New Routines, Happier Brain

Nearly 8 months into quarantine, with a winter of continued social isolation looming, many people are struggling to find something new to breathe a little excitement into what has likely become a very predictable daily routine.  Although businesses have opened up somewhat, even going out to a few local restaurants for a meal or walking area trails has become mundane.  Our brains crave new sights, smells, and sounds – integral in making new memories. 

According to a recent Shondaland post, research from New York University, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found a link between more variety in people’s daily routines with experiencing greater positive emotions.  Using a GPS tracker to monitor study participants in New York and Miami, researchers not only followed people’s physical locations but also checked in with their emotional state.  Participants who moved around and visited different and new places scored higher in reported feelings of happiness and excitement and felt stronger, more relaxed, and more attentive.

It’s easy to fall into a routine that offers little in the way of new experiences but varying your daily schedule or habits provides an opportunity to shake off the cobwebs.  It can be as simple as taking a different route to the store, trying a new recipe, learning a card game, or connecting with some different people, even virtually.

With new experiences, our brains are engaged more, especially in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memories.  With greater connectivity within the brain, the more able we are to be flexible in our thinking and our behavior.  Older adults are no exception. We can all benefit in many ways from trying something new. 

In the days ahead while we wait for a vaccine that allows us to move more freely in the world around us, seize each moment to discover something novel.  Instead of looking back on this year wondering what we did will all that time, we will have new memories to help mark this extraordinary period of history.