Story highlights

Artistic and crafty activities could prevent mild cognitive impairment in old age

Socializing and using a computer in later life can also help

Picking up hobbies early and maintaining them is the most helpful

CNN  — 

Are you an artist? Maybe you enjoy crafting on the weekends or even just hanging out with your friends. Good news: Keep it up – and not just for fun. It’s also good for your health.

Pursuing creative passions and favorite activities into old age could preserve your mind and stave off dementia, according to a new study in Neurology, a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers discovered that people who engaged in artistic activities, such as painting, drawing and sculpting, in both middle and old age were 73% less likely to have memory and thinking problems, such as mild cognitive Impairment, that lead to dementia.

The study also revealed that craft-based activities such as sewing, woodworking and ceramics in midlife and old age, were 45% less likely to encounter cognitive issues.

This is your brain on crafting

Socializing with others or going to the movies, concerts, book clubs and traveling made the participants 55% less likely to develop MCI. Using a computer later in life also reduced their risk by 53%.

Mayo Clinic’s National Institute on Aging carried the study out over four years and focused on 256 patients who had a median age of 87. These particular patients, within a larger group, didn’t develop cognitive issues over the course of the study.

‘The key to this study is prevention’

The fastest-growing age group in the United States includes people 85 and older, according to the study. Memory loss is fairly common for people who are 90 or older, and some of these memory problems can lead to dementia. While there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s, preventative research can help baby boomers, another large segment of the population, as they approach this age, said Dr. Rosebud Roberts, the leader of the study.

“The key to this study is prevention,” she said. “Everyone is affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. To know that we can do something now makes a big impact. We can actually help ourselves.”

Roberts said that the takeaways from this study aren’t only for people entering their midlife or older. People who pursue passions, hobbies or have an active social life at a young age should try to maintain it for the rest of their lives.

While this sounds ideal, Roberts acknowledged that many people let these kinds of activities drop off after they graduate from high school or college and pursue a career. For some, their jobs don’t involve creative thinking or using the brain in different ways. But fitting in even one artistic, crafty or social activity can help.

Work your brain off your job, too

“Do things that are different from your day job,” she said. “We know that doing different things can stimulate different activity in the brain. People should figure out what works for them, their schedule and what they enjoy – otherwise, they will stop. Not only does it enrich your life, but it benefits your health as well.”

Engaging your brain in these myriad ways could not only protect neurons from dying, but stimulate the growth of new neurons as well.

No age is too young to try out different hobbies and discover passions, but it’s never too late, either. Stimulating the brain in different ways when you’re older could also help. The benefits just aren’t as significant compared to people who pick them up in early or midlife and continue into old age, according to the study.

While diet, fitness level and the amount of sleep for patients was not included in this study, elements that can all impact memory, Roberts is interested in further researcher involving those factors. She also wants to parse out the key characteristics for people in their 80s and 90s who have no cognitive impairment to discover their habits. It could help define a signature for what people can aspire to achieve in old age.

But for now, don’t ignore an invite from a friend to try a new hobby, pick up a skill or just hang out. It could be just the thing that allows you to recall later in life the great memories you make now.