4 Steps to Becoming a SuperAger

You may know the type: Over 80, involved in a million things, social, physically active, avid reader and crossword completer, Jeopardy whiz – yet still feels restless.

The scientific term for this person is SuperAger, someone in their 80s or older who has the cognitive function of those decades younger. If you haven’t heard the word yet, expect that to change because SuperAgers are swiftly shifting the perception of what growing older could look like.

Scientists are studying why these people stay cognitively healthy while others with similar backgrounds and brain pathology don’t. In one study, researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine looked at brain MRI scans of super-agers 80 and above and compared them to the scans of cognitively typical 80-year-olds as well as those of younger adults. They found that the rate of brain shrinkage in super-agers is much slower than in typical 80-somethings. They also found that the anterior cingulate, an area in the brain that supports attention, was thicker in the super-agers’ brains (similar to brain imaging of people in their 50s and 60s).

4 Steps to SuperAging

Longevity researchers say it’s normal for brain power to decline as we age, but it’s not inevitable. So, if you’re looking to be a SuperAger, here are some of the common habits exhibited by these cognitive superheroes:

  1. Live an active lifestyle. Physical activity boosts oxygen intake, which helps optimize your body’s performance. And regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. Trying physical activities that dually engage your brain is extra beneficial – think hiking a wooded path rather than walking the same old route. Studies have linked a body mass index (BMI) over 30 with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Cross-train your brain. You wouldn’t go to the gym and only work out your forearms. The same goes for the brain. Learning a new language, for example, works out different parts of the brain than learning a new sport or instrument. New skills stimulate the production of new neural pathways.
  3. Don’t eat junk. Enjoying a diet rich in whole foods and plants improves gut health, reduces inflammation, and risk of disease. Eat plenty of fruits, veggies, leafy greens, and whole grains. Stick with healthy fats such as those in nuts and olive oil and maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Stay social. Participating in high-quality social relationships and maintaining positive connections is important for maintaining cognitive function, according to researchers.

Becoming a SuperAger

Studies about the brain differences of SuperAgers are underway, and while there are biological factors in play, experts agree lifestyle habits may boost the odds of becoming one. Their insights may open the doors to the prevention, reversal, and intervention of dementias such as Alzheimer’s.

In the meantime, get back to school and study the habits of SuperAgers. Their strategies benefit people of all ages in maintaining thinking and memory skills.

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