Learning new skills keeps people active, and an active brain is a healthier brain. Scientists are finding out that adult brains are more “plastic” than we used to think. Although age-related declines can happen in some people’s brains, most people are fully capable of learning new skills for their entire lives–it just may take a little bit longer for those who are older. Not only that, but ongoing learning can actually help to prevent the kind of mental declines that you might otherwise see in the later years of a person’s life.
Does Retirement Mean the End of Learning?
Continuing education might be seen as a job-related need that ends with retirement, but retirement could be the perfect time to learn a new language or a musical instrument because you usually have more than enough time to put in the work required for optimal learning. And learning these types of things as an older adult can improve cognition, hand-eye coordination, and stress response.
Let’s face it: it feels good to learn something new. In addition to other benefits, continued learning gives self-esteem a boost. Even more, these good feelings can help older people believe that they won’t decline mentally, and those beliefs actually seem to be what staves off mental decline, according to at least one study.
Continuing Education Lessens Isolation
Here’s another great thing about continuing education in retirement: it can help you avoid the social isolation that happens sometimes when you don’t have to get up and go out to work anymore. The classroom is a great place to make friends, and you know you will have at least one thing in common if you’re taking a class together.
Another result of the study on older learners is that their rates of depression are lower than non-learners. Some of this could be attributed to the decreased isolation, but some of it is probably due to improvements in brain functioning that keeps it from tending toward depressive changes.
Studies on seniors who take music lessons such as learning to play the piano have shown similar benefits, as well as others like increases in HGH, a hormone that reduces inflammation and muscle pain. Like other types of learning, music lessons can make new connections between neurons in the brain and serve as a kind of exercise for the brain, keeping it in better shape than it would be without exercise.
These are some compelling reasons to continue learning by taking courses even after retirement. If there’s something you always wanted to learn but never thought you had the time, retirement can give you that opportunity along with brain benefits and increased well-being.
CCSU offers continuing education courses for all ages that can satisfy many different interests and offer the benefits described above. View open courses to see what your options are for brain-building opportunities.