An ABC Special Report
October 25, 2005
Learning a Foreign Language
Can help you live longer
Oct. 23, 2005 — Although you can't reverse the aging process, it is possible to take daily measures to increase your lifespan. In his new book, "Healthy Aging," Dr. Andrew Weil says the key to living longer and better begins with a shift of focus from anti-aging to anti-disease.
This is why learning another language may be a perfect challenge for people at any age. It is a ongoing, open-ended commitment that keeps you in a continous state of mental workout, both frustrating and rewarding. There is even fascinating research showing a direct link between bilingualism and improved brain function. We know that chidren raised in a bilingual environment acquire language skills more slowly than their monolingual counterparts but end up with greater mental proficiency. A recent study reports that bilinguel subjects, both young and old, have faster reaction times and are better able to screen out distracting information than subjects who speak only one language. The researchrs suggest that the same brain processes involved in using two languages are needed to stay focused and manage attention while ignoring irrelevant information, a facility called “fluid intelligence.” Fluid intelligence is one of the first aspects of brain function to suffer in ag-related cognitive decline. Therefore, proficiency at two languages ought to be prtective—more so, I think, than any so-called smart drugs or supplements. ...
...I am not at all convinced that cognitive decline is an inevitable consequence of aging. Rather, I think most people simply do not give themselves the kinds of mental challenges that brains need to retain their functionality.
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