Lifelong Learning As We Age Benefits both Mind and Body

Posted on: July 25th, 2014 by Rob Lucarelli

Getting older has its challenges. But how we take on these challenges defines them as positive or negative. Some of us see the half-empty glass, some the half-full. We have some good news that makes a case for the optimist in all of us, because aging doesn’t have to be as difficult as some of us make it.

A plethora of scientific studies over the years shows that a healthy mix of both physical and intellectual activity as we age helps us maintain our overall well-being. We can preserve a healthy body and a healthy mind, delaying, mitigating or even eliminating the onsets of physical injuries, plus ailments like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

But where do we begin? It all starts and ends with education and lifelong learning. Engaging in lifelong learning stimulates our brains and keeps our most important assets sharp. And the best news is that there are a variety of ways to do this.

How Continuing Education Keeps Our Minds Sharp

The Rush Memory and Aging Project, conducted in 2012 in Chicago with more than 1,200 elders participating, showed that increased cognitive activity in older adults slowed their decline in cognitive function and decreased their risk of mild cognitive impairment. The study showed that cognitively active seniors, whose average age was 80, were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than seniors with less cognitive activity.

Other studies show that individuals who are more educated tend to enjoy better mental health overall. Pursuing lifelong learning can not only help you stay mentally sharp but is also critical to your emotional health as you get older.

Educational Programming at Judson

Judson’s retirement communities offer a spread of various programs for residents, emphasizing the importance of continuing education.

“Like any exercise, learning is stimulating and helps promote strength, flexibility and endurance,” notes Cynthia H. Dunn, president and CEO of Cleveland-based non-profit Judson Services, Inc. “I think we’d all agree that these characteristics underscore the interplay between lifelong learning and overall good health. We are as committed to providing a menu of opportunities for physical fitness and health as we are for intellectual growth.”

A few examples of how our residents stay sharp include:

  • South Franklin Circle Dialogue Series – these Chautauqua-inspired monthly lectures feature speakers from the community and across the globe addressing a variety of topics. A resident-led programming committee brainstorms and selects the speakers, which have included an authority on the crisis in the Middle East, Arun Gahndi, and Senator George Voinovich. Each lecture is followed by a robust exchange of ideas via a question-and-answer period.
  • Case Western Reserve University Partnership – Judson residents may audit courses at the neighboring university at a discount.  Generations collide—in a good way—as residents have taken courses as varied as Introduction to Islam and The History of Rock and Roll. Learn more about our CWRU program.
  • Tuesday Evening programs – this series of lectures and musical performances alternates between Judson Manor and Judson Park. Topics have included Cleveland’s recycling efforts, gay marriage, and performances by members of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Many other educational programs are available for Judson residents to engage in lifelong learning, spread across a wide range of disciplines and areas of interest.

How Physical Activity Helps the Brain

Here we can adhere to the old adage “Use it or lose it.” Walking, yoga, swimming—we’re all familiar with the general health benefits of exercise. But how familiar are you with the idea that physical exercise does as much for the brain as it does the body?

As a general rule, as we get older the hippocampus (the area of the brain involved in learning and memory) actually shrinks one to two percent annually in people without dementia. Studies have found, however, that this trend can be stopped and in many cases even reversed. Physical activity stimulates certain areas of the brain and even increases the birth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. This defies outright the age-old belief that our brains are static and that once we lose a brain cell it’s gone for good.

A study conducted at the University of Illinois clearly showed how modest but regular aerobic exercise can improve our overall cognitive health. Older adults who participated in the study took 40-minute walks three days per week over the course of one year. In that year alone, the participants saw a two-percent increase in the size of their hippocampus.

Fitness Programming at Judson

All Judson retirement communities offer a range of exercise classes and fitness programs such as yoga, tai chi and weight training with a trainer or in a group. With warm-water indoor pools, we also have water aerobics, water power walking and various water exercises developed by the Arthritis Foundation.

A specialized course we offer is Delay the Disease – an ongoing program dedicated to delaying the onset of Parkinson’s by optimizing physical function and helping to delay the progression of symptoms. Participants in this program see improvements in their gait, balance and strength, in addition to experiencing sharper memory and a reduced chance of falling.

See the list of the fitness programs at Judson.

How Social Relationships and Community Involvement Keep You Sharp

Living in a retirement community provides a number of opportunities to be social—or not. It’s completely up to you. Opportunities to develop social relationships and increase community involvement should not be cast off lightly, however, as they have been shown to benefit our cognitive process in a variety of ways.

Lifelong learning feeds into this, as well. The more we know, the more we grow, and seeking out learning opportunities naturally brings us into the social realm, discussing our new findings with others and wanting more and more to help our community.

Social and Community Programming at Judson

Judson provides an environment where residents create their own opportunities for growth and fulfillment. Whether it’s an interest in mentoring students, travel, gardening or creative expression – Judson provides the blank canvas and residents fill in the rest.

Here are a few examples of some our socially active residents:

  • Mentoring music students – Judson Manor resident Karen Holtkamp knows a thing or two about the music business, and she shares it with students at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Learn more.
  • Witnessing the great migration – Moving from Arizona to South Franklin Circle five years ago did nothing to slow down Dick Hartz as his recent trip to Tanzania exhibits. Learn more.
  • Finding her expressive self –The Expressive Arts Center at Judson Park has become a second home for Audra Rose. Her watercolors and decorative cards feature prominently in gallery shows at Judson. Learn more.
  • Garden fresh – About 20 South Franklin Circle residents pooled their resources to create a community garden for all to enjoy. Learn more.

Read more about educational, physical, social and community benefits.

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