If you're looking for the best hobby to improve your mind, you might want to learn how to speak another language.

A new study has just shown what language-learning can do for the brain. Not only does it increase mental agility in a very short amount of time, but the benefits may be enjoyed even into senior years.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh went on to test how language-learning can help improve mental alertness and attention while working on 33 people between the ages of 18 and 78 years old.

The participants were divided into two groups. One of the groups joined classes, with some of them taking a Scottish Gaelic language course for a period of a week. The second group served as control and didn't complete any course. The team then tested their level of attentiveness by conducting different listening exams.

The results suggest that those who enrolled in any course did much better than the control group as far as attention skills were concerned. However, among those who took the course, those who joined the language class performed better, illustrating that a new language's positive effects are very quick.

Furthermore, good performance is seen across all ages, which may mean the benefits are also applicable even to older people and that "it is never too late to start a novel mental activity such as learning a new language," said lead researcher Dr. Thomas Bak.

While learning a new language can give you an awesome mental boost, one needs to do more than attend a short course if they intend to benefit from mental alertness for a longer period.

Among those who took the language course, participants who continued learning for at least five hours each week over nine months received a higher score from their initial performance.

A different study conducted by Harvard University shows that learning a new skill, perhaps along with physical exercise, can delay cognitive impairments due to aging.

"When you exercise, you engage your muscles to help improve overall health," expressed geriatric outpatient services director Dr. Ipsit Vahia. 

He further stressed that, while it would be great if seniors also get to earn a degree from attending classes, this is just a bonus. By simply attending classes, they can also exercise the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells.

The University of Edinburgh study is now available in PLOS One

Photo: Tom Woodward | Flickr

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