July 2020

Variety and Cognition

As the saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life,” – but how does variation impact cognition? The answer may surprise you.The results of a recent study published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, show that having more variety in activities leads to better cognitive abilities. The research measured the effects of having a variety of activities on mental acuity as a person aged. The authors of the study believe, “experiencing and learning from a variety of activities in daily life are posited to increase cognitive reserve capacity and resilience, leading to better performance on cognitively challenging tasks,” (Newman, 2020).To conduct the study, researchers collected data from 732 individuals between 34-84 years old for eight days in a row by asking them if they had participated in any of these seven 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

(Source: Medical News Today)Ten years later, these researches asked the same individuals these same questions. They concluded that, “those who had the greatest activity diversity had the highest cognitive function scores,” (Newman, 2020). Moreover, this study determined that it isn’t that someone who participates in a variety of activities spends a longer time being active, but it is the actual diversity in the activities that shows cognitive improvement and preservation. To underscore their findings, the researchers also determined that those who continuously diversified their activities maintained higher cognitive scores than those who did not.It is important to note that this study was completed before the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. In that sense, the findings are doubly important for us because they emphasize how advantageous it can be to engage in a variety of activities even under the conditions of social isolation. We are all learning that there are many ways to stay engaged both socially and intellectually while staying at home.The use of isolation-assistive technologies like MapHabit is a good way to ensure variation of daily activity which could help extend cognitive function over time. Additionally, staying socially connected with friends and family – even if conducted through virtual means – will help us all get through this challenging time a little easier.Newman, Tim. “Activities for Brain Health: It's the Variety That Counts.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 22 Feb. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/activities-for-brain-health-its-the-variety-that-counts#Limitations-and-the-future.