I’ve been entertaining the notion for a while of relaunching my Yoga with Eve Grzybowski blog with the above title, ‘Old Dog, New Tricks’. What I want to convey is the idea that I’m the Old Dog, and I’m still mentally and physically flexible enough to learn new skills.
After surveying a few friends and not meeting with resounding enthusiasm regarding my clever title, I abandoned the new name. However, I’m not abandoning the theme.
Can old dogs really keep learning new tricks? And, for how long?
You likely have heard of the new industry in ‘brain gym’ training. This type learning is meant to encourage mental agility, and one way it’s done is by playing various games on-line. Here’s a link for one of these brain training programs that’s home grown. Baby boomers who are concerned that their mental functions are deteriorating as they age are big consumers of these products.
There is much evidence that people who keep learning into old age do better in terms of memory, concentration, and quick thinking.
I’ve just been in a mental and physical pressure cooker for the last week at Camp Creative in Bellingen, NSW, where I did a printmaking course. The Camp Creative organisation takes over the local primary school and high school, as well as other venues, offering over 60 courses. As many as 1100 people of all ages participate in classes as diverse as ukelele playing, animation and circus skills. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable week that includes lunchtime and evening performances by singers, dancers, drummers, and even some celebrities.
Taking on the challenge of learning new things doesn’t have to come at huge expense as many of the brain training programs do. Steven Novella, clinical neurologist and Yale University professor, has simple recommendations for maintaining and improving your mental faculties on his website, Science Based Medicine,
Here are his bottom-line conclusions after studying available data on the efficacy of brain training:
- Engaging in various types of cognitively demanding tasks is probably a good thing.
- Try to engage in novel and various different types of tasks. These do not have to be computer-based.
- Find games that you genuinely find fun – don’t make it a chore, and don’t overdo it.
I would add to this list taking up a new activity, completely out of the ball park from what you do in your normal life. Just for waking up the brain cells that perhaps have dulled over the years. Just for the challenge of laying down some new neuronal pathways. And, especially, just for the fun of it.