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A Busy Schedule May Keep Your Mental Prowess

September 27, 2016

Have an infinite to-do list or a schedule so jam-packed you barely have time to eat? It turns out a busy schedule might keep you mentally sharp.

Researchers at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas were interested in how being busy affects cognitive performance and whether this varies with age, so they conducted a study with 330 people between the ages of 50 and 89. They had participants rate their level of busyness and then had them perform tests that assessed their reasoning, vocabulary, memory and how fast they processed information.

Apparently, the busier the better.

Researchers found that people who indicated they were busier performed better on the tests and their memory of past events was particularly sharp.

Though they didn’t control for other factors such as occupation or income, the study showed that the elderly tended to be less busy than middle-aged people, that women often were busier than men and that busier people often were more highly educated. However, the study found that the correlation between busyness and better cognition existed regardless of age. Researchers said their findings support past research that shows older adults’ minds benefit from learning new skills. Other studies have shown that being more mentally, physically and socially active as you age is beneficial for brain health and may stave off conditions such as dementia.

The study didn’t specifically mention the types of activities that help older adults maintain their mental prowess, but researchers said being more engaged at work, home and in leisure activities is beneficial for brain health. They said other studies have “experimentally manipulated lifestyle engagement levels and found benefits for intense, sustained engagement.”

To put it simply, the more engaged you are with the world around you — whether it be reading, doing puzzles or participating in social activities — the more benefit it may have on your brain.

But there’s also a flip side to this. Being busier can increase stress, and that in turn can affect your central nervous system. Busyness also can reduce the time you have to relax or do things you enjoy. This can increase your stress levels, too. However, if you’re older or retired, you may welcome having many items to check off your to-do list. In fact, researchers said older adults should make every effort to remain engaged by finding more daily activities or by learning new skills. As the age-old saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s playground. So get busy and stay busy — it might be one of the best things you can do for your brain health.