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Thursday, August 5, 2021

10 Best Activities to Try

It’s time to shake it up with a new activity. Make friends, learn something, laugh!

We can all get stuck in a rut, especially with winter around the corner. It’s easy to keep doing the same old things we’ve always done, with the same people. But research shows it’s good for the brain to learn something new. Learning stimulates neurons to form pathways, and the more pathways that are formed, the faster information can travel. 

On top of boosting cognitive skills, taking on a new pastime can boost mental well-being and self-confidence. Whether it’s birdwatching, an art class, or reading up on the Civil War, learning increases your sense of purpose and triggers release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Taking a class in kayaking or learning how to code can lessen stress and build self-esteem. 

Joining a class or group can also boost social skills that may be rusty after the pandemic. Meeting new people, participating in conversations and discussions can all work to keep social skills at their best. Who knows, it may lead to a new friendship or even a job.

So, no excuses! Here are 10 great activities to get you learning.

  1. Life Story Groups. Take a class in putting down your life story via writing, a video or an oral history. Join a Facebook group or start one of your own at your local library or writer’s group. Collect photographs or old film clips and create a history that your family can share through the generations. 
  2. Play Picasso. Whether you join a local artists’ group or study one of the Masters, it’s fun to get creative. Check out offerings at your local arts and craft store, look for a group of plein air (outdoor) painters, search out instruction in watercolor, or find a pottery class. You could even order a tray of watercolors and some paper and then YouTube the hundreds of instructional videos available online. Invite a friend over and paint together, or start a local group of painters, potters or multimedia artists.
  3. Walking Club. Find a local venue or venues to stroll for better health and to make new friends. Maybe it’s the same local park, or you could rotate spots on a weekly basis. Any area with a sidewalk or walking trail can work. Your local cemetery can be a perfect spot to walk and learn some history by researching graves. Consider creating a carpool or providing transportation for members who can’t drive. 
  4. Dancing. Anyone, even those with two left feet, can have fun learning to dance. You may choose to take classes in a studio or go to a local honky tonk for line dancing. Beginners can brush up by practicing with YouTube. Ballet, tap, ballroom … dance will get you moving and engage your mind. And older gentlemen are always in demand as partners!
  5. Take a Class. There’s no excuse not to follow your interests in the classroom now that many universities offer free classes. For the business-minded older adult who may be interested in gaining career skills, Coursera partners with more than 200 universities and leading companies to offer studies in everything from business to cloud engineering. Coursera even offers quizzes so you can see if you’re absorbing the information, and you can earn professional certificates. If you’re more interested in botany or art, simply google “free university class (subject)” to find online offerings. You can also find wonderful classes on a wide variety of subjects via the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. There are no tests or grades, and classes are specifically for adults aged 50 and above. 
  6. Stretch. Anyone can increase mobility, flexibility and endurance by regular stretching. Even better, you can throw in a stretch or two anytime during the day: when you wake up in the morning (that’s right, you can stretch in bed!), during a commercial break, after lunch, after bathing — it doesn’t matter. You can start with these stretches for flexibility, but feel free to search for specific stretches, such as those for the lower back. Another way to stretch is through yoga, which will also improve balance and concentration. There are literally thousands of free classes online, or you can search for local classes to add the element of human connection.
  7. Volunteer. How about walking dogs at the local shelter, or sitting with lonely cats? You can lead museum tours, hand out literature, guide nature walks, distribute food donations or help out with hundreds of other tasks. Find your passion at Volunteer Match and get started making friends and sharing your gifts. 
  8. Work Out. Even if you’ve never set foot in a gym, today’s recreation centers welcome older adults. There may be discounted pricing or even free membership if your health insurance includes Silver Sneakers. Rec centers usually offer a wide variety of classes in addition to weight and equipment areas. Employees will show novices how to use machines, and group classes offer the possibility of new friends along with aerobic exercise. Self-conscious individuals can hang out at the back of the class to start, but inclusion is the name of the game nowadays. You will find people with a wide range of body types and athletic interests.
  9. Join a Club. Do you like to quilt, collect stamps, play Monopoly or picnic? Check out your local MeetUp groups to find one (or more!) that matches your interests. Have you always wanted to use a metal detector? Hike? Travel to great birdwatching spots? Go to gourmet restaurants? There’s a wide variety of free groups just waiting to welcome you into their midst. 
  10. Learn a Language. It’s so easy to spend five or ten minutes a day with a free app like Duolingo that will even send you reminders to study. You will learn simple, practical phrases that are useful whether you are traveling or engaging locally with other speakers. Lessons are short and entertaining … not like the ones you may have endured in high school!