceramics cut their likelihood by 45 percent. Social activities like going to the theater, concerts and movies as well as socializing with friends or traveling decreased the risk by 55 percent. Even Internet activities, such as making online purchases, conducting web searches and playing computer games, proved helpful, as they lowered the likelihood by 53 percent.

Researchers obtained these results by collecting lifestyle information on 256 people with an average age of 87. They explored the effects of hobbies on the brain by evaluating the participants’ cognitive abilities at monthly intervals. After seeing such positive results, the authors concluded that strategies like the use of arts and crafts to prevent dementia should begin in midlife and continue in the golden years. The study was published in Neurology.

Hobbies Stimulate Brain Cells

The key to the beneficial effect is that hobbies stimulate the mind. “As millions of older adults are reaching the age where they may experience these memory and thinking problems, called mild cognitive impairment, it is important we look to find lifestyle changes that may stave off the condition,” explains author Dr. Rosebud Roberts. “Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age.”

Findings Corroborate Earlier Research

A 2007 review published in Occupational Therapy International surveyed studies that explored how hobbies affect health. Authors Gutman and Victoria Schindler found that arts, crafts, music, reading and doing home repairs slowed the deterioration of cognitive abilities and decreased the effects of stress-related diseases. Activities stimulate several lobes of the brain, a benefit that fosters neural connections and keeps them functioning efficiently, notes Gutman. The more we use these connections, “the more they seem to stay intact and preserve our brain’s function and stave off illnesses such as dementia.”

In a 2012 study at the Mayo Clinic, researchers discovered that crafting, reading, playing games and computer activities appeared to reduce to risk of cognitive problems by 30 to 50 percent. Lead author Yonas Geda says that crafting helps increase “cognitive reserves and the ability to buffer and withstand lots of assault by bad chemicals in the brain and bad proteins accumulating.” While only a few studies have investigated the beneficial effects of crafts, many anecdotal accounts suggest these activities have value for banishing depression and siphoning off stress.

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