There is a nice article in the New York Times about creating new habits. It discusses the advantage to the brain of stretching yourself to keep your mind sharp. I taught myself to use the vi editor a couple of years back just to prove to myself that I could. It was clear to me that my older colleagues were loath to learn a new editor as we switched to using Unix when I was a postdoc. I wanted to prove that I was still capable of picking up something new. It looks like this type of exercise is useful as are lots of other ones that are less technical.
“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will... .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”