Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Lifestyle Activities and Memory: Variety May Be the Spice of Life. The Women's Health and Aging Study II

Michelle C. Carlsona1a2 c1, Jeanine M. Parisia1, Jin Xiaa2a3, Qian-Li Xuea2a3, George W. Reboka1a2, Karen Bandeen-Rochea2a4 and Linda P. Frieda5

a1 Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland

a2 Center on Aging and Health, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland

a3 Division of Geriatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland

a4 Department of Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, Center on Aging and Health

a5 Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, New York


This study examined whether participation in a variety of lifestyle activities was comparable to frequent participation in cognitively challenging activities in mitigating impairments in cognitive abilities susceptible to aging in healthy, community-dwelling older women. Frequencies of participation in various lifestyle activities on the Lifestyle Activities Questionnaire (LAQ) were divided according to high (e.g., reading), moderate (e.g., discussing politics), and low (e.g., watching television) cognitive demand. We also considered the utility of participation in a variety of lifestyle activities regardless of cognitive challenge. Immediate and delayed verbal recall, psychomotor speed, and executive function were each measured at baseline and at five successive exams, spanning a 9.5-year interval. Greater variety of participation in activities, regardless of cognitive challenge, was associated with an 8 to 11% reduction in the risk of impairment in verbal memory and global cognitive outcomes. Participation in a variety of lifestyle activities was more predictive than frequency or level of cognitive challenge for significant reductions in risk of incident impairment on measures sensitive to cognitive aging and risk for dementia. Our findings offer new perspectives in promoting a diverse repertoire of activities to mitigate age-related cognitive declines. (JINS, 2012, 18, 286–294)

(Received July 29 2011)

(Revised November 07 2011)

(Accepted November 07 2011)


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Michelle C. Carlson, Department of Mental Health, Center on Aging and Health, The Johns Hopkins University, 2024 E. Monument Street, Suite 2-700, Baltimore, MD 21205. E-mail: