Can Gardening, Other Leisure Activities Cultivate a Healthier Brain?
By Associate Porf Yoram Barak, MD, MHA
Summary: Engaging in regular leisure-time activities such as gardening, walking, and dancing is associated with a slowing of brain aging by 4 years, new research suggests.
Results of a neuroimaging study that included more than 1500 participants show that those who engaged in more physical activity had "larger brain volume, independent of other factors such as age, sex, and education" than those who were inactive.
The study findings were released ahead of the scheduled presentation in April at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 2020 Annual Meeting.
More Detail: It has previously been shown that leisure-time physical activity (LTPA), like gardening, guards against cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer Disease (AD). However, data on the association between LTPA and brain MRI measures remain scarce.
The investigators conducted a cross-sectional MRI analysis of 1,557 older adults (average age, 75 years; 64% women) who were enrolled in the Washington/Hamilton Heights–Inwood Columbia Aging Project study.
The researchers divided the participants into three groups depending on LTPA level:
- Those who were inactive;
- Those who were somewhat active, engaging each week in roughly 2.5 hours of low-intensity physical activity, 1.5 hours of moderate physical activity, or 1 hour of high-intensity physical activity;
- Those who were most active, engaging each week in 7 hours of low-intensity physical activity, 4 hours of moderate physical activity, or 2 hours of high-intensity physical activity.
MRI brain imaging results showed that for participants who were most active, total brain volume was significantly larger compared with those who were inactive.
Commenting on the results for Medscape Medical News, Rebecca Edelmayer, PhD, director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, said that "evidence continues to build that healthy lifestyle habits are powerful tools, on their own and in combination with medicine," for reducing the risk for Alzheimers Disease and other dementias and possibly for preventing them.
The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health.