My Facebook page is a collection of links to stories about inspirational people. Almost all have a common theme — older people who do extraordinary things. Some of my favorite stories, though, involve those with acute mental prowess. This special group of adults ages 60 to 80, called “super-agers,” have a higher resistance to natural brain aging and thus can keep their gray cells young and vibrant.
The science of super brains
What makes super-agers’ brains so super? A small study published in The Journal of Neuroscience looked at this question. Researchers enrolled 44 adults ages 60 to 80 and found that those who performed well on memory tests had brains with youthful characteristics. Specifically, the cortexes of their brains — the outermost layer of brain cells essential to many thinking abilities — were comparable in size to those of the younger adults in a control group. Scans found that the brain regions associated with the ability to learn and remember new information — which include the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex — were larger in super-agers than in normal older adults.
Lead researcher Dr. Bradford Dickerson, associate professor of neurology at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, said that one of the most surprising findings was that the size of the super-agers’ brains did not fall somewhere between the younger people and the other older adults. “Their brain size was close to equal to that of the younger subjects, which suggests that the brain size was preserved,” he says.
Wouldn’t you like to be a super-ager too?
Are super-agers born or made? Probably a little of both, says Dr. Dickerson. “There may be a genetic component that makes them more resilient to natural aging, but it also may be associated with lifestyle habits,” he says.
So, can you become a super-ager? While you may not be able to transport your brain back to your 20s, it may be possible to maintain and even improve some cognitive function with a combined approach to treatment, says Dr. Dickerson. For example:
- Do regular aerobic exercise. Research has suggested that aerobic exercise can improve cognitive function, even if you begin later in life or have shown signs of mental decline. A study presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America found that older adults (average age 67) with mild cognitive impairment who exercised four times a week over a six-month period (using either a treadmill, a stationary bike, or an elliptical trainer) experienced an increase in brain volume and better executive function.
- Get plenty of sleep. Using MRI scans, a study in NeuroImage looked at the brains of 41 healthy men who were deprived of sleep for one night. The researchers found that compared with those who’d had a regular night’s sleep, they showed a decline in memory and attention. Older adults often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, problems that may reflect drug side effects or health conditions. See your doctor if you have sleep issues.
- Lower anxiety with meditation. Chronic levels of anxiety may speed up the conversion to Alzheimer’s disease in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In fact, a 2014 study in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that in MCI patients with mild, moderate, or severe anxiety, Alzheimer’s risk increased by 33%, 78%, and 135%, respectively. Mindfulness meditation can help lower anxiety levels, according to findings published online earlier this year by Psychiatry Research. Meditation programs for beginners are offered at many yoga studios and senior centers. You can try a free online guided meditation exercise from Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Psalm 97:12 Be glad in the LORD, you righteous ones, And give thanks to His holy name.
Psalm 106:1Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Psalm 136:1-3 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Revelation 11:17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
Romans 7:23-25 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
1 Corinthians 15:47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
Daniel 2:23 “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”
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