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J Epidemiol Community Health. 2003 Nov;57(11):907-13.

Leisure activities and cognitive function in middle age: evidence from the Whitehall II study.

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International Centre for Health and Society, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK.



To test the hypothesis of a positive association, independent of social position, between participation in leisure activities and cognitive function in middle age. The nature of this relation is explored by first classifying leisure activities as entailing high or low cognitive effort, and then classifying them as entailing individual or social activities.


London based office staff (Whitehall II study) in 20 civil service departments at baseline.


Data are from the fifth wave of data collection (phase 5) of a prospective cohort study, collected through clinical examination and a self administered questionnaire. Firstly, hierarchical multiple regression was used to examine age and socioeconomic status (SES) adjusted effect of each leisure activity on cognition. Then structural equation models were used to examine the effects of two categories of leisure activities-activities entailing high or low cognitive effort and social or individual activities. All analyses are cross sectional.


There was an age and SES adjusted association between participation in leisure activities and cognitive function. More specifically, leisure activity entailing high cognitive effort or social interaction was associated with better cognitive ability.


Participation in cognitively complex or social leisure activities has an independent association with adult cognition, suggesting that seeking mental stimulation may have a beneficial effect on cognition in middle age.

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