This piece from the New York Times is superb reporting. So, the grey lady lives on.
The article was How to become a Superager by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She is the author of the forthcoming “How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.”
She asks, “Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. ”
In providing the answer, she gets into some labyrinthine details on how the brain functions. If you want to go there just click on the link to the article and enjoy.
I have alluded to my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) tons of times and you can get more facts there on how the brain benefits from physical exercise.
Barrett asks and answers the question on how we can become superagers. “Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort…. (my emphasis)
“The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.”
I have complained a number of times about the popular ‘brain games’ that have been foisted on an aging populace. My Page – Brain games for seniors, what you need to know has more details. I was very pleased to see Ms. Barrett agree. “This means that pleasant puzzles like Sudoku are not enough to provide the benefits of superaging. Neither are the popular diversions of various “brain game” websites. You must expend enough effort that you feel some “yuck.” Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more.”
We have an aging population and it is critically important that as we age ( I turn 81 this month) we retain our mental powers. Ms. Barrett has given us some very useful information. All that remains is that we kick ourselves out of our comfort zones and challenge that brain and body – on a regular basis.
(A tip of the hat to my baby brother, Mike, for sending me this article. He turned 78 in November.)