New US research on ageing suggests that memory loss is not inevitable. Indeed, a very small group of older adults, called ‘superagers’, appear to have mental skills as sharp as people in their twenties. Furthermore, their brains appear ‘younger’, showing thicker connective pathways.
So what makes a superager? One theory, from Professor Lisa Barrett at Northeastern University in Boston, is that these people are always challenging their minds and bodies on a daily basis. They push themselves out of their comfort zones. The important point here is that we all know that when we challenge ourselves we experience unpleasant feelings of fatigue and discomfort. But superagers don’t give up at this point. They take the uncomfortable feelings as a signal to keep going. As the inventor Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”
So, Sudoku and other brain training activities probably aren’t really going to cut the mustard if we want to be a superager. They don’t push us hard enough. It would appear that there really is no gain without pain. Which will be bad news for people who hoped that the rewards of getting older would be the opportunity to live an easier life.
If you want to be a superager, find new activities, such as learning a language, picking up a musical instrument, or studying something you have always been curious about. But then work hard at it. Really challenge yourself. If it’s too hard find something else. The key is to push yourself to your limits. Similarly, find ways to stretch your physical fitness. The beauty of this is that it isn’t just hard work for hard work’s sake. You will also find a sense of life purpose and achievement at the same time.
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