I frequently write about aging issues in my blog posts. There’s no mystery as to why. As a 63 year old aging Baby Boomer, the zapping sensation in the balls of my feet and ailing knee joints constantly remind me of the trajectory of time. So I read with interest a New York Times article entitled, “How to Become a Superager”. An intriguing title that asks…
Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers are those whose memory is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds.
That statement seems far-fetched. Apparently though, research suggests working hard at something increases the chance of remaining mentally sharp even as we venture into the last trimester of our lives. There are critical regions of our brains that remain thick and healthy through vigorous exercise or disciplined mental efforts. And, they are not talking just about participating in Luminosity brain games, crossword puzzles, or Sudoku. They are referring to learning a new language or musical instrument.
According to the article, Superagers are the Marines of maturing adults. Not only does the work have to be difficult, there must be an element of discomfort from the exertion, which literally builds muscles and mental discipline.
This reminds me of Younger Next Year wherein Chris Crowley says the ticket to turning back the biological clock and living like 50 year olds well into their 80s is strenuous exercise- the spin class workout kind of exercise or power yoga.
These Superagers excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.
It is human nature to avoid unpleasantness. As we age, though, this tendency becomes more acute as we sidestep situations that make us uncomfortable. Herein lies the rub– we can also sidestep challenging physical or mental exertions (not unusual since we feel we have earned the right to relax and take it easy). However, if people consistently avoid strenuous physical or mental exertion, brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
There are a couple of people in my life who fit this bill. Twice a week Jim engages in a power lifting workout with his personal trainer where he bench presses 180 pounds in multiple reps. Other days find him biking, swimming, and doing yoga. At 67 he has taken up playwriting as a hobby and is learning German in advance of a trip to Bavaria. At 72, Ann is fearless about keeping up with the latest technology. She Instagrams, Facebooks, discovers new apps, and taught herself email marketing strategies through Constant Contact. Were it not for a back injury you would find her spinning regularly at a nearby cycling studio. Oh, and she is also an accomplished fabric artist.
Superagers or not, I think these two are super people in my book.