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INTRODUCTION: This study aimed to evaluate whether engagement in leisure activities is linked to measures of brain structure, functional connectivity and cognition in early old age. METHODS: We examined data collected from 7,152 participants of the UK Biobank study. Weekly participation in six leisure activities was assessed twice and a cognitive battery and 3T MRI brain scan were administered at the second visit. Based on responses collected at two time points, individuals were split into one of four trajectory groups: (1) stable low engagement, (2) stable weekly engagement, (3) low to weekly engagement and (4) weekly to low engagement. RESULTS: Consistent weekly attendance at a sports club or gym was associated with connectivity of the sensorimotor functional network with the lateral visual (β = 0.12, 95%CI = [0.07, 0.18], FDR q = 2.48 × 10-3) and cerebellar (β = 0.12, 95%CI = [0.07, 0.18], FDR q = 1.23 × 10-4) networks. Visiting friends and family across the two timepoints was also associated with larger volumes of the occipital lobe (β = 0.15, 95%CI = [0.08, 0.21], FDR q = 0.03). Additionally, stable and weekly computer use was associated with global cognition (β = 0.62, 95%CI = [0.35, 0.89], FDR q = 1.16 × 10-4). No other associations were significant (FDR q > 0.05). DISCUSSION: This study demonstrates that not all leisure activities contribute to cognitive health equally, nor is there one unifying neural signature across diverse leisure activities.

Original publication




Journal article


Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience


Frontiers Media

Publication Date