Can Lifelong Learning Improve Our Minds as we Age?

As we age, many of us try to keep our minds sharp by reading, painting or even completing crosswords or playing Sudoku.

Looking for a new way to keep your mind active? Add lifelong learning to this list. Instead of ending education at a young age, lifelong learning involves continuing education throughout one’s lifetime—whether learning is self-directed or via a continuing education program.

The idea is to keep our minds stimulated as we fight against the natural decline in memory and general brain health that plagues us as we grow older. According to the World Health Organization, “health” as we age encompasses our physical, mental and social well-being, and the WHO encourages us to stay active in all of these respects.

We know that learning helps keep minds active, but is there actually a physical change that occurs to improve our memories and brain health when we continue learning throughout our lives?

The truth is, solid research showing the physical benefits of continuing education in older adults is still limited; however, as lifelong learning grows as a trend, more opportunities for study should become available.

One recent study has shown that learning environments can help reduce cognitive decline due to aging.

In Europe, many countries offer University of Third Age (U3A) courses for older adults. A study published in GeroPsych: The Journal of Gerontopsychology and Geriatric Psychiatry, studied the impact of U3A education on a sample of students who attended the University Program for Older Adults in Madrid between 2007 and 2011.

Subjects were measured at different periods throughout the three-year program for memory and learning performance, health, social relationships and activity.

In the end, the control group subjects (those who did not attend the university) showed a greater likelihood of depression than the student group. In addition, the adults participating in school increased their overall levels of activity and improved memory functioning over time (when both of these became worse over the same three-year period for the control subject). Subjects who attended classes also performed better on information-seeking tests and general health awareness.

What does this mean? It is likely that lifelong learning can have a positive effect on cognitive functioning as we age. Pursuing lifelong learning opportunities can help older adults make up for cognitive and emotional decline over time.

Adult learning programs are growing in popularity, and at UWA Online, we are growing as well! Our new Continuing Education program is set to launch this month. Through UWA Online Continuing Education, you can take online, non-credit courses from the comfort of your own home!

Visit us at to learn more!



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