This last holiday, one the the gifts I received was this burlap bag full of juggling balls. I actually had requested it because I love to throw things into the air and catch them. I know, it's a bit strange, but I thought it was time up my game and learn how to juggle.
And, I also know that learning new things is one of the best things you can do to improve your cognitive functioning - it's good for your brain!
When I moved to Boulder last May and had to learn a new city, deal with all of the bicyclist and walkers, it was a challenge. I think I could actually feel my brain working harder. I had lived in California for so many years that everywhere I went was automatic.
Here in Boulder, new cognitive pathways were being formed. I had to concentrate - especially driving. There were flashing lights for people crossing the street and bicyclist everywhere! Still now in winter, I need to be cautious. I'm glad to know it was all good for my brain!
You may have seen the ads for those websites that promote "brain training." It's a hot trend right now. They are designed to improve memory and attention by offering web-based games and tasks such as remembering which way the pinballs went or quickly determining if a shape matches the one you just saw previously.
Unfortunately, it appears from the science that this kind of training just doesn't work. According to a Scientific American article entitled, "Brain Training Doesn't Make You Smarter," you CAN learn to be better at the task you're performing, but it doesn't translate into "improved general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease."
Only two things actually work. One is physical exercise and the other, learning something new.
"The bottom line is that there is no solid evidence that commercial brain games improve general cognitive abilities. But isn’t it better to go on brain training with the hope, if not the expectation, that scientists will someday discover that it has far-reaching benefits?
The answer is no. Scientists have already identified activities that improve cognitive functioning, and time spent on brain training is time that you could spend on these other things. One is physical exercise. In a long series of studies, University of Illinois psychologist Arthur Kramer has convincingly demonstrated that aerobic exercise improves cognitive functioning. The other activity is simply learning new things.
Fluid intelligence is hard to change, but “crystallized” intelligence—a person’s knowledge and skills—is not. Learn how to play the piano or cook a new dish, and you have increased your crystallized intelligence. Of course, brain training isn’t free, either. According to one projection, people will spend $1.3 billion on brain training in 2014."
So find something that you've been wanting to do and actually do it. And, not something like doing crossword puzzles. You need to challenge yourself. Maybe you want to learn to paint, master a new computer program or learn to juggle like me!
Whatever appeals to you, promise yourself that you'll do it. Get up and move today and make time to learn something new!
PS: If you're interested in taking up juggling, the link near the photo above will take you to Amazon where you can purchase these balls. They're perfect for practice because they won't roll away! There is a free video that helps you learn to juggle with easy steps. I've learned how to catch 3 balls so far, but need to keep it going to actually be juggling.