What makes someone a super-ager?
A new study supported by the U.S. National Institute on Aging sheds light on a group of folks known as "super-agers." These are people 65 and older whose brains do not show the typical signs of aging. In other words, they have the brains of 25-year-olds.
The researchers compared a group of participants 60 to 80 years old with a group of 18- to 32-year-olds. All the participants took tests measuring how well they understood, retained, and later recalled information. They identified some of the older folks as having the same range of memory and recall scores as the younger generation.
Then they used MRI scans to measure certain areas of the brain that typically break down as we age. These include the anterior temporal cortex and the rostral medial cortex, both of which are critical for memory. The so-called super-agers had the same size cortexes as the young people!
But there's one big unanswered question from this study... How do you become a super-ager?
The researchers speculated on a few possibilities... And as it turns out, it's all what I've been telling my readers to do for years.
No. 1: Eat well. As we saw in the journal Neurology, people who stuck to the Mediterranean diet slowed the effects of aging on their brains. A Mediterranean diet consists of plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil.
This study showed that older men (with an average age of 80) who followed the diet had significantly less brain decay, or atrophy. Their brains looked five years younger than those of their fellow participants.
The study looked at images of brain regions that often decay as we age – the so-called gray and white matter. Gray matter in your brain is where the clusters of nerve cells live. It's responsible for much of our brain's functions, including muscle control, memory, vision, hearing, emotions, and decision-making. White matter involves the long nerves that fire messages to other brain cells. The men who followed the Mediterranean diet had significantly higher amounts of both gray and white matter.
No. 2: Keep learning. Staying active socially helps you keep up the areas responsible for learning and processing information.
One study out of the University of California Irvine demonstrated that structured learning in adults activated a substance called the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This molecule helps the signaling cells in your brain to grow.
According to the study's lead scientist Lulu Chen, "The findings confirm a critical relationship between learning and brain growth." What's more impressive is that BDNF plays a critical role in forming memories and can even help preserve your brain later in life.
Here's a neat and dirt-cheap way to strengthen your brain and protect against dementia... Many of the top universities in the world are now offering completely free classes on the Internet. You can learn from professors at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and even overseas universities like the University of Edinburgh.
No. 3: Sleep well. The research on sleep is expansive. Right now, researchers are piecing together how the brain processes and stores memories. The theory is that sleep helps us "fix" memories in place. Getting enough REM and slow-wave sleep helps us keep our minds sharp.
What's more, we've written before about how sleep clears out debris from the brain. In fact, researchers at University of California Berkeley think that sleeping well helps us clear out Alzheimer's-causing plaques from our brains. Not sleeping enough leads to plaque buildup.
No. 4: Exercise. This one seems like a no-brainer. Exercise has many proven benefits including heart health, fighting depression, and warding off cancer.
The University of British Columbia ran a study a few years ago showing that aerobic exercise helps your hippocampus grow. The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning.
And if aerobics are too strenuous, try some yoga. As we're written before, scientists from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that people who practiced yoga saw significant increases in gray matter. In fact, the more hours a week someone did yoga, the greater the amount of gray matter.
No. 5: Meditate. I've always been an avid meditator. The benefits include everything from boosts of happiness to lower blood pressure and increased longevity.
Even better, regular meditation helps preserve your brain cells. That's because meditation helps preserve connections in your prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain responsible for higher-level organizing, planning, and memory.
Incorporate these five easy tips into your life today to start protecting your brain. They might even help you become a super-ager.
What We're Reading...
- Read more on getting started with meditation right here.
- Something different: A former guitar player has found more than 670 Stone Age carvings in Scotland.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 20, 2016