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How You Can Mentally Challenge Yourself to Live Longer

How You Can Mentally Challenge Yourself to Live Longer

Even if it has been a while since you were in grade school, you probably remember hearing a teacher talk about the importance of learning and exercising your mind. After all, as so many teachers like to claim, “if you don’t use it, you lose it!” If they said it once, they said it a hundred times. You not have recognized the value in their wise words, but now that you are frantically searching for advice on an anti-aging protocol, let those words become your greatest inspiration.

Celebrate Education

On June 6th, the nation will take a moment and celebrate higher education. This holiday was created by Izamar Olaguez back in 2015 as a way to draw national attention to a need for college affordability and to convince U.S. students that higher education is for everyone. Research shows that large numbers of men and women well past the typical college age-group are headed back to school. Many seek a career change, while others want access to higher pay or promotions. Collegiate learning doesn’t have to be the only education you seek, though many associate those pursuits as having the most tangible benefits. Simply embracing learning opportunities throughout your life has just as many benefits, with one of the primary benefits being increased longevity. That’s right. The school of hard knocks can help you live longer.

Encourage Ongoing Learning

Health experts at the Alzheimer’s Association and the Mayo Clinic actively campaign for adults to get involved in as many ongoing learning or brain-stimulating activities as possible to prevent mental decline. Healthy aging isn’t about the medications you take or the diet you keep. Lifelong learning is now considered an essential element to keeping your mind sharp and warding off degenerative cognitive conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Contrary to the adage the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” you are never too old to learn something new. By giving your mind a challenge, you give your brain a chance to develop new neurological connections. The efforts you make in these situations also reduce stress and the negative side effects that come with it, like depression. Treat your mind like a plant, constantly nurturing and feeding it. It will respond with growth and positive health.

There are several benefits from a lifestyle of continuous learning, which is defined as the process of engaging both mind and body in active pursuits of new knowledge or experiences. There are so many possibilities for lifelong learning, and you don’t have to wait until you are getting on up in years to find a learning opportunity. You take a crafting class at the local home decor store, or you could sign up for golf swing lessons down at the club. You may try to learn a foreign language through the computer, or you sit down to figure out what all the hype is over video games. You may feel self-conscious or frustrated by your initial attempts to try something new, but like your grade school years or college, you didn’t learn to read or work out calculus problems overnight.  You find that the more effort you put into your endeavor, the more successful you become. When this happens, you might experience one of the following benefits.

  • You improve your memory.
  • You build up your self-confidence.
  • You save money by figuring out how to do it yourself.
  • You get feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment.
  • You meet new people who have a similar interest.
  • You develop skills you already had.
  • You have something new to share with friends and family.

Develop the Discipline

You won’t be able to just hope your mind and body stay alert and active as you age. The body naturally starts to decline and breakdown as early as your 30s. You don’t really have time waste. Many people in their 30s have just started a new career or are working through their graduate work, so their minds are pretty active. Its when you get into the 50s and 60s, when you are looking forward to retirement and relaxation, that it becomes easier to just take it easy. Taking the easy road into old age will lead to increased risk for premature aging, a greater potential for illness, and the possibility of cognitive decline. Building strong neurological connections all throughout your life has a better long-term effect on slowing down the negative impacts of aging.


You don’t have to overload yourself with frustrating or challenging conditions in your effort to exercise the mind and learn new things, but you should proactively try to tackle new situations often. You could take a new route home from work and learn how to navigate the traffic pattern. You can volunteer with a local organization to continually put you in touch with new names, faces, and situations. Listen to music that is way outside your comfort zone. Get involved in a workout class. Whatever you can do to open the door to new experiences in life will go a long way in boosting your longevity.


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About the author

Dr. Richard Smith, MD

6 min read