Use it or lose it, so they say, and this includes flexing the grey matter. We all know that doing a crossword or Sudoku helps to keep us sharp, but the actual practice of learning something new is incredibly beneficial to our well-being and brain power. It can head off depression and is also said to stave off early onset dementia. Let’s get out of our comfort zones and learn something new!
The feeling of freedom alone makes this a worthwhile endeavour and it’s never too late. Terry Bardsley of L Plates Driving School says, “Anyone of any age can learn to drive if they are determined enough, and just understand that the older they are, the longer it may take. My oldest success was a woman of 76 who passed on her second attempt, she showed amazing determination.” Older drivers are more responsible, have fewer accidents and show better road safety than younger boy (or girl) racers. If you haven’t learnt by now, go for it. Car sharing or car pools are very popular and can alleviate the cost of buying a car.Lessons cost from around £25 per hour.
Yoga is incredibly beneficial to the over 50s. It’s a gentle way of remaining supple and has great health benefits. Claire Russell Burns who runs The Yoga Nest says “With regular practice, mobility and bone mass can increase and therefore decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Yoga is well known for its calming effect and can promote good sleep, balance hormones and decrease anxiety. It’s a wonderful and enjoyable way to keep both mind and body balanced.” Many people take yoga up in later stages in life. There are studios up and down the country, many have classes specialising for the over 50s, or you could have one-to-one sessions in your own home.
Prices vary a lot, so check out the websites, but start around £8 -10 for a group lesson
3. Sing sing sing!
“I was recovering from a bad bout of depression and my neighbour practically frog marched me to her choir one evening, despite me assuring her I was tone deaf,” says Annie Hutchings, 57, from Dalston, London. “There was no audition, no pressure, and the next thing I knew I was belting out show tunes. I can’t recommend it enough. I have even learnt to sight-read music, which is something I never thought I would be able to do.” Group singing is proved to be therapeutic, releasing endorphins and oxytocins that alleviate stress and anxiety. Communal singing can have both a calming and energising effect at the same time, as it can soothe your nerves and elevate your mood. Have a trawl through the internet to find your local choir; some are very professional and others are strictly for amateurs. But either way it’s a wonderful way to learn about music, make new friends and have a great time.
4. Foreign languages
Learning a foreign language is like sending our brain to the gym. If we set it some hard tasks, we’ll be rewarded. A second language actually develops new neural pathways in the brain, makes new connections, adds flexibility; and of course, such a project has a similarly enriching effect on our world. More good news: many experts now believe learning a second language is no harder when you’re ‘getting on’ than when you’re a child. So don’t let anything stop you. There’s a lot to choose from: Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and many other on-line courses, or you might prefer the personal touch and want one-to-one tuition. There are of course evening classes in most towns and cities offering everything from French to Mandarin. The choice is yours. Bon chance!
On-line courses from £17.99
Personal tuition from around £20 per hour.
Whether you need to brush up on the basics or learn a specialised skill like cake decorating or pasta making, developing skills around food is brilliant. One of my favourite things is curry, so recently I went to the prestigious Cinnamon Club in London where they offer an amazing opportunity to learn authentic Asian fine dining cuisine from master chef Vivek Singh. He opens his kitchens up to teach the secrets of spice-encrusted sea-bream with a Kerala curry sauce, or his famous Old Delhi Buttered Chicken, or clove smoked lamb from the tandoor. You also get a goodie bag to take home, with samples and a cookery book. But there are plenty of different cooking options from starters to, well, desserts.
Simple classes can start around £20pp.
6. Computers, emailing, surfing the ‘Net and technology
Technology changes by the hour it seems, and you are not alone if you feel daunted by it. Brushing up your internet skills, managing e-mails, using Skype, downloading apps or feeling confident in doing on-line banking transactions are just some of the things that can all be learnt, along with more advanced levels of technology. There are many courses available but some of the best and least expensive are run by your local library. Pop along there to check out the options. The BBC offers online IT courses, from basic skills to IT resources covering software, hardware, databases, data communications and modelling. There are also workshops to get the best use of your smartphone. Check out your local colleges for more information. It’s better than asking your teenage relatives, who tend to roll their eyes at you!
Prices vary – some local authorities even offer free courses, so maybe start with a call to your council.
7. Painting furniture
The fashion for painted furniture (think Nordic or French Provencal) continues, and blooming lovely it is too, but there is far more to it than slapping a coat of paint on an old sideboard. There are many professional courses available, Farrow & Ball hold them and are happy to answer any questions online. There are also great live courses, like one I found called Paint Techniques in Billingshurst, West Sussex where you can learn how to prep your furniture, achieve modern matt finishes, textured paint and colour washes, crackle glaze, finish wax, gild, stencil and do image transfers.
This one day course costs £65 and includes lunch, and tea/coffee/cake in the afternoon, but there are similar – and cheaper – classes all around the UK.