The Importance of Lifelong Learning

Henry Ford once said “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Wikipedia defines Lifelong learning as the continuous building of skills and knowledge throughout the life of an individual. It occurs through experiences encountered in the course of a lifetime. These experiences could be formal (training, counseling, tutoring, mentorship, apprenticeship, higher education, etc.) or informal (experiences, situations, etc.) Lifelong learning, also known as LLL, is the “lifelong, voluntary, and self-motivated”pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. As such, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development, but also competitiveness and employability.

Why is Lifelong Learning so important? Lifelong learning can be socially invigorating while also improving memory and cognitive abilities. Activities such as volunteering can be a learning experience while making the life of the volunteer meaningful and at the same time offering benefits to society. Lifelong learning allows us to continue to use our minds, one of our most important “muscles” we often forget to exercise as we age!

As part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project conducted in Chicago, a study of more than 1,200 elders, participants underwent cognitive testing for up to five years. The study revealed that cognitively active elders, whose average age was 80, were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who were cognitively inactive.

Published last year in the online edition of Neurology, the study also showed that frequent cognitive activity during old age was associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, as well as a slowed decline in cognitive function.

Stimulating the brain by visiting a museum or attending a concert, for example, can increase the number of brain cells and connections between brain cells. Physical exercise improves blood flow to the brain, encouraging development of new brain cells.

Are there programs locally? Recently, we came across the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UW. This program allows for adults over 50 to come together in a lively learning environment to explore various topics of interest. They have locations in Seattle, Redmond, and Everett. Please see http://www.outreach.washington.edu/olli/about/default.asp for more information. And if a structured environment like this doesn’t suit you, pick up a book, check out a new artist, take a walk into a local coffee shop featuring open mic night, join a local club. Really, there are so many ways to learn!

Learning is such an important part of living! What are you doing to stay on track?

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