Cooking, washing the dishes and gardening can slash the risk of dementia by more than a fifth, according to new research. A study of more than half a million British adults concludes that those who did household chores were 21 percent less likely to develop the condition.
Researchers say chores are the second biggest protective activity, behind regular brisk walks or bike rides, which lower the risk for dementia by 35 percent. The other vital factor was meeting up with family and friends, reducing one’s odds by 15 percent.
“Many studies have identified potential risk factors for dementia, but we wanted to know more about a wide variety of lifestyle habits and their potential role in the prevention of dementia,” says lead author Professor Huan Song, of Sichuan University in China, in a statement. “Our study found that exercise, household chores and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia.”
Song and colleagues analyzed data from the ongoing Biobank study in the United Kingdom, which is tracking the health of 501,376 older people. Those most engaged in physical and mental activities were least likely to be diagnosed with dementia over an average follow up period of eleven years.
Similar patterns were identified when the amount of time all participants spent in the study was added up – a statistical technique known as “person-years.” Dementia incidence rates in people who frequently exercise were 0.45 cases for every 1,000 person-years compared to 1.59 for “couch potatoes.”
Those who did lots of household chores had a rate of 0.86 cases, rising to 1.02 among peers who didn’t. People who visited family daily had a rate of 0.62 cases, increasing to 0.8 for those who only saw them once every few months.
“Our study has found by engaging more frequently in healthy physical and mental activities people may reduce their risk of dementia,” explains Song.
All participants benefited from the protective effects of physical and mental activities, whether or not they had a family history of dementia. Calculations took into account potentially influential factors such as age, smoking and income.
At the outset they completed questionnaires about a range of tasks such as how often they climbed a flight of stairs, went walking or did strenuous sports. They were also asked about household chores, job related activities and the kind of transportation they used, including walking or cycling to work.
Another survey focused on education level, adult classes, time spent with friends and family and visits to pubs, social clubs or religious groups. It also asked how often they watched TV, taklked on the phone and used electronic devices to play computer games, for instance. They also reported if they had any immediate family members with dementia to work out genetic risk. By the end, 5,185 participants had developed dementia.
“More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging that making these simple lifestyle changes may be beneficial,” says Song.
The number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to over 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on protective habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.
Report by Mark Waghorn, South West News Service