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.
Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience