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Lifelong Learning: An Often Overlooked but Vital Part of Senior Living

May 31, 2022

When we talk or write about leading an active lifestyle, or the benefits of an active lifestyle, your first thoughts might be about being physically active. After all, the experts have been telling us for decades about the importance of getting enough exercise, right?

The truth is, though, that the exercises we generally think about in terms of leading an active, healthy lifestyle are only part of the picture. Yes, getting your heart rate up, strengthening your bones and muscles, lubricating your joints — all of the benefits of physical exercise are key to keeping your body in the best health possible as you get older.

And, as we wrote in a recent blog post about exercises for seniors, it is good for your brain, too. When you get your heart pumping, that sends more blood flowing to your brain. As a result, your brain receives fresh oxygen and more of the nutrients it needs to support neuron function.

Even so, part of the active lifestyle we refer to in senior living circles involves specifically exercising your brain — and not just by doing sudoku or crossword puzzles. If you love doing those, there’s certainly no reason to stop. They may help to improve your brain’s executive function (e.g., the ability to plan, focus, make decisions and multitask) and working memory.

To derive the most benefit, though, your brain will need to do some heavier lifting. That may sound like it entails hard work, but with all the great ways there are to exercise your brain, we’re pretty sure you’ll find something to your liking.

Why Using Your Brain Matters

We all lose brain cells as we get older and our brain volume decreases, too. But that doesn’t mean loss of cognitive functioning, otherwise known as dementia, is inevitable. 

Even though your brain is an organ (and roughly 60% of it is fat!), it helps to think of exercising it as if it were a muscle. Consider what happens to your muscles when you don’t use them. They weaken and wither.

You’re essentially telling your body that your muscles don’t matter when you don’t use them. Consequently, your body stops supporting them. It “won’t waste the energy it needs to take care of them,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, it starts to break them down, and you lose muscle mass. 

You send your body a similar message if your brain is leading a sedentary lifestyle, so to speak. But when you put your brain to work, blood flow increases to the neurons that are activated.

That last part — about blood flow increasing when neurons are activated — is important. It’s why lifelong learning activities for seniors, such as listening to a lecture, taking a college course or learning a complex new skill, will help to keep your brain healthier than if you rely solely on brain games and puzzles.

Keeping the Mind Active Maintains Brain Health

If you consider yourself a naturally curious person, you may have an advantage when it comes to nurturing your brain as you get older. Why? Because it may be easier for you to “rouse” your intellect (and therefore your brain activity) through educational pursuits.

If you weren’t a spectacular student in school, don’t worry. The point now isn’t to get a good grade or be able to recite Shakespeare. Your goal is to find something you enjoy that will stimulate various parts of the brain simultaneously or sequentially.

We’ve already mentioned a few: lectures, academic courses and new skills (such as learning a new language, learning to play an instrument or learning how to quilt or paint a portrait). For more, take a look at the list below.  

Lifelong Learning at Emerald Heights

We’re proud to offer a variety of activities for seniors that are designed not only to enrich residents’ quality of life but also to stimulate their intellectual interests. Here’s a sampling of what’s on tap for this month:

  • Informative (and interesting!) documentaries throughout the month on our in-house TV channel
  • Painting classes in our creative arts studio
  • Education for Enjoyment, featuring a series of history lectures by Professor Dorsey Armstrong
  • Guest lectures by Dr. David Smith
  • The Osher – University of Washington lecture series, broadcast on our in-house TV channel

You’ll also find a broad range of resident-led clubs for those who are interested in developing or perfecting their skills in photography, the needle arts, woodworking and a whole lot more. These provide excellent opportunities to learn and socialize at the same time.

You’re Never Too Old to Learn Something New

If you’re looking for some inspiration, look no further than Doreetha Daniels, who received an associate degree in social sciences from the College of the Canyons in 2015 — when she was 99 years old.

She may be an outlier, but she’s not the only one. Some even went on to earn advanced degrees.

Even if you don’t have as lofty a goal as earning a degree, you can still enroll in courses that spark your interest at your nearby community college. Note that you may be able to have your tuition waived at state-funded schools. Your local recreation center may also have options to look into.

Want to start “stretching” your brain right away? Pick up a good book and get those neurons firing!

Discover Why We Stand Out Among Retirement Communities in Washington State

We could go on at length about why we think Emerald Heights is your best choice for senior living in the Redmond, WA area. Seeing is believing, though, and there’s no better way to decide if our community is a good fit for you than to come visit.     We invite you to contact us with questions you may have, whether they’re specific to Emerald Heights or senior living in general. We’d also welcome the chance to show you around our community. There’s a good chance you’ll meet some very active lifelong learners while you’re here.