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Education --powerful factor in life expectancy and health, and we're not quite sure why?

Posted Oct 01 2008 10:42pm

In an article, dated March 10th in the Washinton Post, entitled," Census Foresees an Older, and Wiser, America", Bloomberg News explores a new Census Bureau report on aging, commissioned by the National Institute on Aging. For the full article, click on the link above. But there is one quote that just has me shaking my head and blinking my eyes. Not because of the quote itself, but because of the lack of knowledge that exists on healthy aging and the needs of the Boomer and young senior demographics.

The report notes that our aging demographic is the most educated in history and that education seems to correlate with healthy aging:

'"Education is a particularly powerful factor in both life expectancy and health, and we're not quite sure why," Richard Suzman, associate director for behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, said in the teleconference. Better-educated people may have more money to pay for health care, and they may know more about a healthy lifestyle, he said.
By 2030, more than one-fourth of the older generation is likely to have an undergraduate degree, the report said."


I spent the first 36 years of my life in Canada -- in a system that provided both free healthcare and free education to all. As a result, there is a large, healthy, educated middle class in Canada with less extremes of riches and poverty than in the US, for example.

So when I moved to Los Angeles and adopted America as my new home, it always struck me as odd that people could, in fact, be uninsured and uncovered financially in case of a medical catastophe. It struck against my innate sense of social responsibility that parents sent their children to private school and didn't support a public school system and that they and their children would amass tens of thousands of dollars of debt in order to head to college or university.

There have also been studies on aging and memory (UCLA comes to mind) that have seen a correlation between lifelong learning, acquiring knowledge of new processes and disciplines throughout the aging process and the impact on healthy aging. My grandmother instinctively knew that it was important to do a challenge crossword every day to keep her mind active and she constantly explored new methods of painting or learned a new musical instrument (she was a terrible musician...but that didn't stop her from practicing on an ocharina).

The whole point of formal education is not just to learn...but to learn to learn. To develop an inquiring mind and a sense of exploration. Our generation understood that truth and opened the doors to a cultural revolution. Because of this inquiring mind, 50 plussers will not want to retire. Nor will they want to stop exploring and learning.

To my eyes (even with reading glasses) the connection between education and healthy aging is obvious. The open mind thrives and grows with attention and information. And as long as opportunities exist for that growth, we can enjoy a healthy life after 50, 60 and 70.

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