Why learning new skills is even better over 50

Why learning new skills is even better over 50

Go back to school? You’re never too old! Daniela Soave explains how you can maximise your free time with study.

Go back to school? You’re never too old! Daniela Soave explains how you can maximise your free time with study.

Every time you memorise new information or learn a new skill, the neurons and connections in your brain increase. Yup, even when you’re over 50.

Recent research in the US shows that the adult brain retains impressive powers of neuroplasticity – the ability to change structure and function in response to experience. In other words, learning is good for us.

This is very encouraging, given that many of us midlife adults are going back to school to reinvent ourselves.

It’s estimated that by 2020 more than a third of Britain’s workforce will be over 50, so it’s no surprise that some of us are ready for a change – whether it’s because we’ve gone as far as we can in our old line of work, developed an interest in a completely new field or just want to learn something new for the sheer fun of it.

The training is out there

Through adult apprenticeships, distance learning, online education, college and university courses, we can learn our way into a new life.

In the UK in 2014, for instance, more than 34,000 people over 50 began apprenticeship training, with more than a third finding placements in administration, business and law. Thanks to new technology and more flexible learning, even those of us who want to enrol in more formal education can do so without having to give up our jobs.

You don’t have to look far for two shining examples. Our very own Carol Vorderman – alongside her television career – learned to fly, gained her pilot’s licence in 2014 and will soon embark on a solo flight around the world. And Victoria’s Health & Wellbeing Editor Patsy Westcott maintained a busy life as a journalist while studying for an MSc in Nutritional Medicine, graduating in 2013. It’s never too late to learn.

Need a kickstart? Follow your passion

We’re at an age where we value a life/work balance. My old neighbour, a school secretary, became so besotted with her garden that she retrained as a landscape designer. Another chum, an office manager, studied psychotherapy, figuring her former high-stress job and life experience would help her understand her clients’ busy lives. Those changes gave these women autonomy.

It’s not just about career changes, though. Many of us learn for the sheer pleasure of it. Someone I know loves holidays in Italy, and for the last five years has been going to night school so she can converse in Italian. She says an added bonus is it keeps her sharp.

My sister has taken up learning to play the piano again, abandoned at 12, and she says daily practice is almost like a meditation. Indeed, playing a musical instrument is as good for your brain as circuit training is for your body.

Why doing something new is good for you

Learning, whether it’s gaining new skills or studying for a degree, has health benefits, too.

  • It staves off dementia.
  • It’s empowering.
  • It keeps us current, encourages personal growth and can alleviate loneliness.
  • It introduces us to a new friendship circle and improves our self-esteem.

Why age is on our side

Because we are older and we have chosen to learn, we’re likely to be more successful than our younger selves. Go us!

  • Experience has given us better time-management skills.
  • We are more disciplined.
  • We’ve had time to learn from our mistakes, which makes us more determined to succeed.

Ready? Set, go!

Whether you want to improve your career chances or learn for enjoyment, follow these tips:

  • Check out your local adult education centre. These run day and evening modules in everything from web coding and creative writing to languages and business admin.
  • If you are looking to advance your career, speak to your human resources manager at work. Companies often set aside a budget for adult training.
  • Been away from education for a while? Start with a taster course. The Open University has more than a thousand free courses in a range of subjects – find out more at  open.edu.
  • Scour local magazines for courses and talks, often the best way to dip your toe in the water.
  • If you’re set on returning to formal education, investigate student loans and bursaries. They’re available for us, too. Your local council can advise you on these.
  • If you’re considering an apprenticeship and looking for more information, check out apprenticeshipguide.co.uk.

Have you recently learnt a new skill or had a career change? Tell us your story in the comments section below.

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