The Five Longevity Secrets of “SuperAgers”

I’ve had a few major health scares in my life.

But they’ve gifted me with a deep awareness and gratitude for each moment I have here on this earth. 

My experiences have deeply affected how I think, the actions I take, and what I write about here in Sound Health. I’m compelled to make the solutions and information I’ve discovered accessible to others, so they too, can enrich their life.

So when I came across some groundbreaking research on “SuperAgers,” I was immediately intrigued.

SuperAgers are adults who are 80 or older and in near-perfect health.

And today, I’m going share with you their daily habits so you can enjoy the same benefits well into your golden years.

It’s all about balance

According to Emily Rogalski, a leading expert in the field, “We found that SuperAgers are resistant to the normal rate of decline that we see in average elderly, and they’re managing to strike a balance between life span and health span, really living well and enjoying their later years of life.”

Researchers set out to discover just how SuperAgers are striking this balance and what makes them stand apart from other healthy people the same age.

They have bigger brains—quite literally

One of the most remarkable traits of SuperAgers is that their memories are just as sharp as someone half their age! Turns out, their brains age at a much slower rate.

And in a five-year study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that SuperAgers have less brain atrophy.

They have a thicker brain cortex and more brain volume than their peers of the same age. Brain imaging shows SuperAgers lose approximately 1.06 percent of brain volume over their lifetime compared to the 2.24 percent loss in average aging adults.

This is important because significant shrinkage of gray matter is often a hallmark sign of dementia.

Bigger brain, better memory

SuperAgers have also been found to have a significantly higher category fluency, a cognitive marker used to assess patients for dementia. This marker determines how well someone can retrieve information associated with semantic memory (well-known general facts and information). 

This was illustrated in a 2016 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, where researchers tested the memory recall of 81 healthy adults. Half of the group was older—about 60 to 80 years old—while the other half was younger—between 18 to 35 years old.  

All of the participants were read a list of 16 nouns six times. Twenty minutes later, they were asked to recall as many words as they could.

While 23 of the older participants recalled nine or fewer words (an average score for their age group), 17 seniors—the SuperAgers—could remember 14 words or more, similar to the scores of participants in the younger group. The SuperAgers were also found to have thicker brain volumes than the average adults of similar age.

Researchers attribute these benefits to the healthy lifestyle habits most common amongst SuperAgers. The best part is, you can easily integrate them into your daily routine to build a better brain and safeguard your mind from the ravages of aging.

Five ways to build a “longevity forcefield” for your brain

Here are the five habits researchers have identified in “SuperAgers.” You can use them starting today to protect your own brain—and add happier, healthier years to your life.

  1. Get up and get moving. SuperAgers are active on a regular basis. And it makes sense… Exercise has been found to improve brain function—even if you’ve never worked out a day in your life, or are already showing signs of cognitive decline.

    Plus, studies have shown that that people in their 80s who exercised at high intensity for 20 to 45 minutes a day have an aerobic capacity of people approximately 30 years younger.

    For an added brain boost, play music during your workouts. I recently covered the latest research on music’s positive and transformative effects on dementia patients.

  2. Manage chronic stress. Studies have shown that stress can literally shrink your brain. In a 2018 study, researchers studied over 2,000 participants in their 40’s.

    They found that the subjects with higher stress levels not only performed much worse on cognitive tasks, they also had less gray brain matter. Particularly in the parts of the brain that controls your muscle movement, vision, hearing, speech, decision-making, and self-control. (You can read more about that study in this article I wrote.)

    You can manage stress with a few simple deep breathing and vagal nerve stimulation exercises for a few minutes every day. (Simply search the archives on my site for a wealth of stress-relieving exercises!)

  3. Seek out challenges. The moment you feel like something is “too hard” is the moment you have the best opportunity to fortify your brain and create new pathways (neuroplasticity).

    Seek out things that push you to grow like:
    – Learning a new language
    – Practicing a musical instrument
    – Playing a new board game or card game
    – Taking a class
    – Trying a new skill or hobby

  4. Spread your social butterfly wings. SuperAgers tend to report having strong social relationships. The 2017 study I mentioned earlier found that the region in the brain associated with social processing and awareness is larger than average-aging peers.

    Despite the fact that social distancing is still in place in most parts of the country, there are still plenty of ways to connect.

    – Call or video chat with old friends or your family
    – Meet for a socially distant picnic (if your state guidelines allow)
    – Join our Sound Health Facebook group and connect with plenty of like-minded folks

  5. Get plenty of sleep. A 2016 study in NeuroImage examined the brains of 41 healthy men who missed one night of sleep. When compared to participants who got ample sleep, the sleep deprivation group showed clear declines in memory and attention.

As you’ve seen today, you should never let your age deter you from taking action to improve and protect your health. It’s never too early—or too late—to start building healthier habits.

Always remember, do what you can, the best you can, with what you’ve got,.

P.S. For even more ways to sharpen your memory or strengthen your brain, check out my online learning course, my Sound Mind Protocol. It’s filled with over 30 instructional videos and is built so you can learn at your own pace. To learn more or get started today, click here.


SOURCES:

Common Habits of SuperAgers. (n.d.) Northwestern Medicine. Retrieved from: nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/4-habits-super-agers

Cook, A., Sridhar, J., and Ohm, D. (2017). Rates of Cortical Atrophy in Adults 80 Years and Older With Superior vs Average Episodic Memory. Journal of the American Medical Association. 317(13): 1373 – 1375. Retrieved from: jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2614177

Klemm, W. (2017). Aging Shrinks the Brain. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: psychologytoday.com/us/blog/memory-medic/201709/aging-shrinks-the-brain

Sun, F. et al. (2016). Youthful Brains in Older Adults: Preserved Neuroanatomy in the Default Mode and Salience Networks Contributes to Youthful Memory in Superaging. Journal of Neuroscience. 36(37): pp. 9659 – 9668. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5039247/

Translational Genomics Research Institute. (2018). Study of ‘SuperAgers’ offers genetic clues to performance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180530113217.htm

What does it take to be a super-ager? (2017). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/what-does-it-take-to-be-a-super-ager

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.