‘Superagers’ is the term coined for those more than 80 years of age who have the cognitive capacities of adults much younger. When some of their brains were checked—after they had died—scientists think these cognitive abilities may come from the presence of certain brain cells: Von Economo.
In a report on the study, Professor Emily Rogalski from Northwestern University said that the presence of these cells appear to be the difference between regular agers and superagers.
In careful, academic speak she announced that the Von Economo cells ‘may’ be the reason for their cognitive abilities.
Sorry, but there was no hint of how we can grow Von Economo cells in our brains, but Rogalski made this important point: ‘We are getting quite good at extending our lifespan, but our health span isn’t keeping up and what the superagers have is more of a balance between those two, they are living long and living well.’
The good news is that even if we aren’t superagers . . . yet, we can start acting like one by focusing on our health span and ‘living well’. The lifespan has, in a sense, taken care of itself, having risen in the West by 25 years over the past century.
Here are five ways to improve our health span:
1. Keep moving
The human body is designed for movement. That’s what keeps it flexible and strong. And as we age, if we don’t use it we lose flexibility and strength.
In previous eras, movement and exercise were a natural part of life. That’s changed over the past 50 years or so with so many of our jobs becoming sedentary. Many can sit for eight to 10 hours a day.
To work against this you might want to start with an activity tracker. Setting a daily goal helps and building up to 10,000 steps is recommended. Then you can work out how to add strengthening exercises to build a stronger body.
2. Eat well
How we fuel our body impacts on our health. The Eat for Health website makes the point that ‘a healthy diet improves the quality of life and wellbeing, and protects against chronic disease.’
You’ll also find food guidelines on the site. It’s worth doing the homework to make sure you’re eating mostly good foods and avoiding or limiting those that may harm you.
3. Build friendships
One of the things we need to thrive are friends. There’s even evidence that friends are more important than family.
Friends help us become mentally and physically stronger, and they help us make better lifestyle choices. They also teach us how to interact with others.
There’s a lot of research—and it’s growing—about the positive impact friends (and people) have on our lives. You’ll find one brief article here.
4. Keep your brain active
If you keep your brain working, it will work better for longer. Currently, there’s no cure for dementia, but there are ways to build new brain cells and strengthen cell connections.
The Queensland Brain Institute suggests that you can help your brain by challenging it with new activities. Learning a new language is one of the best challenges you can try.
5. Stay positive
A healthy, positive attitude will help you cope whatever happens. This isn’t about having a ‘Pollyanna attitude’ where you see only positives. Rather, it’s about being real while still being able to eventually see positives within a situation.
A positive attitude is not only healthier, but it will also help you keep your head above water during the difficult times.
You may not ever end up with the title ‘superager’ but you can help to extend your health span so you can be more like them.