hands guiding fabric through a sewing machineWant to do something nice for your brain? Try learning a new skill. Research from the University of Texas at Dallas conducted a study with older adults to determine how taking on a challenging new hobby affects the brain. They found that learning something new offers long-term memory improvement and strengthens connections in the brain. The findings could inform treatments for people experiencing cognitive decline or could be useful for anyone aiming for a more agile mind.

The 200 older adults who joined in the study participated in various activities for 15 hours per week for three months. Some of the participants were randomly assigned to learn complex skills like digital photography or quilting. The control group participated in activities that were fun, but not challenging like watching movies with others or listening to the radio at home. All the participants took memory tests during the study and again a year later.

The adults who learned a new skill demonstrated cognitive improvement, especially in memory. Gains in memory persisted even a year after the study ended. The results indicate that challenging activities strengthen connectivity between the brain’s large-scale neural networks, capitalizing on the brain’s inherent ability to change and adapt.

Learning something new and challenging is a simple way for people to keep their minds young and active. “We hope that by maintaining a very active brain, you could defer cognitive aging by a couple of years,” stated Dr. Denise Park, neuroscientist at UT Dallas and the study’s lead researcher.

This research is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Previous news in the neuroplasticity: