Aging: Learning New Things Helps Your Mind Stay Young
Aging > Learning New Things
At least one thing is certain: with every single second that ticks by, we are all getting older. For all of us, each day – no matter what Hollywood or the commercials touting Botox treatments and face lifts might imply – aging is a natural part of life that no one can escape. However, just as plastic surgeons and dermatologists are able to delay (or at least hide) the visible effects of aging (e.g., wrinkles, sagging jawlines, dull or spotted complexion), engaging in mental exercises and broadening your scope of knowledge can help prevent some of the mental side effects of aging, such as memory loss, confusion, and a general loss of mental “sharpness.”
You’re never too old to learn something new. Keeping the mind young and looking forward to what each day brings can also reap physical benefits by reducing stress and its negative side effects and warding off depression, which can cause people to let things go – such as their weight, their medication regimen, or their hygiene habits – and invite poor health. The mind can be compared to a plant. If you “water” it through mental activity and challenges, it will grow. Although a brain may get old, it still produces new cells, scientists say, that aid in communication between different parts of the brain and in the retrieval of information.
Explore Hobbies and Your Community
“But what do I have left to learn at this point?” you may ask. The answer is: plenty. Explore cultural aspects of your community that you never had time to before, such as art galleries, theaters, music venues, or all the things a university campus has to offer. Take classes in a foreign language, yoga, gardening, film, photography, wine-tasting, urban legends – whatever your interest, chances are, someone’s offering a course on it somewhere not too far away.
Relatedly, taking up a hobby or going back to a favorite but neglected pastime will help prevent your brain from going slack. If you’ve always liked to cook, take a gourmet class; if arts and crafts interests you, learn how to quilt or sculpt or the art of calligraphy or jewelry making. Take a refresher course on playing the piano or violin; pick up some knitting needles at the craft store along with a copy of current trends in scarves, sweaters, and other accessories.
Reading is another way to enhance your mind. While you’re at it, join a book club and get into heated discussions about your favorite author, character, novel, or even comic book. If you enjoy reading, you might want to try your hand at writing short stories, instructive articles, that personal memoir you’ve been waiting to start, or even just keeping a journal or writing letters to far-away friends and relatives. Crossword puzzles and other word games in your daily newspaper provide another mind-sharpening outlet; pick up a copy of a dictionary and you’re all set to expand your vocabulary and trivia knowledge.
Some older adults may not have kept up-to-date on technology developments, particularly if they left the workforce before e-mail and the Internet found such an all-encompassing place in day-to-day life. Get a younger neighbor, friend, fellow church- or synagogue-goer, or relative to show you how to set up an e-mail account and surf the Internet. Talk about learning – knowledge on anything you were always curious about but too afraid to ask about is available with a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse.
How Older Adults Learn Better
While older adults may have less short-term memory ability than younger learners, they also bring some age-related advantages to the learning table that work in their favor. With age comes a lifetime of experience and knowledge that can help the older learner incorporate newly learned information into his or her life more readily than they would have, say, as a teenager. Studies have been conducted that show that even the very elderly are still able to learn and retain knowledge.
And don’t forget the flip-side of learning: teaching. Helping younger learners with a particular skill with which you have many more years of experience will help reinforce the knowledge in your own brain, keeping it alive and hungry for more knowledge and thus fueling you with more energy and enthusiasm for life.
Aging, while it inarguably can make some things harder, should be looked at as an enhancer when it comes to learning. And, likewise, learning can enhance your golden years by maintaining mental stimulation and a general interest in your own life and the lives of others.