Studies concerning the effect of different types of leisure activities on various cognitive domains are limited. This study tests the hypothesis that mental, physical, and social activities have a domain-specific protection against cognitive decline.
A cohort of a geographically defined population in China was examined in 2003–2005 and followed for an average of 2.4 years. Leisure activities were assessed in 1,463 adults aged 65 years and older without cognitive or physical impairment at baseline, and their cognitive performances were tested at baseline and follow-up examinations.
High level of mental activity was related to less decline in global cognition (β = −.23, p < .01), language (β = −.11, p < .05), and executive function (β = −.13, p < .05) in ANCOVA models adjusting for age, gender, education, history of stroke, body mass index, Apolipoprotein E genotype, and baseline cognition. High level of physical activity was related to less decline in episodic memory (β = −.08, p < .05) and language (β = −.15, p < .01). High level of social activity was associated with less decline in global cognition (β = −.11, p < .05). Further, a dose-response pattern was observed: although participants who did not engage in any of the three activities experienced a significant global cognitive decline, those who engaged in any one of the activities maintained their cognition, and those who engaged in two or three activities improved their cognition. The same pattern was observed in men and in women.
Leisure activities in old age may protect against cognitive decline for both women and men, and different types of activities seem to benefit different cognitive domains.