7 ways lifelong learning promotes healthy aging

September is when learning leaps onto the front burner. Great aunts, uncles and grandparents see kids from their immediate or extended families go back to school, while young adults return to college or university studies.

For seniors, this is also a perfect time to recharge your brain by embarking on new formal education and or informal learning opportunities. Or, you might want to reap the intergenerational rewards of teaching and learning at the same time by volunteering in schools or programs with young people.

Health benefits of lifelong learning

People are never too old to stop learning, and research shows that ongoing learning offers a wide range of lasting health benefits for seniors:

1. Build cognitive reserve. Exercising your brain through learning increases mental resilience and the ability to cope with challenges, according to Dalhousie University. Lifelong learning can increase this reserve, which allows some people to stay mentally sharp and be more resilient to age-related brain changes than others, says The Lancet Neurology.

2. Lower the risk of dementia. A Massachusetts General Hospital study found that engaging in cognitive activities later in life, which are interesting and enjoyable, protects brain health and reduces dementia risk.

3. Make new friends. Learning with others in classes, bridge games or book clubs is socially and mentally stimulating. Socially active people are 50% more likely to live a longer life than those who are isolated, reports PLOS Medicine.

4. Read a book to relax. Just six minutes of reading can be enough to slow the heart rate, ease tension in the muscles and reduce stress by more than two-thirds, according to a University of Sussex study.

5. Boost your mood. Older women and men reported elevated moods, and they felt less depressed and less angry after attending classes, according to a Santa Clara University study.

6. Volunteer in the classroom. Share your knowledge and learn new things by teaching kids in schools a few hours a week. You can do this through local initiatives, such as the School Grandparent Program in Metro Vancouver. Volunteering is associated with reduced depression, better overall health, and longer life, according to a University of Toronto study.

7. Live a longer, healthier life.  A higher level of education is associated with greater longevity and healthier behaviours, reported a Harvard Medical School study.

Chartwell Retirements Residences offers a variety of stimulating lifestyle programing and activities, from books clubs, movies and bridge nights to community outings, which help keep older adults mentally and socially engaged.