One of the aims of this blog is to live past 100. Posts every day touch on that goal, but mostly in a ‘part of the big picture’ way. Herewith some positive ideas from Harvard Health publications directly on the subject of superaging.
Finding role models who are older than we are gets more difficult as we age. But in the last few years, medical science has identified a new group we can aspire to join — the superagers. The term refers to people in their 70s and 80s who have the mental or physical capability of their decades-younger counterparts.
Although superagers’ brains show less cell loss than those of their contemporaries, their IQs and educational levels are similar. What sets them apart might be that they view problem-solving differently, Dr. Dickerson says. “They may approach these tasks as a challenge they can succeed at, in contrast to typical older adults who may give up.”
One of Dr. Dickerson’s colleagues, Dr. Lisa Barrett, speculates that superagers may share a willingness to endure discomfort to master a new skill, like playing a musical instrument or speaking a new language. Superagers keep moving out of their comfort zones to gain new areas of expertise.
What can you do to become a super-ager?
Scientists are still studying this question. What they do know is that although any regular physical and mental activity reduces health risks, intense physical activity increases aerobic capacity, and intense mental activity preserves areas of the brain involved in memory and reasoning. Following the suggestions below may not ensure that you’ll become a superager, but it will put you on the road to better health.
Embrace mental challenges. If you enjoy crossword puzzles, you may want to take on acrostics or mathematical games. Try doing something yourself that you would have hired someone else to do in the past — perhaps calculating your income taxes, assembling a piece of flat-packed furniture, or installing new computer software. Volunteer for a project that may seem little intimidating, like tutoring students who are trying to master English as a second language or registering voters for the next election. Pursue a leisure activity you didn’t have time for earlier in life, be it joining a theater group, writing poetry, learning the language of your favorite translated book so you can read the original, becoming proficient on your favorite musical instrument, or creating intricate origami sculptures.
Increase your exercise capacity. How much of your VO2 max you preserve depends on three factors — the intensity, duration, and frequency of your workouts. Exercise intensity increases as you come closer to achieving your maximum heart rate, which you can calculate by subtracting your age from 220. If you’re just beginning to exercise, try to get your pulse up to a rate of 50% of maximum. If you’ve been exercising a while, work up to 60%, then try sustaining 70% of your maximum rate. (At that rate, you won’t be able to talk easily as you work out.) Try to exercise at that level for 20 to 40 minutes, three to five days a week.
Prepare to be frustrated. Patience and perseverance are key to mastering challenges. It may take months or years of practice to gain proficiency in a new field, but the benefits can be great. For example, the photo-editing software on your computer may seem impenetrable at first glance, but once you’ve learned to use all the menus and tools it offers, you’ll be able to produce professional-quality images from photos captured on your smartphone. Although you may tire after walking a few blocks, if you gradually increase the time you walk and the distance you cover, you may be walking a mile within months.
Don’t let your age deter you. As long as you are physically up to a challenge, your years shouldn’t hold you back. Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses didn’t start painting in earnest until she was 78. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg began working with a personal trainer at 68 following treatment for colon cancer.
Get going with a group. You may find it easier to take on new challenges if you’re in the company of other beginners. Check your local community center or “Y” for programs that welcome seniors. You may be surprised by what you can accomplish in a few months.
Last, but not least, please check out my Page Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits.) It has lots of very valuable information on one of the keys to superaging.