It’s common knowledge that the brain needs to be exercised regularly with mental challenges to keep it sharp in today’s ever-changing and increasingly challenging environment. We’ve been taught from an early age to keep challenging our brain with crossword puzzles, strategic games, and the hours of studying we had to undergo come exam week. A new study, however, elaborates on how learning a new, unfamiliar skill may produce a notable boost in memory.
The study, conducted by the University of Texas just last year, outlined an experiment that involved over 200 people, aged between 60 and 90, who were divided into 3 groups. The first group took up photography, quilting, or both, and had to be doing at least 15 hours of activity every week. Then, the two control groups consisted of one having to take part in social activities, but did not learn any skills; and the other one which had to complete word puzzles and listen to classical music.
MRIs were taken before and after the tests, which consisted of three months. After the allotted time, the MRIs were compared and it showed that while the two control groups showed little to no difference, the group that had to learn photography or quilting demonstrated improved memory.
“The results show that it just isn’t enough to go out and do something – it’s also very important to experience a sense of unfamiliarity and one of mental challenge when you go out. This provides the necessary mental and social stimulation that your brain needs. You need to step out of your comfort zone, and into your enhancement zone.”
Denise C. Park
Lead Researcher, University of Texas
The researchers also elaborated that while learning new things is normal in everyday life, and is a natural process of curiosity; this tends to not be the case anymore as people start getting older. We retire, stay at home, and hardly engage our minds anymore. That is when trying out new and unfamiliar things becomes an unfulfilled, yet still very necessary process that we have to undertake to ensure a healthy brain and mind.