New hobbies protect the brain

Hey, old dog -- time to learn a few new tricks!

The "tricks" are in how you spend your free time. Try something new -- learn a new skill, or take up a new hobby -- and you could boost your brain, improve your memory and enhance your cognitive function, according to one new study.

But if you stick to the same old routine, you could find yourself slowly sinking into cognitive decline.

In other words, if you're not willing to go beyond "speak" and "fetch," your next tricks might be "roll over" and "play dead."

In the study, 221 seniors were assigned to learn something new -- either quilting, photography or both -- for 15 hours a week, or told to spend more time doing a few things they're already familiar with such as crossword puzzles, listening to classical music or taking field trips.

Now, I've got nothing against puzzles, music and field trips. But those alone aren't enough to save your brain -- because the seniors who did those already familiar activities didn't see any improvements at all.

The "old dogs" who tried something new, on the other hand, gave their brains a workout -- so much so that they enjoyed a major boost in essential cognitive functions, including big-time improvements in long-term memory, in just three months.

Now, you don't have to take up quilting or photography. But you DO have to try something new, whether it's painting or parasailing -- something that requires you to concentrate, focus and learn.

Most importantly, pick something that'll hold your interest enough so you'll keep learning.