Backed by research from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, there are several common factors among “SuperAgers” that support health and a high quality of life into the 8th and 9th decades of life.
These successful health strategies are formed around four principles:
1. Stay Physically Active
Physical exercise is good for your brain for several reasons, including cardiovascular fitness – keeping your heart healthy is good for your brain. Regular physical exercise also stimulates the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps the brain grow new neural connections.
2. Keep Learning – New Skills and New Challenges
Neuroplasticity is the biological method for how the brain responds to its environment – learning the skills and adaptive behavior necessary to survive and thrive.
Choosing to learn some challenging new skills kicks neuroplasticity into high gear – for example, learning a second language increases cognitive reserve and flexibility. The Mayo Clinic study also shows that later life computer/tablet use, and artistic endeavours are protective for brain health.
In addition, curiosity and creativity often go hand in hand – curiosity is the spark that can drive creative learning. Curiosity “primes” the brain to learn new information, even if some of the information isn’t all that interesting to the learner.
3. Avoid or Manage the “Big 4” Chronic Health Conditions
Uncontrolled hypertension and high cholesterol in midlife are linked to a higher risk of dementia. Fortunately, several studies have also shown that actively managing these conditions (with exercise, diet changes, and medications) can reduce the risk of dementia down to the level of people without these conditions.
Diabetes rates are skyrocketing due to the high sugar content in typical western “fast food” diets. There is a strong and consistent link between diabetes type 2 and Alzheimer’s dementia. The best defense against diabetes is a consistently healthy diet (Mediterranean or DASH diet): choose fish, lean chicken, whole grains, fresh fruits & vegetables on the daily menu. Avoid sugar from soda, processed foods and breads.
4. Stay Socially Connected and Engaged
A common characteristic of SuperAgers is emotional resiliency – the ability to bounce back from personal tragedies. While part of this ability relies on internal resiliency, having a strong social support network is also key.
Another important key to emotional resiliency is the appreciation of humor. Humor activates the brain’s reward circuits, and also enhances the body’s immune system response – laughter can lower stress levels, which in turn can improve immune system functioning.
Try the Healthy Brain Test to learn more about healthy aging.
Top photo from the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada.