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What is a super-ager?

There is a group of older people who are fascinating scientists. Despite being 80 years old, or older, these aging wonders are able to remember equally as well as people who are half their age, and are mentally sharper than many of their peers. Dubbed ‘super-agers’, these clever individuals are being investigated by researchers, in a bid to discover their secret to growing old gracefully.

So far, studies have found both physical and sociological traits that are common among these octogenarians. One such physical basis is to do with the thickness of the outer layer of the brain, through to prevent plaques which can lead to dementia, as well as encouraging strong neural connections linked with memory. A separate study found that super-agers tended to have stronger and more satisfying relationships than their cognitively average peers.

Whatever their secret is, we can all do some things to help our brains age better. Here’s what you need to know about becoming a super-ager and protecting your brain.

What makes someone a super-ager?

With normal aging, our memories will usually start to decline by the time we reach our 30s. Usually the decline is barely noticeable, for the first few years at least, but as we reach our 60s, 70s and 80s, the difference can become marked. However, there are some people who seem to avoid this decline almost altogether.

When classifying a super-ager, researchers look at their mental performance compared to someone in their 50s. Being a super-ager is about more than just being able to remember things; in a recent study, the researchers tested over 1,000 octogenarians who claimed to have an ‘excellent’ memory, but less than five per cent qualified as a true super-ager.

Can you become a super-ager?

If you’re a younger person, whether in your 30s, 50s or older, there are things you can do to keep your mind sharp and to give yourself a chance of becoming a super ager. Here are some top tips:

  • Don’t smoke: Smoking can shave up to 12 years off your life, and if you never smoked you’re around twice as likely to reach your 80th birthday in good health. Smoking is also linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, so there’s never been a better time to quit.
  • Eat less red meat: A high intake of red meat has been linked to cancer in older people, and the saturated fat commonly found in this food can cause arterial blockages and damage to the brain. Swap out red meats for more fish and chicken to stay shaper for longer.
  • Build up your strength: Cardio is good for the heart, but strength training can benefit the brain and body too. Lifting weights has been shown to reduce the incidence of falls in older people, and has been shown to improve attention and memory too.
  • Be social: Socialisation stimulates the brain, and can reduce loneliness and depression in people of all ages. Chatting to friends, playing games with them and learning new things together will encourage new neural networks to be formed, helping to keep the brain young.
  • Drink less, but enjoy in moderation: Excessive drinking, in the region of 14 or more drinks per week, has been shown to cause the hippocampus to shrink, which is the part of the brain linked to memory. Conversely, the stress relieving effects of light alcohol consumption has been shown to actually be beneficial, with moderate drinkers scoring higher on cognitive tests than teetotallers.

Staying happy and healthy in old age doesn’t have to be hard. Staying active, socially connected and challenging yourself regularly can all benefit your brain, and could see you becoming a super-ager of the future! 

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