A good way to think about the mind is as silly putty, that strange glob of moldable substance that never dries out and is endlessly shapeable.

The brain is like that too. It is never finished and is able to flex and learn throughout our entire lives. (1) This is called brain “plasticity” and is part of what makes it so fun to be human. We’re never set in stone and change is available to us at all times.

When it comes to our intellectual wellness, intentionally taking time to learn new things is an important tool to keep our minds young and healthy.

What Happens to the Brain When We Learn?

Our brain sends signals from one neuron (or brain cell) to another across synapses, which are the spaces between brain cells where they communicate with one another.

When we learn something new the brain will strengthen and enlarge synapses or build new ones. (2) This results in a stronger, healthier and smarter brain.

As we age the brain will usually begin to shrink as synapses get smaller or connections are lost. Continuing to learn even into old age will keep the brain fit and healthy and mitigate some of the effects of aging. This makes learning an essential life skill!

Learning is the key to intellectual wellness. Learn more at WellnessTool.com

Keep the Learning Going

While it’s tempting to think our learning years are over once we finish school, in reality the more we can continue on a path of structured growth, the better it is for our intellectual health.

This doesn’t mean being in school for the rest of our lives. The opportunities for learning are endless and there is something out there for everyone.

Simple Ways to Build Your Brain

  • Make a goal to learn one new skill every year and hold yourself to it.
  • Recruit a friend or loved one and take a class to learn a new skill together.
  • Enroll in a flexible, online course on a topic you are interested in.
  • Pick a language to learn and find a time of day that you can practice regularly. Even better, learn the language with your family or friends so you can practice real life conversations.
  • Go to the library or bookstore and challenge yourself to come home with one book on a topic that is new to you.
  • If you take regular walks, get a field guide and begin identifying and memorizing the names of plants, trees and birds.
  • Learn an instrument. This is not only good for the brain but can also improve your emotional health.
  • Take advantage of opportunities at your job to learn a new skill, earn a certificate or advance your knowledge in the field.
  • If you run across a new word of concept you’ve never heard of, whether in conversation or while reading, stop and look it up. Take advantage of any opportunity to increase your understanding.

Never stop seeking out new information, skills, and knowledge. Cultivate your sense of curiosity and get excited when you run across something you don’t know. It’s a chance to learn, and to literally change your mind.