Three Ways an Active Mind Means an Active Body in Later Life

Lifelong learning for older adults has been hailed by the experts as a kind of health club for our bodies, minds and spirits. In the words of Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Director of the Aging Research and Education Center in Pittsburgh, PA, “…every time your heart beats, 25% of that blood goes right to the brain. But while exercise is critical, it may be education that is more important.” He goes on to say, “ In the 21st century, education and information may become for the brain what exercise is for the heart.” Nancy Merz Nordstrom, M. Ed., author of “Learning Later, Living Greater: The Secret for Making the Most of Your After-50 Years” (Sentient Publications: ISBN: 1-59181-047-7), says, “Just like the human heart, our brains need to be nurtured through the health club known as later-life learning.” For 78 million Baby Boomers keenly interested in a more healthy retirement, lifelong learning is proving to be an essential part of their new active lifestyles.

Lifelong learning keeps older adults active. It’s that simple! Later-life learners are as busy as they want to be – learning for the sheer joy of learning, exploring the world, engaging in meaningful community service – and just plain having fun. Learning in the years after 50 brings new activity and focus to their lives, rounding out their later years and helping make them as healthy as possible.

As one lifelong learner said, “This business of learning together – this glorious sharing – is a form of rejuvenation. Together we want to explore, walk roads not yet traveled, examine old facts and find new conclusions.”

Here are three ways an active mind means an active body in
later life.

1. LEARN: Join a Lifelong Learning Program – Lifelong learning programs offer many ways to incorporate activity into our daily lives. Along with more traditional courses, most programs offer a variety of fitness classes such as swimming, aerobics, walking clubs, hiking, birding, bicycling and yoga. Classes in spirituality, meditation, stress reduction, and outdoor programs, just to name a few, round out the stimulating curriculum. Taking part in group classes helps people stick with it, leading to even more activity.

2. EXPLORE: Take part in Educational Travel – Participants in educational travel programs are active explorers. They delve into the many aspects of new and different places with zest and enthusiasm. Later-life learners who travel are out and about, taking part in spirited discussions, talking with the locals, walking the alleys and byways of old towns, climbing the steps to historic ruins, and examining unique places up close and personal. They do not just ride from place to place on a bus, catching a mere glimpse as they drive by. Educational travel programs give participants the opportunity to become part of the history, culture and politics of the area. Different than a typical “soaking up the sun” vacation, educational travel teaches us new ways to measure and if necessary, change our quality of life.

3. SERVE: Engage in Meaningful Community Service – “Mentors, mediators, monitors, motivators and mobilizers,” these are the community roles the late Maggie Kuhn of “Grey Panthers” fame thought should be filled by older adults. Lifelong learning through work within the community means staying active, interacting with society, and keeping connected to life. Dedicated volunteers are not watching life pass them by through their living room windows. They are actively making a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.

It’s easy to see why lifelong learning can be considered not only a health club for the brain, but for the body as well. Regardless of your level of involvement, later-life learning promotes physical activity which is especially valuable as we age. Lifelong Learning’s core values of Learning, Exploring, and Serving, coupled with benefits for the Body, Mind, and Spirit make it an incredibly powerful tool for keeping our minds and our bodies
active in later life.


About Nancy Merz

Author, consultant, and speaker, Nancy Merz Nordstrom is an expert on the concept, benefits and opportunities of lifelong learning for older adults, and how keeping minds challenged can enrich and enhance our After-50 years. For more information on the concept, benefits and opportunities of lifelong learning for older adults please visit

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