Last month, I wrote a post about my quest to “defy gravity;” to live my best and most active/healthy life . . . for whatever’s left of my life. (You can read it here in case you missed it.)

When I talk about “defying gravity,” I’m not talking about . . . anti-aging beauty products or wrinkle creams or dying my hair or having a chin-lift. I know a lot of people DO equate “defying gravity” with “anti-aging” and an emphasis on looking younger. I don’t judge others for their interest in maintaining a youthful appearance. Society has done a real number on all of us, after all. But that’s not where I’m headed with my “defying gravity” posts.

For me, “defying gravity” is all about fighting to keep my brain busy, my body moving, my memory humming, and my body healthy. That’s where these posts will be heading.

One thing I’m doing along the way . . . is building a “collection” of role models: women who have aged in dynamic ways, refusing to fade into obscurity as they hit their golden years; women who kept/keep on pushing and working and inspiring and DOING even as they hit their 80s and 90s.

Today, I’m thinking about . . . Betty White. Sure, I imagine she was very focused on and concerned with her appearance as she aged. She was, after all, in the entertainment business. But I’m more inspired by her hard-working spirit, her determination to keep making us all laugh, her refusing to be “invisible,” and her downright feisty attitude. She was a great role model for squeezing every drop of life . . . out of life!

Me? I want to be like Betty.

I’m pretty sure Betty . . . was a SuperAger!
Have you heard about the SuperAgers? It’s a term that’s getting a lot of buzz these days.

According to Emily Rogalski, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and associate director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease, SuperAgers are people older than 80 whose memory is as good as those 20 to 30 years younger, if not better. What these researchers are learning from SuperAgers (and from other research on dementia prevention) reveals new information about the protective factors in lifestyle, genetics and resilience that can help us all . . . defy gravity . . . as we age.

And that’s good news! It shows us all that there are good “aging trajectories” . . . as opposed that usual trajectory we all fear: cognitive decline and dementia, along with overall physical decline. It shows us what we can do to put ourselves on that better aging trajectory/path.

So . . . what are the secrets of SuperAgers? What is their “secret sauce?”

  • SuperAgers outshine others in their age category in memory, physical condition, speed, and mental health – regardless of their Alzheimers biomarkers. Researchers speculate that SuperAgers may share a willingness to endure discomfort to learn a new skill (playing a new instrument or learning a new language, for example). SuperAgers move out of their comfort zone to gain new areas of expertise.
  • SuperAgers also embrace an active lifestyle. They know that keeping their bodies moving is the best way to stave off cognitive decline. They’re not all “extreme” fitness geeks, but they do keep themselves active – and work hard at doing so.
  • SuperAgers love mental gymnastics: doing puzzles, reading, learning new things. Keeping the brain cells active is key to maintaining cognitive vitality.
  • Researchers are discovering strong links between social connections and cognitive health (something about a brain region bursting with von Economo neurons). SuperAgers maintain strong social bonds.
  • Researchers have also found that SuperAgers span the spectrum of lifestyle choices. Some are fitness enthusiasts, some savor regular “treats.” The key, it appears, is moderation. It’s about finding balance — enjoying life without overindulging.

Based on this recent research, doctors are encouraging us – including those in mid-life (30s and 40s) – to modify and embrace lifestyle factors known to have an impact on brain health: increasing physical fitness, reducing cardiovascular risk, optimizing mental health and getting appropriate help for any mood disorders, developing healthy eating habits, and expanding social networks.

In short . . . be like Betty!


Watch this space for more Defying Gravity posts in the future.

For more information about SuperAgers:

From the Washington Post: What SuperAgers show us about longevity, cognitive health as we age (This is a gift link to the article, so anyone should be able to access the article . . . at least for a limited period of time.)

From AARP: Celebrating what’s right with aging: inside the minds of SuperAgers (You probably need to be an AARP member to access this article; I did not see a “gift” option for sharing.)

From AARP: 7 Super Secrets of SuperAgers (Again, you may not be able to access this article if you are not an AARP member.)