Secret to helping brain age well? Painting and other mental challenges

The Boston Globe:

I recently took a painting class with friends during which I learned that my lack of brush-stroke skills compounded my dearth of innate visual talents. Clearly, I’m the weakest link among my more artistic friends, which has made me hesitant to take more classes.

But I’m rethinking my decision after hearing about a new study, which found that those who truly challenge themselves by learning novel skills get the biggest memory boost as they age. In other words, the instructors who painted such wonderful copies of a Van Gogh still-life likely weren’t working out their brains as hard as I was because painting—with all their practice and training—comes easy for them.

“Pushing yourself to learn a new skill is likely critical when it comes to maintaining brain function as we age,” said Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas. She bases that recommendation on a clinical trial she led involving 221 participants over age 60 who were randomly assigned to either learn digital photography or quilting for at least 15 hours a week, to socialize on group outings, or to play word games and watch informative documentaries.

At the end of three months, she and her colleagues found that only those who took the photography or quilting classes made significant improvements on memory tests administered before and after the study, according to the results published this week in the journal Psychological Science.

Read the whole story: The Boston Globe

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