When we think of retirement, most people picture a life of ease: sipping cocktails by a beach, playing with grand-kids, or finally getting a chance to relax on the couch and catch up on your Netflix time. All of these activities can be great fun, but where’s the challenge?
For years, scientists have seen a link between engaging in enjoyable activities and maintaining a healthy brain. But could merely engaging in enjoyable activities be enough?
In a new study featured in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, researchers have found that the brain works best when it’s challenged. The study followed two groups of seniors: One group was assigned to socialize for 15 hours a week, engaging their peers, but learning no new skills. The other group was taught skills on a digital camera for 14 hours a week, taking on progressively more complex assignments. Scientists found that the group who spent their time actively learning new and challenging skills did better on cognitive tests.
Researchers are drawing links between strong neural pathways in the brain and cognitive challenges. This means that while chatting with friends might make you feel young, learning Russian could keep your brain young.
How do you challenge your brain? Scientists are still trying to determine what parts of learning preserve neural pathways, but they believe that increasingly difficult tasks are the best way to keep your brain healthy. Objectives like learning a language, developing a new craft, or memorizing a dance routine are good ways to engage your brain in active learning. Consider perusing the brochures for community college classes near you or check neighborhood bulletin boards to help you find an interest that will allow you to challenge your brain.
Whether you’re hoping to stave off memory loss or just want to spend retirement discovering all the things you didn’t have time for while you worked, the point is this: Learning isn’t always easy, but hard-won lessons impart precious knowledge as well as promote a healthy brain.