There’s a group of people longevity researchers call “SuperAgers,” who are in their 80s and older, but have the cognitive function of those decades younger.
Conversely, your brain may be older than your chronological age, which we want to avoid.
As a neuroscience researcher and author of “The Age-Proof Brain,” I’ve discovered that it’s our behaviors, not just our genes, that have a powerful influence on the fate of our brains.
So what sets SuperAgers apart from those with weak memory? According to a 2021 study that followed SuperAgers over the course of 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 — through learning. Our memories are housed in these connections.
As we age, of course, we lose some of those connections. It’s like withdrawing money every year. But the more deposits we make over our lifetime, the less our wealth is affected by these withdrawals.
But higher education is not the only way to preserve memory. In another study, even when individuals had a lower level of education, if they attended lectures, read frequently, wrote and read, they had memory scores similar to those with a higher level of education.
What types of learning are best for brain health?
Keeping your brain healthy is not just about Sudoku, Wordle or crossword puzzles. Those can have cognitive benefits, but you mostly practice with the knowledge and skills you already have.
What does make significant new connections in the brain is learning new ones skills and information. And the process should be challenging: SuperAgers embrace – and sometimes crave – that sense of frustration when they learn something outside of their expertise.
Cross-train your brain
Approach learning as you would with fitness training. You wouldn’t go to the gym and only train your forearms. You would end up looking like Popeye.
The same goes for the brain. Learning a new language, for example, trains different parts of the brain than a new sport or instrument.
You can cross-train your brain by combining mental and physical learning activities. Get out your calendar and plan different types of activities using this plan:
- Day 1: Learn something mentally stimulating, such as listening to a podcast or taking an online course.
- Day 2: Do something that requires you to learn by moving, such as a new sport, dance, or yoga pose.
- Day 3: Be social. Grab coffee with a friend or head out for dinner. Yes, social interaction is a form of learning that has been associated with averting dementia.
Whatever it is, 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 more slowly.
Mark MilsteinPhD, is a brain health expert and author of “The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Dementia.” He received both his PhD in Biological Chemistry and his Bachelor of Science 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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