Stressed-out parents take heed! It would seem running after the kids, having a full time job, getting the gym, and making time for a social life all count as a diversity of activities that are actually good for your brain. Now if you can just remove the 'stress' part.
A new study published in the Journal of Gerontology found that change is good for the brain and that a diversity in activities helps with cognitive function across adulthood.
“My study shows that active lifestyle is associated with higher cognitive functioning and the association was independent of age, education, and other potential confounding factors,” study author Soomi Lee told us. Lee is Assistant Professor at the School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida. Lee authored the study along with Susan T. Charles and David M. Almeida.
“Based on the cognitive reserve hypothesis, my colleagues and I expected that higher activity diversity and greater increases in activity diversity over ten years would be associated with higher cognitive functioning overall, higher executive functioning, and better episodic memory,” Lee told us.
For the duration of the study, participants were asked: “Since this time yesterday, how much time did you spend (1) in paid work, (2) with children, (3) doing chores, (4) on leisure, (5) in physical activities, (6) on formal volunteering, and (7) giving informal help to people not living with you (e.g., friends, neighbor, parent, other relatives, etc.)?” The cognitive functions measured were working memory span, verbal fluency, attention, speed of processing, reasoning, and verbal memory.
“My previous study found that activity diversity is associated with higher psychological well-being,” Lee told us. “So, I wanted to test whether activity diversity is also important for cognitive health.”
Researchers used a large sample of U.S. adults who participated in the Midlife in the United States Survey study.
“I used a novel measure of activity diversity and comprehensive assessments of cognitive function,” Lee told us. “Specifically, activity diversity was conceptualized as the breadth and evenness of participation across different daily activities by using daily time use data during eight consecutive days. To create an activity diversity score, I used a method developed in engineering field, called Shannon’s entropy. Entropy method was first introduced in thermodynamics, where a thermodynamic system can have diverse macroscopic variables and configuration. I adapted the method to operationalize activity diversity. Cognitive functioning was assessed through a validated test protocol by telephone.”
U.S. adults who had greater activity diversity and those who increased activity diversity over time were better at multiple cognitive tests, independent of age, education, and other potential confounds.
The results were surprising to Lee and her counterparts.
“Although my hypothesis was supported, I was a little surprised by that the results hold even after controlling for so many factors that may explain activity diversity and cognitive functioning such as age, education, psychological well-being, physical health, and total activity time,” Lee told us. “Also, the results hold true for younger, middle-aged, and older adults.”
With age, our cognitive function declines. However, it may not be due to age. Less explains it may be due to declines in activities with age.
“Activity diversity may be more important for vulnerable populations, such as older adults with a lack of activities, those with chronic disease, and those with pain,” Lee told us. “My future goal is to examine whether promoting activity diversity in such vulnerable populations can benefit their health. Taken together, findings from the current study and my previous study seems to mean that engaging in diverse activities regularly is important for a variety of health and well-being outcomes.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com