Learning Later in Life
There are three quotes that perfectly describe how I’ve lived my life:
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ― Henry Ford
“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” ― Michel Legrand
“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” ― George Whitman
Truth be told, I never liked formal education — sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture, taking exams. I learn best from doing, from hands-on, from living, from experiencing.
The older I get, with fewer things to distract me, the more I find myself open to learn. Now that I’ve raised my kids, retired from my “formal” job, I have more time to really delve into things I’ve always wanted to find out about — to experiment and to experience.
No matter where I go, or what I’m doing, I always have a pad and pen with me. If something strikes me, I write it down to research it later. I try to learn something new every day — no matter how small it is.
I spend a lot of time on the computer these days and there’s generally something that catches my eye that I can do further research on. For example, this morning I came across this question: “Can you name the 12 classes of rainbows?” Who knew there were different classes of rainbows? The next time I see a rainbow, I’ll think about which class it is.
One of the main reasons I’ve undertaken learning something new every day is because of the stimulation it gives my brain. Research has clearly shown that a challenged, well-utilized brain can lead to a more vibrant life.
Keeping your brain active through learning and stimulation has many benefits in later life, just as keeping your body active does.
The Key to a Healthy Brain
Later-life learning is defined as education gained from travel, volunteerism, community service, non-credit academic courses — basically anything that engages the brain and provides positive side effects such as using more physical activity and expanding social relationships.
These five activities are the key to keeping our brains happy and healthy at any stage of life, but especially as we age:
- Nutrition: Eat more “good” fats including Omega-3 fatty acids, more fruits and vegetables, and fewer “bad” fats and processed foods.
- Socialization: Stay involved with life and develop a personal mission and hobbies along with building networks of family and friendships.
- Physical Activity: Be mobile and active. Walk, play, run, garden, exercise, bike, hike. These activities can help reduce the risk of dementia later on in life.
- Mental Stimulation: Learn a second language, learn sign language, travel, play board games, and either play or listen to music.
- Spirituality: Slow down, meditate, and learn relaxation procedures. Identify what your stressors are and how they affect you and then identify ways to handle them.
Benefits of Lifelong Learning
When I turned 60, I sat down and created my “I want to learn” bucket list. I still add to it when I find something new I want to learn. So far there are about 150 things on the list.
Some I’ve already done, like learning more in-depth about photography and what composes a good picture. I took classes at the local college, joined an amateur photography group and have really utilized what I’ve learned as I’ve traveled around the world. I’ve hung some of what I consider my better shots in my home, and some I’ve sold.
Another item on my bucket list, which is still a work in progress, is cooking. I’ve taken classes wherever I’ve traveled; it’s fun, I get to meet interesting chefs, watch, learn, eat some great (and unusual) food, and bring back recipes to wow friends and family with!
I’ve found that the more I learn the hungrier I become to learn even more.
In her book, Learning Later, Living Greater: The Secret for Making the Most of Your After-50 Years Nancy Merz Nordstrom cites the top benefits of continual learning as:
- Helping fully develop one’s natural abilities.
- Opening the mind.
- Creating a curious, hungry mind.
- Increasing one’s wisdom.
- Making the world a better place.
- Helping us adapt to change.
- Helping us find meaning in our lives.
- Keeping us involved as active contributors to society.
- Helping us make new friends and establish valuable relationships.
- Leading to an enriching life of self-fulfillment.
In virtually every community there are places to go to learn, such as your local library, a nearby museum, a local college, many of which offer free classes to seniors.
Whatever you do, do it for yourself — to keep your brain stimulated, to learn for the love of finding out something new, something you’ve always wanted to do or try and never had the time before. I hope you’ll want to join me on the journey — I do know one of the greatest benefits of continuing to learn is that my grandchildren think I’m pretty darn cool!
June 09, 2016
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