The Minds and Hearts of Super Agers
Understanding the phenomenon of Super Agers, a term describing those over 80 with exceptional memory capabilities, often surpassing those decades younger, is not just about prolonging life but enhancing its quality.
Imagine waking up each day, your mind as sharp as it was decades ago, defying the common narrative of aging. This is the reality for some remarkable individuals in their 80s and 90s, known as Super Agers. Vernon Smith, a 96-year-old Nobel Prize winner, maintains a daily routine that includes 10 hours of work.
Super agers exhibit minimal brainpower decline, a phenomenon capturing the attention of scientists globally. The question arises: what can we learn from them?
In a study conducted in Spain, researchers closely monitored a group of 119 individuals aged between 70 and 85 over an eight-year period. This group included 55 exceptional individuals, termed super agers, who consistently performed on brain tests as if they were at least 20 years younger. The study uncovered a notable difference: these super agers showed superior speed, mobility, agility, and balance compared to their peers, despite reporting similar levels of physical activity.
The distinction may lie in the intensity and type of their physical activities. While the super agers engaged in activities like gardening or stair-climbing that demand more physical exertion, they reported exercising as frequently as other older adults.
This suggests that the quality of exercise, such as increasing the pace of a walk to boost heart rate, is as important as the quantity. Supporting this, a study from the UK indicated that even a daily nine-minute session of moderate-intensity exercise can significantly improve cognitive functions.
Super Agers Challenge Our Perceptions
The quest to unravel this mystery is taking place on a global scale. Researchers are delving into the lives of individuals like Smith, who are part of extensive studies such as the University of California, Irvine’s 90+ Study. These studies involve a comprehensive approach, including brain scans, biological marker tests, and lifestyle evaluations.
But Super Agers are a rarity. Less than 10% of applicants meet the stringent criteria. This rarity makes the study even more crucial, especially as our global population ages. The insights gained could be pivotal in addressing the opportunities in an aging society.
The brains of Super Agers differ significantly. They resist shrinkage, a common aging symptom, maintaining critical regions linked to memory and focus. They exhibit enlarged memory cells and a higher volume of neurons associated with social intelligence, factors contributing to exceptional cognitive abilities.
So, what can we learn? There appears to be a triad of factors influencing this remarkable aging process: cognitive reserve, life achievement, and lifestyle choices. Cognitive reserve refers to the brain’s resilience to aging and disease, potentially influenced by genetic factors. Life achievement might contribute to this cognitive reserve. Lifestyle choices, including physical and intellectual activity, social engagement, and dietary habits, play a significant role.
The Power of Connection and Gratitude
Researchers are now exploring the impact of these factors in more depth. They are examining aspects like vascular health and the role of genetics in cognitive longevity. The findings from these studies offer practical insights for us all. For instance, maintaining an active lifestyle, nurturing social connections, and engaging in mental challenges could be steps towards healthier aging.
The stories of Super Agers like 95-year-old Dr. Ruth Westheimer and 101-year-old television producer Norman Lear are more than just anecdotes. They are beacons of possibility, showing us that aging need not be synonymous with decline. Their experiences underline the importance of a life lived with passion, gratitude, and a continual curiosity and engagement.
“When I was 10 years old, my family made the sacrifice of sending me to Switzerland. That’s how I survived [the Holocaust]. For six years, I was in an orphanage in Switzerland, hoping the parents could get out. They did not, but my love for life and my attitude towards life is because of my early years. Also, I exercise. And I exercise my mouth. I talk day and night. It exercises my brain.”—Dr. Ruth Westheimer
The lives of Super Agers offer a blueprint for aging with vitality, reminding us that our later years can be as fulfilling and dynamic as our youth. We edge closer to unlocking the mysteries of Super Aging, potentially revolutionizing our approach to aging and holistic health globally.
What if we see ourselves as super agers, filled with gratitude for life and free from limiting beliefs? Imagine the impact and ripples we have in creating a healthy world.