When you have too much to do, you might dream of spending time up a lazy river. But if you want to keep your brain sharp and your memory strong, you’re better off staying busy.
Really busy—so busy that you feel like you have so many things to do that you can’t possibly get them all done. So busy that you wish the day were longer. So busy that you sometimes stay up later than you want to in order to get everything done.
That’s the surprising conclusion of a new study of men and women ages 50 to 89. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas studied 330 participants who filled out a “busyness” questionnaire and then measured that against memory and brain function scores. Results…
- The busiest ones processed information faster, reasoned better, could remember more at one time and had a better recall of important moments in their own lives.
- The strongest association was for “episodic” memory—remembering specific times and places.
- While participants in their 50s and 60s tended to be busier than those in their 70s and 80s, the cognitive benefits of busyness remained a strong association at any age. “Our findings,” the authors conclude, “offer encouragement to maintain active, busy lifestyles throughout middle and late adulthood.”
It’s an observational study, to be sure, so it doesn’t prove cause and effect. Plus, the researchers note, it’s well-established that chronic high stress levels can impair cognitive function, including memory—so there’s no point to being so busy that you want to tear your hair out.
But it may be time to stop envying the lucky old sun, who keeps rolling around heaven all day. It’s good to stay busy—at any age. (For more tips on keeping your brain fit, see Bottom Line’s article “Dr. Kosik’s 6-Step Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan.”)