Healthy Aging

Fun for the Brain: Make Art!

We’ve talked about a variety of fun ways to give our brains a workout: dancing (click here), playing computer games (click here), smiling (click here) and even sleeping (click here)!

This week, we’re adding art-making.

Because making any type of art  – singing or playing an instrument, writing a short story, painting, working with clay, making computer art – involves problem-solving and performing complex tasks, these activities can help stimulate our brains; all the more so when we’re learning new techniques.

Our moods benefit too: A study conducted with a group of seniors who took a weekly choral singing class showed that, compared with a control group, the students saw doctors less often, took fewer meds and experienced a far lower rate of depression.

And there’s more: Researchers say that whether you’re a novice, a lapsed artist or a professional, the best time to make art is later in life. And it’s never too late to learn a new art form.


The Aging Brain and Creative Art-Making


As we age, certain natural neurological changes make us better suited to learn and pursue the arts than we were in our youth.

“Recent discoveries in neuroscience confirm that the brain, even beyond age 60 – if it’s fed a diet of complexity, newness and problem-solving – can continuously develop throughout life,” says Francine Toder, a retired clinical psychologist and author of “The Vintage Years: Finding Your Inner Artist After Sixty.”  Toder began playing the cello at age 70.

Our brains are made up of right and left hemispheres. The left hemisphere is more analytic, language-oriented, linear and objective. The right hemisphere controls creative thinking, perception, imagination and visualization. Toder explains: “During youth and adulthood, the brain’s left hemisphere is busy processing information.  Starting at midlife, the hemispheres are more functionally intertwined.  With bilaterality, the left boosts the right.” This interdependence increases older people’s abilities in many areas, including the arts.


Late Bloomers Rule


Many of us enjoyed creative expression through fine arts when we were younger, but put those pursuits on hold while we were immersed in careers and raising our families.  As we reach our 60s and beyond, we find ourselves with the time to engage in art practices we once enjoyed, or even try new ones.

As we age,  lifestyle changes and shifting priorities help creativity and learning flourish:

  • More leisure and relaxation time
  • Less stress work and family stress
  • Patience and wisdom gained through life’s experience
  • Openness to trying new things
  • Interest in finding a second (or third or fourth) career
  • Desire to add meaning to our lives by leaving some part of us behind

All of these factors nurture our urge to express ourselves in artistic ways, whether it be through playing the piano, painting watercolors, singing in a choir, or writing poetry. With increased patience, we are likely to stick with a challenging task and conquer it, as well as get greater satisfaction from our artistic creations.


Learning Fine Arts Online


Cities, colleges and community centers offer fine arts classes for adults. And thanks to digital technology, you don’t have to leave home – or pay tuition fees – to start learning.  Here are a few websites and videos to check out when your muse calls:

If you’d like a little writing inspiration, click here to visit Bloom, where you’ll encounter the work and lives of authors whose first books were published when they were 40 or older.

And click here to read an excerpt from “The Vintage Years: Finding Your Inner Artist after Sixty.”

Are you engaged in the fine arts?  Share what your creative expressions are in the comments below.


5 responses to “Fun for the Brain: Make Art!

  1. Great article Linda, really enjoyed reading the whole thing.
    At 82, I’m finding that I probably would like to do an art class, but alas, I don’t have the time.
    Too busy doing other things, but I will keep this in the back of my mind, and maybe someday…….

    1. Never when we get on in years should we say, “someday!” My Mom, a very active, involved woman, when I would suggest something we do, she’d a habit of saying “someday.” Just before she died at 95, she said softly to me, “it goes so fast.”

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