New Experiences Can Help Prevent Memory Loss

Studies show that new experiences can lead to unexpected heights of health and happiness. Rebecca Field Jager ticks off her let's-do-this list.

When I first decided to take up the sport of kiteboarding (a.k.a. kitesurfing), I envisioned myself skimming across the water svelte in a wetsuit (I am always well-toned in my imaginings), poised on a board and tethered to an enormous, brilliantly coloured kite. The mere sight of my athletic prowess would attract the attention of beach-goers, among them, Samantha and Trevor, my kids. The two, both now in their late 20s, would marvel at what a cool mom I am, just as they did when they were little and, shortly after they swapped their skis for snowboards, I followed suit.

As a young mother, whenever possible, I always tried to do the things they did so I could relate first-hand to their experiences. However, as the kids got older—or perhaps as I did—I fell behind on keeping up. Both became avid sailors, for example, and while I always cheer on their efforts and have had a few tries at the tiller, I can never really join in the conversation. And so, last year, when the first whispers of kiteboarding were uttered, I decided to get ahead of the game and take lessons.

According to Dr. Christine Beck, a Charlottetown-based psychologist, there is some truth to the adage that a family that plays together stays together.

"Back in the day, families were connected by shared activities. If you grew up on a farm, it was likely you became a farmer or at least experienced and understood a farmer's life," she says. "Today, family members usually go their separate ways so the notion of familiarizing oneself and experiencing things other family members are involved in can provide a significant connection."

Yet another benefit, she adds, is the increased connectivity in your brain.

"Studies show that increased physical, interpersonal and intellectual stimulation and learning have been found to fend off or delay the development of dementia. That doesn't mean just sitting around and playing Scrabble with the same person every night. Doing something novel builds stronger connections."

Beck's latters words come as welcome surprise because lately I've been on a learning whirl.

Nowhere near competent at many of the things I've tried, it's good to know that there is an inherent gain in the pain of taking on something new. And when it comes to the three categories of stimulation she mentions—physical, interpersonal, intellectual—I believe I've checked off all the boxes.