Why would you learn to ski at the age of 54? I get asked this question a lot, and I am currently 61. I love a good challenge; that is basically how I have conducted myself for my entire life. I am competitive but in an inspiring way. For me, it’s not so much about winning, as it is about rising to my potential. I recall a conversation I had with my father when I was 17 and in my senior year of high school. I had participated in everything I could at school and in the community and he was worried that my grades would suffer; in fact, they did not…they were the highest they had ever been. That was because I was challenging my potential. I inherently knew how far to push myself. That self-awareness has guided me for all these many years, and I am grateful for it and for how it has been finely tuned.
Year after year, as I watched my friends in LA heading out to ski, I was naturally compelled to join in on the fun. That is not to say that I wasn’t hesitant. I was afraid of injury, of not being able to keep up, and of the expense of the sport. I also knew that Jeff would not join me on the slopes, because of a fear of heights, which he developed in his late 40’s. So when the invitation came from my friends Sheila and Aaron Leibovich, to join them in Beaver Creek Colorado, Jeff and I gratefully accepted. Jeff, of course, spent his time working in their beautiful home, or ice skating at the local rink, while I took my first few lessons, determined to get the hang of it. After three days and my friend’s positive feedback, I was loving the sport and determined to incorporate it into my lifestyle.
Learning to ski at the age of 54 is not easy. I still have “stage fright” every time I approach the mountain, but the minute I get off the chair lift, the fear melts away and I am transfixed by the breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains, and the beautiful Lake Tahoe, where I now spend my ski time.
Learning a new skill at midlife is essential for healthy brain function. A report from the Harvard School of Medicine claims that it slows cognitive aging. Active aging involves more than moving your body. You also need to move your brain. “When you exercise, you engage your muscles to help improve overall health,” says Dr. Ipsit Vahia, director of geriatric outpatient services for Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “The same concept applies to the brain. You need to exercise it with new challenges to keep it healthy.”
Maintaining physical and mental health by “staying active” and “doing crossword puzzles'” is simply not enough. Learning new skills is a way of challenging the brain, thereby significantly improving cognitive function. As reported in The Scientific American, “The ability to live independently requires periodic “upgrades” because of changes in our environment, especially due to technological advances.” Learning how to operate on social media, or how to use this platform for my blog, all require skills that challenge me on a daily basis. If I can inspire you to do the same, I am profoundly moved by that!
This new skill has also enabled me to share time with my children both of whom now ski. Yale learned four years ago during his junior year abroad, and Serena decided she wanted to get up on skis this year. They learned quickly and effortlessly, but there was still a learning curve that I am certain would have been achieved more quickly had they learned as children.
Two years ago, at age 59, I took my friend, Liora Pier’s advice and began Spanish lessons. Liora, who was raised in Mexico City, teaches high school Spanish here in Los Angeles. For several years, she and her husband, Mauricio, had been strongly encouraging me to study privately with her. I love learning languages; I always master “please, thank you, hello, and goodbye” in every country to which I have traveled. I speak Hebrew fluently and conversational French. Yet Spanish, which is spoken by nearly everyone here in Southern California, is a language that I felt I needed to add to my language arsenal. After two years of studying and immersing myself in the language through Netflix, (I can recommend a plethora of fabulous Spanish series), and the radio, (I listen mostly to 107.5 K Love), I am gaining more confidence and speaking with more ease. I can read and write it as well; downloading the Spanish keyboard on both my computer and iPhone, helps greatly. Ahora, hablo Español y me encanta!
I cannot stress enough, the importance of challenging your mind and body at this vulnerable stage of life. If you exercise regularly, change your routine; if you have the desire to learn a new skill such as a new language, do it! Half of the challenge is mustering the courage to step out of your comfort zone. If I can do it, so can you! Learning is the greatest gift that we are given, let’s use it and rise to our fullest potential! I’m in, are you with me?