Experts On Aging Reveal The 5 Major Habits That Will Improve Your Longevity
Remaining healthy and sharp are goals for most people as they age. But one group of people — known as “SuperAgers” — is said to have this all down as they go through life, even into their later years.
The term SuperAgers was created by researchers at Northwestern University, who define it as “adults over age 80 who have the memory capacity of individuals who are at least three decades younger.” Northwestern University is one of just a handful of institutions in the country that have SuperAging research programs.
Experts stress that SuperAgers are not the same as people with good longevity, with the main difference between them being one’s brain. Studies show that SuperAgers’ brains resemble those of much younger people.
Specifically, less brain volume loss is seen in SuperAgers in comparison to a person who just has good longevity, according to Northwestern Medicine, an affiliate with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. For example, someone who is, say, 87 years old with good longevity, may have a brain that also matches their age.
Tamar Gefen, an assistant professor at the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at the Feinberg School of Medicine, noted that “there is no special trick to becoming a SuperAger — at least not yet.”
“Like most trajectories of age, or conditions of life, it is a combination of biology, environment and personal agency,” she said.
According to Jennifer Ailshire, an associate professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, some SuperAgers may have certain qualities, though.
“We think of SuperAgers … as people who are reaching 85 years of age, so they’re exceeding the typical or average life expectancy for … their cohort,” Ailshire said. “For us, a SuperAger is not just someone who’s long-lived. It’s also someone who’s maintained a fairly high level of physical, cognitive, psychological and social well-being.”
How people go about accomplishing these qualities can be vastly different.
“For some, it is drinking a beer [or a few] at night. For others, it’s abstaining from vices. Some are still running successful businesses, while others have been retired for years,” Gefen said. ”I suppose the common denominator is that most appear to be socially active or engage in continuous, meaningful activity. But there are exceptions.”
The researchers we spoke to stressed that there is no direct roadmap to becoming a SuperAger. That being said, there are some positive habits you can adopt from them to bolster your cognitive and physical functioning well into your later years. Here are the key habits to practice:
1. Move your body regularly.
“A lot of research shows that daily body movement is associated with both longevity and healthy aging,” Ailshire said. “I don’t use the word exercise, though, because I think we all have a connotation with exercise that’s like hitting the gym or running or something. But these may just be activities like gardening, doing crafts, kind of working around the house.”
Even walking counts as movement, with Ailshire adding that a focal point for SuperAgers is avoiding sedentary behavior.
“It is a little hard for all of us to avoid sedentary behavior — most of us have computer jobs,” she said. “But they’re very physically active and they have been their entire lives.”
2. Engage in social activities.
People who age well regularly socialize, whether it’s spending time with friends or family, volunteering or spending time at work with colleagues, Ailshire said.
Research shows people with strong social connections live longer and have better cognitive and physical health.
3. Do what you can to reduce controllable stress.
Between work, money, medical issues and family problems, life is inherently stressful. But keeping your brain and body sharp means reducing unnecessary stress at all costs.
“Some [SuperAgers] have basically said, ‘I haven’t gotten involved in other people’s drama and tried to keep from being angry a lot, from being stressed a lot,’” Ailshire said. “I find that kind of striking that they’ve at least avoided stress to the extent they could — they didn’t create their own stress.”
4. Challenge your brain.
According to Ailshire, cognitive stimulation is important for healthy aging, too, and there are many ways you can challenge your mind as you grow older.
“You’re never too old to learn a new language, learn a new way of picking up an instrument or do something that really challenges you cognitively or mentally,” she said.
However, the key is making it mentally stimulating for you. Gefen noted that if a certain task, like a crossword puzzle, induces panic, don’t bother.
5. Make time for the things you enjoy.
Based on the published scientific literature she’s read, as well as the SuperAgers she’s spoken to, Ailshire summarized that these healthy older individuals are “people who are doing the things that make them feel happy and fulfilled.”
Gefen seconded this, saying: “Depending on whether one has the luxury to do so, one recommendation is to engage in activities that are engaging, enjoyable, motivating and not stress-inducing.”