“The early bird gets the worm” is an age-old saying that refers to those who prefer rising early to tackle their tasks. But the added benefits of this approach might encourage night owls to reconsider their personal preferences: According to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, which was conducted by University of Pittsburgh researchers, waking up early —and remaining active throughout the day—can improve mental health and your overall productivity, especially for senior adults.
“There’s something about getting going early, staying active all day, and following the same routine each day that seems to be protecting older adults,” said Stephen Smagula, PhD, the lead study author and assistant professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, in a statement. “What’s exciting about these findings is that activity patterns are under voluntary control, which means that making intentional changes to one’s daily routine could improve health and wellness.”
After studying 1,800 adults over the age of 65 for a week—and tracking their movements with fitness watches and analysing their cognitive-related questionnaires—the team found that nearly 38% of participants woke up early and kept moving. “Many older adults had robust patterns: They get up before 7 am on average, and they keep going; they stay active for 15 hours or so each day. They also tend to follow the same pattern day in, day out,” said Smagula. “Lo and behold, those same adults were happier, less depressed, and had better cognitive function than other participants.”
Although 32.6% of the study’s participants also kept up a regular routine, they were only active for 13.4 hours every day—the result of a later wake-up time or decreased activity in the evening. The researchers noted that this caused them to have more depressive symptoms and lower cognitive exams than those who woke up around 7 am The final 29.8% of volunteers were inconsistent across the board with their daily routine, causing further decreases in mental health and cognitive testing.
“Our findings suggest that activity pattern disruption is very common and associated with health problems in older adults,” said Smagula. “The relationship is likely bi-directional, so the good news is we think that simple changes—things everyone can try—can restore regular activity patterns and doing so may improve health.”
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