I spent a lot of time with my textbooks and conducting observations in the classroom and it made me start thinking about learning as a lifelong endeavor. Those who know me are aware of my proclivity for taking a seemingly never-ending number of classes. I really love learning new things and I find coursework a diversion from a relatively mundane life. Even if I lacked intrinsic motivation, I could convince myself through a more practical argument. Education is one of many environmental factors closely associated with health outcomes. Numerous studies reveal that longevity and overall well-being trend upwards with educational attainment. This is true regardless of race or sex. The evidence points to improvements with each additional year of education, with the sharpest improvement occurring between high school and four years of college. At this point, gains continue, but are not as remarkable.
The reasons for these changes are complex. While it is clear that educational attainment increases accessibility to quality jobs, higher income, and improved access to health insurance, it also results in positive health behaviors, which reduce risk of disease and early death. Those with more education tend to be more active, eat a more nutritionally balanced diet, and abstain from tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. In my personal observations, education also improves knowledge of healthy behaviors and the ability to advocate for oneself.
Now that we have determined that educational attainment has some health benefits, you may wonder what steps you should take.
If you have not earned a high school diploma, you can start exploring your options through your local school department. Most offer a GED or HiSET program specifically for adult learners. Some, like Boston Public Schools, even offer a self-paced program. If you have not completed college, consider going back. There are many options available for adult learners, including accelerated and online degree programs from accredited non-profit colleges. (EDH advice: If the school is not accredited and/or is for-profit, look elsewhere.)
For those who are not in search of a diploma or degree, there are numerous sources for free and low-cost courses. You just need to do some hunting. I frequently see classes offered through my local hospital, which are great if you are interested in health topics. Local libraries usually host book clubs, lecture series, exhibits, and workshops. A surprising number of these are free or very inexpensive. Find a local craft group; members are often willing to teach skills like knitting as long as you bring your own supplies.
If you would rather learn from home, many websites offer free and low-cost courses in a variety of subjects. TEDTalks are another great way to explore new topics in a lecture format. There are thousands of talks available online, but you can also attend in person. I have watched over 100 of these and I enjoyed them all. Feeling like you are too old to be a student? Rubbish! If you are over 50, you may even be eligible for a great benefit—free and/or discounted courses at your local university.
Links for Reference and More Reading: