Why are some people superagers? One common factor is that they engage in demanding mental exercise, continually challenging themselves to learn new things outside of their comfort zone. They try new things that they wouldn’t have dared to do when younger, fearing failure. In addition, older adults generally are happy. Retirement likely is improving their happiness and often even health. The joie de vivre comes from a sense of self-confidence based on years of experience. There is a certain courageousness that comes from the loss of angst about what people think of you; you know who you are! Many superagers perceive themselves as lifelong learners, remaining vital and cognitively resilient through old age. It is said that lifelong learning and the willingness to continue to learn is good for the body, mind and soul. These people pursue happiness in a phenomenon called the “positivity effect.” To do this, they divest themselves of negative things such as toxic stress and allow momentary stress that comes with hard work, both physical and mental. The nervous system evolved so that occasional bouts of stress, where you tax your body and brain for a short time, is necessary to keep your brain healthy as you age. There is an ensemble of brain regions that are thicker and better connected in superagers, according to research. Called the “superager ensemble” of brain regions, it assembles thoughts, emotions, decisions, dreams, sights, sounds, smells and everything else you perceive, using the same construction process that makes your memories. This same superager ensemble also regulates your organs, hormones and immune system, even predicting the body’s energy needs in advance, to keep you alive and healthy; the ensemble coordinates communication throughout your brain.
Tips on increasing chances of being a superager include: strenuous mental activity coming from new pursuits, classes, or skills; vigorous physical effort; healthy eating; and sufficient sleep. It is never too early to start attending to your superager ensemble – start preserving your cognitive reserve now. New research is aimed at exploring whether people who regularly push past momentary discomfort are better protected against dementia and depression. For additional joie de vivre, rewire your brain by building up your brain circuitry through physical and mental vigorous effort. A book suggestion is, “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University. For additional information go to: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/apr/30/work-on-your-ageing-brain-superagers-mental-excercise-lisa-feldman-barrett
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