Learning New Skills May Slow Brain Aging

A new year is upon us! If you’re still searching for a resolution, consider picking up a new hobby. Learning a new skill or participating in a new activity is a great way to rejuvenate your brain health in the new year.

The development and functioning of your brain is largely controlled by your genetic makeup, but a substantial portion of your brain’s evolution is also the result of your experiences. Everything you do and everyone you meet has an effect on the way your brain operates.

Piano and violin players

When one of the most famous brains of the twentieth century was examined, Albert Einstein’s brain did not reveal the secret of his genius. But it did show that the brain area devoted to his left fingers had expanded — forming a giant fold in his cortex called the omega sign, shaped like the Greek symbol Ω — all thanks to his less commonly known passion for playing the violin. This fold becomes enlarged in experienced violin players, who intensively develop fine dexterity with the fingers of their left hand. Piano players, in contrast, develop an omega sign in both hemispheres, as they use both hands in fine, detailed movements.

Form new connections

Learning a new skill, such as playing the violin, affects the brain in many positive ways; it creates new connections in the brain by forming alternate pathways in which information can travel. More connections means larger brain volume and a greater cognitive reserve. Increasing cognitive reserve allows the brain to compensate for the natural tissue loss associated with aging. Although the brain finishes growing around the age of 25, adults are still capable of staving off the deleterious results of aging by learning something new.

Activities you can try

If you’re not musically inclined, try painting, learning another language, or how to play chess. Interested in psychology? Quantum physics? Finance? Several universities and community colleges around the country offer classes to older adults and senior citizens looking to learn something new. You can even enroll in online courses for free through various institutions like MIT and Stanford.

The key to maintaining a healthy brain volume and reserve as you age is to choose an activity completely new to you. The brain can only create new neural pathways and connections if it is challenged to do so. As such, repeating an activity or partaking in a hobby that doesn’t challenge you intellectually doesn’t stimulate new growth.

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