The responsibilities we take on as adults often require us to leave behind the simplicity of childhood. Though we can’t ignore more pressing obligations, like working or raising a family, we can—and should—commit to keeping life interesting. In fact, recent research shows getting stuck in a rut, or sticking to a consistent routine, is bad for the brain.
A study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences found engaging in diverse activities can improve cognitive functioning throughout adulthood.
Researchers from the University of South Florida focused on seven common activities:
- Paid work.
- Spending time with kids.
- Completing chores.
- Participating in leisure time.
- Engaging in physical activity.
- Giving informal help.
Every day for eight consecutive days, they asked more than 730 adults—between the ages of 34 and 84—how often they partook in those activities. The participants also reported the diversity in and the consistency of their engagement in those activities.
The same participants were evaluated 10 years later on their cognitive functioning. Researchers used the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT) to measure the signs of aging. The assessment analyzes working memory span, verbal fluency, attention, speed of processing, reasoning, and verbal memory.
Results showed those whose schedules were more spontaneous had higher levels of cognitive functioning than the people who stuck to routine or engaged in passive activities, like binge-watching TV.
While the thought of exerting more energy—social or physical—after a long day of work might sound dreadful, closing yourself off to social and intellectual experiences can accelerate cognitive decline. This commonly affects adults who retire early and have less social engagement.
The “findings suggest that active and engaged lifestyles with diverse and regular activities are essential for our cognitive health,” said one author of the study, Soomi Lee, Ph.D.
“Participating in a variety of daily activities requires people to adjust to a variety of situations and engage in a greater diversity of behaviors,” which can keep mental functioning sharp.
Along with delaying neurodegenerative disorders, in a prior study, Lee found switching things up can also benefit psychological well-being.
So take a different route to work, and, if it’s nice out, consider walking; to meet new people, turn off the TV and join a club. These interruptions to your normal routine will not only create valuable memories but can also delay the progression of age-related diseases.