If I had a dollar for every time I read an article advocating the benefits of crosswords, sudoko, learning a new language or musical instrument on Brain development – Then I would be yachting my way through Cyprus right now. However, let’s not limit ourselves to the learning of “intellectual” pursuits, let’s also consider the same benefits from learning new MOVEMENTS. Learning a new sport, a new movement sequence, a new way to hit a golf ball can all improve an incredibly important part of the brain – the motor cortex – which controls how we move. Here is where you need to consider some possibilities ; Would you rather retain your physical movement capacity as you age? or your mental sharpness? or is keeping both possible?
After having worked in aged care many years ago, I broadly identified two major categories of aging, (admittedly, with a massive spectrum in between). Essentially, I realized that as you age you can lose your mind, but move well OR you can keep your mind sharp and therefore be completely, soberly, depressingly aware of the slow and gradual loss of your physical capabilities. For me personally, it was a startling revelation. The demented patients seemed happier (in general) than their mentally sharp colleagues, who were depressed as hell by the tortuous effects the aging process was having on their bodies.
As I age I think preserving my movement capabilities will take high priority. I value movement more than I value mental sharpness. That is a personal decision, however we all have to choose what we are going to focus on keeping. There is simply not enough time in the day for most of us to choose both? If, like me… You consider preserving your movement options a big deal, then consider that by focusing only on learning “mental hobbies” you may be short changing yourself!
Past neurological studies in people have shown that learning new physical skills as an adult, such as juggling, can lead to increases in the amount of gray matter in parts of the brain related to movement and motor control. Take home message = Learning a new sport, or learning a new way to do a familiar sport, is just as mentally beneficial as crossword puzzles, or other cognitively challenging tasks. Equally, learning pilates, tai chi, yoga, Feldenkrais, etc with the mindful approach has great mental benefits while also assisting in your overall physical health. Something a crossword puzzle can’t do!