Too many of us have dreaded aging and advancing years because of what we thought were inevitable physical declines. Our bodies would bail on us. We would become slower, stiffer and fatter. How wrong these old chestnuts have proved to be.
We now know, and many of us are demonstrating it every day, that we can stay speedy, supple and slender. Exercise, Pilates and yoga, along with a little attention to what we put on our plates, keeps our bodies in prime shape through the decades.
The idea of losing our mental capacity is scary. Won’t our brains start to fail us as we age? Maybe not. There are two relatively recent and very positive research findings about brains in older adults. First, we no longer believe that once we reach adulthood the brain cannot grow and develop new connections. Science has dispelled this myth.
Our brains are like our muscles. If we use them, they can grow and develop throughout our lives. This brain development is called neuroplasticity. It is developed through activities and exercises. Not only do such activities enable us to keep our minds and memories sharp. They are also effective in helping to alleviate memory loss or other mental challenges that may have already been experienced.
The second positive research finding about our brains is that cognitive decline is not something that happens over time. Rather, it is highly correlated with the presence of disease. When older and even very old people are free from disease, not only their bodies but also their minds continue to function like those of much younger individuals.
Those who do continue to have minds and bodies that function like those who are younger are called super-agers. Definitions differ, but the term usually refers to people in their 90’s or close who are not only in excellent physical shape (and we won’t say ‘for their age’) but also have the mental capacity and the brains, as revealed by MRI’s, of much younger people.
Since the best way to figure out how we can live long and well is to study those special people who have already done that, super-agers are a much-studied group. Some researchers have sought out communities of long-lived people, often called blue zones, and written books describing what they have found.
Others are conducting studies on selected long-lived individuals. But, because they use rigorous scientific methods, they are hesitant to release results before they have collected and tested a sufficient amount of data. Since many studies are longitudinal (examining people over their lifetimes) this can take many years.
Although scientists need more work and more time before they can give us definite answers on how to live well as we age, we know by the presence of super-agers, that living long and well is possible. There are steps we can take right now to have many years with the physical and mental health to enjoy them.
To maintain mental health, we do need to maintain physical health. If you are not already following an exercise plan then consult with your doctor to find one that works best for you. Then stick with it! By continuing and slowly increasing the amount of exercise you do your body and brain will benefit!
Exercises for your brain, such as learning a musical instrument, a language or even a new sport can move you along the path to becoming a super ager. You can also try other conventional brain exercises. if you like words, try daily crossword puzzles. If you’re a numbers person then daily games of sudoku might be more your speed.
Maintaining old friendships and establishing new ones is an important part of healthy aging. If you’re learning new skills or honing in on established ones, try and find a group of like-minded individuals. Or check out online groups, like the Prime Women Facebook group, to find other women who are interested in similar things or going through experiences like yours. You’ll be able to make new friends even if they’re not in your neighborhood.
With a little bit of work and activity, you can have a healthy body and brain well into your prime years. Get started with some simple brain exercises and some physical activity, and keep up with it and you may well be on your way to becoming a super-ager.
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