How you spend your days now can either lead to cognitive decline or help ensure a healthy mind as you age

Do you have hobbies, work out, belong to special interest groups or do you prefer to spend your free time binge-watching a hot new TV series?

How you spend your time affects your mental health and can either protect against or lead to cognitive decline. And it starts with what you do in your 30s.

Protecting your brain starts in your 30s

For many, the mid-30s is a busy time balancing career and family life. It’s also a critical time for how we diversify our days in order to stay up to speed.

What you do now counts

A new study from the University of South Florida (USF) finds a key piece to maintaining cognitive function throughout adulthood is to engage in diverse activities regularly.

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Researchers focused on seven common daily activities – paid work, time with children, chores, leisure, physical activity, volunteering and giving informal help.

They reviewed two sets of data from 732 people ranging between the ages of 34 and 84 collected by the National Survey of Daily Experiences.

Every day for eight consecutive days, each participant was asked if they partook in those activities and scored on an activity diversity score that captures both the breadth (variety) and evenness (consistency) of activity participation.

The same group was questioned again 10 years later.

Could your hobbies keep your mind sharp?

Aim to do more as you get older

The study found those who increased activity diversity over the decade exhibited higher levels of cognitive functioning than those who maintained lower or decreased activity diversity.

Their cognitive functioning was assessed using the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT) battery, which measures multiple dimensions of cognition, including working memory span, verbal fluency, attention, speed of processing, reasoning and verbal memory.

Previous studies have examined how activity variety and frequency impact cognition. This is the first study to prove that activity consistency is also essential, regardless of age.

“Results support the adage to ‘use it or lose it’ and may inform future interventions targeting the promotion of active lifestyles to include a wide variety of activities for their participants,” said Soomi Lee, PhD, assistant professor in the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.

Findings suggest that active and engaged lifestyles with diverse and regular activities are essential for our cognitive health.”

Creative hobbies help you flourish

Bad news for binge-watchers

Daily engagement results in greater accumulation of intellectual and social repertoires.

Life experiences, including further education and leisure activities like hobbies and sports, can help compensate for progressing Alzheimer’s disease.

Conversely, a lack of activities or passive behaviour, like binge-watching TV, is associated with cognitive decline.

Source: University of South Florida (USF Innovation) via