You don’t stop learning when you grow old; you grow old when you stop learning. Simon Fraser University used this motto for decades for their continuing education program. Results of a study done by the University of Manitoba suggest that participation in educational activities has “positive effects on successful aging” and can contribute to physical and psychological well-being.
Moreover, learning a new skill can boost self-confidence and slow the cognitive decline associated with aging, according to the Harvard Health Blog.
Here are a few options, with varying degrees of commitment, to incorporate lifelong learning into your routine.
Take a different route
Humans are creatures of habit. If we find a route we like to get to the grocery store, we stick with it. Taking a slightly different route helps us be more alert and opens our eyes to sights and sounds we may not notice when we take the regular way. Bonus points for walking, which incorporates physical and mental activity.
Read a book
Learning can be as simple as picking up a book for a few minutes every day. A 2016 study by the Yale School of Public Health found people who read for as little as 30 minutes a day over several years lived an average of two years longer than people who were not reading anything at all. Results improved even more when the reading was an actual book, rather than newspapers or magazines. For the lowest possible cost of entry, head to the library and pick up a book.
We all have creativity within us. Social worker Brené Brown says the idea of creative people and non-creative people is a myth. “There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
Making something can be as simple as cooking something new or making a craft for a holiday. For more formal options, take a pottery, painting or woodworking class. We can all contribute to this world through our creativity. Don’t let yours go to waste.
Sign up for a class involving movement. Any class, from dance to yoga, has its own vocabulary, rules and rhythm. Learning these can be challenging, pleasurable and physically beneficial all at the same time. Any good instructor will help class members modify moves based on physical limitations. Many gyms and fitness centres have trial memberships to allow people to try a few classes. Try as many as you can until you find yourself smiling. That’s the class for you.
Attend a college or university course
There is also the traditional route to lifelong learning, which involves actually attending a college or university as a mature student. The government of Canada has made this easier for Canadians by introducing the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP). The LLP allows Canadians to take out an interest-free loan against their registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) for a qualified school and re-training. If you have always wanted to learn more about anything, now is the time to do it.
Western culture associates learning with youth. The logical inference is that we get to be adults and learning stops; everything has been learned. On some level we all know that is silly, but on another, adults often avoid the uncomfortable feeling of learning something new. If we can push through the discomfort, there are benefits on the other side. Incorporate lifelong learning into your routine today!
To learn more about how incorporating meaningful activities into an older adult’s daily routine can bring joy and purpose to their life, download our guide: What Are Meaningful Activities?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published Aug. 28, 2017. It has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.