We all know how important it is to stay physically fit, maintain a healthy diet, and avoid unhealthy habits as we age. But what about staying mentally fit and feeding your brain a “healthy diet”?  How can we exercise our minds like we exercise our bodies as we age? The answer is in lifelong learning. As we age, our brains begin to naturally lose some cognitive ability. Lifelong learning can help combat that natural decline, and even improve our overall quality of life and sense of personal fulfillment in the process. So, what is lifelong learning and how can you become a lifelong learner?

Defining Lifelong Learning

The concept of lifelong learning is simply continued learning throughout adulthood, whether self-directed or through formal learning in classrooms. It encourages the voluntary lifetime pursuit of knowledge and skills in a wide variety of forms. Traditionally, education has been perceived to be more important for children and young people to help develop their ability to learn. Now, continuous learning throughout life has been proven to have significant cognitive benefits for older adults.

Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Educational classes and programs for older adults have been around for decades, but the actual physiological and psychological benefits of lifelong learning haven’t been seriously studied until relatively recently. New research was likely sparked by a shift in how senior living communities approach wellness in general. A long-term study by the MacArthur Foundation found that 70% of physical aging and approximately 50% of mental aging is determined by lifestyle choices we make every day. Many communities now take a holistic approach to wellness, focusing on multiple dimensions of wellness. Lifelong learning is instrumental in forming intellectual wellness, and may be one of the key factors in how well we age.

According to the Global Council on Brain Health, engaging in lifelong learning activities, or cognitively stimulating activities (CSAs), as we age can keep our minds healthier for longer. CSAs can actually help our brains generate new neuron connections far beyond the point of when our brains reach full development. The more fresh neurons our brains produce, the better our memory, attention, critical thinking, language and reasoning skills become. Scientists believe that improving these cognitive skills can also reduce the risk of cognitive decline and allow us to better cope with age-related changes in our brains.

Examples of Lifelong Learning

What is lifelong learning? In asking this question, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many  different types of learning, and a variety of types of learners. The best lifelong learning activity or CSA depends entirely on the individual. Interests, knowledge and skills, comfort zones, and learning opportunities all play a role in the most efficient and enjoyable CSA for each individual. After all, learning should be fun, especially when you’re out of class. Here are a few examples that are simple, accessible, and might just spark your inner intellect:

  • Learning a new language or learning about an unfamiliar culture
  • Taking up a new hobby such as woodworking, sewing, or cooking – anything in which you can develop a new skill
  • Engaging in artistic expression like painting, sculpting, or even exploring museums and galleries
  • Learning an instrument or exploring new kinds of music
  • Attending courses or lectures about a topic you’re interested in
  • Learning to use a new technology you’re unfamiliar with such as programming or digital design

Our Passion for Personal Development

Doing everything we can to help residents age successfully is our highest priority at Jefferson’s Ferry. It’s why there’s never a lack of engaging activities and programs to keep your mind, body and spirit thriving in retirement and beyond. It’s also why lifelong learners are perfectly at home here. In our proprietary program, OWL (Opportunities for Wellness and Learning), we focus on supporting growth and balance in each of seven dimensions of wellness: Emotional, Physical, Vocational, Environmental, Social, Spiritual and Intellectual.

We also partner with distinguished institutions like Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the Music and Metropolitan Opera, Stony Brook University, Suffolk County Community College, Brookhaven National Library, and more to ensure there are always ample learning opportunities to fit every resident’s preferences. To learn more about our educational, social, and cultural activities, don’t hesitate to contact us through our website or call us at (631) 650-2600.

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