Secrets of ‘super agers’: How to keep minds young as we age

Steps to help maintain strong cognitive function despite aging

Some people stay sharp as a tack even as they enter their "golden years." Here are some of the secrets that keep the minds of the so-called "super-agers" young as they get older.

Some people stay sharp as a tack even as they enter their “golden years” -- but are they just lucky, or do they know something that others don’t?

The truth is that genetics do play a role, but there are certain behaviors we can prioritize that can help keep our minds young.

Researchers call people “super agers” who are in their 80s or beyond and still have the cognitive function of someone decades younger. Although it’s normal for brainpower to decline as we age, it is not inevitable.

A study from Northwestern University found that super agers lose brain volume at a slower pace than adults who are aging normally, putting super agers at a lower risk for dementia. So, what are super agers doing to keep their minds young?

Physical activity is key, especially if it helps you maintain a healthy weight. The risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease triples for individuals with a body mass index over 30.

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But, it’s also important to stay mentally active. David Albertson, 84, does crossword puzzles every day to keep his mind sharp.

“I’ve been doing it for over 50 years, probably 60 years,” Albertson said.

Reading a book on an unfamiliar topic or taking a class can challenge your brain, too. Research finds super agers also tend to be social butterflies, with a strong circle of family and friends.

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Super agers also tend to indulge in a glass of alcohol. The Northwestern University study found that moderate drinkers were 23% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease -- but the key is moderation. Drinking more than the recommended amount can actually increase your risk for Alzheimer’s.

“It’s just common sense,” said Allan Woods, 83. “You just got to keep moving. You got to keep your mind sharp. And if you have family and friends, you’re in great shape.”

Genetics, of course, play a role in how your brain ages, but numerous studies have found that the above activities -- along with eating a healthy diet -- can have a positive impact.

These steps also help boost your physical health, as well.

Related: Falling asleep at 10 p.m. linked to lower risk of heart disease

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.