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IKF Blog
Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Do you have what it takes to be a super-ager? 5 tips if you’d like to try

As you grow older, you no doubt have heard about how best to age well and the actions you can take. But you may not be familiar with those who push this idea much further. They are what we call super-agers.

You may want to give this a try. Even if you come up short, you’ll still be improving your health and that can never hurt. If you’re interested in learning more, read on to discover how others accomplished it as well as suggestions for how you might make it happen.

What is a super-ager?

They’re not new. Or young. Neurologists at the Harvard affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital have been involved in this research for several years. They study those in their 70s and 80s who intentionally have the mental or physical capabilities of someone much younger.

There are two areas where super-agers have been found: cognitive and physical. The following summarizes the features of each.

Cognitive super-ager characteristics

To determine super-ager status, a group of 81 healthy adults were selected. Almost half were ages 60 to 80 and the other were 18 to 35 years old. To compare the performance of both groups, a list of nouns were read several times. Twenty minutes later each was asked to recall as many words as they could.

The results identified the differences. While 23 of those in the older group were able to recall an average number of words, the other 17 remembered a higher number, similar to the younger group. Those 17 older adults are considered super-agers.

Another interesting find was revealed in their magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)s. The areas of the brain specifically looked at were involved in the functions of emotion, language and stress, as well as being responsible for regulating internal organs and coordinating sensory input to be cohesive. These areas appeared thinner, indicating cell loss for the older adults who had normal tests scores for their age,

But for the super-agers, their scans didn’t show this loss. It was hypothesized that although everyone in the older age group had both similar IQs and education levels, the elite group might be different in how they approached problem solving.

Research speculated that super-agers are willing to endure discomfort in order to master new skills. Those who showed less cell loss might see learning opportunities as a challenge but ones they can successfully overcome. The other older adults might simply give up.

Physical super-ager characteristics

Research also shows that there are super-agers when it comes to physical activity. By determining how much oxygen is inhaled and distributed to their tissues in a minute, a person’s maximal oxygen consumption or V02 max can be calculated and used as a comparable measurement.

Our physical abilities are influenced by age. On average, we lose 10% of our aerobic capacity each decade after we reach the age of 30. But some studies have shown that those in their 80s who were able to exercise at a high intensity level for 20-45 minutes a day had the same capacity of those who were 30 years younger.

Using this data from studies, researchers created a calculator that could estimate a person’s biological age. In 2015, this was used to estimate the biological ages of those who participated in that year’s National Senior Games. Although the group’s average chronological age was 68, their average biological age was 43.

What you can do to become a super-ager

We don’t have all the answers yet on how to age successfully, but here’s what we do know:

  • Regular physical and mental activity can reduce health risks
  • Intense physical activity increases aerobic capacity
  • Intense mental activity preserves areas of the brain involved in memory and reasoning

Studying super-agers may open doors to increased longevity and quality of life. While there are no guarantees, try following these suggestions and you may find yourself joining them:

1. Embrace mental challenges

For those who already enjoy brain games, increase the skill level required. The benefit is in pushing yourself to learn. Recommendations include calculating your own income taxes or installing new software on your computer. Other suggestions are learning a different language, a new musical instrument or teaching English as a second language.

2. Increase your exercise stamina

Work on your V02 max by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of exercising. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 and then try to increase your heart rate to half of your maximum. As you continue to exercise, work up to 60% and then 70%, maintaining that rate for 20 to 40 minutes, 3 to 5 days a week. Make sure you check with your doctor before starting.

3. Join a group

Many people find reaching their goals easier to accomplish if they’re not going it alone. Start by finding others who are at your skill level and are interested in improving their performance. Check out your local gym, fitness center or other places to exercise. Having a trainer or someone who can lead the group can be a big advantage.

4. Stay patient and persevere

It takes effort and time to master a new challenge and many advise you should prepare to be frustrated. Just remind yourself that it takes a while to build up stamina or to learn a skill. For example, even if you find it hard to walk more than a few blocks today, if you continue to increase the time and distance regularly, you’ll find yourself at the mile marker before you know it.

5. Don’t let your age stop you

Once you reach a certain age, you may believe you’re too old to take on a new challenge. Don’t. Whatever your age, the number itself should never determine what you can accomplish. And if you need a little pep talk, remember that Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses didn’t start painting seriously until she was 78. It’s really never too late.

Ingleside at King Farm Independent Living

At Ingleside at King Farm, we’re here to support all of our residents discover their best life and how to reach their goals. You’ll find encouragement, activities and amenities to help you age well, both cognitively and physically.

The choices are all yours to make - whether you’re enjoying our fitness center and indoor heated pool, spending time in our library or sharing lunch with a friend. You’ll have unlimited opportunities to create an engaged life when you make our community your home.

Call (240) 455-4582 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.

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