Learning a new skill at any age has a specific and definite impact on your brain that scientists now know a lot about. After you learn something new, your brain is never the same again. Here are some of the ways it can change.
New Neurons and Connections
Each and every time we learn something new our brain forms new connections and neurons and makes existing neural pathways stronger or weaker. Some experts call these changes “plasticity” in the brain.
Dendrites in your neurons get signals from other dendrites, and the signals travel along the axon, which connects them to other neurons and dendrites. These signals travel fast, often in only fractions of a second, and many of the signals are sent without the brain being aware of the action.
Your brain will continue changing right up until the end of your life, and the more you learn along the way, the more your brain will change and the more “plastic” it will be.
Temporary to Permanent
Everything you learn goes first to your short term memory, and some of it transfers later to long term storage in your brain. Sleep is often important to transferring something from short to long term memory, which is why memory loss can occur with sleep deprivation. Because of how memories have to travel across many synapses and neurons, degradation often occurs that can render memories incomplete once they are transferred.
Learning something new is often exciting for the learner. According to Oprah.com, novel experiences cause a rush of dopamine, which not only makes learning seem exciting but also makes you want to repeat the experience. Dopamine is also involved in experiences like love, addictive behaviors, and attention deficit disorder, among many other things.
The Growth of Myelin
Myelin makes the signals in our neurons move faster, and when you learn new things, especially at older ages, it helps more myelin get onto our nerve axons so that our brain is more connected and feels like it works faster and better. Myelin works especially well when a new experience is repeated multiple times, like when we practice something or repeat it every day or every few days.
When You Don’t Learn New Things
A British research study showed that being bored (which occurs when you don’t learn new things very often) can be dangerous to your health. People in the study who reported being bored over a long period of time had heart disease rates more than twice as high as those who did not report boredom.
Not having new experiences and learning new things will slow your brain down and make it less responsive. Adult learning is good for your health and has been shown to slow the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as just preventing general slowing of your mental faculties.
CCSU offers many opportunities to learn new things at any age through continuing education courses taught by expert faculty with real-world experience in their respective areas. Join our mailing list to stay up to date on what we offer.