Special to the Village News
Research has shown there are steps we can take to maintain our health as we age. In my work with UC San Diego's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, I meet seniors every day who are taking a proactive approach to aging by enrolling in the continuing education courses we offer.
The approaching new year brings exciting possibilities and opportunities to continue the journey of cognitive well-being. How can older adults keep their minds sharp in an era of constant change and innovation? Here are five enjoyable and accessible ways older adults can exercise their minds for an enriching 2024.
1. Pursue learning opportunities
Is there a subject you've always been curious about but never had the time to pursue? The time to follow those curiosities is now! Not only is it rewarding to learn something new, but it may also improve your thinking ability. One study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or engaged in less cognitively demanding activities.
Whether you simply want to explore an interest or finish your degree, there are more continuing education options available than ever to fit your budget and schedule. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers lectures and seminars by the outstanding faculty and researchers of the UC San Diego community, as well as local leaders, artists, and musicians.
Class topics span everything from medicine to arts and humanities and much more. Check out our upcoming open house event to learn more, https://extendedstudies.ucsd.edu/olli/membership/open-house.
2. Keep reading
Cultivating the habit of regular reading is a timeless exercise for the mind. Reading not only stimulates the brain but also provides a constant source of new information. Whether it's fiction, non-fiction, or staying updated on current events, regular reading contributes to cognitive vitality and keeps older adults informed and engaged.
3. Solve puzzles
Yes, solving puzzles in a literal sense is good training for your brain. Think crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or chess. But there are other mental exercises that go beyond traditional puzzles, too. Consider learning an instrument, practicing mindfulness, or even engaging in improvisational theater to engage your brain in new ways.
4. Explore new hobbies
Being intellectually engaged can benefit the brain. People who engage in personally meaningful activities say they feel happier and less depressed. Some examples might include volunteering with a charitable organization, taking up crocheting, or starting a neighborhood walking group. Participating in hobbies and other activities may also lower your risk of developing certain health problems, including dementia, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
5. Maintain social connections
You've heard it before; social connections play a vital role in mental well-being. Older adults can make a conscious effort to stay socially active by engaging in conversations, attending gatherings, and joining clubs or discussion groups. Meaningful interactions with others stimulate different areas of the brain, fostering emotional intelligence and communication skills and helping to keep the mind sharp.
Caring for our minds is as important as caring for our bodies, especially as we age. My wish for all older adults is to maintain and enhance their cognitive abilities by incorporating these brain-boosting exercises into their daily lives. Remember, this should be fun, not stressful! What works for one person may not work for the next.
These activities – whether it's solving puzzles, learning new skills, staying socially active, or doing anything else that engages your intellect – contribute to a healthier and more vibrant brain in the golden years. Get a jump start on the new year by weaving more of these activities into your schedule today.
Brittany Tran is the program manager for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies, a membership program for adults over 50 who want to be part of a learning community with peers. To learn more, visit https://extendedstudies.ucsd.edu/olli/home where you can check out the Winter 2024 course catalog.