The Busier the Better: Greater Busyness Is Associated with Better Cognition

Staying “young” mentally is something you work at by keeping busy and active, and that work pays off, says Dr. Noelle Nelson, author of the new book Happy Healthy…Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right (MindLab Publishing).

“What if ‘busyness’ is kind of like a fountain of youth?” asks Nelson. “What if being busy, staying very active is a way to stay young?”

A groundbreaking study from The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study of 300 older individuals between the ages of 50 and 89, found that the brains of people who were busy, worked better—regardless of their age: “Busier people tend to have better cognition, especially episodic memory. Our findings offer encouragement to maintain active, busy lifestyles throughout middle and late adulthood.” The study noted that busier people could reason better, had better working memory, better vocabulary and had better ability to remember specific events from the past.

“Since mental decline is something many of us fear as we go from 50 to 60 to 70 and beyond, this is extremely valuable information,” says Nelson. “Get busy, and you can keep those brains humming along just fine.”

In practical terms, Nelson says to take a second look at retirement. “Maybe the fantasy of sitting on a beach sipping pina coladas for those 20 or 30 or 40 years post-retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” suggests Nelson. “Maybe you’d be better off sipping a pina coladas on an occasional Friday evening after work.”

If your job is not-so-pleasant and you can afford to opt out of the working world, Nelson suggests taking on a volunteer role: “There are volunteer organizations to fit every conceivable interest. There are even online volunteer matching organizations that help you find the best volunteer fit for you. And of course there are hobbies you never had time for, physical activity to keep your body healthy and time even to start a second career.”

“The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study points out that the more opportunities to learn and the more we are in contact with different people and situations, the more we stimulate our brains,” says Nelson. “A mix of activities–some creative, some physical, some giving back, some just plain fun—can be a wonderful approach to a busy, meaningful and rewarding long life.”

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