Variety isn’t just the spice of life—it’s essential for cognitive health in adulthood.
There’s a reason we stick to routines. They provide structure, consistency, and a sense of comfort, especially when life gets crazy-busy. In fact, they often develop inevitably and organically as a byproduct of life’s never-ending demands: work, school, family obligations, meetings, bills, housework, exercise routines, downtime—repeat forever and ever. Sometimes the hamster wheel of life keeps us so busy there’s no choice but to stick to our typical run-of-show.
But it’s important to shake things up, too. We should all try new things, embrace change, be spontaneous, and step out of our comfort zones now and again—and this isn’t just to keep life interesting. It’s good for our brains.
Results from a scientific study, recently published in The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, suggest that exposing oneself to a diverse array of activities throughout adulthood can boost cognitive functioning and decelerate the signs of cognitive aging, such as memory loss and the decline in ability to process information. In short: Spontaneity and variety can help keep the brain in tip-top shape, even as we age.
In this study, researchers from the University of South Florida wanted to examine “associations between activity diversity and cognitive functioning across adulthood.” The hypothesis was that engaging in a wide range of daily activities would stimulate the mind by requiring people to adjust to a variety of situations and ultimately improve cognitive function.
Over an eight-day period, 732 participants were surveyed on their frequency of participation in seven typical daily activities, including paid work, time with children, leisure activities, and physical activities. Ten years later, the same participants provided their activity data again.
Using the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT), researchers observed and analyzed participants’ respective and comparative cognitive capabilities, such as memory span, verbal memory, verbal fluency, attention, speed of processing, and reasoning. They found that “cognitive functioning, executive functioning, and episodic memory were better” in people who participated in a wider assortment of activities, or whose schedules each day weren’t carbon copies of one another, had higher cognitive functioning than people who stuck to an identical routine or had decreased their activity diversity over time.
Long story short, the older you get, the more important it is to keep an active lifestyle and a diverse schedule (to the best of your ability, of course). It’s a good reminder to experience a mix of things every day, even if they’re small: something social, something relaxing, something mentally demanding, something physically challenging, something analytical, and something creative. For a happy, healthy brain, keep life interesting and your breadth of activities wide.