I know this a week when many are focusing on the critical contributions of science in our lives. Ultimately it will be science that cures disease, protects or rescues what we can of our environment and helps us better live our lives. So maybe now is not the time to question the validity or usefulness of some of the more recent research on superaging.
The term superagers does not refer to longevity. It is a term coined back in 2011 after studies of older adults showed that some individuals were able to to retain the testing scores of a 25 year old on cognitive tests. The more studies that were done, the more empirical evidence came out in terms of MRIs and definitive measurements. As often happens, these studies focus on the outcome and less on the process of how people get to the point that their brain matter is healthier than expected for their age. We all have read about people still doing remarkable work into their eighties and nineties.
Some of the newer research work on this topic now defines what they think makes the difference. It goes along with the no pain no gain mantra we heard years ago, but in reference to both physical exercise and mental exertion. The NYT article: How to Become a Superager , talks about about “working past yuck..?” That means both physically and mentally pushing ourselves into final stages of fitness. Some suggestions from other studies are, stop using a calculator and do long division again, try to remember all those names in your address book, put away that nifty calendar that beeps reminders at you. I guess that mean putting a dish towel over your AI if you have questions and going back to the library.
Whoa. Very little is mentioned in these studies as to whether these superagers have a home field advantage of excellent genetics or have been living the life style of a triathlete. The one part of the article that does resonate is that for older adults, you will have to push past the initial physical fatigue and/or the mental frustration of the dealing with something more complex.
There are enough challenges in modern life to allow ourselves the crutch of a smart phone. Is that being lazy or teaching yourself new tricks? As for the exercise part, getting started on a schedule is always the hardest part. Walking 10 minutes should be its own reward to build on. My gym is filled with both the young and old. I see the concentration that it takes to keep at what they are doing, whatever age.
The staying fit mentally may be hampered by our own expectations. It means not getting so frustrated when things do slip by you memory wise and falling into a full blown panic. We are hemmed in by the traditional expectation that as we get older we will become forgetful and feeble and the new expectation for the future of aging that if we just really work at it, we can defy the odds. Going back to the Superager article, I think my emotional brain is better served by not comparing myself to others but to the achievement of my own goals. So here is to the scientists of the world as they march on Earth Day. I wish them long lives and prospering in their own emotional brains.