Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly. Joe Verghese, M.D., Richard B. Lipton, M.D., Mindy J. Katz, M.P.H., Charles B. Hall, Ph.D., Carol A. Derby, Ph.D., Gail Kuslansky, Ph.D., Anne F. Ambrose, M.D., Martin Sliwinski, Ph.D., and Herman Buschke, M.D. (2003). New England Journal of Medicine, 348: 2508-2516.
In the study of 469 people, “Dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.”
Participants were interviewed starting in 1980 about their participation in “6 cognitive activities (reading books or newspapers, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing board games or cards, participating in organized group discussions, and playing musical instruments) and 11 physical activities (playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, participating in group exercises, playing team games such as bowling, walking for exercise, climbing more than two flights of stairs, doing housework, and babysitting).” (Table of the various activities).
The study found that “There was no association between physical activity and the risk of dementia. Exercise is said to have beneficial effects on the brain by promoting plasticity, increasing the levels of neurotrophic factors in the brain, and enhancing resistance to insults. Cognitive and physical activities overlap, and therefore it is not surprising that previous studies have disagreed on the role of physical activities. Although physical activities are clearly important in promoting overall health, their protective effect against dementia remains uncertain.” (See the footnotes in the article for references for each of those sentences.)