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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 18, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 30
The Spice of Life: Variety in Leisure and Physical Activity May Reduce Dementia Risk

By Trent Stockton
Johns Hopkins Medicine

The variety of leisure and physical activity one engages in — and not its intensity in terms of calories expended — may reduce dementia risk in older people, School of Medicine researchers report.

An association between variety of activity and dementia risk, however, did not hold up in those with the so-called APOE-4 genetic predisposition to the disease, found in about one-quarter to one-third of Alzheimer's patients, according to a study in the April 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

General physical activity is already known to enhance cardiovascular health and help maintain independence and quality of life in older people. The results of this study — which establish a statistical association, and not a direct cause and effect, between variety of exercise and reduced dementia risk — suggest that participating in a number of different activities may be as or more important than frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity with respect to dementia risk.

"We don't yet know why this association exists or what causes it," said Constantine G. Lyketsos, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and senior author of the report. "It could well be that maintaining a variety of activities keeps more parts of the brain active, or that this variety reflects better engagement in both physical and social activities. Confirmation of this association in future studies may provide an additional impetus for people to remain or become engaged in several physical and other leisure activities later in life."


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