There is a group of people that longevity researchers call “SuperAgers,” who are over 80, but have the cognitive function of those decades younger.
Conversely, it is possible that your brain is older than your chronological age, which we want to avoid.
As a neuroscientist and author of “The Age-Proof Brain,” I’ve discovered that it’s our behaviors, not just our genes, that have a powerful impact on our brain’s fate.
So what sets SuperAgers apart from people with poor memory? According to a 2021 study that followed SuperAgers for 18 months, a key differentiator was that they continued to learn new things throughout their lives.
SuperAgers learn something new every day
Think of the brain as a bank account. We make “deposits” – or new connections between our brain cells – as we learn. Our memories are housed in these connections.
As we age, we naturally lose some of these connections. It’s like making a withdrawal every year. But the more deposits we make throughout our lives, the less our net worth is affected by those withdrawals.
One study found that adults with more years of education had more active frontal lobes when taking memory tests. Activity in the frontal lobe is associated with better memory.
But higher education is not the only way to maintain memory. In another study, even though individuals had lower levels of education, if they attended lectures, read, wrote, and read often, they had memory scores comparable to those of more educated people.
What types of learning are best for brain health?
Keeping your brain healthy isn’t just about Sudoku, Wordle, or crossword puzzles. These can have cognitive benefits, but you mostly train with the knowledge and skills you already have.
What Creates Significantly New Connections in the Brain Is Learning New skills and information. And the process should be difficult: SuperAgers embrace — and sometimes crave — that sense of frustration when they learn something outside of their expertise.
‘Train’ your brain
Approach learning as you would physical training. You won’t go to the gym and only work your forearms. Eventually, you will look like Popeye.
The same goes for the brain. Learning a new language, for example, works different parts of the brain than a new sport or a new instrument.
You can train your brain by mixing mental and physical learning activities. Get out your calendar and plan different types of activities using this plan:
- Day 1 : Learn something mentally stimulating, like listening to a podcast or taking an online course.
- Day 2: Do something that requires learning through movement, like a new sport, dance, or yoga pose.
- Day 3: Be social. Have a coffee with a friend or go to a dinner party. Yes, social interaction is a form of learning that has been associated with the fight against dementia.
Either way, learning new things keeps your brain young. So if you’ve discovered something you didn’t know before by reading this article, you’re already helping your brain age at a slower rate.
Marc MilsteinPhD, is a brain health expert and author of “The Aging Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Combat Dementia.” He earned his Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and his BSc in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UCLA, and has conducted research in genetics, cancer biology, and neuroscience. Follow him on Twitter and instagram.
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