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Healthy Vibes: Busyness may protect cognitive function

Want to maintain a sharp mind as you age?

Get busy.

New research shows that adults who are 50-plus years old and have a busy lifestyle tend to do better on cognitive function tests than those who don’t fill their time with activities.

The research is part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study at the Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas. Investigators at the center are trying to understand what a healthy brain looks like and how it functions at each decade of life from age 20 through 90.

Researchers surveyed 330 healthy men and women between ages 50 and 89. The participants were asked questions about their daily busyness — how often they had too many things to do each day to actually get them all done, or how often they went to bed later than usual because they had so much to do. The participants also took part in a long series of neuropsychological tests to measure their cognitive performance.

The results and what they may, or may not, mean

The researchers found that across all education levels, people who are busy have superior brain processing speed, working memory, reasoning skills and vocabulary. Busy people were espe- cially good at remembering past events, what is known as episodic memory.

The researchers cautioned that their work isn’t enough to say conclusively that busyness is responsible for better cognitive function. They said people with better cognitive function may actually seek out a busy lifestyle. They also noted that busy people have more opportunities to learn because they are exposed to more information and life experiences. An earlier study found that people who learned new skills, such as digital photography or quilting, increased their episodic memory. In other words, learning may protect your cognitive function.

How to take care of your brain

The National Institute on Aging says we should all take the following steps to take care of our brains and our overall health as well.

  • Control risk factors for chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes.
  • Exercise regularly and get physical activity.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables.
  • Engage in intellectually stimulating activities and maintain close social ties with family, friends and community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists these indicators as general signs of cognitive impairment:

  • Memory loss.
  • Frequently asking the same
  • question or repeating the same story.
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks.
  • Trouble coming up with the right words to name objects.
  • Frequently forgetting events and appointments.
  • Not recognizing familiar people and places.
  • Having trouble exercising judgment.

As people age, some memory loss is inevitable. Forgetting where you put your keys is a relatively normal memory slip, but forgetting how to unlock the door — that could be a more worrisome sign. If you have concerns about your cognitive function or that of a loved one, or want to learn more about maintaining cognitive function, talk to your doctor or other health care provider.

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