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Brain game: how quitting routine tasks can help you learn new tricks

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Daniel Glaser explains the benefits of taking on new challenges in middle age

Although his previous attempt at a career break, by becoming an apprentice shoemaker in Florence, didnt last long, it seems Daniel Day-Lewis is serious about retiring this time.

Maybe hes looking for a newchallenge. As we get older, work can feel more routine andeasy, which is born out in terms of brain activity.

Scans show tasks we are practised at often use less energy than novel activities we tend to do them more efficiently, and the mental energy required decreases. Were all familiar with this as our careers advance.

We also get more skilled at spotting our mistakes and rectifying them; as an old hand, you can notice when the edge has gone but you have enough tricks in the bag to make amends. This neuroprotective effect may be behind some of the results that show an apparent delay in symptoms of age-related cognitive decline for those more active in middle age. In this light a preemptive move, like Day-Lewiss, may be more sensible as we become over familiar with what we do.

It is perhaps typical of this most uncompromising of actors that hes quitting while ahead.

Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at Kings College London

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/02/brain-game-quitting-routine-tasks-to-learn-new-tricks

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