by Christopher Phillips

Legendary programmer Grace Hopper lived to 85, 45 years longer than most women born in 1906.

Free Code Camp Might Help You Live Longer

Since I started my web development journey with Free Code Camp, I’ve felt more awake, more alert, and able to process information at greater speeds. What I didn’t realize until recently is that coding there might actually help me live longer, too.

There have been a lot of studies into dementia and Alzheimer’s — specifically regarding keeping one’s brain active and learning other languages, to which coding contributes.

The primary term is “cognitive reserve” — the ability for your brain to functionally compensate for natural degeneration.

Research indicates that people who have solid stores of cognitive reserve are generally less likely to exhibit the classic signs of dementia — short-term memory loss, difficulty multitasking. “

So how could you improve cognitive reserve with coding?

  1. Problem solving: Coding challenges your brain in different ways, forcing you to open new neural pathways. It increases efficiency, and improves your brain’s ability to work under challenging conditions. This means that if you suffer a brain injury, degenerative or otherwise, your brain is more likely to be able to function at a higher level afterwards.
  2. Creativity: I’ve noticed a dramatic rise in my creativity and originality since I started to code. This creativity transcends my computer, too. My friends report that I’m coming up with more original ideas. This jives with a study that showed that there’s a link between “verbal creativity” and an increase in cognitive reserve.
  3. Opening new possibilities: Coding has opened my mind to endless creative possibilities. The creative process with coding is similar to when I studied my degree in anthropology and realized that the representations of culture around the world were infinitely varied. So too are the possibilities with code. This is opening up parts of my brain that I haven’t used for a long time, and could be improving my cognitive reserve.

Bilingualism

There have been a multitude of studies showing that bilingualism can increase cognitive reserve. When processing a new language, older languages become activated to some degree in order to process new ones. This functional interaction produces more gray and white matter in the brain, leading to increased cognitive reserve. But can we assume that coding languages are the same?

A study from the University of Passau involved conducting brain scans on 17 volunteers while they read source code. They found that programming languages and natural languages activated the same parts of the brain, and in similar ways.

Increasing your cognitive reserve not only reduces risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it has also been shown to have an effect on incidence of vascular injury, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, HIV, and multiple sclerosis. You’re not just stopping dementia by coding — you are having an effect on many other ailments.

Why FreeCodeCamp?

So why have I specifically referenced Free Code Camp? I feel that their open source curriculum is more independent than any other I have tried, which simply leads me to use more brain matter than others. This should increase my cognitive reserve even more.

With Free Code Camp, I’m not merely watching videos or reading tutorials — I’m creating entire projects from a blank canvas, such my recent Weather App.

Next time you’re struggling, beavering away at a second coding language, or simply learning some new grammar or syntax in your first, don’t dismay. It could save your life.

Originally published on Chris Phillips’ blog.