Being busy keeps mind sharp
Though most of us complain when our schedules become too busy, new research suggests that being overbooked may actually be beneficial for the brain.
In a study undertaken by researchers at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas in Dallas, 330 healthy men and women aged between 50 and 89 were surveyed about their daily schedule. They then took part in a long series of neuropsychological tests to measure their cognitive performance.
Accordingly, the results indicated that at any age, and regardless of education, a busier lifestyle is associated with superior processing speed of the brain, working memory, reasoning, and vocabulary. Especially strong is the association between busyness and better episodic memory, being the ability to remember specific events in the past.
"We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information," said lead author Dr Sara Festini.
One mediating factor accounting for the relationship between busyness and brain activity may be the new learning process, propose the researchers. They say busy people are likely to have more opportunities to learn as they are exposed to more information and encounter a wider range of situations in daily life.
However, Dr Festini and her colleagues warn that the findings don't prove that "busyness" can make people smarter.
"Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function, although additional experimental work is needed to determine if manipulations of busyness have the same effect," she said in a statement.
The research is part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, one of the most comprehensive studies of age-related changes in cognition and brain function in adults currently underway in the United States.
Director of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, Denise Park, said she was hopeful the findings would spur further investigation into the topic.
"We were surprised at how little research there was on busyness, given that being too busy seems to be a fact of modern life for so many," she said.
The study was first published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.