One of the best ways to keep your brain sharp as you get older may be to stay busy, according to new research. While scientists have previously recommended engaging in mentally challenging activities, a new study suggests that keeping a packed schedule may offer similar benefits.
In a survey of over 300 people participating in the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, study authors found that among adults over the age of 50, having a busy schedule was associated with better brain processing, improved memory, sharper reasoning and better vocabulary.
People in the study ranged from 50 to 89 years old, and the positive effect of busyness on the brain was consistent across age. This, the study authors conclude, suggests that keeping a busy lifestyle is important in middle age as well as old age.
It’s possible that staying busy increases people’s ability to learn new things, as they may be exposed to different situations, people, and information on a daily basis, the researchers suggest. But it’s also possible that people with higher cognitive abilities are also more likely to be busier. The study cannot definitively determine that busyness alone causes better brain health.
And what about the stress that can come from maintaining a tight schedule? “We certainly considered that being very busy could hurt cognition,” says study author Denise Park, director of research at the Center for Vital Longevity at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Basically, the data suggest that the benefits of busyness outweigh the downside.”
Park says her team plans to further study the effects of busyness on the brain to hopefully further untangle the factors that improve or hamper cognition later in life.