MINNEAPOLIS – Cooking, washing the dishes, and gardening can slash the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than a fifth, according to new research.
A study of more than half a million adults found those who did household chores were 21 percent less likely to develop the disease. Chores rank as the second biggest protective activity behind regular exercise — including brisk walks or bike rides — which lowered dementia cases by 35 percent.
Another vital factor was meeting up with family and friends (social visits), lowering rates 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 from Sichuan University in a media release.
“Our study found that exercise, household chores, and social visits were linked to a reduced risk of various types of dementia.”
Chinese researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank study which is tracking the health of 501,376 older people. Those most engaged in physical and mental activities were least likely to show signs of dementia over an average follow-up period of 11 years.
‘Couch potatoes’ more at risk for Alzheimer’s onset
The team also identified similar patterns when they added up the amount of time all participants spent in the study — a statistical technique known as “person-years.” Dementia incidence rates in people who exercised regularly were 0.45 cases for every 1,000 person-years, compared to 1.59 for inactive “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 engage in chores. People who visited family daily had a rate of 0.62 cases, increasing to 0.8 for those who only saw their loved one once every few months.
“Our study has found that by engaging more frequently in healthy physical and mental activities people may reduce their risk of dementia,” Song says.
All participants benefited from the protective effects of physical activity, whether or not they had a family history of dementia. The calculations took into account potentially influential factors such as age, smoking, and income.
A trip to the pub could be good for your brain
At the outset, the participants completed questionnaires about a range of tasks, such as how often they climbed a flight of stairs, went walking, or participated in 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. The surveys also asked how often the group watched TV, talked on the phone, and used electronic devices.
Lastly, each person revealed if they had any immediate family members with dementia so researchers could work out their individual genetic risk. By the end of the study, 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,” Song adds.
Estimates predict that the number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to over 150 million by 2050. With no cure at the moment, there is an increasing focus on protective habits which preserve brain performance.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.