It’s that time again. Kids, teenagers and university coeds are all heading back to school during the next few weeks, but what about the rest of us? Just because we’ve graduated (some many years ago), it doesn’t mean that we should stop learning, no matter how old we are. Why not take your brain back to school? It will be much more fun this time because you only have to take classes that you like. The added bonus is that you can strengthen your brain while doing things you enjoy.
Every time we learn a new skill, our brain creates more neuronal pathways. As we practice the new skill those pathways get stronger enabling us to improve. Stimulating your brain with new, challenging activities helps strengthen your cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve can shield you from the effects of cognitive disease and decline.
Is there a skill that you would like to learn or improve? Anything you’ve always wanted to try? Take a risk and be willing to be a beginner again. Here are some suggestions and the brain benefits they offer:
1. Take music lessons
Learning a musical instrument is one of the top two best activities for your brain because it stimulates so many different areas. Learning an instrument requires coordination and fine motor skills, memory and logic. It also strengthens the auditory cortex. Studies have shown that the benefits of playing music also spill over into language and communication skills.
2. Learn a language
Learning a new language is the other of the top-two best activities for your brain. It works the left hemisphere of the brain, however, speaking and communicating in that language works both hemispheres. Bilingualism also strengthens the executive control function of the prefrontal cortex.
3. Take a cooking class
Learning to cook new recipes incorporates the three-pronged effect of novelty, complexity and variety that are paramount to cognitive reserve. Executing a recipe also incorporates planning, as well as fine motor skills and dexterity for chopping and measuring.
4. Take dance lessons
Dancing engages both hemispheres of the brain. Hearing music and feeling rhythm while incorporating a sequence of learned moves is a super brain workout. With dance you are engaging the auditory cortex, the temporal lobe and the cerebellum. Very emotional dance forms like the tango also stimulate the amygdala.
5. Take an art class
Work on your fine motor skills with a painting, drawing or sculpting class. You can also strengthen your visual perception, visual-spatial skills and creativity.
6. Take a physical activity class like tennis, swimming or martial arts.
Physical activity is very important to cognitive health. Also, doing any activity that has your arms at or above heart level sends extra blood to the brain. The practice that you need to improve your skills will create and strengthen neuronal pathways.