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Big Think+

Knowledge is power: Keep your brain in shape with lifelong learning

We all know how it works. You need to go through at least 12 years of school — 16 years if you want a white-collar job. Then you’ve got your degree and, hopefully, a job lined up. All that’s left is maybe some training for your position, and finally, you’re no longer obligated to learn about anything if you don’t want to. No more textbooks, tests, essays, or grades.
For the recent grad, this might sound like an exciting proposition, but more weathered members of the workforce know better — life is boring once you stop learning. Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, understands this well. “Most people after a while,” he says in his Big Think+ video, “realize when they acquire new knowledge about something that it’s really quite an enjoyable experience.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of adults consider themselves lifelong learners. Many of these individuals took a course or underwent training for their careers, but a full 80 percent responded that they’ve pursued knowledge in the hopes of making their lives fuller and more interesting.
Research validates both of these rationales for learning more. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn up to $655,000 more than those with just a high school degree, and as one accumulates further degrees, one also tends to earn more. Furthermore, learning has been shown to be beneficial for psychological well-being and to contribute to a greater capacity to cope with stressful life events. Money may not buy happiness, but lifelong learning can contribute to both.

An investment in the future

While learning to improve your career prospects or to enrich your life are valid and laudable rationales, there’s perhaps an even better reason to become a lifelong learner: It’s healthy.
“As people age,” says Kandel, “they’re susceptible to one of two kinds of cognitive declines. One is Alzheimer’s disease.” One in 10 individuals over the age of 65 develop Alzheimer’s disease, but one in three of these cases can be prevented. “And the other,” continues Kandel, “which was only recently appreciated to be quite distinct from Alzheimer’s disease, is called age-related memory loss.”
The bad news about age-related memory loss is that it is far more common, with 40 percent of individuals over 65 experiencing memory loss unrelated to any underlying medical condition. Fortunately, age-related memory loss appears to be almost entirely preventable or, at the very least, mitigable. In his Big Think+ video, Eric Kandel goes over some of the tried and true ways of preventing cognitive decline in older years, the two major forms of learning, and the multitude of benefits associated with committing to learning even after you’ve stopped being graded. Check out the video below.

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