I’m endlessly fascinated by children in airports. As I sit, waiting patiently (sort of) at the gate for my flight, I watch children – in particular the 3 to 5 year olds – run, stumble, and climb over, through, and around anything stationary: people, suitcases, seats, recycling bins. They won’t sit still for more than a second. I’m exhausted just watching them, and in complete admiration of the parents who chase, snag, grab, clutch, hug, feed, and amuse their squirming, happy, perpetually-in-motion kids.
But here’s the thing: what if that very busyness is a key to the fountain of youth? What if being busy, staying very active, is a way to stay young?
A ground-breaking study from The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study of 300 older individuals between the ages of 50 and 89, found that the brains of people who were busy, worked better—regardless of their age. In geek speak: “Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function.” Busier people could reason better (as in use their brains better), had better working memory (as in better short-term memory), better vocabulary, and had better ability to remember specific events from the past.
Since mental decline is something many of us fear as we go from 50 to 60 to 70 and beyond, this is extremely valuable information! Get busy, and you can keep those brains humming along just fine.
In practical terms, what does that mean? Well, you don’t have to imitate the 3 – 5 year olds and jungle-gym your way through airports—fortunately. I don’t know about you, but I’d look real funny doing that. But what it does mean is taking a second look at retirement: maybe the fantasy of sitting on a beach sipping pina coladas for those 20 or 30 or 40 years post-retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe you’d be better off sipping said pina coladas on an occasional Friday afternoon, and finding a number of different activities to enjoy the rest of your week.
There is so much to do, to enjoy, to share. There are umpteen organizations in need of volunteers, from library literacy programs to Habitat for Humanity to the Red Cross to your local hospital to international assistance programs and many more. There are volunteer organizations to fit every conceivable interest, there are even online volunteer matching organizations that help you find the best volunteer fit for you.
Then there’s all those hobbies you never had time for: fishing, hiking, learning a language, building a miniature railroad track, joining a choir, experimenting with crafts. Perhaps there’s a small business you’d like to start, or a novel you want to write, or a painting you’d love to learn how to paint, or a garden you so want to plant.
And then there’s physical activity: golf, dance, tennis, Pilates, yoga, running, softball, horseback riding, ping-pong, martial arts, the list is endless. No, not watching it from the cushy depths of your couch, but engaging in it.
A mix of these activities--some creative, some physical, some giving back, some just plain fun—can be a wonderful approach to a busy lifestyle. Not busyness for the sake of busyness, but having a variety of activities which, as the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study points out, give us more opportunities to learn as we find ourselves in more new situations, and put us in contact with different people, all of which help to stimulate our brains.
Stimulate your brain! Get busy! And have as much fun as possible while you’re at it. After all, isn’t that what those kids are doing with all their running around?
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