Contrary to popular belief, apparently, you can teach an “old dog new tricks”! A study published by Scientific Reports found that older adults (average age 66) outperformed younger adults (average age 22) by using additional brain regions with cognitive activities than younger adults. In other studies, such as a study published in the Journals of Gerontology, researchers found that a group of adults (average age 69) who participated in language and music classes showed improvement in memory abilities.
What this research suggests is that our ability to learn new things as we age does not decline. The difference is in our willingness to constantly learn new things!
This is generally known as lifelong learning. Studies have found that continuing to do stimulating activities, such as listening to history podcasts, learning a new instrument, and reading educational books can;
- positively effect memory, attention, thinking and reasoning skills.
- Reduce our risk of dementia, such as Alzheimers by maintaining good “brain health”
- Improve our ability to handle new challenges
- Lower stress levels
- Increase socialisation as we share our new hobbies with others.
The best part is, lifelong learning does not have to be formal education but can be anything we subscribe to for the purpose of achieving personal fulfillment. Going back to college late in life, finding educational documentaries, reading books a bit above our reading level, or learning a new creative hobby such as music or art can challenge our neurological pathways to develop new connections and become stronger.
As people, we have a natural desire to learn and grow and improve our own quality of life! Even in our daily activities, without thinking about it we learn new recipes, new functions on our smartphones, or keep up with the news. Life develops constantly around us! Making sure we’re engaging our brains in healthy ways can help us wade through the information we are bombarded with online.
So how do we go about incorporating lifelong learning into our lives?
- Recognise personal interests
Figuring out what our hobbies and interests are now, or re-igniting old interests that fell to the wayside due to time can make our later years more interesting and fulfilling.
- Renew motivation
Finding what inspires us helps us remember what makes life enjoyable!
- Utilize new skills
Finding our hobbies can help us build skills that are actually applicable in our careers or personal lives. We utilize these skills in ways we don’t expect. Learning piano teaches us how to multi-task since both hands are doing separate things.
- Find structure
Find time and space for new interests and commit to a small amount per day or week. Making sure our goals are small at first may make us feel motivated to continue.
Commitment is the most important part of learning something new. It’s often much harder for us to learn something that does not come naturally to us, but once we re-build the new neural pathways it’s easier for us to retain the information!
Lifelong learning is exactly as it sounds – lifelong. There are no deadlines or requirements, simply the need to better ourselves in the long run. So take it slow, find a good rhythm, commit to learning over time, and most importantly – have fun!