Take yourself back to school -- your brain will thank you

August 29, 2016 | by Laura Setlur, M.D.

Learning isn’t just for kids. In fact, learning new things as we age can help keep us healthy for years to come.

Focusing on a new skill or subject can improve your memory and keep your brain sharp.

Socializing, playing games and solving puzzles can help stimulate brain activity, but learning a new skill – the more complicated and challenging the better – will give you better results.

The skill doesn’t have to be strictly cognitive, like card games (e.g., Mahjong), puzzle games (e.g., Sudoku) or digital photography. In fact, learning a new physical skill, like ballroom dancing or pickleball, could be even better for your brain because the process includes exercise.

A great side effect of learning a new skill is the social benefit! You might meet new friends during your class or training.

Where should you begin?

A good place to start is by looking up adult education classes at your local community college. Or try a community center, park district or even your local public library.
Harvard Medical School shares some good guidelines for choosing a new skill to tackle, including:

  • Choose a subject you enjoy or are curious about. Civil War history? English literature? Astronomy? You’re not working toward a degree, so you don’t have to worry about picking something you know you could ace.
  • Try something different. Not interested in traditional subject classes? Focus on one with a self-improvement angle, like public speaking, creative writing or cooking
  • Start with a weekly class, so you can ease into the environment and not feel overwhelmed.
  • Go online. If you’re not ready for a classroom setting, take a class that includes some discussion with classmates online.
  • Don’t quit. If your class does not meet your expectations, don’t give up. Try a different type of class, format or even instructor.

You still have a lot to accomplish! Get studying. You’ll be glad you did, when your brain stays sharp as you age.

Looking for something new and healthy to try? Take the Healthy Driven Challenge!

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