Brian Handwerk in Smithsonian:
Slammed. Swamped. Flat out. Buried. No matter how it's said, the refrain is all too familiar—people are just too busy. But there's good news for the harried and hectic, new research shows that busy lifestyles may be good for your brain. “There hasn't been much scientific research on busyness itself, although it's something that we talk about so often,” explains Sara Festini, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas Center for Vital Longevity, a co-author of the new research published this week in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. “So we wanted to look at the relationship of a generally very busy lifestyle to cognition.” Festini and colleagues found that middle-aged and older Americans who keep themselves busy test better across a whole range of different cognitive functions like brain processing speeds, reasoning and vocabulary. The memory of specific events from the past, or episodic memory, is especially enhanced among busy people, they report. Psychologist Brent Small, director of the University of South Florida's School of Aging Studies, said the results are “in line with a large body of research suggesting that older adults who are actively engaged in cognitive stimulating activities are more likely to perform better on standard cognitive tasks.”
“This paper extends that work by examining the concept of busyness,” adds Small, who wasn't involved in the new research. But the strong correlation shown between busyness and brain function also raises an intriguing chicken-and-egg question: Does busyness boost the brain, or might people with better cognitive powers be more likely to keep themselves busy?