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Trying a new activity or learning a new skill benefits brain and body

Trying a new physical activity can help your brain and your body

At this time of New Year’s resolutions, active holiday expert Neilson released the results of a 2016 survey that reveals the average UK adult hasn’t tried a new activity or hobby in five and a half years, despite 80% feeling positive effects on their wellbeing when they do.

Adults said they felt excited (38%), proud (24%) and more confident (18%) when they tried a new activity. Yet as adults age the frequency with which they try something new decreases.

UK children try a new activity every six months and feel similar emotions to adults when they do. 62% felt excited, 44% happy and 22% more confident. This is in stark contrast to adults in their 50s and 60s who, on average, try a new activity every nine years. Common barriers to trying something new include a lack of fitness (33%) and a lack of confidence (27%).

But it’s not only new activities that improve our wellbeing. Picking up an activity we used to enjoy, or developing skills within an existing active hobby, can have equally beneficial effects. Adults said they felt excited (27%), proud (23%) and confident (21%) when they re-engaged or learned a new skill within an existing hobby. Yet almost two thirds of adults (64%) have given up the activities they enjoyed in childhood, and of those who have kept them up, they only develop a new skill every one and a half years.

Activities that adults are most likely to have given up from childhood include netball (90%), volleyball (81%) and roller skating (80%). And more than a third of us are no longer interested in any of the sports we learned as kids. The activities that most people continued but wished they did more of were hiking (36%), mountain biking (31%) and swimming (28%). Overall, only 12% of the sports we learned as children continue to be our passion.

Many people know that exercise releases ‘happy hormones’ called endorphins, which reduce stress and trigger positive feelings. But there are added benefits of learning a new sport to mental wellbeing. Robert Hutchinson, a transformational coach, wellbeing consultant and founder of The Authentic Life Company said: “The brain is like a muscle, which needs to be exercised to keep it in good condition. New experiences are a fundamental requirement for mental growth and the brain loves stimulation; it grows with use and it withers with inactivity.”

As we all sit down to consider our New Year’s resolutions, the survey reveals what is most likely to inspire adults to learn a new activity. More than 40% of people said that their family (partner or kids) would inspire them to try a new activity. One in four of us say our friends inspire us to give new activities a go and the majority of parents (28%) said that their children had inspired them to learn something new.

With many people picking up new activities on holiday, the number of people exploring activity-based breaks is on the up. Hutchinson said: “An active holiday takes you out of your familiar world and also physically creates the time and space to try something new, to exercise, to stimulate the brain and to learn new physical activities away from the everyday pressures and commitments that might get in the way at home.”

Simon Davies, Head of Summer Operations at Neilson said: “The positive effects of learning a new activity or developing a skill is not a surprise to us, as we see our guests experience it every year. Our holidays are designed and our staff are trained to overcome the barriers people face when learning something new and we cater for all ability levels, from absolute beginners to those who are more experienced. Ultimately, we want our guests to be able to rediscover their passion for an activity, do more of what they love, or find their thing on a Neilson holiday.”