There is a group of people longevity scientists call “SuperAgers,” who are 80 years old or older but have cognitive function decades younger.
Conversely, it is possible for your brain to be older than your chronological age, which is something we want to avoid.
As a neuroscience researcher and author of “The Age-Proof Brain,” I’ve discovered that it’s our behavior, not just our genes, that has a powerful impact on our brain’s fate.
So what sets SuperAgers apart from people who have poor memory skills? According to a 2021 study that followed SuperAgers over the course of 18 months, one of the key differences was that they learned new things throughout their lives.
SuperAgers learn something new every day
Think of the brain as a bank account. By learning, we create ‘deposits’ – or new connections between our brain cells. Our memories are stored in these connections.
As we age, we naturally lose some of these connections. It’s like making a selection every year. But the more deposits we make in our lifetime, the less our net worth will be affected by these withdrawals.
But higher education is not the only way to retain memory. In another study, even though individuals had a lower level of education, if they attended lectures, read, wrote, and read frequently, they had memory scores on par with those with higher education.
What types of learning are best for brain health?
Keeping your brain healthy isn’t just about Sudoku, words or crossword puzzles. These can have cognitive benefits, but mostly you’re practicing the knowledge and skills you already have.
What creates significantly new connections in the brain is learning New skills and information. And the process should be challenging: SuperAgers embrace—and sometimes crave—the frustration of learning something outside of their expertise.
Exercise your brain
Approach learning the same way you approach fitness. You wouldn’t go to the gym and only do forearm exercises. You’ll end up looking like Popeye.
The same goes for the brain. For example, learning a new language exercises different parts of the brain than a new sport or instrument.
You can cross-train your brain by mixing mental and physical learning activities. Get your calendar and plan different types of activities with this schedule:
- Day 1: Learn something mentally stimulating, like listening to a podcast or taking an online course.
- Day 2: Do something that requires learning through movement, such as a new sport, dance or yoga.
- Day 3: Be social. Grab a coffee with a friend or go out to dinner. Yes, social interaction is a form of learning that has been associated with reversing dementia.
No matter what it is, learning new things keeps your brain young. So if you discovered something while reading this article that you didn’t know before, you are helping your brain to age at an already slower rate.
Marc MilsteinPhD, is an expert on brain health and the author of a book “The Age-Resistant Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Dementia.” He earned a PhD in biological chemistry and a BA in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from UCLA and conducted research in genetics, cancer biology, and neuroscience. Follow him Twitter and Instagram.
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