A senior man taking notes during a lecture.

The Importance of Lifelong Learning for Senior Wellness

Mystery writer Agatha Christie understood how important it is to keep the mind sharp. As her fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, says, “If the little gray cells are not exercised, they grow the rust.” Older adults who want to keep their “little gray cells” rust-free can find the ideal opportunity through lifelong learning programs for seniors.

What Is Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning is the ongoing pursuit of knowledge beyond the requirements of formal education. You’ve likely engaged in lifelong learning to advance your career, for the fun of following your curiosity, or to equip yourself to pursue a passion project. Whether you enroll in formal classes, read on your own, or watch YouTube to get the information you need, continuing to engage in lifelong learning as you get older is an important part of senior wellness.

How Does Lifelong Learning Benefit Seniors?

According to an AARP study, 83% of adults over age 45 believe an active brain is key to cognitive health. Research supports that belief. What’s more, studies show that lifelong learning can serve a supportive function in physical and emotional health as well. Here are a few of the many benefits of lifelong learning for seniors:

  • Cognitive health. Researchers have found that learning new mentally demanding skills — such as photography — can improve cognitive function. A similar study found that people who engage in more intellectual activity over their lifetime are likely to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, even when brain scans reveal the presence of protein plaques associated with the disease.
  • Lower stress levels. Managing stress can lead to improvements in cardiovascular health, sleep and mood. And a University of Sussex study found that reading for only 6 minutes can slow the heart rate, ease muscle tension, and reduce stress levels by 68%. In fact, reading is more effective at lowering stress than listening to music or taking a walk.
  • Sense of purpose. Whether you’re learning yoga, developing your green thumb, or taking classes in heart health, lifelong learning can inspire deep engagement and a vitalizing sense of purpose. Purposeful engagement is associated with numerous benefits, from better mobility and increased longevity to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.
  • Social connection. Isolation and loneliness can be serious issues for older adults, leading to a number of health concerns, including a higher risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression and anxiety. Participating in lifelong learning programs for seniors helps you avoid those risks as you enjoy connections with like-minded classmates who share your interests.
  • Overall well-being. Unlike your school days, when teachers set the agenda, lifelong learning is self-directed. Studies show that as lifelong learners exercise their freedom to pursue their interests and develop their strengths, they reap psychosocial benefits such as improvements in self-esteem, self-efficacy, and their sense of hope.

Sagewood Institute of Lifelong Learning

At Sagewood, we understand the wellness-boosting benefits of lifelong learning for seniors. That’s why we were more than happy to support residents in developing the Sagewood Institute of Lifelong Learning (SILL). Organized by a committee of residents who shape the curriculum, a typical semester at SILL offers 15 to 20 classes covering a variety of topics, from the arts and history to sustainability and wellness. Speakers and lecturers from Arizona State University and from among the residents themselves are among those invited to share their expertise, providing residents the opportunity to discover new interests, make new friends, and exercise their little gray cells.

Contact us to learn more about lifelong learning at Sagewood, or the many other features that make this a vibrant, friendly retirement community. Or schedule a visit, so you can experience the lifestyle for yourself.