Does keeping busy keep you healthy? Maybe. As far as I know, researchers haven’t yet tested people who choose to behave like hamsters, moving quickly but without purpose. But a recent report on National Public Radio says they have tested people who occupy their time and their minds, whether by playing bingo, learning a language, being physically active or socially involved. The tests, conducted before and after a four-year period on a group of seniors — average age 82 — showed that those who led the most “active lifestyle” had a greater chance of slowing down “cognitive decline” and less risk of succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease than those who were physical and mental couch potatoes.
Still, a high activity level is no guarantee of keeping a healthy brain. Seventy-one of the 716 research subjects did develop Alzheimer’s by the end of the four-year project. I suspect most of us know someone who had high activity levels for most of their lives, and who were not able to stave off the disease. But we should not use their experiences as a reason to give up moving.
The benefits that come from regular physical activity affect the part of the brain called the “hippocampus,” which shrinks with age. But with aerobic exercise “new cells can form” in this area “and make connections.”
And the benefits that come from social and mental activities contribute to “cognitive reserve,” “extra brain capacity that compensates” for the unfortunate reality that most people die carrying around “a bit of Alzheimer’s” with them.
This article comes at a good time, since lately I have whined about having too much to do. If all my activities and commitments lead to a slowing down of the loss of brain capacity, I’d better stand up and cheer — anything to keep moving.