It’s happened to most of us – we walk into the kitchen to get something, but once we get to the kitchen, we can’t remember what we went there for! These memory lapses can occur at any age, but experts now say that they are not necessarily age related. When significant memory loss occurs amongst older people, it is usually due to organic disorders, neurological damage or brain injury. (1)
September 1-8 was Adult Learners week – what better way to keep your brain active by learning something new? It’s never too late to start learning!
Why should I keep my brain active?
Benefits of learning something new include:
- Improving your quality of life – from your health and wellbeing through to your socio-economic status.
- Challenging yourself. Moving beyond your comfort zone improves your life.
- Building your confidence and happiness.
- Broadening your outlook and expanding your mind.
- Helping you to stay relevant in an ever-changing world. We all need to be lifelong learners now.
- Keeping you connected with others, and helps prevent stress and loneliness. (2)
Types of learning
There are different ways we can keep our brain active by learning. Adult Learners Australia describes different types of learning as:
- Informal Learning – an inescapable part of daily life; it includes activities such as visiting a gallery or learning through trial and error
- Non-Formal Learning – structured learning programs that do not result in certification or qualification; examples include a short course, workshop or seminar
- Formal Learning – takes place in the education system and leads to a certificate, diploma or qualification (2)
Other ways to keep your brain active
It’s not just through learning something new that we can keep our brains active. By simply stimulating the brain, it helps to keep neurons active and keep the brain healthy.
- Exercise regularly – regular exercise builds tiny blood vessels that carry oxygen to the part of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also promotes more efficient and adaptive brain cells. (3)
- Get plenty of good quality sleep – during deep sleep, the brain repairs itself; during the lighter REM sleep, the brain consolidates its learning from the previous day. Without adequate sleep, our brains are not able to take on new information as efficiently. (4)
- Eat a nutritious diet – research shows that a wide variety of nutrients are beneficial for mental health, including omega-3’s and B vitamins. Some research has indicated that a Mediterranean style diet is beneficial for brain health. (3,5)
- Stay socially involved – strong social ties have been linked with a lower risk of dementia. (3)
- Be safe and protect your head – head injuries increase the risk of cognitive impairment. (3,4)
- Reduce your stress – some research suggests that stress can damage the brain cells. Reducing stress may preserve nerve cells and maintain mental abilities. (4)
- Stay mentally active – do a crossword, sudoku or jigsaw puzzle. See our other article in this month’s newsletter for more tips on how to stay mentally active.
- Don’t smoke or use illegal drugs – smoking can cause mental decline, whilst the use of illicit drugs can affect memory, movement, emotional and genitive responses and motor control. (4)
- Limit alcohol consumption – excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of dementia. (3)
Keeping an active brain is important as we age to lower the risk of mental decline. There are many ways to keep your brain active. It won’t hurt to try some of the suggestions above!
- Harvard Health Publishing, 2020, ‘Mind & Mood: 6 simple steps to keeping your mind sharp at any age’, Harvard Medical School, viewed on 15 August 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/6-simple-steps-to-keep-your-mind-sharp-at-any-age
- Adult Learners Week, ‘Why Participate’ Adult Learning Australia, viewed on 15 August 2021, https://adultlearnersweek.org/our-work/
- Harvard Health Publishing, 2020, ‘Mind & Mood: 12 ways to keep your brain young’, Harvard Medical School, viewed on 15 August 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young
- Brain Foundation, “Healthy Brain’, viewed on 15 August 2021, https://brainfoundation.org.au/healthy-brain/
- Better Health Channel, ‘Healthy Ageing – staying mentally active’, Victoria State Government Department of Health, viewed on 15 August 2021, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/healthy-ageing-stay-mentally-active