Some people just seem to have an extra spring in their step, even as they age. They’re healthier, mentally quicker, and happier than many of their peers. Why is this? Doctors are starting to find out.
In a new study from Northwest Medicine, doctors took a look at SuperAgers – persons 80 or above who show fewer mental and physical impairments due to aging. What they found was this: The brains of SuperAgers look very different than that of normal subjects. SuperAgers tend to have a thicker region of the cortex; fewer tangles (which are often a marker of Alzheimer’s disease), and a large supply of von Economo – a neuron that has been linked to higher social intelligence.
Scientists are using the scans of SuperAgers’ brains to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and to learn how they can strengthen the brains of people who age normally.
What does this mean for those of us who are aging normally? One of the SuperAgers, June Scott, has some advice.
June, who at 86 has traveled to 87 countries, recommends challenging your brain as often as possible. For June, that means traveling and experiencing a whole world of different cultures and customs. Scott has tracked gorillas in Rwanda and hung out with emperor penguins in Antarctica. Her fitbit regularly registers 18,000 steps as she continues to keep in shape for her next adventure.
June believes that her constant travel and exposure to different ways of thinking and living has helped keep her levels of von Economo high and her frontal cortex strong. Researchers seem to agree with her. We’ve learned that our brains thrive on new experiences and challenges, and that new neural pathways can be created even as we age.
If you can’t see the world like June, it may be time to explore the world around you. Give your brain a challenge. Learn something new, try a new activity. Though we may grow wise with age, it’s not a time to stop expanding our knowledge base. Start challenging yourself now and see if you’re a SuperAger too.