As we move towards retirement, many of us look forward to having more time to devote to the hobbies and activities we love, whether it’s longer days on the links or puttering in the garden. Staying active doing what we love is of course important and something we all should strive for. But experts on aging caution that staying too far inside our comfort zones does little to stimulate the brain activity necessary to maintain healthy cognitive function as we get older. Rather than reaching for the familiar, we should be pushing ourselves towards learning skills entirely new to us to stimulate new neuron pathways. When it comes to maximum cognitive benefit, says UT Dallas researcher Denise Park, “it’s important that the task (you choose to explore) is novel and that it challenges you personally.”
So what kind of activity is she talking about? Again, the primary goal is to choose something that teaches an entirely new skill; a seasoned piano player shouldn’t necessarily take up the flute. Pick an activity whose engagement requires your full attention and sustained concentration – if you’re a Sunday crossword person, consider switching things up with chess or bridge. Activities with a social component offer the added benefit of further stimulation. Finally, search for something you find personally rewarding; the more engaged and interested you are in your new hobby, the more likely you’ll be to stick with it and perhaps even build on your skill set.
Here are three ideas to consider that boost skill levels and brain power:
- Learn a language. If you love to travel but have never cracked open a phrase book, learning a new language can be a fun and engaging way to push your brain into uncharted territory. It also carries serious potential health benefits; a recent study points to seniors who learned a second language as exhibiting dementia symptoms almost five years later than their monolingual counterparts!
- Face the music. Whether you love to dance to the beat or play along, music-based education is one of the most vibrant ways to stimulate new pathways in the brain. Mastering new dance moves or learning to play a new instrument require the sustained concentration and coordination so beneficial in boosting neurological blood flow.
- Get your hands dirty. We don’t mean this literally (although gardening is certainly a worthwhile pursuit to consider). Learning a task like woodworking, knitting, or quilting requires high levels of concentration and fine-motor skill building — not to mention the added benefit of a finished product to enjoy or give away!
Want more ideas? Head to Care.com. Unsure if life at home may turn out to be a little lonely? Download our Stay or Go Guide and see whether a vibrant senior living community may be just right for you. It’s packed with useful insights and information that can help you decide which option best suits your needs.