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How to Keep an Aging Mind on Par with a 25-Year Old's (long)
How to Keep an Aging Mind on Par with a 25-Year Old's (long)
It’s to push through on activities that are demanding and while you’re doing it, endure activities that are not necessarily fun. As the NY Times article puts it: “work hard at something.”
The author first establishes that there are certain older people whose mental abilities do not decline. They are, in fact, comparable to those of a 25-year old healthy, active person. A name has been given to them, and it’s “superagers.”
It discusses a popular theory of how the brain works, which has subsequently been discredited.
The new findings tangibly defined that the thickness of certain parts of the brain has to do with the ability to maintain memory and attention as one ages. This was studied using magnetic resonance imaging.
Here are some snips and the link for the article, and following that, a personal example.
How to Become a ‘Superager’
By Lisa Feldman Barrett|Dec. 31st, 2016
Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. My colleagues and I at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied superagers to understand what made them tick.
Our lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan and compare the brains of 17 superagers with those of other people of similar age. We succeeded in identifying a set of brain regions that distinguished the two groups. These regions were thinner for regular agers, a result of age-related atrophy, but in superagers they were indistinguishable from those of young adults, seemingly untouched by the ravages of time.
What are these crucial brain regions? If you asked most scientists to guess, they might nominate regions that are thought of as “cognitive” or dedicated to thinking, such as the lateral prefrontal cortex. However, that’s not what we found. Nearly all the action was in “emotional” regions, such as the midcingulate cortex and the anterior insula.
My lab was not surprised by this discovery, because we’ve seen modern neuroscience debunk the notion that there is a distinction between “cognitive” and “emotional” brain regions.
When I first read this, I said note to self, are you ever in trouble! For one thing, the determining factor for many of my decisions is based on whether it will make me happy or not. If you read the article, you might concur that this maybe isn’t the greatest idea.
However, at the same time, I’m very goal oriented. I set goals for myself every day, which are small steps that lead to larger goals I have, and I break them down into how much time I have to allocate to them each day. Whether I’m successful at this or not, it stares me right in the face, because I document my accomplishments on a bulletin board that I have to look at every time I pass through my house. In other words, if I don’t meet those goals, a big “0” stares me right in the face. If I do meet the goal, the amount of time (there’s a minimum) is documented.
I read the subject article this a.m., but I recalled what I did yesterday. It was New Year’s Day, and the RG (Resident Gourmand, for those of you who don’t read the Cooking Forum) had gone out for the makings of a delicious feast, which he set about making. I helped him for an hour or so, but then set out on my own goal, which was to vacuum or sweep every room on the seven-room first floor of our house. This meant getting under several big armoires, behind a chest of drawers, and other miserable tasks not generally undertaken on a holiday. The reward was going to be to enjoy a five-course meal while watching movies for the afternoon.
I set about my task, but it became apparent soon that this was going to be very nasty. Yeah, I run the vacuum around the house every week, but hey, I have three cats. I used the vacuum, the Swiffer, and a brush. Ugh! Oh, the stuff I found. At least I did not find a dead mouse, but did I ever find dust bunnies. Some of the shoes under an armoire had to be taken outside and dusted with a brush. I used up three Swiffer dusters and filled up a fair share of a new vacuum cleaner bag. I got so sick of this job that I wanted to quit. It didn’t help to see beautiful plates of appetizers appearing on the dining room table.
The shower I had taken that morning was all for nothing, as I was going to have to take another one before the fun stuff. I was so miserable. “Why don’t you hire a cleaning lady! Other people do!” I said to myself. But I soldiered on and finished the job, took a shower, and had an enjoyable afternoon dining on sole, arugula salad with shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts, roasted asparagus, parsnips, and baby carrots, and for dessert, apple-walnut pie with eggnog gelato.
So I think that’s an example of sticking to it. As the article says:
Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.
I’m glad I’m aware that there’s an even bigger reward for crummy work than just the tangible result (a clean house, for example). It will make this a little more palatable in the future.
I don’t do this enough. I plan to increase the “Marine” quotient of my work activities.
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