Simon Fraser Univesity: Seniors Program DVDs Promote Healthy Living Through Lifelong Learning

The senior population across British Columbia is booming.  In fact, adults 65+ now make up about 600,000 people across the province, with projections expected to reach 1.35 million by 2031.  But the news gets even better.  Older adults are also living longer, healthier lives. According to Statistics Canada, the average male in the province can expect to live well into his late seventies, with the average woman reaching her early eighties.  Indeed, this province enjoys one of the highest life expectancy rates across Canada.  It seems that for most seniors, a growing commitment to physical exercise is already showing results.  And the good news is, even if you start later in life, studies show you can still noticeably improve your flexibility, balance, strength and endurance.

But fewer people are aware of the many health benefits of lifelong learning.  For decades, studies have shown that a person’s level of education is one of the strongest socio-economic predictors of self-perceived well-being.  Advocates for lifelong learning see many other benefits.  Educator Nancy Merz Nordstrom explains that third-age learning teaches us new things, while also providing a forum for meeting people and sharing ideas. She explains that socializing in groups “opens our minds and brings us to a whole new level of enlightenment.”  Education can also be the key to unlocking your own self-discovery, says Nordstrom: “Understanding the whys and the whats of previous successes and failures…help us understand ourselves better,” she explains.

Simon Fraser University Seniors Program

Gerontologist Sandra Cusack echoes these sentiments in her book, Mental Fitness for Life: 7 Steps to Healthy Aging.  For Cusack, lifelong learning promotes adults' creative thinking and self-confidence, while at the same time reducing people’s level of anxiety and sense of isolation.  Like physical exercise, she argues that it is never too late to start your own learning journey.  “We used to believe that mental abilities automatically decline with age; we now know that’s not true.  We can actually improve our mental function and memory to the end of life,” Cusack explains.

For 35 years, the Simon Fraser University Seniors Program has been dedicated to providing intellectually stimulating and academically oriented courses to adults 55 or better.  Located at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus in downtown Vancouver, the program now offers over 70 different 6-week courses annually, beginning in September, January and May.  Topics span a wide variety of disciplines, including History, Philosophy, Political Science, Archaeology, Sociology, English Literature, Art History, Opera Studies, and more.  Designed to suit the needs of a diverse public, courses are open to people of all educational backgrounds and aptitudes.   The program now attracts over 2,500 lifelong learners annually, and continues to expand its course offerings each year.

For those unable to attend courses at Harbour Centre campus, the program also offers a series of informative roundtable discussion DVDs as part of its Outreach Project.  The 1-hour DVDs cover a wide range of topics of interest to older adults, including titles such as: Perceptions of God in Heaven, Multiculturalism and the Canadian Identity, Grandparenting in the 21st century, Democracy: Intent and Reality, and Seniors Rights and Elder Abuse.  The videos are available free of charge, and can be downloaded from the Seniors Program website.

On March 18, 2010, the Outreach Project launched its 6th DVD in its series in partnership with the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport.  Entitled: A Place for Everyone: Age-friendly Communities, the video explores how communities across Canada are evolving to better meet the needs of older adults – with a special focus on building more accessible and affordable transportation systems and housing, as well as better public spaces. The moderator for this discussion will be CBC’s Mark Forsythe, who you may know from his popular CBC radio program, BC Almanac.  Panelists for the discussion include architect Lewis Villegas, City Program Director and former Vancouver City Councillor Gordon Price, and Gerontologist Dr. Elaine Gallagher.   Over the next six months, the video will be distributed free of charge to over 250 community partners across B.C. and beyond. To learn more about the SFU Seniors Program or to view the video online, please visit our website or call 778.782.5212.