Eat right, exercise, drink red wine, laugh a lot… there are lots of different approaches to staying young. Some can help us live longer, healthier lives and others are still up for debate. But one approach that’s quickly gaining favor with experts is the act of learning something new.
Train Your Brain to Stay Young
The evidence is mounting: taking on new things throughout your lifetime can help ward off mental decline. Henry Ford said it best, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Researchers are now linking learning to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, too. Plus, when the brain is healthy, the rest of the body stays healthier, too (and vice versa).
Ready to try training your brain to see if you can roll back the years? Here are some tips.
Learning Tip #1: Take a College Class (or Two or Three or Four)
Formal education doesn’t have to end after your teens or 20s. According to research, it really shouldn’t, either. There are plenty of course offerings to choose from at community colleges, each designed for working people, older Americans, and other non-traditional age students who want to get ahead or stay sharp.
Even if you can’t make it to a community college, there are lots of online courses to enjoy. Have you heard of MOOC’s? Massive Open Online Courses are often free and sometimes offered by top universities in the nation. Fancy yourself a Harvard student learning about Civil War history, for example. Or would you like to dive deep into a topic like Finance? How about something called, “Engineering: Building with Nature”? They’re all available online for free, in a self-paced format that accommodates your schedule. Check the EdX website for what’s available right now.
If you are looking for something that requires a little less study time, why not try yoga? Yoga is perfect for older adults. It engages the body, mind, and spirit, and it’s also a great way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Read about why yoga is becoming popular among older adults.
Tip #2: Take Up a Difficult Hobby
As hobbies go, some are known to be relaxing because they’re easy, while others present more of a challenge. Tapping into the Fountain of Youth involves the latter type. Researchers actually found that the more difficult a new hobby is, the greater the improvement in cognitive skills like memory.
One example, the one studied by scientists and which showed a clear advantage over “easier” hobbies like doing puzzles, was digital photography. It involves a computer, and you’ll probably be learning Photoshop, a program for editing digital images. Challenging at any age!
Looking for more suggestions? Read our article about the importance of hobbies. The article is written for people approaching retirement, but the suggestions are applicable to all ages. A hobby you start now could become a passion for the rest of your life.
Tip #3: Write a Book
It’s been said that everyone has a book in them. Whether yours is a novel, a history lesson, or a memoir, the idea is the same: writing challenges the brain in a number of beneficial ways.
The advantage of writing a memoir is that aside from challenging your brain, it also serves as a valuable exercise in self-reflection. That can help seniors relive special moments, tell their story for future generations, or leave a legacy to provide a record of family tradition. Memoir writing can also help writers come to terms with certain aspects of living, such as growth, loss, aging, or any other type of life journey.
You could even combine this with Tip #1 (Take a College Class) and enroll in a memoir-writing class. If your local community college doesn’t have one, check your local library. Many offer these classes as part of their outreach programming.
If memoirs aren’t your cup of tea, how about a history of your town? It’s not quite so personal but does draw upon your unique perspective and knowledge.
And of course there are mysteries, whodunits, historical dramas, romances, and nonfictional how-to’s to consider, as well.
Tip #4: Discover Your Inner Picasso (or Monet)
Like writing or learning digital photography, learning to do something artistic has a high cognitive demand. Whether it’s painting, drawing, quilting, or refinishing furniture, in each case you’re learning something new and you’re challenging your brain on a higher level.
It doesn’t matter how you choose to learn a new art. You could take a class or you could hire a private instructor. You could even learn from a book or watch videos on YouTube. The important part is that you’re truly striving to learn the art (and that you’re also having fun!).
Why Learning New Things Works
What all of these tips have in common is that they challenge the brain. When you learn a new skill, take a college class, or start a difficult hobby, you’re strengthening certain connections in your brain. That does a lot more than just playing brain games.
Brain games may improve a very limited aspect of your short-term memory, according to cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. But challenging activities like the ones described above do much more: they strengthen entire neural networks.
So, one last word of advice: don’t put too much stock in those so-called ‘Brain Games’ that cost a lot of money. The research isn’t there to back up their efficacy when it comes to warding off dementia or improving a wide range of brain functions. They are fun, yes, if they are worth it to you for the enjoyment – go for it.
But when it comes to actually improving brain functions, instead take a more holistic approach to challenging your brain: explore and discover what truly excites you while simultaneously challenging your mental abilities. Your genuine interest will help keep you motivated through the challenges you encounter. And that’s where the real magic happens… neural networks are strengthened and before you know it, you’ve tapped into your own inner fountain of youth.
Want to learn more about staying young through mental exercise? Read how Acts Retirement has made mental stimulation programs a priority within their communities. You may not be ready for retirement, but you’re never too young to start improving your mental health.