SOCIETY TALK

Learn new skills if you want to slow ageing

Challenging your mind as an older person can improve cognitive functions

In Summary

• I replaced fear with willingness to be challenged and my hair stopped greying as fast

Illusion of a baby-faced old woman
Illusion of a baby-faced old woman
Image: PIXABAY

There is a reason schooling was designated to be an education system for the early years of life. It’s not impossible to learn new things as a mature, older person, but it is hard. That is why even those who embark on getting higher education certificates at an older age have a much harder time of it than, say, an 18-year-old would.

Most would argue that the brain has begun its slow decline after achieving its peak ability. In fact, up until recently, research made us believe that most people achieved their fluid intelligence (ability to think quickly and recall events) at the ripe age of 20. However, new research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that the real age of the brain achieving its peak cognitive skills is around 40 years.

Personally, I believe that the adult ages or the years of the grind as the young people would say, contribute largely to the ‘hardship’ of learning new things. People are often stressed by life and hardships they face on a day-to-day basis that the mind and body become too exhausted to learn anything new. This makes learning anything new in your mid-thirties to early forties extremely difficult.

However, in the last year, I found myself in a situation where I had to completely submerge myself in a new host environment. From language to education system, to numbers and law, culture and politics. All while learning or speaking a foreign language!

Now imagine a bunch of middle-aged people from different corners of the world without speaking a common language, put together in a class to learn a new language. We often had to use gestures, animation and sounds to make up for the language barrier.

Of course life is a little easier now that we have technology and Google translate, but those become redundant in a moment caught off-guard. If that wasn’t enough, I have recently taken up learning how to drive. Of course I can drive in Kenya, but this is a new ballgame. Not only do they drive left-handed vehicles and keep right, most traffic symbols and regulations are completely different from what we know.

I say all this to say, as a person who studied all the way until my late twenties, learning something new in your mid-thirties, especially, is completely different. Unlike the carefree spirit who only lived for myself seven years ago, I am a responsible family member with a spouse and child who rely on me. I can no longer afford to spend all day in the library or find more than one material to read at a time.

However, the feeling one gets after overcoming all the hurdles of learning new skills at an older age is extremely gratifying. The ability to challenge oneself and come out victorious is what we need to keep our minds young and active.

I feel a literal renewal of my cognitive abilities as I am constantly under pressure to learn and be tested. I replaced fear and anxiety with willingness to be challenged, and I kid you not, in the last 10 months, I have seen an improvement not only in my cognitive functions but also my physical ageing process.

As a person whose face reflects stress, I can honestly say that since I embraced the journey of challenging myself at this age, I witness a reversal of age in the mirror. My hairs have stopped greying as fast, the wrinkles around the eyes are slowly fading.

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