5 Key Benefits of Lifelong Learning (plus Learning Tips!)
Learning is an essential part of human life that begins before we are even born. Science has found that babies begin learning language from their mothers in the womb during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy.1 This is an important time when a baby develops implicit memory, which influences the subconscious mind and creates the architecture for brain growth.2
Learning is equally as critical in the early stages of growth and as children go from being entirely dependent on their mothers to being independent individuals. But while learning is especially important in these formative years, it’s also important to continue to learn long after the mind fully develops. Even though learning new things may become more difficult as we age, our mind requires learning just as our body requires exercise to continue to grow and be healthy. Continuing to learn after our formative years offers a number of benefits for our health and wellness, including the following.
1. Reduces stress
Exercise, meditation, and a healthy diet are all great ways to relieve stress, but intellectual stimulation may be just as effective as these well-known stress-busters. One study found that simply picking up a book and reading reduced stress in participants by 68%, which was higher than listening to music or taking a walk.3
Reading a book not only provides a good distraction from the stresses of the world, but also stimulates creative thinking and alters our state of consciousness. This leads to a better sense of control and reduced anxiety. Other intellectual activities besides reading such as learning a new skill, writing, or doing a puzzle can have similar stress-reducing benefits.
2. Offsets cognitive decline
As we reach an advanced age, it becomes harder to remember, concentrate, and learn new things. This can lead to cognitive impairment, which affects about 16 million Americans,4 or a more serious illness such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
One of the best ways to slow cognitive decline is to continue to stimulate the mind through intellectual pursuits. Research shows that cognitive training, which consists of activities designed to enhance memory and reasoning, can improve both short-term and long-term mental skills of older individuals, and may increase ability to perform daily activities with greater independence as well.5 The mind is truly like a muscle, as it needs daily exercise to stay healthy.
3. Makes you more successful
Continuing to learn throughout your life can make you more successful in a variety of areas, from your career to your relationships and more. One key way lifelong learning does this is by improving your self-confidence. Learning new things improves your competence, which leads to increased trust and confidence in yourself. Whether it’s a skilled professional athlete, CEO of a large corporation, or popular musician, those who are the most successful are often those who are the most self-confident.
Additionally, people who are successful often have a high level of intellectual curiosity. This curiosity and willingness to learn not only lead to the acquiring of new skills, but makes this type of person more engaging professionally and socially as well. As learning generally involves skills such as reading, writing, and listening, it fosters the ability to communicate effectively, which is critical for success in many areas.
4. Increases life span
Henry Ford once said that “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Ford was not only accurate from a philosophical standpoint, but from a scientific one as well. Interestingly, level of education has an even stronger correlation to life expectancy than wealth. In fact, researchers have found that those with at least a 4-year college education tend to live longer than less educated people.6
One explanation for this phenomenon is that educated people have better access to information about how to be healthier and live longer. But another likely reason is simply that education stimulates the mind, which helps us stay engaged in life and hungry to learn new things.
5. Increases happiness
Success in life doesn’t always equate to happiness. The good news, however, is that people who are continually learning also tend to be happier overall. First, lifelong learning correlates with better health, which plays a large role in how happy and content we are. Second, those who are engaged in learning are constantly finding fulfillment as they utilize the knowledge they have gained.
We have an innate desire to learn and progress, and those who do it consistently are typically more content individuals. Just as more education can lead to a longer life span, it can also lead to greater happiness as well.
How to develop lifelong learning habits
Consistently acquiring new knowledge and learning new things comes more naturally to some than others. You may be one of the others, or you may have been more interested in learning earlier in your life but that desire has faded away with time. Whatever the case, it’s important to develop and maintain good learning habits now rather than later for all the reasons listed above and more.
If you find it difficult to keep learning to keep your mind sharp or want to improve your capacity for learning, try some of these things to start reaping the health benefits of an active, engaged mind:
- Read a book for 15 to 30 minutes a day
- Find a career that encourages learning
- Keep a list of things you would like to learn
- Teach others what you know
- Keep a journal
- Take an educational course or pursue a degree
- Spend time with intellectual friends
Being engaged in life and growing constantly may not be easy, but it’s certainly worth it. Along with considering all the benefits that lifelong learning provides, engage in what you are passionate about to stay motivated. And don’t forget to celebrate your progress!
1. McElroy, Molly. “While in womb, babies begin learning language from their mothers.” University of Washington. Washington.edu.
2. Skove, Ellynee. “Teaching Babies in the Womb.” Motherly. Mother.ly.
3. “Reading ‘can help reduce stress’.” Telegraph Media Group Limited. Telegraph.co.uk.
4. “Cognitive Impairment: A Call for Action, Now!” US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cdc.gov.
5. “Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?” National Institutes of Health. Nia.nih.gov.
6. Newman, Katelyn. “Study: College Degrees Increase Life Expectancy.” US News and World Report. Usnews.com.