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A Prescription For Mature Mental Health

Sleep, Activity & Hobbies Key Factors

Those who are largely sedentary are at greater risk of developing dementia.

By John Salak –

There is apparently a simple formula for those interested in staving off depression, cognitive decline and dementia as they age. Start by turning off the TV, becoming physically active, sleeping better and getting into a hobby.

This mature health prescription comes by way of three different recent studies released in September involving the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Arizona (Arizona), the University of Cambridge (Cambridge) and the University College of London (UCL).

USC and Arizona warned that adults over 60 who are largely sedentary, for example, those who watch TV for 10 hours a day, are at greater risk of developing dementia.   

These U.S. universities found that it didn’t matter whether the sedentary time was spread out throughout the day or in a single session. The link to increased risk of dementia was profound, reported USC Professor David Raichlen, the study’s author. 

“Many of us are familiar with the common advice to break up long periods of sitting by getting up every 30 minutes or so to stand or walk around. We wanted to see if those types of patterns are associated with dementia risk. We found that once you take into account the total time spent sedentary, the length of individual sedentary periods didn’t really matter,” he added.

The researchers focused on a sample of approximately 50,000 adults 60 and older who did not have a diagnosis of dementia at the start of the six-year study. They then applied a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the large dataset of accelerometer readings and classify behaviors based on different intensities of physical activity. The algorithm was able to discern between sedentary behavior versus sleeping, ultimately providing researchers with an objective measure of the time spent engaging in different types of sedentary behaviors.

While high amounts of sedentary behavior were linked with an increased risk of dementia, the researchers found that certain sedentary behaviors were not associated with dementia.

“We were surprised to find that the risk of dementia begins to rapidly increase after 10 hours spent sedentary each day, regardless of how the sedentary time was accumulated. This suggests that it is the total time spent sedentary that drove the relationship between sedentary behavior and dementia risk, but importantly lower levels of sedentary behavior, up to around 10 hours, were not associated with increased risk,” added study co-author Gene Alexander, a professor at the University of Arizona.

“This should provide some reassurance to those of us with office jobs that involve prolonged periods of sitting, as long we limit our total daily time spent sedentary,” Raichlen added.

The U.S. findings fell somewhat in line with research from Cambridge which reported that a healthy lifestyle involving moderate alcohol consumption, a healthy diet, regular physical activity, no smoking, healthy sleep patterns and frequent social connection, reduces the risk of depression in mature adults. 

The British research team built its findings after looking at a combination of factors including lifestyle, genetics, brain structure and immune and metabolic systems to identify the underlying mechanisms that might foster the link to depression. 

The factors involved ultimately are a complicated mixture of biological and lifestyle influences. The impact is significant as the World Health Organization reports that at least one in 20 adults deals with serious depression, posing a significant burden on public health worldwide. factors. 

Cambridge’s nine-year investigation of almost 300,000 people, including 13,000 who have depression, was able to identify seven healthy lifestyle factors that can lower this risk of depression. These include moderate alcohol consumption, physical activity, proper sleep, no smoking, low to moderate sedentary behavior and frequent social connections.  

Adequate sleep appeared to be the most important, reducing the risk of depression by 22 percent. This was followed by frequent social connections, which lowered the risk by 18 percent. 

The final element of the mental health prescription is having a hobby, according to the UCL. After examining almost 100,000 people 65 and older across 16 countries, UCL researchers found that a hobby is linked to fewer depressive symptoms and higher levels of happiness, self-reported health and life satisfaction among these older adults.  

These results were adjusted for other factors such as partnership status, employment and household income. 

Hobbies were defined as activities people engage in during their leisure time for pleasure. They can range from volunteering or being part of a club to reading, gardening, playing games and arts and crafts. The researchers found the benefits of having a hobby were relatively universal, with only small differences between countries. 

“Our study shows the potential of hobbies to protect older people from age-related decline in mental health and wellbeing. This potential is consistent across many countries and cultural settings,” reported lead author Dr. Karen Mak. 

“Of the four outcomes, life satisfaction was most strongly linked to hobby engagement. Hobbies may contribute to life satisfaction in our later years through many mechanisms, including feeling in control of our minds and bodies, finding a purpose in life, and feeling competent in tackling daily issues.”

Mak, of course, admitted that those likely to embrace a hobby may already have a mental health head start. 

“Theoretical work suggests the relationship between hobbies and wellbeing may cut both ways — that people with better mental health may be more likely to take up a hobby and persisting with a hobby may help us to retain improved life satisfaction,” she said.





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