You learn something new every day.
Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.
There’s no such thing as a dumb question.
Like teasing, these common sayings are rooted in truth. The world is a fountain of knowledge that we all get to splash around in every day. Are you taking advantage?! Some people are naturally inclined to be life-long learners, regularly aching to evolve and explore, but there are many benefits that prove we should all make it a priority—especially as we age.
To put it simply, the part of our brain responsible for learning and memory (the hippocampus) starts to shrink later in life. Many studies have found, however, that we can buck this trend—or even reverse it—by “working out” the brain using physical and mental activity.
Forget the standard “learning” definition though. It’s often tied to formal education, which is usually seen as age and classroom-based. But it needn’t be. We need skill and character development—improving your ability to read people, personalities, past situations, and your own motivations—to live and evolve. That can be accomplished in many ways, from academic courses to travel, volunteering, personal relationships, and more.
Still skeptical? Check out this list. Continual learning benefits reach far beyond that fun fact you can share or argument you want to win. (Though that’s fun too.) Life-long or later-learning (50+) can greatly improve your life and health.
The greats love to learn.
Curiosity is king. Consider Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Nike’s Phil Knight, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, or any other super-achiever and esteemed leader past or present. They can’t stand staying stagnant, no matter how much they know or how good they are in their field. There’s always another knife to add to your skill block! And they understand that self-reflection and evolution is necessary to achieve, and certainly stay on top. Good news: Anyone can be a leader. So keep learning and you’re destined to improve your odds to achieve whatever you want.
Life is now, more than ever, about learning.
The digital landscape aside (though it’s a constantly changing reality for all), jobs that require very limited tasks or understanding are now pretty rare. And people don’t stay in one position nearly as long as generations past. That means you’re constantly tasked with meeting new people, new environments, and certainly new knowledge to get the job done. Just think of the economic advantages you’re building constantly stretching your mind and learning more; you’re padding the hard and soft skills on your resume!
Learning opens the mind.
One of my favorite quotes is by Malcolm Forbes: “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Replace the word “education” with “learning” and you get the same story. We are all born in a certain place at a certain time, but learning (in its broadest definition) expands our boundaries to include many more people, perspectives, and cultures. It helps us understand how and why we think or act a certain way, while illuminating the same about others, without judgement. That wisdom is priceless for navigating life.
Your brain needs strength, too.
We know that physical exercise helps brain health, but there’s another kind of strong—mental and emotional. Learning helps keep our strongest asset sharp, and even helps fight depression, especially in aging adults. At the root of this is socializing. Attending a class, getting into more conversations, or other personal interactions that learning creates, leads people to connect. And loneliness is a big concern for people as they age. Regular interactions alone can help fight that feeling of isolation. Taking in new information and challenging the brain to think, comprehend, and consider new facts also is healthy. In the words of Joseph Addison, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Give your brain some attention to keep it strong!
Learning leads to longer, happier, fuller lives.
The world is continually changing and evolving, so we must learn to adapt with it. Working on our relationships, goals, and mental health are all important. So trying to do whatever we can to escape disease and live a long, fulfilling life. A University of Illinois study learned that modest, regular aerobic exercise helped aging adults’ cognitive health, and participants actually saw an increase in the size of their ever-important hippocampus, which we talked about earlier. Learning another language, or other subjects, can also decrease the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Rush Memory and Aging Project, focusing on 1,200 elders, actually found that those who were cognitively active were 2.6 less times likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Those are odds we can get behind.
In the end, learning can be practiced—or learned! And like a killer craving or well established habit, learning leads to more learning, which is a great cycle to get lost in. So go on, explore the world around you. What have you got to lose? The good news is you already learned something new today!