“Getting old isn’t for sissies” my mother would remind me.
And why wouldn’t she want to warn me? I had been witness to 3 generations of women each caring for the older through debilitating arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or breast cancer.
To quote Time Magazine, in its recent spread on longevity, “Old age…demands it be taken very seriously…(It is) a time of life defined by loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk, and failing cognitive faculties.”
But what if it wasn’t? What if the average lifespan for Americans was not just 79 years?
Better yet, what if we could live until 100, healthy, taking on new challenges, fulfilled and passionate about life?
Can we naturally reverse engineer the aging process?
For an elite group of individuals, this is not conjecture. In fact, this group is debunking that very definition of ‘old age!’
Doctors and neuroscientists with Northwestern University, in the first long term research project of its kind, are studying a group of individuals who don’t fit the typical criteria for old age. In fact, they are 80 plus, physically active, extremely social, and have youthful brains!
They are the super-agers.
Up until now, says Dr. Nancy Snyderman, in the ongoing super-ager discussion, NBC’s Today Show, research has focused on the diseases of old age, studying what’s going wrong and why. This research is studying age from the opposite angle, looking at what’s going right and why.
With 50 million Americans, mostly women, facing Alzheimer’s, a Northwestern researcher, Dr. Rogalski, is seeing these 80 plus-year-old brains are not shrinking with age as their peers. Looking at brain scans, she’s finding hints that super-agers are somehow resilient to the normal ravages of time.
Dr. Rogalski is finding their cortex, the outer layer critical for memory is much thicker than normal for their age. It resembles the cortex of someone 20 to 30 years their junior! In addition, especially large neurons, thought to be involved in social processing were found to be 4-5 times more abundant than in the typical younger person.
IT’S A NO BRAINER
Unfortunately, as we lead in Alzheimer’s diagnosis each year, startling data from www.ALZ.org reveals:
Two-thirds of the 5 million seniors with ALZ, the most common form of dementia, are women.
Women in their 60’s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.
Women make up 60-70% of ALZ and related dementia caregivers. Along with the added stress of adverse consequences in the workplace, the responsibilities are taking a toll on women’s health and wellbeing.
Indeed, we’re all scattered, stressed, or isolated.
So, in these strange days of ‘sheltering in’, even pure boredom can lead to a lack of schedule, NO exercise, binge eating and drinking, and a lack of energy with a ‘haven’t accomplished anything feeling of “I’m losing my mind”!
But, losing your mind doesn’t have to lead to losing your memory, declining brain function, and overall bad health. Now’s the perfect time to ‘zone in’ on a few unexpected, yet scientifically researched strategies to emerge from the COVID CRAZIES a healthier you.
THE POWER OF ONE
Launching her 2020 tour, Oprah sternly implored women to consider, “You are worth ONE minute”.
We take great pride in the fact that more is better! This leads to long to-do lists and multi-tasking to get it all done making us seem more efficient.
In a Dallas Morning News interview, Dr. Chapman encourages us that not all is lost. “Science discoveries over the last two decades reveal that our brain is the most modifiable part of our body and easiest to strengthen, more than our heart or teeth”.
The Brain Power of ONE.
Focus on ONE ‘in the moment’ activity with no other distractions. Period. Reading the paper, working out, and listening to the news all at the same time actually decreases your brain fitness level. “Doing one thing for a concerted period of time will not only strengthen the brain but increase energy tremendously.”, preaches Dr. Chapman.
Brain Power strategies:
Science aside, what else are they doing?
AMP UP THE POWER 9
An earlier longevity study by journalist Dan Buettner and National Geographic discovered the top places in the world where people live the longest healthy lives. Studying the octogenarians in these places, dubbed the Blue Zones, begged them to question: “What are they doing that the average American isn’t…or WON’T.” (You know how busy we are.)
They found nine healthy lifestyle habits in the Blue Zones that seem to contribute to health and longevity. In both studies, Blue Zones and Northwestern’s, variances abound. Some super-agers enjoy a nightly cocktail, some don’t drink at all. Some have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s, some do not.
But, lifestyle habits in both Northwestern’s super-agers and the Blue Zones octogenarians: all ‘naturally live’. Blue Zones research reveals people actually reverse engineer aging by living THE POWER 9. Power 9, could help us ‘jump start’ super-aging.
This is an elite club you want to join, right?
THE POWER 9
Some super-agers weight train or exercise and a few even run marathons, but natural movement, such as gardening, house-keeping, or any type of physical activity as part of your everyday lifestyle, is an absolute must.
Be Social: Find the Right Tribe
Be social. Extraverts are a common thread in the Northwestern research, whereas, in the Okinawa Blue Zone, super-agers have a tribe of 5 whom care for each other for life. But, not just any tribe will do. The social networks of long-lived people also have healthy habits. Habits, good or bad, are contagious. Simply put, we need to hang together.
Our bodies recognize what’s grown from the earth, not refined in packages. Using food as fuel, they consume meat in moderation, mostly fresh plant foods, and eat the smaller meal last, being earlier in the day or at the very least, early evening.
80% RULE: Super-agers eat wisely and moderation is key. They stop eating when they’re 80% full and then continue to apply the rule. Whether a nightly whiskey, a sweet treat splurge, or a day at the park, super-agers know when enough is enough.
Almost all the centenarians interviewed attend faith-based services. Blue Zones research shows it adds years to your life.
Everyone experiences stress, but super-agers have a routine to ‘shed stress’, whether it be a daily nap, a meal with a friend, prayer, meditation, or attending worship, all value spirituality and the positive effect it has on body and soul.
Wine at 5
All but one pocket of Blue Zones drink alcohol, but all drink in moderation, consuming only a glass or 2 of wine a day while enjoying a meal with friends, for example.
Passion and Purpose
Doing what we love and having a reason to get up in the morning fuels mind, body, and spirit. Whether it be prayer, meditation, or attending worship, all the studied octogenarians value spirituality and connection. Purpose has a positive effect on body, mind, and soul with research proving it adds a few years to your life.
Loved Ones First
Blue Zone centenarians put loved ones first, caring for aging parents in the home, committing to a life partner, and investing love and time in their children.
Take on new challenges, or as my happy and very active 85-year-old dad quips before tending his garden, delivering Meals on Wheels, or singing at church, “Keep on keepin’ on!”
Intrigued to know more?
Check out the Blue Zones and take their 3-minute TRUE VITALITY TEST.
As always, discuss with your doctor any lifestyle changes to be sure they are right for you.