Cognitive stimulation comes in a variety of types: intellectual/mental, physical, or social. Older adults are encouraged to find leisure activities they enjoy doing, and to continue pursuing them for the purpose of joyful meaning-making, and enhancing subjective well being. But what does the research state about which activities should be prioritized most, from the perspective of brain optimization?

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A meta-analysis explores this question further, by analyzing results from 38 separate studies assessing the link between leisure and dementia progression in over 2 million participants.

Of the three leisure types that were assessed (mental, physical, and social), the authors concluded that engaging in intellectual leisurely activity provided the greatest level of protection against the risk of developing dementia. Physical activity provided average protection, while social engagement provided the smallest benefit. More specifically, those who engaged in intellectual stimulation had 23% reduced risk of developing dementia, those participating in physical stimulation had 17% reduced risk, and those in social engagement had 7% reduced risk.

One area of speculation is how results might change if the three kinds of leisure activity were done in isolation from the others (e.g. if intellectual stimulation was done in the absence of additional time engaged in physical and social activities). The article also states that results from each of the 38 research studies may be inadvertently skewed by whether or not the participants’ self-reports of their own behaviors on various cognitive-stimulation type activities were done accurately and objectively. Nevertheless, it appears that all these activities, including social and physical engagements, should be incorporated into one’s wellness routines, to ensure all dimensions of wellness are being nurtured.

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This post was written by Linda H