Unlock the power of lifelong learning

Learning something new — whether a new skill, hobby or activity — enhances your memory and increases the efficiency of your brain.

Smiling businesswoman in glasses sitting at table

Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

And, as Albert Einstein put it, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Lifelong learning is your path to not only aging successfully, but also achieving a robust, fulfilling lifestyle, well into your so-called retirement years.

Boost your brain health

While it can’t cure dementia, lifelong learning certainly helps boost your brain plasticity and can even delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

In fact, a study out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that seniors involved in higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetimes have significant marked delays in the onset of memory issues and Alzheimer’s symptoms.

What’s more, another study from Case Western Reserve University found that seniors who engage in mentally challenging activities are 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s.

Basically, learning something new — whether a new skill, hobby or activity — enhances your memory and increases the efficiency of your brain.

Plus, you can do this at any age. You can rewire your brain and create new neural pathways for the rest of your life. In other words, your brain is designed to grow and learn new things over the long haul, even as you age.

The catch is that your brain follows the use-it-or-lose-it principle, which means you need to maintain your brain just as you would any other muscle in your body.

Paul Nussbaum, PhD, director of the Aging Research and Education Center in Pittsburgh, said, “Every time your heart beats, 25% of that blood goes right to the brain. But while exercise is critical, it may be education that is more important. In the 21st century, education and information may become for the brain what exercise is for the heart.”

Lengthen your life span

Researchers David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney report there’s a large and persistent relationship between education and health. They found that a year of formal education can add more than six months to your life span.

More specifically, they discovered that the more educated you are, the lower your rates of common chronic illnesses — like heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high cholesterol, emphysema, diabetes, asthma and ulcers.

Cutler and Lleras-Muney’s research also support the idea that being an eternal student improves your mental health. The more educated you are, the lower your levels of anxiety and depression.

On top of that, when you join a class or communal learning environment, chances are you’ll run into like-minded people who share your interests.

And that means more doors open to new friendships and relationships, and increased social interaction, which is so beneficial to your health, especially for seniors.

Jacquelyn James, director of research at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, said, “As we get older, it is more important to find things to do that light up our lives … successful aging and longevity are built upon patterns of lifelong learning.”

Learning in a COVID-19 world

In a world dealing with a pandemic, it might seem like your options for lifelong learning are limited. While this may be true in the traditional sense, there are plenty of remote options for learning and engaging online.

Take, for instance, Senior College of West Central Minnesota.

As part of its program, faculty from Minnesota’s colleges and universities plan to give lectures on a variety of topics — including history, political science, economics, science, literature, philosophy, art and current affairs — all offered remotely through Zoom, starting in September.

The Fall 2020 lecture series is designed specifically for adults over the age of
50 who want to engage in stimulating college-level learning without the pressures of tests, grades or degrees. For more information on the Senior College program, go to alextech.edu and search for Senior College.

Of course, your learning options are limitless with the internet at your fingertips. These days, you can learn nearly anything under the sun online. Check out some of these online resources:

  • Coursera.org: Courses offered in collaboration with 200-plus universities and companies.
  • Creativelive.com: Creative classes taught by renowned leaders.
  • Mindvalley.com: Personal development courses taught by global instructors.
  • Skillshare.com: Creative classes including animation, design, illustration and writing.
  • Udemy.com: Over 100,000 courses covering a wide range of topics. Here’s to expanding your mind and building robust growth experiences!

Cyn Meyer lives with her husband and children in Laguna Hills, California. She teaches and coaches pre-retirees and retirees how to age successfully. Learn more at SecondWindMovement.com.