Whatever You Do…Learn Something New

 

If we talk about learning something new as adults, most people will immediately jump to learning a new language, a photography class or creative writing.

Why don’t we think of picking up a basketball for the first time since primary school? Or learning Samba dancing? Or juggling?

Me (3rd from left) making a twit of myself in my first capoeira class...learning to front flip!

Me (3rd from left) making a twit of myself in my first capoeira class…learning to front flip!

According to a growing body of evidence, learning new physical skills might be better for our brains than learning about the civil war or practicing Sudoku. It can help to keep the brain young, and also releases the chemical dopamine in the brain which is why you feel good after doing something new. It’s also fantastic for our bodies.

As humans we all have physical blind spots. If we don’t access a range of movement or use a muscle enough it wastes away and we forget how to access it. A personal example would be my shoulders – As an amateur boxer I spent many years with rounded shoulders which were very stiff in certain directions. If boxing was the only sport I had ever done I might never have noticed, but in my mad obsession to learn to handstand last year (still ongoing, since you asked!) I’ve noticed the difficulty I have getting my arms over my head without arching my back and now I am working to correct it.

We see this constantly with patients in the clinic. When people get very dedicated to a certain activity or sport, their body pays the price if they don’t continue to practice other ranges of movement and skills. What’s more their brain is losing out on the creation of new pathways which helps to keep the brain active and healthy. If a weightlifter only ever lifts weights, he is forgetting to build all the muscles he would only use if he did ballet or yoga (probably a good way for him to meet some ladies too…just sayin’).

This is why I am constantly trying to challenge students in my Pilates classes to try new movements, ones they have never done before. It’s also why you should get up now and sign up for that tennis or rock climbing lesson you’ve been meaning to try. Your brain will thank me when you do!