Quick Hits
Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

ageing brain active

A “killer” routine is often recommended by many motivational books – the morning routine that will make your more productive and successful. You know the type of thing.

Now, new research into senior citizens could give us a clue to as to how beneficial daily routines are – but this suggests it is the general routine and not the specific routine that gives you the benefits. In this particular study the benefits were being happier (or less depressed) and having better cognitive function. Not bad.

Stehen Smagula and colleagues of the University of Pittsburgh recruited 1’800 adults over the age of 65 and tracked them with accelerometers over seven days and assessed their levels of depression and measured cognitive function.

What did they find?

They saw different activity patterns and could cluster these into four different groups. Those who rose early and kept a consistent daily routine and who were very active (37.6%). Those who kept a pretty consistent daily routine and who were not so active (32.6%). Those who were early rising had erratic activity patterns with high variation throughout the day and between days (9.8%). And those who were late rising and had erratic activity patterns (20%).

These patterns were then also correlated with happiness, measured here as lack of depression, and cognitive ability. Those in group one, the early risers who had consistent and long activity patterns scored best – with around a 300% lower risk of having depressive symptoms or being in the lower cognitive performing group.

This is interesting because it shows that regular consistent routines seem to be doing something that keep us healthy. We do know that routines are important for mental health – we also know that activity of all sorts is very important. With more recent research showing the benefits of light physical activity in contrast to heavy physical activity i.e. doing chores, going for a walk, doing the shopping.

We may also have assumed that variety is the spice of life – as my mother used to say – a varied routine may stimulate the brain more. Not so according to this – though the researchers couldn’t see what activities participants were engaged in. They may have been varied. It seems like the simple stimulus is the most important factor.

Similarly, we may also have assumed, as I have reported on natural sleeping rhythms, that sticking to ones preferred activity period – late or early would be individualised. Here it seems that early rising is beneficial – though it could simply be that the early risers get more consistent activity throughout the day in contrast to later risers.

This was in senior citizens but the message is still: be active and be consistent. Not bad advice for life in general.

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Stephen F. Smagula, Gehui Zhang, Swathi Gujral, Naima Covassin, Jingen Li, Warren D. Taylor, Charles F. Reynolds, Robert T. Krafty. 
Association of 24-Hour Activity Pattern Phenotypes With Depression Symptoms and Cognitive Performance in Aging
JAMA Psychiatry, 2022
DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.2573

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