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  • Writer's pictureLinda Peterson

Never Stop Learning—For the Health of It!

It’s back-to-school time so as you send the kids and grandkids off to school, you should consider joining them—for your own joy, health, and well-being. We live in a time of unlimited learning opportunities and earning a degree through formal education is only one way to achieve the benefits of lifelong learning. One of the joys of being human is that the school of life never stops teaching and giving us opportunities to learn and grow.

If learning is a joyful experience, why do we sometimes hesitate to try new things? Fear of failure or embarrassment of not being good at something new can create an obstacle. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be a beginner, at any age. Zen Buddhism suggests we embrace a beginner’s mind, “an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions” when approaching a learning opportunity. We need a childlike ability to try something and allow ourselves to be just OK. That requires letting go of the need for perfection. According to Brene’ Brown, “When failure is not an option, we can forget about creativity, learning, and innovation.”

Learning for the pure joy of it is a good reason to embrace lifelong learning, but there also are significant health benefits. Here are just a few of those.

1. Improves Brain Health

Brains can grow in an environment of discovery, learning and challenge, according to sources at Baystate Health, and learning new things can help the brain produce new cells and form new connections between neurons. Something as simple as taking a new route to work or brushing your teeth with your non dominate hand can slow cognitive decline. Embracing new experiences and changing our routines can force us to think about things differently and increase our creativity.

2. Reduces Stress

Research has shown that reading for several minutes can reduce our heart rate, stress hormones and anxiety. A 2009 study from the University of Sussex found that just 6 minutes of reading reduced stress by 68%, faster than listening to music or going for a walk. Reading about health and wellness can also inspire us to engage in healthier behaviors and make better lifestyle choices.

3. Increases Social Connections

According to Blue Zones research, strong social connections can add years to your life and quality to your years. We can enhance our life quality by choosing opportunities to learn with and about others through classes, workshops, and conferences. Education travel, volunteerism, and community service connect us socially while exploring our world and improving our communities. Spending time with people who hold different ideas and opinions than us can increase our empathy and understanding of our world and the people in it.

Albert Einstein said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Learning is a never-ending process so let’s embrace the back-to-school mindset and never stop learning—for the health of it!

~Dr. Linda Peterson ~ PhD, CLC, CHC

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