Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Pittsburgh

Lifelong Learning and Keeping Your Brain Active

The case for lifelong learning has never been stronger. More and more research is being published about the benefits of keeping your mind active and engaging in lifelong learning. Lifelong learning provides social interaction with other like-minded adults, promotes active engagement in your community, improves concentration and focus, and fosters a sense of personal empowerment for a more fulfilling and enjoyable lifestyle.

Lifelong learning can be informal, meaning something you direct and pursue at your own pace. These are activities such as travel, reading, visiting museums, attending concerts and theater performances, and completing computer “brain game” exercises. It also includes activities you may do every day – reading the newspaper, working crossword puzzles, and keeping up with world and community events.

Lifelong learning can also be more formal or organized. Consider a book club, play bridge, participate in an organized learning vacation or tour, volunteer, or take a class. Many people enjoy taking classes both to learn something new and for the opportunity to meet others with similar interests. You might consider taking a class for personal enrichment, to prepare for a second career, to help you adjust to life after work, or simply to keep your mind sharp. There are many places that offer classes: a recreation and parks department, a school district, libraries, arts organizations, community colleges, colleges or universities. Classes offered can vary from exercise classes and “how to” courses to classes on literature, history, art and many, many other subjects.

Are you considering taking a lifelong learning class but are hesitant because you don’t know what to expect? Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve been in a classroom or taken a class? Don’t feel intimidated. Think of lifelong learning as learning for the sheer pleasure of it. You take responsibility for your own learning, so there is no pressure. And you won’t have to take tests or worry about grades!

If your learning goal is to enhance your career or to investigate a post-retirement career, you might consider taking a class for credit at a community college, college or university. Some higher education institutions provide tuition reduction or waivers for mature learners, and some allow learners over age 50 to audit courses without credit for a small fee. Auditing without credit is a good way to try out returning to school without a large financial investment.

Everything that happens in a young brain can happen in an older brain. Studies have shown that keeping brains stimulated helps retain mental alertness as people age because even an aging brain can grow new connections and pathways when it is challenged and stimulated. Maintaining intellectual activity is essential to brain health. One researcher says that education and information is for the brain what exercise is for the heart.

The adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just not true. Research has found that you can learn just as well at an older age as long as you maintain your motivation to learn. So go ahead and study a new language, learn to play the piano, try your hand at watercolor or begin blogging. Take a course on Impressionism or the Civil War or study the works of Shakespeare. Write your memoir, a short story, poetry, or even a novel. Stretch your mind and you’ll become a more interested and interesting person.

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