They make up less than 5% of the population, their razor sharp mental powers defy their advanced age of over 80 years, they stand out as being resilient, optimistic, active and engaged …….. who are these mythical beings?
They are Super Agers and whilst you may not share all of their particular characteristics, the good news is that you can adopt many of their lifestyle choices to help yourself to age healthily and happily.
How do you define a Super Ager?
They are individuals over 80 years or older whose memories are on a par with 50-60 years olds and sometimes even younger people. They enjoy positive social relationships, and lead engaged lifestyles involving regular exercise, using their brains in mental activities and living life to the full. Another characteristic they share is their extrovert personalities and positive outlook on life.
Apart from these behavioural characteristics, scientists have found that Super Agers also benefit from particular types of brain cells that are not only involved in superior communication and memory recall, but interestingly they show less evidence of cognitive decline associated with diseases such as Alzheimers. Super Agers’ brains also appear to be protected against age-related shrinkage as compared to the average ‘older’ brain.
Some lifestyle choices and habits that we would normally associate with healthy ageing such as drinking and weight management do not appear to affect Super Agers. These mechanisms are not well understood as yet but genetic pre-disposition is a part of this make up. Scientists have also found that the super-agers tended to have significantly more satisfying, high-quality relationships than their normal peers.
Emily Rogalksi, an associate professor of cognitive in the US, said: “It’s not as simple as saying if you have a strong social network, you’ll never get Alzheimer’s disease……but if there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking … maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list.”
How you can help yourself to age more healthily
- getting regular exercise
- maintaining strong bonds with friends and family
- learning new things or being intellectually challenged
- Stopping or preferably don’t take up smoking
So it really is never too late to take up a new exercise, join a group or be more active with your time in later life or retirement.
Futhermore Drs.Bradford Dickerson and Lisa Barrett of Massachusetts General Hospital speculate that super-agers may share a willingness to endure discomfort to master a new skill, like playing a musical instrument or speaking a new language. Super-agers keep moving out of their comfort zones to gain new areas of expertise.
Dr. Dickerson says. “They may approach these tasks as a challenge they can succeed at, in contrast to typical older adults who may give up.”
What can you do to become a Super-ager?
Although there are no definitive answers to this question there are some lifestyle choices that we can make to improve our health as we age. It has been found that regular physical and mental activity reduces health risks, intense physical activity increases aerobic capacity, and intense mental activity preserves areas of the brain involved in memory and reasoning.
Embrace mental challenges
- Crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other mental challenges that stretch your mind.
- Learn a new skill such as knitting, crochet or becoming more technologically proficient.
- Learning a new language
Increase your exercise capacity
Try to exercise for 20 to 40 minutes, three to five days a week. If you haven’t been exercising start with something you enjoy – walking or perhaps water aerobics. Then gradually build up the resistance and length of exercise. Group exercise has the added social benefit as well and there are numerous different activities to try out.
Prepare to be frustrated
Patience and perseverance are the key to mastering challenges and helping your brain stay active and engaged. Although you may tire after walking a short distance, if you gradually increase the time you walk and the distance you cover, you will increase your capacity to walk further.
Don’t let your age deter you
As long as you are physically up to a challenge, age shouldn’t hold you back. Starting slowly and building up is the best way to guard against injury. Being more active in the garden may lead to you being able to experiment with some weights or resistance bands to improve muscle mass.
Join a group so you can meet up regularly
There are many local groups covering a huge range of activities – both physical and more sedentary such as talks and volunteering.
So we really have no excuses not to help ourselves at least age more healthily even if we never get to join that elite group of Super Agers.
As Professor Campsi of the Californian Buck Institute for Research On Aging says: ‘We predict there will be drugs that will treat ageing, and as a consequence we will be able to extend health span – the years of healthy life.
“This would mean people could look forward to the last decade of life being vibrant and engaged – their brains and bodies working optimally.”