Scientific research from the 1990s now reveals that more than ever before, a challenged, stimulated brain may well be the key to a vibrant later life. As 78 million Baby Boomers prepare to redefine their own retirement, news that staying active and keeping their brains constantly engaged may help stave off mental and physical ailments and diseases has many asking how best to do so. The answer is simple: lifelong or later-life learning.
Lifelong learning is the continued educational experience that utilizes non-credit academic courses, educational travel, and community service and volunteerism to fully engage the brain, heighten physical activity, and maintain healthy social relationships.
Lifelong learning guru Nancy Merz Nordstrom advocates this three-pronged approach as a vital ingredient for the Baby Boomer lifestyle or anyone in their “after-50” years.
“When you look at the benefits gained from keeping your mind sharp, it’s incredible. Lifelong learning is like a health club for your brain. And an active mind can stimulate physical activity and keep your spirits high. It’s an all-around fantastic tool for better health,” she says.
Nordstrom offers the Top Ten Benefits of Lifelong Learning:
10. Lifelong learning helps fully develop natural abilities.
“We all have innate natural abilities,” says Nordstrom. “Some of which might not be readily apparent. Once we’re no longer working full time, we have the opportunity to fully explore and develop these abilities.”
9. Lifelong learning opens the mind.
An integral part of lifelong learning is the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints among older learners. Says Nordstrom, “There’s nothing like listening to or taking part in stimulating discussions to help us see the other side of an issue. That give-and-take opens our minds and brings us to a whole new level of enlightenment.”
8. Lifelong learning creates a curious, hungry mind.
The more older learners discover about history, current events, politics, or the culture of other countries, the more they want to learn. According to Nordstrom, “There’s a big world out there just waiting for our exploration. Our drive and desire to learn fuels itself and we keep going, constantly looking for more to feed our hungry minds.”
7. Lifelong learning increases wisdom.
“Lifelong learning enables us to put our lives in perspective,” says Nordstrom. “It increases our understanding of the whys and the whats of previous successes and failures, and it helps us understand ourselves better. We more fully develop the wisdom that can come with later life.”
6. Lifelong learning makes the world a better place.
Through the community service aspect of lifelong learning, older learners can give back to their communities and to the world. “We’ve spent 30, 40 or more years interacting with the world,” says Nordstrom. “What we’ve learned during that time can be translated into real value for the betterment of society. Our wisdom, insight – it’s all of tangible benefit to the world around us.”
5. Lifelong learning helps us adapt to change.
Society is in a state of constant flux. Often as we age we might feel like the proverbial “old dog that can’t learn new tricks.” “Not true at all,” says Nordstrom. “Lifelong learning enables us to keep up with society’s changes - especially the technological ones. A learning environment with our peers not only makes it possible to stay abreast of change, it also makes it fun.”
4. Lifelong learning helps us find meaning in our lives.
“Sometimes it’s difficult looking back on our lives,” says Nordstrom. “But lifelong learning gives us the benefit of real perspective and enables us to find true meaning in the hills and valleys of our past.”
3. Lifelong learning keeps us involved as active contributors to society.
No longer content to sit in a rocker on the porch wiling away the hours, today’s retirees and Baby Boomers about to retire want and demand more from their later years. “We’re out and about,” says Nordstrom. “We’re taking part in educational programs, traveling all over the world, and offering our expertise to society through meaningful community involvement. We’re not a strain on society; we’re an incredible asset.”
2. Lifelong learning helps us make new friends and establish valuable relationships.
No one enjoys loneliness. And through lifelong learning, older adults are meeting new people, forging friendships and relationships with others, and enjoying an active social life. “Lifelong learning is a brilliant way to keep in touch with people, meet new friends, and enjoy life surrounded by the company of folks who are truly embracing the excitement of our later years.”
1. Lifelong learning leads to an enriching life of self-fulfillment.
According to one lifelong learner from New York, “We base everything on the belief that our capacity to learn and grow does not decrease as our years increase.” Concludes Nordstrom, “Through academic learning, educational adventure travel and our renewed sense of volunteerism, we expand our awareness, embrace self-fulfillment, and truly create an exciting multi-dimensional life. It doesn’t get any better than that!”