We hear all the time about mind hacks and brain games that are designed to keep you sharp, even as your brain ages. As it turns out, a new study confirms what common sense would tell us, namely, that you need to try what is unfamiliar and mentally challenging. Less demanding activities, it turns out, don't really have much impact on cognitive functioning.

So what kinds of activities does the study - to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science - recommend?

Learning a new skill
Subjects in the study were introduced to either digital photography or quilting, or both. Other groups engaged in social interactions or less strenuous mental activities like listening to classical music or completing word puzzles. The study concluded that "only the groups that were confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved."

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