If I’ve got food and water, as long as I can exercise my mind and keep it nimble, then I’ll be okay. ~ R. Walton
We don’t often think about it but the saying, “use it or lose it” applies to our brains, not just our biceps. In the case of our brains it could be changed it, “learn something new to keep it nimble.” Science now tells us that our brains aren’t fully matured and wired until about 26 or 27. Did you know that? We think of 18 year olds as being ‘fully grown up’ when really the part of our brain that makes complex decisions isn’t yet wired! Scary stuff. I say this because reasonably new science also tells us that if we keep learning new and complex skills as we age we’re more likely to keep our brains in good shape.
In 2014, Dr. Denise Parks at the University of Texas at Dallas did some very interesting research. She put seniors into 1 of 4 groups. 2 groups were control groups, with one of those groups socializing regularly but not learning anything new and the other control group sat at home listening to the radio or music. Of the 2 study groups one learned how to quilt and one learned how to use Photoshop with a digital camera. If you’ve never done one of those hobbies I can promise you they’re tricky to learn.
Here’s the piece to apply to us: people who learned new skills had significant gains in their brains. New skills, and the functions our brains need to take on to learn those new skills appear to be just what your brain needs as it ages.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, our brains work on a series of connections, a lot like messy wiring in a home. When we learn something new and challenging those connections are forced to work hard to find pathways that allow for new learning. It also has to find the pathways to get back to both the new information and our older information and finally we have to make decisions as to how all this goes together. In doing all this work our brain is being asked to stretch and grow – good things to have happen when you’re looking to ward off dementia or other memory problems.
We also know that exercise helps the brain a great deal. Moving, getting up and about, actually increases the volume of the brain. A study in 2006 by S. Colcombe, et al showed rather conclusively that cardiovascular exercise improved brain functioning.
Here’s to wishing you all the fun in the world, and perhaps a bit of frustration, as you take on that challenging new skills. What’s on your list of things to learn?
Best for your week!