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Sep 27, 2022

Studies suggest that taking up a challenging new hobby can help protect your brain against cognitive decline. From taking up guitar to trying your hand at knitting, here’s how an interesting hobby can future-proof your brain.

Fighting cognitive decline with… new hobbies?

Cognitive decline is a common feature of ageing, but there are things we can do now to keep our brains healthy as we get older. 

“Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane and thinking and memory will be more challenging, so you need to build up your reserve”, says Dr. John N. Morris, the director of social and health policy at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Ageing Research. “Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy." 

This positive effect is a result of what we call neural plasticity, or your brain’s ability to make and maintain connections between neural pathways. According to cognitive psychologist Scott Kaufman, challenging activities strengthen entire brain networks, and the more complex and challenging the activity, the greater the benefit. Exercising your brain in this way makes it stronger for longer. 

Which new hobby should you choose?

Not all new activities will have the same effect. When deciding on a new hobby, choose one which you find challenging, which increases in complexity as you master it, and which requires ongoing practice. The focus is on learning new skills and building new neural pathways as you practice. 

Creative activities like painting, knitting or needlework, writing, learning a musical instrument or learning a new language all work well. 

The benefits of a challenging hobby

Research shows that people who engage in regular challenging hobbies have better memory and executive functioning skills, as well as a reduced risk of dementia later in life. Another study showed that engaging in a challenging hobby for at least an hour a day is a proactive strategy for reducing the risk of dementia. 

The more hobbies the better

What’s more, studies show that having more than one challenging hobby or mental activity increases the benefits significantly. For each challenging activity added, the risk of cognitive decline drops by 8 to 11%. A similar effect was found when it came to Alzheimer’s risk, with people with a large variety of challenging hobbies proving much less likely to develop dementia.
Whether it’s learning the guitar or trying your hand at crochet, find a challenging new hobby which you enjoy, and start working to protect your brain in later life today.


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