Last week we discussed health issues related to children. In this edition, we are examining the other end of the spectrum - what the AARP has identified as “super agers”, those individuals in their 80s, 90s and beyond who remain mentally sharp, are active, relatively disease free, and happy with their lives. Let's share some of the common denominators found in these folks. You may be reminded of the “blue zones” we discussed several months ago.
It turns out here are actual anatomic differences in the brains of people who remain active, alert and contributory late into life. For one, their brains are larger. The normal atrophy (shrinkage) that occurs in brains starting in the 50s, does not occur in brains of super agers, or at least not as early as average folks. Their brains also have fewer of the tau tangles - tangled proteins probably the result of neuronal destruction seen in Alzheimers disease. Areas of the brain that control complex thought, reasoning and problem solving retain their thickness much longer.
Is there anything we can do to maximize the functions of our brains late into life? It turns out that there is.
Super agers tend to eat diets like those seen in the Mediterranean diet - high in complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and fish while limiting red meat and highly processed foods. They do not smoke and they drink alcohol only in moderation and do so socially. In fact, socializing with friends frequently has proved to be very important to keeping the brain healthy and vital late into life. The super agers remain creative, and partake of complex problem solving, like cross word puzzles and sudoku. They travel more, partake of the creative arts, and life long learning. Most of all, vibrant 80 and 90 year olds are optimistic and joyful about life. They love to laugh, talk, sing, dance and share jokes. In short, they are those people we all know, who are simply enjoyable to be around! We all know wonderful older folks like this. Celebrate them. Emulate them. And follow their lead. If you do, you will lead longer healthier, more joy filled lives. You too can become a super ager!!
Dr. John Monaco