Does lifelong learning improve brain health longevity? This is a question that may interest fervent learners and longevity enthusiasts alike.
Our enticing world is saturated in rich history, events, arts, sciences, mythology, and more. Studying and expanding our toolkits of skills and knowledge is enriching and can feel adventurous. One dedicated to lifelong learning won’t only reap the joy of it but will find it a beneficial habit for their brain health longevity as well. Creating a lifestyle surrounding learning can have lasting benefits.
The science of brain health and lifelong learning
Scientists at Harvard Health Publishing agree that learning can slow cognitive aging. One doctor, Dr. Vahia, explains that “new brain cell growth can happen even late into adulthood. The process of learning and acquiring new information and experiences . . . can stimulate that process.”
In 2010, scientists at the University of California, Irvine provided evidence that learning promotes brain health longevity. In their study, the researchers used effective visualization techniques that study memory. These techniques, which mimic everyday forms of learning, activated neural receptors that correlate with healthy brain cells containing optimum functioning.
So does lifelong learning improve brain health longevity? We can accurately say that, yes, lifelong learning does indeed improve brain health longevity.
Pursuing knowledge, purpose, and health simultaneously
There’s another way learning can aid our brain health longevity: through meaning. Researchers fascinated with geographical “blue zone” areas, or places with high longevity rates, found that a large component of longevity revolves around maintaining a strong sense of meaning. For example, the people of the Nicoya Peninsula (a blue zone), reportedly have a sense of life-purpose known as “plan de vida.”
Learning gives us meaning through the pursuit of something higher than ourselves. Through learning, we become scholars, musicians, and artists of all sorts. We gain more of a “why” to stay alive, translating to lengthened mental faculty and increased overall brain health.
The research is strong and because of it, people are wondering what more they can do to work their brains. How does one efficiently go about lifelong learning?
Don’t retire, or if you do, make it purposeful
In western culture, retirement is associated with aging and the decline of health.
If your job feels meaningful and like a place of mental stimulation, keep it. Otherwise, retire without carrying the fear of declining health and dissipating capability.
Retirement can be a prime opportunity to focus on your brain health longevity through lifelong learning. It’s a great time to take up new hobbies, discover new books and subjects, as well as visit new places. These are all possibilities that become more open after retirement.
Go back to school or teach yourself!
Going back to school purely for the sake of learning can be a very enriching experience. Sharing a classroom with colleagues who also embrace your subject(s) of interest will only heighten your interest further, as well as your ability to learn the subjects.
If returning to school isn’t an option, however, you can always teach yourself using a protocol of lifelong learning. Many famous scholars, artists, and great minds were autodidacts, including Mark Twain, David Bowie, Karl Marx, and Nikola Tesla.
Here is some advice to kickstart your self-learning practice.
- You’ll want to begin by picking subjects that interest you. American history, biology, botany, music, painting, poetry—the list can be endless. By picking a subject/hobby that entices you, you’ll increase your likelihood of sticking with it.
- Use the resources available to you. Use libraries, the internet, book stores, online forums, videos, and podcasts. You can even find online lectures and presentations. The quantity of information available is vast.
- Build a community surrounding your studies. This can be done through online groups, weekly in-person meetings, or both. Finding people to share, study, and exchange ideas with will certainly enhance your learning process.
- Create a sense of purpose surrounding what you study. Remember that lifelong learning increases brain health partially through the “plan de vida,” or life plan it offers us. If you’re studying nutrition, for example, you can share the knowledge you gain to help others become happier and healthier. If you decide to study poetry, can’t you use your words and the words of others to inspire and create change?
Keep a commonplace book
A commonplace book is basically a storage-house for all the inspiring passages, quotes, poems, formulas, proverbs, and prayers you come across during your studies. Commonplace books were first used by Greek and Roman philosophers to document their meditations. They grew in popularity during the Renaissance and then again in the 19th century. Eventually, universities began teaching the practice of keeping commonplace books.
Consider keeping a commonplace book to track and inspire your studies. Although they are more commonly used by humanities scholars, they can be used for any subject. Studying math? You can use a commonplace book to store equations. If you decide to study the sciences, you can use a commonplace book to jot down theories, influential scientists, and historical, scientific findings.
Keep in mind that using a commonplace book is different from traditional note-taking. In a commonplace book, you write things that catch your interest and inspire you, rather than jotting down nitty-gritty details to prepare you for a test. Your commonplace book will be an invaluable resource to look back on for inspiration, reminders, and during creative processes such as writing your own books.
Does lifelong learning improve brain health longevity? Yes, and you can begin now!
As discussed, there are countless subjects as well as ways to learn them. What a blessing to consider how learning can amp up our brain health and even brain health longevity!
To ensure your learning becomes lifelong learning, make it pleasurable. Learn through travel, your favorite authors, monuments, and powerful videos. Focus on learning in a way that keeps you engaged. It shouldn’t feel forced. It should feel fun!
Learning transforms us as people. Not only does it render us purposeful beings that with potentially higher longevity like the people of the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, but it alters our perceptions, how we act, and how we think. You won’t be the same person you are now after establishing a good reading habit. Imagine if you begin reading a single book a week. That’s fifty-two books in just a single year!
Finally, remember it’s never too late to begin. Learning doesn’t have standards and expectations. The great writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example, began studying late in life and published her first book at age 65! Beginning a new skill isn’t only for the youngest of us, but for anyone, and especially those that believe, as Dr. Vahia of Harvard Health Publishing states, “new brain cell growth can happen even late into adulthood.”
Want to learn more about keeping your brain healthy? Visit the TelMD Upstream Blog!
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