Nowadays, living a long life isn't unheard of. But there are some people who live extraordinarily long lives. Everyone knows that spry 90-year-old person who still plays tennis and seems even more active than their grandkids, and for a long time, people would chalk it up to "good genes." Well, as it turns out, they were not necessarily wrong. A new study from Northwestern University neurologist Emily Rogalski suggests that the things that help you live longer might just be a chemical situation in your brain, which turns you into something called a "SuperAger."
SuperAgers are people who live for a long time, and who also live well for that time period. It's not just about living forever — you want to be as healthy as possible while you're alive, and apparently, these SuperAgers (who were found to make up 5 percent of the population) are doing just that.
At a recent meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), researchers revealed a new breakthrough discovery for the neurological distinction that allows SuperAgers to be so damn healthy for so damn long.
The key to aging well is maintaining a high density of a specific type of neuron in your brain.
That neuron is called a von Economo neurons (VENs), and it's largely responsible for our cognitive thinking levels, according to a study from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Most people tend to see "cognitive thinning" as they age, meaning that their brain health deteriorates over time. But SuperAgers don't experience as much cognitive thinning, and therefore maintain higher quality of life.
Rogalski explained the effects of cognitive thinking on regular people vs. SuperAgers in the AAAS study. “When we look at the rate of cognitive thinning in the cognitively average 80-year-olds," she explained, "their brains are thinning at nearly two and a half times that of the SuperAgers."
To make matters even more interesting, these SuperAgers aren't even that healthy in other regards, on average. According to Rogalski's research, 71 percent of the SuperAgers in her study were smokers, and 83 percent regularly drank alcohol.
In some ways, our aging process is entirely out of our hands.
Of course, this study is only a tiny fraction of the pie that makes up a person's cumulative health and overall longevity. Our health is defined by a variety of factors, some — like our neurons — are determined by chance, but many others are entirely in our control.
The first thing you can do to prolong your life (and live well for the duration of it) is to absolutely not smoke cigarettes, regardless of what the SuperAgers are doing, and the many reasons to abstain from smoking are clearly outlined by the CDC. You can also work to improve your overall nutrition by eating foods that have been like avocados, blueberries, and broccoli, all of which are high in vitamin C and have been found to boost your cognitive ability.
In addition to eating well, playing mental games like puzzles is an excellent way to keep your memory sharp.
Studies show that consistently playing mental games like crossword puzzles or Rubik's Cubes can make a positive impact on your cognitive ability to retain and build new memories. With that said, mental exercise is just like physical exercise: you have to keep it up, otherwise you begin to lose the benefits.
Another way to stay physically healthy is to go on runs. Keeping up your cardio can decrease your risk of an early death by up to 40 percent, according to a study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. Talk about the ultimate reason to finally convince yourself to get out of your apartment and move around.
Between your neurons, your nutrition, and that book of puzzles, staying healthy is a balancing act: you work to control what you can, and not worry too much about what you can't. SuperAgers, try not to brag too much.