Science proves it: Aging well is hard work. A recent study on older adults whose brains still look and work like they’re decades younger found that we have some control over our cognitive health as we age. That’s the good news. The maybe not so welcome news is that to keep your brain healthy as you age, you need to get a little uncomfortable.
What makes someone a “superager?”
“Superager” is the term researchers use to describe older people between 60 and 80 “whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds,” according to professor Lisa Feldman Barnett, writing in the New York Times. These folks not only ace memory tests and have an uncanny ability to focus, their brains are also physically “younger.”
Scans of superagers’ brains show that emotion-related areas of the brain are larger than in seniors with normal levels of age-related cognitive decline. Barnett wrote that thicker brain tissue in these areas may contribute to better sensory coordination, language processing and stress management — all factors in the way we remember things and how clearly we think.
How can you boost your brain health?
Superagers are the kind of people who stay active – physically, socially, and professionally – and are always learning new things. This may sound easy and fun, but in order to get the brain benefits, researchers say you have to push yourself until you’re “tired, stymied, frustrated.”
In other words, a daily regimen of Sudoku puzzles while seated in lotus position can be a good start, but at some point you’ll have to step up to learning a new language while taking a more challenging yoga class or learning to dance. The challenge, as author Erika Andersen writes in Forbes, is that most of us really like the idea of getting more, not less, comfortable as we age.
Steps on the path to superaging
Our brain health isn’t entirely under our control. Genetics, our environment, and health issues all play a role in our cognitive wellbeing. But if you’re ready to push yourself and you feel stuck in a rut, here are some suggestions to jumpstart your brain-health routine.
First, talk to your doctor before you start an exercise regimen. Then look for classes at your local gym, senior center, or city recreation center. Ask about drop-in classes and try out as many different things as you can before you decide on something to delve into. Try at least one class you don’t think you’ll like or be good at – discomfort promotes brain growth, after all.
Next, give your mind a workout. Libraries, senior centers, and community colleges are great places to find free or low-cost book groups, adult education classes, and clubs. If you live in a major city like Dallas or Los Angeles, check out SeniorAdvisor.com’s resource directories.
Finally, if your environment just isn’t challenging enough or you feel isolated, visit a few independent living communities to see if the active-senior lifestyle is right for you. Most of these communities offer gyms, classes, and social activities on campus along with field trips to community and cultural events, all of which can open the door to new challenges and experiences.