Brain training is big business, with computerized brain games touted as a way to help prevent memory loss. But new research shows you might be better off picking up a challenging new hobby.
To test this theory, Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, randomly assigned 200 older people to different activities. Some learned digital photography. Another group took up quilting.
“Quilting may not seem like a mentally challenging task,” Park says. “But if you’re a novice and you’re cutting out all these abstract shapes, it’s a very demanding and complex task.”
The groups spent 15 hours a week for three months learning their new skills. They were then given memory tests and compared with several control groups.
“Rather than just comparing them to people who did nothing, we compared them to a group of people who had fun but weren’t mentally challenged as much,” Park says.
That “social group” did things like watch movies or reminisce about past vacations. Another control group worked quietly at home, listening to the radio or classical music or playing easy games and puzzles.
Park’s research, which was published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that not all activities are created equal. Only people who learned a new skill had significant gains.
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