Here’s why learning can help protect your brain for years to come!

By Austin Perlmutter, MD

Why is learning so important to brain function?

Every moment of our lives, our brains are changing, responding and learning as new information is processed. Research is now revealing that learning not only builds our knowledge of the world, but also may lead to significant benefits to brain health. Here’s how learning is linked to better brain wellness, and how to leverage this science starting today.

Learning builds cognitive reserve, which may help stave off dementia

As we age, our brains may experience a decline in certain functions. But fascinating research reveals that certain people seem to lose brain abilities much slower than others. For example, those who pursue higher educational or occupational attainment have been found to be at lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study of over 10,000 people found that those who regularly wrote letters, journaled or played cognitively demanding games had a significantly lower risk for developing dementia. All of this speak to the idea of “cognitive reserve,” the concept that the more we use our brains, the more resistance we have to brain decline.

Learning can lead to stress reductions

It’s absolutely the case that learning can be stressful at times. Yet in other instances, the process of learning can actually build feelings of competency and help us to feel like we’re moving forward, leading to a decrease in perceived stress. Since stress is one of the most well-established risk factors for brain decline, this is a great reason to prioritize learning each day.

Learning can be coupled with other brain-boosting activities

While learning new things is in and of itself a great strategy for long-term brain health, there may be additional benefit to be gained when we add learning to other brain healthy activities. For example, exercise is well known to promote brain health. But engaging in complex exercises that require brain activation (e.g., learning a new sport) may be doubly beneficial. Similarly, social connections are one of the strongest predictors of long-term health and now are known to predict risk for brain issues as well. Adding social connection to your roster while learning (e.g., challenging a friend on a app-based game, playing a new sport with friends) may be a great way to enhance the brain boosting values of learning.

All-in-all, placing a conscious focus on learning is an excellent way to help promote better brain health. Some ideas of great ways to learn include learning a new language, trying a new instrument, traveling or simply picking up a non-fiction book.