There’s a term for older adults in their 80s and 90s whose brains function as well as those of people decades younger than them, SuperAger. Long term research on this group shows they lose brain volume more slowly than average and are better protected from dementia. There are four habits common to SuperAgers that, if practiced, may help you thrive into your 90s and beyond.
Always look for ways to stimulate and engage your brain in new ways. Start studying a second language, learn to play the musical instrument you’ve put off for years, enroll in a class at a local college on a topic that interests you or take up a new hobby you’ve always wanted to try. Working a crossword puzzle or Sudoku can help as well. If you like variety, you’ll find smartphone apps that offer brain games for senior citizens. If you fail at any of your new tasks, don’t get upset, just try out a different one. It’s important to push past the discomfort of learning something new and do it anyway.
Be An Active SuperAger
Staying physically active offers so many benefits for older adults. Exercising with some sort of aerobic exercise and resistance training improves cognitive abilities even if it’s only done a couple of times a week. It also helps your heart, strengthens your muscles to reduce the risk of falling and keeps you at a healthy weight. Activities to try include dancing, swimming, walking briskly or hiking. Obesity has the opposite effect as the risk of developing Alzheimer’s triples in those with a body mass index higher than 30.
Dr. Emily Rogalski, an associate professor at Northwestern University who studied SuperAgers says, “You don’t have to be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline.” Work to build strong, positive, high-quality friendships with people you love and trust. If possible, let go of any relationships with negative friends who constantly put others down. Stay active in clubs, social organizations and with members of your church.
Love a cocktail or glass of wine with dinner? Enjoy it. Dr. Rogalski points out the key here for a SuperAger is moderation. Too much alcohol can damage the brain and put you at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s or other health problems. Moderate consumption is one drink a day for women and one to two for men. A drink is considered a 12-ounce beer, 1.5 ounces of a spirit like vodka or 5 ounces of wine.
Eating Right as a SuperAger
A SuperAger gravitates towards the MIND diet, which is a mostly plant-based combination of the Mediterranean and low-sodium DASH diets. This results in meals of unprocessed fish, legumes, berries, leafy greens, whole grains, lots of olive oil and a glass of wine. Following these guidelines reduces your risk for Alzheimer’s and diseases caused by inflammation.
Making sure you challenge yourself regularly, stay physically and socially active, indulge occasionally and eat right will increase your chances of joining the SuperAger group and thriving in retirement.