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Hobbies in Middle Age May Help Reduce Risk of Dementia, Study Suggests

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Love to cook, read, or bike? Your brain will thank you someday! A new study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that having hobbies in middle age reduces the risk of developing dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

For the study, researchers out of Cambridge University used MRI brain scans to measure the brain sizes of 205 people aged 66 to 88. The volunteers each completed a questionnaire about their hobbies — which were divided into intellectual, physical, and social activities — and took IQ tests. 

Researchers found that midlife activities contributed to a higher IQ later in life, independent of a person's educational history or professional occupation. The findings suggest that keeping the brain active in middle age increases cognitive reserve — or the brain's resilience — despite the brain shrinkage that naturally occurs as we age. 

According to the Daily Mail, lead researcher in the study, Dennis Chan PhD, said of the findings, “We start with the same hardware — our brains — but the things we do can make it more robust. This is the phenomenon called cognitive reserve .  There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but the message is, what you do between the ages of 35 and 65 may affect your risk of dementia post 65.”

Previous studies have been able to prove that cognitive resilience is affected positively when a person continues educational study later in life or has an intellectually challenging occupation, but this study differs as it set out to determine whether folks after retirement can benefit similarly from keeping the brain active in different ways. Researchers emphasized the importance of hobbies like reading, playing a musical instrument, doing crafts or puzzles, engaging in physical exercise, and spending time with family. Participating in these activities for just an hour a day can drastically reduce your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer's, which affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages. 

"We’re quite excited by our findings," Dr. Chan concluded. "Everyone can do this. It doesn’t matter what you do for work or where you are. Activities like chatting to family or reading are free. All these activities are good for you."

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