Cognitive decline is inevitable as we get older.
According to the American Psychological Association, “the brain’s volume peaks in the early 20s and gradually declines for the rest of life”.
But your lifestyle can slow the process. You can preserve and even enhance your mental capabilities as you age. Simple behavior changes can help us stay sharp for as long as possible. What you do or don’t do makes a huge difference to your memory skills.
Pursuing both intellectual and physical challenges, as uncomfortable as it may be, is one of the best ways to slow the natural memory decline process. New challenges are a way to exercise the mind and build new pathways.
Embrace New Learning Styles/Formats
Everyone learns in different ways.
You might find reading enormously effective, while your friend would rather watch a video or listen to a podcast. Each path creates differing experiences and memories.
Most people have a dominant style and tend to use that for acquiring new knowledge. Others use a combination of different content types— posts, talks, documentaries, books (digital and physical) and podcasts.
Research shows that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, you can improve your ability to recall information and remember more of what you learn.
I tend to read my books on an iPad. I have started reading more physical copies — I’ve ordered dozens of them to read in the evenings to stay away from screens every now and then. I’ve also been watching more educational documentaries on Netflix.
A new learning style can improve your brain’s processing of information over time. Develop an ability in less dominant learning styles and you could find something new in a completely different and enjoyable way.
Cultivate a Broad Range of Artistic Interests
Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Taking up a new hobby or rediscovering an old one (drawing, painting, photography, dancing, making something in response to music, gardening, etc.) can help you improve your focus, mood, and memory. Artistic hobbies stimulate the brain to grow new ones by using the senses in new ways.
Learning something new requires you to stretch yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally. Any hobby that involves a great deal of attention to detail can stave off cognitive decline and improve your memory.
Besides relieving stress and engaging the whole brain, hands-on artistic pursuits are a form of “neurobics,” says Dr. Lawrence Katz in his book, “Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness.”
Katz says art builds connections between the neurons and stimulates the brain to grow new ones by using the senses in new ways.
So, while physical exercise, games, and meditation have a place in protecting your brain from cognitive decline, don’t neglect the benefits of artistic hobbies like drawing, painting, photography, or learning to music an instrument.
Einstein was an accomplished, amateur violinist.
His son, Hans Albert, once said, “whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music, and that would usually resolve all the difficulties.”
Becoming a Lifelong Learner Can Help You Maintain a Healthy Brain
A consistently stimulated brain may be the key to vibrant life.
Life-long learning — the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of new knowledge, can keep our brains working at optimum levels — which can limit cognitive and memory decline as we age.
When you learn something new, your brain isn’t only getting smarter – it’s getting stronger — new information strengthens the pathways between neurons in the brain.
Any time you give your brain new information, you’re helping to protect it against the natural deterioration that comes with aging.
Lifelong learning is the key to maintaining cognitive function,” says Rosebud Roberts in the Mayo Clinic’s study published in Neurology.
“It’s a ‘use it or lose it’ scenario. When you engage in cognitively stimulating activities you’re strengthening synaptic connections, but if you don’t use those circuits in your brain, the connections degenerate, he adds. Mentally stimulating learning in life makes a huge difference in your memory retention.
Life-long learning is a journey, not a destination — there’s never a shortage of new things to learn. Choose to learn skills, ideas, and concepts you find interesting and the journey will be fun.
A is is not just a way to pass the time; it can also keep your brain engaged, boost your cognition, and improve the quality of your life. Make some time to pick up a few hobbies. Given what research tells us, they will keep your brain wonderfully healthy.
This article originally appeared on Medium.