A study conducted at the University of Texas at Dallas found learning a new skill helped improved signs of memory loss in older adults. Neuroscientist Dr. Denise Park studied the effects of learning various new skills on 200 older adults. Some of the activities included were quilting or digital photography. She then compared their results with a “social group” who spent their time watching movies, playing easy games, or talking with friends.
Parks found that, not only was the memory of the skills group improved, but they retained their memory function a full year later.
Learning a challenging activity can strengthen the connections between parts of your brain. Parks hopes that promoting an active brain can help “defer cognitive aging.”
Sounds great in theory, right? Well, let’s put it to practice. Here are seven ideas for new skills you can learn to keep your brain sharp and improve your memory.
Take up a new instrument. The challenge of learning a new instrument is bound to keep your brain busy. Sign up for lessons or dust off that old violin you’ve always meant to learn how to play.
Learn a new language. There are great computer software options for learning a new language if formal classes aren’t available in your area. Check out Rosetta Stone for starters.
Practice a new craft. Whether it’s quilting (like the adults in the study) or woodworking, practicing a new craft can get your creative juices flowing while challenging your mind.
Play a challenging game. If you’ve never learned chess, now might be a great time to try it out.
Learn a new sport or exercise regularly. Another study found that exercise could actually increase the size of your brain. If you’ve wanted to learn to swim or play tennis, doing so could improve your physical and mental health. Or, if there's not a new sport on your radar, any regular exercise — like walking — can improve your memory and thinking skills.
Take on a new technology. The participants in the study who learned digital photography and Photoshop showed the greatest improvement in memory function. This might be due to the fact that it offered the greatest challenge.
Study a new subject. Perhaps you’ve always had an interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics, but never really studied them. Challenge yourself to learn something complicated and new.
There’s a lot of emphasis placed on keeping your body healthy as you age, but keeping your brain healthy is just as important. The challenge of learning a new skill is rewarding enough on its own, but the prospect of improving your cognitive function is even more motivation. These seven suggestions are a great place to start, but don’t hesitate to take on something you’ve always been interested in.