This Rx actually sounds like *fun*!

2021 has been a groundbreaking year in the world of brain research. In the past 12 months alone, we've learned that there are at least 13 factors that put us at higher (or lower) risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. Plus, we've learned about the impact of a totally doable waking habit, scoring enough sleep, being a good listener (yes, this actually matters in terms of dementia risk!) and eating a Mediterranean diet.

And last week, scientists released some fascinating news to add to the growing landscape of fitness-focused dementia findings. Older adults between age 65 and 89 who stayed active with a variety of activities—rather than focusing on just one type of movement—had lower risk of developing dementia during their lifetimes, according to a study published December 15 in the journal Aging. The benefit of a wide combo of activities increased with age, the researchers add, and was even more impactful on dementia risk than education level or baseline memory.

Smiling senior woman with dumbbells exercising in park
Credit: Getty Images / Maskot

To come to this conclusion, researchers from Simon Fraser University (SFU) tapped 3,210 adults between 65 and 89 who are involved in the National Institute on Aging's Health and Retirement Study to answer how often they participated in 33 activities on a scale from "never," "at least once a month," "several times a month," up to "daily." The activities included everything from chores to games and beyond, such as playing cards, socializing with family and friends virtually, on the phone or IRL, reading, walking, baking, cooking and more. (BTW, regarding that cooking, these 24 30-minute dinners can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.)

"Our study results show that cognitive decline can be reduced through a combination of active, daily activities—things like using a computer and playing word games," study co-author Sylvain Moreno, an associate professor at SFU's School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) and the CEO/scientific director of the Digital Health Circle tells Simon Fraser University News. "Scientists believed that genetics were the main factor influencing cognitive health but our findings show the reverse. With age, your choice of daily activities is more important than your genetics or your current cognitive skills."

To put this into real life terms, these results mean that to keep your body and brain fresh, you're better off dabbling in some dancing, gardening, yoga, golf and walking rather than relying on walking as your sole method of staying in shape. And, as we've heard time and time again, being socially and cognitively engaged is crucial to keep your brain in tip-top shape.

More research is needed among larger pools of people and to confirm this in other populations, but since there is no harm in mixing things up in terms of leisure time, the study authors hope this will inspire people young and old to shake up their schedules.