February 21, 2019 9:00 am
Updated: February 25, 2019 7:06 pm

How learning new things as an adult can change brain chemistry

WATCH ABOVE: As we age, there's a tendency for us to stop learning new things, but the benefits of picking up a new skill are huge. Kim Smith explains.

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At J’Adore Dance in Edmonton, a group of adult beginner ballet dancers are rehearsing for a recital next month.

“I just didn’t think I’d be doing a recital as a 29-year-old. Especially when there’s kids in the recital too,” Kim Sandle said.

Many of the adult dancers in the class are new to ballet. Jenna Willman, 34, started learning ballet four years ago and calls the opportunity to perform on stage as an adult a “dream come true.”

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“I grew up and when I turned 30 I thought, ‘What did I wish I had done with my life?’ and I wished I had been a ballerina,” Willman said.

READ MORE: Albertans must put down devices before bed, be more active to improve health: report

Registered psychologist Kimberly Knull, of Momentum Walk-In Counselling, said research shows children learn new things on average every six months, but adults in their 50s and 60s only learn new things every nine years.

“That just shows you it’s not intuitive for adults to learn new things,” Knull said.

“Research is showing that as adults it’s really important to learn new things as often as we can.”

Knull said learning new skills and activities can help change our brain chemistry. Joining a class is also a way for people to meet new people.

“Learning new things helps our brains develop and be used and stave off dementia,” Knull said. “We actually feel happier and we feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when we learn new things.”

“Fun and play is something we forget to do as we age, but it’s so good for our well-being.”

WATCH: As we age, there’s a tendency for us to stop learning new things. However, registered psychologist Kimberly Knull said the benefits of picking up a new skill are huge.

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The University of Alberta’s Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre offers ice skating for beginners. Kim Raine, 57, and her husband Rob Ellis, 66, have been taking lessons.

“In week one, I learned how to stop. In week three, I learned how to skate backwards,” Raine said. “I didn’t want to be the little old lady who was holding on to my husband or my sons. I wanted to be able to do it on my own.”

For Raine and Ellis, the main motivation for taking skating lessons was to gain more confidence on the ice.

Ellis said he didn’t learn to skate until he was over the age of 30.

“The little things I had learned many years ago, it took a while to come back,” he said.

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For people anxious about learning a new skill or joining a class, Knull said to pick an activity that’s been of interest.

“Maybe you’ve always wanted to try curling or you’ve always wanted to ride a horse. Go and research it and just show up,” Knull said. “Don’t have these fantastic expectations that you’re going to be the next superstar at something. Have the expectation that you’re going to learn something new.”


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