Researchers Recommend a Variety of Exercises for Brain Health

Drawing of the brain and its parts
Drawing of the brain with parts labeled.

If you take part in a variety of activities you’re likely to have better brain health. Adults in the Western world are living increasingly long lives. So understanding how to preserve and nurture brain health is ever more important.

We already know two things:

  • The more you engage in physical and cognitive activities, the better your cognitive performance.
  • People who spend long periods doing more passive activities, such as watching television, are more likely to experience cognitive decline.

Variety counts

A recent study by researchers at the University of South Florida in Tampa shows that mental health isn’t just about increasing physical and cognitive activities. It’s about making sure you have a variety. Experiencing and learning from a variety of activities in daily life help you to perform better at cognitively challenging tasks.

Taking part in a range of activities often means that individuals meet more people. Social activity in itself leads to more knowledge and better psychological and cognitive resources.

About the study

Researchers took data from 732 people between the ages of 34 and 84 years. Every day for 8 consecutive days, they asked these individuals whether they had taken part in any of the following seven common activities:

  • spending time with children
  • paid work
  • leisure activities
  • chores
  • formal volunteering
  • physical activity
  • giving informal help to people who do not live with them

Using this information, the authors gave each participant a score that reflected how varied their activates were and for how long they did them.

After 10 years, the scientists tested the study participants. They measured verbal fluency, working and verbal memory, processing speed, and attention.

The results of the study

The authors found that those who had engaged in the most varied activities had the highest cognitive function scores. In other words, it is not that someone with diverse activities spends longer being active. Instead, it seems that it is the diversity itself that makes the difference.

Limitations of the study

Although the researchers asked about the participants’ health, they did not review their medical records. As certain health conditions can reduce an individual’s ability to carry out activities, as well as influencing cognitive health, this has the potential to skew the results.

But overall, it seems that the adage to ‘use it or lose it’ is true.


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