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Wellness

Super-Aging: Insights into Longevity and Living Well

“Getting old isn’t for sissies” my mother would remind me.

And why wouldn’t she want to warn me? I had been witness to 3 generations of women each caring for the older through debilitating arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or breast cancer.

To quote Time Magazine, in its recent spread on longevity, “Old age…demands it be taken very seriously…(It is) a time of life defined by loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk and failing cognitive faculties.”

But what if it wasn’t?

What if the average lifespan for Americans was not just 79 years?

Better yet, what if we could live until 100, healthy, taking on new challenges, fulfilled and passionate about life?

For an elite group of individuals, this is not conjecture. In fact, this group is debunking that very definition of ‘old age!’

Doctors and neuroscientists with Northwestern University, in the first long term research project of its kind, are studying a group of individuals who don’t fit the typical criteria for old age. In fact, they are 80 plus, physically active, extremely social and have youthful brains!

They are the super-agers.

Up until now, says Dr. Nancy Snyderman, in the ongoing super-ager discussion, NBC’s Today Show, research has focused on the diseases of old age, studying what’s going wrong and why. This research is studying age from the opposite angle, looking at what’s going right and why.

With 50 million Americans, mostly women, facing Alzheimer’s, a Northwestern researcher, Dr. Rogalski, is seeing these 80 plus year old brains are not shrinking with age as their peers. Looking at brain scans, she’s finding hints that super-agers are somehow resilient to the normal ravages of time.

The cortex, says Rogalski, the outer layer critical for memory, is much thicker than normal for their age. It resembles the cortex of someone 20 to 30 years their junior! In addition, especially large neurons, thought to be involved in social processing were found to be 4-5 times more abundant than in the typical octogenarian, more than the typical young adult.

Science aside, what else are they doing?

An earlier longevity study by journalist Dan Buettner and National Geographic discovered the top places in the world where people live the longest healthy lives. Studying the octogenarians in these places, dubbed the Blue Zones, begged them to question: “What are they doing that the average American isn’t…or WON’T.” (You know how busy we are.)

They found nine healthy lifestyle habits in the Blue Zones that seem to contribute to health and longevity. In both studies, variances abound. Some super-agers enjoy a nightly cocktail, some don’t drink at all. Some have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s, some do not.

But, lifestyle habits common to both Northwestern’s super-agers and the Blue Zones octogenarians, Power 9, could help us ‘jump start’ super-aging.

This is an elite club you want to join, right?

Active Lifestyle

Some super-agers weight train or exercise, a few even run marathons. Movement, as part of your everyday lifestyle, is a must.

Be Social

Extraverts are a common thread in the Northwestern research, whereas in the Okinawa Blue Zone, super-agers have a tribe of 5 whom care for each other for life. Simply put, we need to hang together.

Healthy Eating

Our bodies recognize what’s grown from the earth, not refined in packages. Meat in moderation. Food as fuel and eaten earlier in the day seems to be what works best for longevity.

Moderation

Whether the nightly whiskey, the sweet treat splurge, or the day at the park, they know when enough is enough.

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Stress Less

Whether it be prayer, meditation, or attending worship, all value spirituality and the positive effect it has on body and soul.

Passion and Purpose

Doing what we love and having a reason to get up in the morning fuels mind, body and spirit.

Push Through

Take on new challenges, or as my vibrant 85 year-old busy dad would say, “Keep on keepin’ on.”

Intrigued to know more?

Check out the Blue Zones and take their 3 minute TRUE VITALITY TEST.

As always, discuss with your doctor any lifestyle changes to be sure they are right for you.

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