Staying Sharp, Alert and Informed: Learning in Your Golden Years

George Barnard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” The same goes for learning. You’re never too old to learn. In fact, learning in your senior years can add life to your years. Here are just a handful of benefits to gaining knowledge later in life.

Learning can help keep your brain sharp, not to mention your memory. Did you know that the more senses you use, the more of your brain that’s involved in retaining the memory? That helps keep the brain active. Research shows that “challenging your brain with mental exercise can activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.”

More specifically, lifelong learning stimulates greater neuron generation and connection in the brain. What’s a neuron? It’s a “nerve cell that receives and sends electrical signals over long distances within the body.” When neuron generation is improved, memory, attention, thinking and reasoning skills are improved. One study even found that higher levels of education may help “preserve memory in the face of accumulating age-related brain pathology.” Bottom line — learning helps keep your brain happy.

What about the socialization side of learning? Perhaps you’re attending workshops or a continuing education class in town. Or you love your weekly book club meeting in the community center. Fact is, you’re not sitting home alone but involved with other people, chatting, discussing, getting to know others and their views. There’s nothing like socialization to help nurture a healthy outlook and mind—especially when you consider that cognitive abilities declined 70 percent more slowly in individuals who had frequent social connections compared to those who had little social contact with others.

Learning in your senior years is also good for your confidence. Do you remember how proud you were of yourself when you were young and learned something new? That feeling of accomplishment has no age limit. Today, if you learn something new, surprising or interesting, it’s still invigorating—and it helps boost your self-esteem and mood.

How about challenging yourself? Pick up a new skill, get a new hobby, delve into something that interests you. Even if it’s The New York Times crossword puzzle, challenge yourself. You just may be surprised at how well you do and how much fun it is to break out of your comfort zone.

There are so many reasons to learn new things as we age. Just pick up a book, join a class, attend a workshop. It’s easy to get involved—and grow!