The advice to stay mentally and socially active as we age to help stave off dementia is now being challenged by experts who say that it’s not enough to do crosswords or stay social. In a study published in Psychological Science, adults who engaged in an activity that involved learning a new skill—digital photography, quilting, or both—for 15 hours a week over three months showed improvements in memory when compared to people who engaged in activities such as listening to classical music and completing word puzzles, or when compared to participants who engaged in social interactions, field trips, and entertainment.
This changes what we thought we knew about maintaining our mental faculties into old age. What this tells me is that we need to push past our comfort zone and learn something that challenges us in order to “stay with it” as we age.
“The findings suggest that engagement alone is not enough,” stated lead researcher Denise Park, PhD. “The three learning groups were pushed very hard to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills. Only the groups that were confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved. It’s not just enough to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially.”
Learning a new skill creates new connections in the brain that help to improve its function, so the results of this study are not surprising. The more we challenge ourselves mentally, the greater our brain health. If you have been considering a new hobby or learning a new skill, now is the time to learn something new. And keep learning long into old age.
In addition, follow these tips to help you age successfully.