The SugerAgers’ Secret to a Perfect Memory

Conventional medicine has always instilled in us that as you age, your memory is supposed to fade. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The fact is, there are people living among us—well into their 80’s—whose brain function and memory performance are as good as those half their age.  

These people are known as SuperAgers. And today, I want to tell you about some of the unconventional ways they keep their minds and memories sharp in their golden years.

The brain of a SuperAger

In a recent study, Northwestern University’s Dr. Emily Rogalski, a SuperAger researcher, breaks down what she found when comparing the brains of typical people with those of SuperAgers.

First, she looked at the outer layer of the brain—which contains neurons crucial to thinking—of the average 80-year-old versus that of an average 50-year-old.

Not surprisingly, she found the outer brain layer in the typical 80-year-old was significantly thinner than those 30 years younger.

But when she compared SuperAgers with average 50-to-60 year old’s, there was no significant thinning. In fact, the SuperAgers’ brains were indistinguishable from the younger group.

Even more exciting: Dr. Rogalski found that one particular area of the brain called the anterior cingulate—a key part of attention and memory—was actually thicker in SuperAgers than those in their 50’s or 60’s.

What makes SuperAgers different from everybody else?

It’s tempting to brush aside SuperAgers as a biological fluke. But as she began to gather the life stories of these people, Dr. Rogalski discovered some fascinating similarities…

First, not all of them are in “perfect” health. Even though they weren’t experiencing cognitive decline, some had other health issues to manage.

Second, these people were not all highly schooled doctors and lawyers who had an extra educational advantage. In fact, most participants only had a high school education.

Overall, it appears that SuperAgers’ exceptional cognitive abilities are due, at least in part, to adopting certain positive mindsets and activities. Here are some examples…

  • Being highly engaged in life, rather than becoming sedentary. For example, some of the SuperAgers in the study continued to work through their 80’s. And some have even gone back to school to get new training for a second career.
  • Building resilience to stress—instead of covering it over with substances or ignoring it altogether.
  • Viewing their life’s “low points” as learning opportunities rather than being a “victim.”
  • Developing and maintaining strong positive relationships with others.
  • Rejecting the notion that disease is a “normal” part of aging.
  • Believing that you can improve your life by taking concrete steps to do so—like learning and practicing a new skill.

On the path to becoming a SuperAger

In addition to the points above, research also shows that rhythmic sound promotes a healthy mind and memory. Here are a few simple tips to help you add more sound healing into your life: 

1. Regularly listen to the music of your youth.  

A 2019 study recently demonstrated how actively reliving past memories—particularly those involving nostalgic music and movement—helps to support memory, mood, and social interactions. I go into more detail about this here.

Here’s a great playlist to get you started. I made it for my dad—Ralph—to help him recover from cancer treatments recently.

2. Exercise with music

In 2017, Japanese researchers published a year-long study on the effects of music and exercise on brain cell loss. They found that regular exercise accompanied by music can potentially delay age-related cognitive decline, especially in older adults.

You can read more about this here.

3. Protect your telomeres by strengthening your vagal tone

A 2018 study on cellular aging found that techniques that improve vagal tone—including sound-based vagal nerve stimulation (VNS), meditation, and breathwork—help to strengthen and even lengthen telomeres.

Telomeres are the little “caps” at the end of your DNA strands in each of your chromosomes that protect your DNA—and thus your overall health—from degrading.

You can learn more about how this works here.

And here’s an exercise I do every day to keep my vagal tone strong.

Finally, never let your age get in the way of taking action to build your health. Right now is the perfect time to start your own SuperAger routines. All you need to do is take that first step!


Sources:

https://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/research/news/podcast/what-makes-someone-a-superager.html

Choo, T., Barak, Y., and East A., (2019). The Effects of Intuitive Movement Re-embodiment on the Quality of Life of Older Adults With Dementia: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. Retrieved from: journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1533317519860331

Tabei, K. et al. (2017). Physical Exercise With Music Reduces Gray and White Matter Loss in the Frontal Cortex of Elderly People: The Mihama-Kiho Scan Project. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 9: p. 174. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461259/

Kumar S., Yadav R., Yadav R., Tolahunase M., and Dada R. (2015) Telomerase activity and cellular aging might be positively modified by a yoga-based lifestyle intervention. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 21(6): pp. 370-372. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25964984

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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.