Stay Young by Learning

Learning Keeps Us Young

by Sanjeev Joseph

Ponce de Leon's travels led him to what is now known as America, as some believe, in search of the Fountain of Youth. As legend has it, this fountain promised the gift of eternal youth to whomever drank from it. While the details of de Leon's intentions of traveling to this unknown land are murky, the myth of the Fountain of Youth is very much a great fit for the obsession of Americans. Ironically, he was killed at the young age of 47 by an arrow from an Indian. Even more ironic is that the land he discovered eventually became known as the land where anything is possible...maybe even longevity, possibly immortality.

Longevity and Immortality

We are steadily moving closer and closer to living longer (longevity) and potentially living forever. While the United Nations has a much more conservative outlook on human longevity in the coming centuries, they acknowledge that medical breakthroughs can change the trend we currently are on. Recognizing the potential of such a discovery, organizations like Salk Institute, Palo Alto Longevity Prize, Human Longevity Inc and others are in a mad dash to crack the code of the human life span. There is more and more knowledge about what causes us to age and eventually perish. By understanding these factors and creating strategies to control them, we are edging closer to the elusive state of immortality.

DNA

Currently it is accepted that there are two main factors to aging: DNA and environment. It is impossible for a person to determine the DNA they are born with. That being said, there are less and less barriers to others playing with DNA before a person is born. With the creation of studies in Precision Medicine, there is a greater knowledge base of the code that makes all living things possible. There are also new players in the Precision Medicine space that are set to shed light on and eventually disrupt medicine as we know it today. Eventually, we will not only know our DNA factors, but also be able to control it as we see fit.

Environment

Equally important is the environment we choose to surround ourselves in. This is more of an immediately controllable variable, since we are born into environments...and eventually most of us have the capability of controlling whatever environment we choose to be in. The Internet of Things (IOT), Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and many other new technologies are converging on a massive scale to lead civilization into never before seen control of their surroundings.

Learning

While we wait for these new advances in medicine, technology and longevity, we must figure out how to make ourselves ready for the expansion of life. There are many people who would argue that living longer is not very desirable. They are happy to leave the earth in their 80's. I would argue that these same people have stopped learning. There is a stagnation of the brain that has occurred, and therefore, the will to live has ceased. Thus they will cease to exist. For this reason, learning if one of the most important factors to not only increasing the life span, but also make living more pleasurable. This will lead to a person wanting to live longer. They will have a thirst for knowledge, leading the hunger for life.

Physical Learning

Being a physical therapist, there is an understanding that people need to learn new concepts in changing the way their bodies age. Poor mechanics, postures and movements lead to slow and sustained damage. By educating patients, we are helping people in two ways. One is that they are reducing the physical stress on their bodies, thereby preserving their structures for the long haul. In addition, quality of life drastically improves. The other is that by learning new concepts about their own bodies, they are accessing new parts of the brain that leads to improved neuroplasticity. This is invaluable, as this often changes the course of a person's life. I can't tell you how many times I started therapy on a skeptical patient, taught them new skills, and changed their overall outlook on life. A person that comes in saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" leaves saying "Thank you for giving me something new to work on!"

Behavioral Learning

Much of what is done in my practice setting is behavioral learning. First, we identify the systemic errors in their current strategies to their movement patterns. Then, we teach the theories behind optimal movement. Finally, we have them execute. This three step process yields excellent results, because once they learn the new behaviors and feel its benefits, they are hooked for life. An added benefit is that this new learning overrides the wrong beliefs, essentially causing them to forget the old behaviors (because it is no longer pleasurable). You not only get great engagement while they are attending therapy, you also get longer carryover and better outcomes. In addition, they are accessing different neural networks within their own brains, which leads to a general awakening and pleasure within the individual. It helps them to reach higher levels of self actualization, a feeling that might have been a foregone conclusion for many.

Conclusion

The takeaway from this article is that you're never too old to learn, and by learning, you will actually help reverse the effects of aging. It becomes therapeutic in a way that was not thought to be achievable by many. Are you still skeptical? Here is a video featuring Nobel Prize winning Scientist and Columbia University Professor Eric Kandel that drives this point home:

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