There’s some intriguing new research directed at answering why some people remain mentally sharp and nimble well into old age (earning them the title of ‘superagers’) while others become feeble and fuzzy-minded far too early.
Is it genetics, diet and exercise, or some other mysterious factor at work?
Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University, studied why some people stay young in mind and heart, and others decline more quickly.
In a recent New York Times article, she explained why the brains of ‘superagers’ differ from those of ordinary people. Much like a Marine, they undergo a much heartier daily workout that keeps them young, strong, and fit.
“Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort,” says Barrett.
Just playing brain games or struggling over sudoku puzzles is not enough to give the brain the exercise it truly needs, according to Barrett’s research. Just like a Marine, she says, you need to push it until it hurts.
Her father-in-law, for example, still swims every day and plays tournament bridge. Playing a musical instrument, striving to be a master gardener, or restoring your vintage Mustang probably counts, as well. (Binge-watching marathon re-runs of “Breaking Bad,” however, may fall short of the mark).
“All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Barrett.
Her takeaway: If you want to become a ‘superager’ and stay mentally fit as long as possible, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity – either physical or mental – and work it hard, just like a Marine would do.