Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
And then there’s Albert Einstein, who said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
These iconic leaders of our culture were on to something.
Creating an abundance of growth experiences for yourself is so critical in determining not only the way you live, but also the way you age.
Lifelong learning is your path to achieving a robust retirement lifestyle. Your brain is designed to grow for the rest of your life, your body craves the building and strengthening, and your emotions rely on the stimulation.
Here are 5 benefits to incorporating lifelong learning into your life, something that could absolutely impact your future and keep you away from a sedentary, stagnant life with declining health and independence.
Lifelong Learning Benefit #1: Increases your brain health
While it can’t cure Alzheimer’s (because the disease hacks away at your brain for 15+ years before any symptoms show up), lifelong learning can certainly help improve your brain plasticity and even delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
One study out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that seniors who were involved in higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetime had a significant marked delay in the onset of memory issues and Alzheimer’s symptoms.
And what’s interesting is these seniors reported a delay of Alzheimer’s symptoms and issues, despite not actually having lower amounts of Amyloid Beta protein plaques in their brains (the stuff that clogs your memory and destroys your synapse connections).
Learning something new, like a new skill, hobby or activity, can help boost your memory. And the reason is, it increases the efficiency of your brain.
There was a study conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Texas at Dallas, and what they found was that when seniors took on a new mentally challenging hobby they saw a lasting increase in their memory skills. The researchers believe that certain high-challenge activities strengthen the numerous networks in your brain.
And if you go for those high-challenge activities in the context of lifelong learning, that can also help you stave off Alzheimer’s.
Another study out of the University in Cleveland found that seniors who engage in mentally challenging activities were 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s.
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.”
Bonus Tip: Learn to play a new musical instrument. When you play a musical instrument, you engage multiple parts of your brain simultaneously… And when that happens, there are crazy synergistic benefits.
- Your reaction time increases (something that tends to slow as we grow older).
- Music memory is the last part of your brain touched by Alzheimer’s because of the strong emotional connection.
- Integrating senses and information between your vision, hearing, touch and fine movements can make long-lasting changes in your brain.
- Playing music strengthens your decision-making and problem-solving functioning.
Lifelong Learning Benefit #2: Lengthens your life span
There’s also research that backs up the idea that lifelong learning increases your longevity.
Researchers David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney reported there to be a large and persistent relationship between education and health and suggests a year of formal education can add more than six months to your life span.
They found that the more educated you are, the lower your rates of anxiety and depression. And the more educated you are, the lower your rates of super common chronic diseases, like heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high cholesterol, emphysema, diabetes, asthma, ulcer.
So lifelong learning can increase your longevity and also improve the quality of your health overall.
Jacquelyn James, the 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.”
Lifelong Learning Benefit #3: Improves your mental health
The simple act of reading can reduce your stress level tremendously.
There was a study conducted by cognitive neuropsychologists at the University of Sussex in England and they found that reading for as little as six minutes can lower your stress levels. The participants in the study experienced a slower heart rate and an easing in muscle tension.
And when you’re less stressed, there’s an explosion of benefits.
For seniors, in particular, lower stress can mean better cardiovascular health, a boosted immune system, lower blood pressure, a lower risk for stroke or heart attack, and decreased levels of depression, to name a few.
Lifelong Learning Benefit #4: Helps your social life
If you’re joining some sort of class or community learning atmosphere, chances are you’ll run into similar like-minded people who share your same interests… which can mean more friendships and more social interaction (something that’s so good for your health, especially among seniors).
The key to making your lifelong learning experiences even more meaningful is to be choosy with your circle of influence. As you’re digging into your new skill, hobby or activity, try to surround yourself with like-minded supportive people who will encourage your lifelong learning and achievement.
As you partake in new learning activities, limit the time you spend with people in your circle of concern. They’ll hold you back.
Lifelong Learning Benefit #5: Adds to your skillset
As a pre-retiree or retiree, you now have the opportunity to learn anything you want.
I repeat: anything you want. That means all the interests and hobbies and skills and activities that you had to sacrifice because of your life of duty, are now available to you.
And on your own terms in your own time.
Feeling overwhelmed with your options? Answer these 10 finding clarity questions:
Hint: you need to really take the time to sit down and think through your answers. The more thought and energy you put into this, the more clarity you’ll find. Finding out what really makes you tick and reconnecting with the passions that’ve been locked up in a hope chest for so long is not an overnight process.
You can also take this free Retirement Lifestyle Assessment to narrow down your passions.
Lifelong learning does NOT have to be taken in the traditional sense and for the love of humanity, it can take place outside of the classroom.
In fact, partaking in non-educational-institutional learning will help curb the exacerbated widening gap between the rich and poor, but I digress…
What’s important here is to stretch your mind and expand your growth experiences.
And to get out of your comfort zone.
When you create new neural pathways in your brain, it’s not going to feel super comfortable like you’re revisiting a well-paved road.
It’s going to feel adventurous, awkward, uncertain, challenging, uncomfortable yet fulfilling and meaningful.
How are you incorporating lifelong learning into your life?