Cognitive health connected to income, mental health, and social ties

Malawi and American researchers recently published a study in the European Journal of Population, exploring the connection between cognitive health and physical and mental well being.

The researchers analyzed data from the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health, a long-term study of roughly 4,000 participants and covering over 10 years. Specifically, they documented “the age and gender patterns of cognitive health, the contextual and life-course correlates of poor cognitive health, and the understudied linkages between cognitive and physical/mental well-being.”

What they discovered was that poor cognitive health was connected to multiple areas of health:

  • Increased depression levels
  • Increased anxiety levels
  • Worse physical health

What causes poor cognitive health?

The authors don’t report a specific cause to poor cognitive health, but they did find that those with poor cognitive health were more likely to experience the same phenomenon:

  • Less nutrition intake
  • Lower income
  • Reduced work efforts

Keep in mind that while nutrition, income, and work efforts may affect cognitive health, it’s also possible that it can work the other way. In other words, poor cognitive health may affect diet choices, ability to access well paying jobs, and work efforts.

How can we improve cognitive health?

Again, the researchers didn’t find a connection between better cognitive health and specific causes, but they did find that those who had better cognitive health shared similar characteristics:

  • Strong social ties
  • Exposure to socially complex environments
  • Higher socioeconomic status

As we mentioned above, while these areas may affect cognitive health for the better, it may also work in the reverse. Higher cognitive health may strengthen social ties, expose us to social complexity, and improve job chances.

What is clear, however, is that we must take care of our mental health.

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