Back to school: Learning a new skill…

Active aging involves more than moving your body. You also need to move your brain. “When you exercise, you engage your muscles to help improve overall health,” says Dr. Ipsit Vahia, director of geriatric outpatient services for Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “The same concept applies to the brain. You need to exercise it with new challenges to keep it healthy.”

A fun way to do this is to sharpen your No. 2 pencils and go back to school. “New brain cell growth can happen even late into adulthood,” says Dr. Vahia. “The process of learning and acquiring new information and experiences, like through structured classes, can stimulate that process.”

About 17% of adults older than age 35 are enrolled at a four-year college or university, or a community college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And because more campuses now offer free or discounted tuition for seniors (with no earned credits), there are more opportunities for older adults to explore a variety of subjects and interests.

“The focus is not to earn a degree, or even take multiple classes, but to focus on a class to keep mental activity thriving,” says Dr. Vahia.

It does not have to be a traditional academic course either, he adds. “It can be about learning new skills, like speaking a foreign language, learning how to paint, or to play a musical instrument. You can even study how to improve current ones like fixing a car or becoming more computer-savvy.”

Boosting brain power

Brain games (like puzzles and crosswords) and brain-training videos can improve working memory — the ability to remember and retrieve information, especially when distracted. But research has found that although they can help your brain get better at performing those activities, they do not expand other brain functions like reasoning and problem solving. “In comparison, classes offer a complexity factor that have long-term benefits,” says Dr. Vahia. For instance, they engage cognitive skills, such as visual comprehension, short- and long-term memory, attention to detail, and even math and calculations.

Research has long shown that new knowledge pays off. For example, a study in the June 2014 issue of Annals of Neurology found speaking two or more languages, even if you learned the second language in adulthood, may slow age-related cognitive decline.

But class attendance is not enough. You need to get out of your comfort zone and challenge your mind for optimal results. A study published in Psychological Scienceexamined adults ages 60 to 90 were assigned to either learn a complex skill like digital photography or quilting, both of which demand more use of working and long-term memory, or do simpler mental activities like crossword puzzles. After a three-month period, the “complex skill” group showed wide-range improvement in overall memory compared with the crossword puzzle group.

On a personal level, classes also keep your social skills sharp as well as boost self-confidence. “It is easy to become more socially isolated as people grow older,” says Dr. Vahia. “A class makes you interact and communicate with other people on a regular basis through group participation, conversations, and discussions.”

Time to enroll

Before you sign up for your first class, here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Choose a subject you enjoy or are curious about. Civil War history? English literature? Astronomy? “Your choices are no longer dictated by the requirements to get a good grade and complete a degree, so you are free to pursue topics that spark your interest,” says Dr. Vahia. “What are you interested in now, or wish you had explored at an earlier time?”
  • Not interested in traditional subject classes? Focus on one with a self-improvement angle, like public speaking or creative writing.
  • Begin with a weekly class, so you can ease into the environment and not feel overwhelmed.
  • If you do not feel ready for a classroom setting, take an online class. “But make sure it offers some level of interaction with classmates through discussion boards,” says Dr. Vahia.
  • If your class does not meet your expectations, do not give up. Try a different type of class, format, or even instructor.
Find a classMany states offer tuition waivers for seniors at state-funded institutions.Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are located on 119 college and university campuses and offer non-credit courses for those ages 50 and older.Local senior, community, and recreation centers offer many self-improvement classes in topics such as sculpting, pottery, and dance.

Below are spiritual recipe for health and wellness: Matthew E. McLaren

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love. Ephesians 3:16-17 NIV

 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 NIV

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1  NIV

For we live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit? Romans 15:13 NIV

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 NIV

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6  NIV

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40 NIV

Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:3 NIV

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 NIV

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. Romans 14:1 NIV

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11 NIV

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4 NIV

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV

I have set my heart on your laws. Psalm 119:30 NIV

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. Mark 10:52 NIV

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 NIV

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 NIV

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