New research suggests these mentally stimulating activities could reduce risk of cognitive impairment by more than 20 percent.

January 31, 2017

Looking for ways to stay sharp? It might be just a click, stitch, or ticket away. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have highlighted four activities that can protect against cognitive decline. Regularly using the computer, crafting (e.g. knitting), engaging socially (e.g. attending a movie or the theater), and playing games were all found to lower the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

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For the study published online this week in JAMA Neurology, researchers looked at 1,929 participants in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging in Olmsted Country, Minn., between April 2006 and June 2016. The participants, all over the age of 70, filled out a questionnaire about mentally stimulating activities they practiced, as well as how often they did them. They were then given a neurocognitive assessment to make sure their brain functions were considered cognitively normal. For the next four years, participants were given follow up assessments every 15 months. Each participant was then classified as either cognitively normal or mildly cognitively impaired. 

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Researchers found that those who engaged in these four activities at least once or twice a week were significantly less likely to develop MCI than peers who only engaged in these activities every so often. Computer usage appeared to have the most protective effect. Those who practiced the activity more than once a week were 30 percent less likely to be MCI. Those who practiced crafts had a 28 percent reduced risk, those who habitually engaged in social activities had a 23 percent reduced risk, and those who played games had a 22 percent reduced risk.

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Surprisingly, reading did not reduce risk for MCI. Researchers speculate that while the activity does provide a mental boost, it doesn’t have as much of a protective effect since the other brain stimulating activities also require technical and manual skills.

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