What is a Super-Ager?
Staying mentally capable for our entire lives is an issue that most adults are interested in. The good news is that, in recent years, research into aging has expanded to include the exploration of what is different about those who still have the sharp memory of those who are decades younger. The study of those who are aging well is beginning to reveal key differences associated with those who are described as super-agers – those age 80 and above who can function cognitively like someone in their 50’s and 60’s.
What Research Has Revealed
A variety of studies have been and are continuing to be conducted at highly respected universities and hospitals. One researcher, Dr Emily Rogalski, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, leads a Super-Aging study there. Two key findings stand out. First, that the brains of super-agers don’t shrink as fast as others’ the same age. Second, that super-agers have a large number of spindle neurons, a special kind of nerve cell that helps us to make quick decisions in challenging situations. Not only do they have far more of these cells than their peers, but also super-agers can have more than the average 20-year-old.
What You Can Do
There is much research still to be done. Scientists don’t understand yet why these differences exist. Whether it’s due to genes, environmental factors or an interaction between the two is still to be determined. Dr Lisa Barrett, a neuroscientist with Massachusetts General Hospital, theorizes that working hard at something, either physically or mentally, helps to slow cell loss in our brains. This correlates with thicker brain regions that are associated with better performance on memory and attention tests. To be clear, Dr Barrett is talking about high intensity exercise and strenuous mental effort. So, while the scientists continue to explore the mystery behind the super-ager, there are tips you can apply right now.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Brain games and crossword puzzles aren’t enough. Learn a new language, pick up a musical instrument you haven’t played in years or always wanted to learn and become proficient at it, take an art class and paint, or learn to code. Pick an activity that makes your brain hurt a little.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. If you’re just beginning an exercise routine or looking to step it up, be sure to talk with your doctor to determine what’s appropriate for you. Find an activity that you enjoy and work your way up to a level of intensity where you can’t talk easily while you’re working out. Doing this for 20 – 40 minutes, three to five days per week, is recommended.
- Stay the course. It can be frustrating to try new things. We are wired to avoid change. Yet there are great benefits that come from sticking with a challenge and mastering it over time. So, whether it’s the instrument you’re practicing or the length of time you walk, be patient with yourself and keep at it. Soon, you’ll be able to do things you might never have thought possible while helping to sustain your mental capability.
In the coming years, science will continue to reveal more of what will improve your odds of becoming a super-ager. For now, no matter what your age, you can begin to put these tips into practice to improve the quality of your life currently and into the future.