By Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent
Activities such as household chores, exercise and visiting family and friends may help lower the risk of dementia, research suggests.
According to the study, carrying out household chores is associated with a 21% reduced risk.
People who were highly engaged in activity patterns including frequent exercise and daily visits of family and friends had 35% and 15% lower risk respectively, compared with people who were the least engaged.
Researchers found that the associations were present even in people at genetic risk for dementia, suggesting the activities may be effective interventions in preventing dementia.
Study author Huan Song, of Sichuan University in China, said: “Our study found that exercise, household chores and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia.”
The study looked at the effects of these activities, as well as mental activities and use of electronic devices in people both with and without higher genetic risk for dementia.
It involved 501 376 people from a UK database without dementia with an average age of 56.
They filled out questionnaires at the beginning of the study, including one on physical activities, and were asked how often they participated in activities such as climbing a flight of stairs, walking and participating in strenuous sports.
They were also asked about household chores, job-related activities and what kind of transportation they used, including walking or biking to work.
Another questionnaire asked people about their mental activities, their education level, 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 talking on the phone.
Additionally, they reported if immediate family members had dementia, helping researchers to determine genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Study participants were followed for an average of 11 years and at the end of the study, 5 185 had developed dementia.
The researchers found that most physical and mental activities studied showed links to the risk of dementia.
Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our brains are incredibly complex, responsible for our memory, as well as what we think, feel and do.
“Keeping our brains healthy as we age can help stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s, which physically attack brain cells, tearing away at the very essence of who we are.
“We know that being physically and socially active can help us feel happier, healthier and more positive in general.
“Lifting weights and running marathons aren’t for everyone, but there are many ways that we can stay physically active in our lives.
“This self-reported study adds to evidence that finding something you can stick to that keeps you physically and socially active is likely to have the greatest benefit to your health, rather than the activity itself.
“The researchers found that even people with a high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, could benefit from keeping physically active.”
The findings are published in the “Neurology” journal.