Hobbies in the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer

This post investigates the relationship between hobbies, dementia (including Alzheimer’s), and mental capacity.

There are very few scientific studies looking at the effect hobbies can have on the chance of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Dementia is the progressive loss of mental faculties. The leading cause of dementia in the elderly is Alzheimer’s, degenerative disease for unknown reasons. The other most common cause of dementia in the elderly is cerebral vascular or circulatory problems, including strokes.

Can dementia and Alzheimer’s be prevented?

Several studies indicate that there are factors related to the greater possibility of suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s: hypertension, increased cholesterol, cerebral vascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, and late-onset depression.

On the contrary, physical exercise, mental activity (a higher educational level), and social action are related to a lower possibility of suffering.

Even though these factors or elements have been related to the risk of suffering from dementia and, logically, their control helps to prevent it, few studies show that, in practice, the power of these factors is adequate. The most complete is one carried out in Finland where what is shown is that if all of the following is controlled: blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar, physical and mental exercise is done, and a healthy diet is followed, the loss of mental capacities is improved, but it is not so evident that the risk of suffering from dementia is reduced.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends to have a “healthy brain,” follow the following tips:

No Smoking
eat a healthy diet
To do physical exercise
Avoid obesity and, as far as possible, maintain normal blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar.

In this post, we review the role of physical and mental exercise on the onset of dementia.

Physical exercise and dementia

As pointed out in the previous post, it is sufficiently proven that the practice of physical exercise is related to a lower frequency of dementia. This is mainly attributed to the benefits of exercise on vascular problems, which are closely associated with dementia. What is unclear is how much activity, how long, what type, and what age of beginning is the most recommended. Thus, in this sense, hobbies related to physical exercise (sports, hiking, walking, etc…) should be beneficial concerning a lower frequency of dementia.

Mental activity and dementia

It has been shown that dementia is less frequent in people with more mental activity during their lives, mainly at educational and professional levels.

A topic of interest and debate is whether increased mental activity (the mental equivalent of physical exercise) protects against dementia irrespective of academic level. Some studies show that more excellent cognitive training -especially during youth or middle ages- is related to a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s.

Within the cognitive activity, they have been valued mainly

play board-games,
play an instrument,
attend shows.

A person who is not cognitively active is almost three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s over five years.

However, the most critical and demanding studies indicate that there is not enough evidence to ensure that cognitive activities (apart from educational level) reduce the risk of suffering from dementia.

Why people with a higher educational level have less frequency of dementia is not clear, but it has been related partly to COGNITIVE RESERVE.

Cognitive reserve is the brain’s ability to efficiently use its possibilities at a mental or cognitive level (attention, concentration, memory, etc…). It has been considered that a greater cognitive reserve “compensates” in part for the memory loss caused by age and by diseases such as Alzheimer’s so that the symptoms (the moment in which the disease is detected by the family or acquaintances or by the doctor) take longer to appear because they are “covered” or compensated by a better performance of the “healthy” brain. That is, once the symptoms of deterioration begin, they can be even more rapid in people with greater cognitive reserve.

Cognitive reserve is assessed through neuropsychological tests of mental ability. It has been seen that factors that are related to a more excellent cognitive account in older people are:

higher educational level,
previous work of an intellectual nature,
involvement in leisure activities and higher levels of social relationships.

It has been suggested that these activities could stimulate the development of more or better connections within the brain.

Long-term studies have found that activities that stimulate brain reserve throughout middle age are associated with a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (a problem that is not as important as dementia but often represents the beginning phase).


Although there are no direct data, we propose that hobbies and hobbies, as part of the leisure and through their relationship with physical and mental exercise and the facilitation of social relationships, very likely act beneficially on cognitive abilities and coping With the development of dementia.


Baumgart M. Summary of the evidence on modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia. A population-based study. Alzheimer’s and dementia 2015. 11, 718-726

Crowe, M., Does participation in leisure activities lead to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease? A prospective study of Swedish twins. The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2003, 58, P249–P255

Eriksson Sorman D. Leisure activity in old age and risk of dementia. A 15-year prospective study. J Gerontol. Series B. Pyscholog Sci and Social Sci 2013, 69, 493-501

Hughes T. Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia. The MOVIES project. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen 2010, 25, 432-438.

Hughes TF Independent and combined cognitive and physical activity effects on incident MCI. Alzheimer’s Dement 2015 11, 1377-1384

Larson EB Risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia. UpToDate 2017

Martinez Lage JM. Education, brain reserve, and dementia and Alzheimer’s risk factors. Med Clin 2001, 116, 418-421

Ngandu T. A 2-year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk older adults (FINGER): a randomized controlled trial. Lancet 2015, 385, 2255-2263

Gorelick PB et al. Defining optimal brain health in adults. Stroke 2017, 48, e284-330

Qiao L. The impacts of a GO-game intervention on Alzheimer’s disease in a northeast Chinese population. Frontiers Aging Neurosci 2016, 7,163

Tucker AM. Cognitive reserve in aging. Curr Alzheimer Res 2011, 8, 354-360

Verghese J. Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. New Engl J Med, 2003, 348, 2508-2516

Wang HX. A community-based cohort study is associated with lifelong exposure to cognitive reserve-enhancing factors with dementia risk. PLOS Medicine 2017, 14, 1-17

Wilson RS. Relation of cognitive activity to risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology 2007, 13, 1911-1920

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