A new study finds that taking up new activities in your golden years can help keep your brain sharp.
Earlier this month, other research from Concordia University in Montreal had similar findings, showing that hobbies such as reading, socializing, and traveling can keep your mind engaged and boost mental health as your grow older.
The new study, from the University of Texas at Dallas, supports this ethos, but takes it further in finding that learning new skills, such as taking photography classes, can improve cognitive functioning. Findings, announced Monday, are set to published in the journal Psychological Science.
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Head researcher Denise Park enlisted 221 adults, ages 60 to 90, to engage in a particular type of activity for 15 hours a week over the course of three months. Some participants were assigned to learn a new skill -- digital photography, quilting, or both -- "which required active engagement and tapped working memory, long-term memory, and other high-level cognitive processes," the researchers said.
Other subjects engaged in other less-demanding activities at home, such as listening to classical music and completing word puzzles. To account for the possible influence of social contact, some participants were assigned to a social group that included field trips and group entertainment.
At the end of three months, Park and colleagues found that the subjects who were engaged in learning new skills showed improvements in memory compared to those who engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities at home.
"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," said Park. "When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone."
"People built relationships and learned new skills -- we hope these are gifts that keep on giving, and continue to be a source of engagement and stimulation even after they finished the study," she added.