Learning New Skills Keeps An Aging Mind Sharp

New research from the University of Texas, Dallas found activities that require a mentally demanding skill are likely to improve cognitive function versus less demanding activities

The study, published in the Psychological Science journal, looked at 221 adults, ages 60 to 90, who engaged in a particular type of activity for 15 hours a week over the course of three months.

Of the total participants, a portion were assigned to learn a new skill like digital photography or quilting, which required active engagement and tapped working memory, long-term memory and other high-level cognitive processes. Another group of participants were instructed to do activities that were more familiar such as listening to classical music and completing word puzzles. To account for possible influence of social contact, remaining participants were assigned to a social group that included social interactions, field trips and entertainment.

The researchers found that the adults who were productively engaged in learning new skills showed improvements in memory compared to those who engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities at home.

Lead researcher Denise Park says, “It seems it is not enough just 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.”

What do you do to get out of your comfort zone and try something new? 

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