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5 Easy Secrets of Super Agers That Can Help You Live a Long and Happy Life

New research reveals the simple tricks to feeling great and staying healthy

They make up the fastest-growing age group in the United States — but how do people who live to 90 (and beyond) do it? That’s the question neurologist Claudia H. Kawas, MD, at UC-Irvine, set out to answer as co-principal investigator of “The 90+ Study,” one of the largest studies of this kind in the world to examine so-called super agers. “We looked at which daily health habits might be relevant to achieving this milestone.”

A few easy strategies may surprise you, and even give you reason to say “cheers,” as modest caffeine and alcohol consumption were tied to super-aging success. If that doesn’t make you smile, this surely will: “Gaining 5 to 10 pounds per decade after age 50 is linked with longevity,” says Dr. Kawas, explaining that a little extra padding helps keep us robust.

Now that you’ve officially been given the go-ahead to enjoy a latte and pastry, read on for more live-longer strategies from super agers you’ll want to add to your daily routine.

Super-ager secret #1: They dance to their favorite tunes

woman dancing

You know exercise is key to a long life, but there’s no need to hit the gym, assures Dr. Kawas. “Even 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day is linked with longevity — 30 minutes is better, and 45 minutes is best.”

One activity proven to help you stay sharp and physically fit arguably happens to be the most fun: “Music-based movement like dance is the vehicle I always recommend for brain training,” says Bonnie Wong, PhD, director of the Neuropsychology Program in the Prefrontal Disorders Unit at Harvard Medical School. When it comes to her advice, she doesn’t just walk the walk, she dances the dance byperforming with a troupe in assisted living facilities. “Dancing lights up so many parts of the brain, from auditory and motor regions to the memory center.” (Click through to learn how dancing reverses prediabetes, too.)

Indeed, cutting a rug just a few minutes a week is shown to slash dementia risk by 76%. To reap the most benefits, Wong advises mixing up your “dance card” with a variety of styles, as novelty stimulates the mind and body. “It’s just so joyful, and dancing to nostalgicmusic in particular evokes strong memories.” Keeping your brain young may just mean boogying to your favorite oldies.

Super-ager secret #2: They have a purpose

woman with a purpose

What gets you up in the morning? Which activities do you most look forward to? You might expect these questions on a psychological evaluation, but new research shows they’re just as important to physical well-being and brain health.

“Super-agers tend to have a thicker brain region called the anterior mid-cingulate, a major integration ‘hub,’ where many parts of the brain connect,” says Wong, explaining that this cognitive control center is closely associated with motivation, and may be linked with a strong sense of purpose. The secret to beefier gray matter, in other words, is as simple as it is profound: Pinpoint your passion and share it. “Another great thing we can do for our brain is impart our knowledge, especially to younger generations, because crossing that age barrier challenges us—it’s incredibly engaging.”

If this sounds a bit daunting, that may be a good thing because taking small risks, like getting out there and meeting new people, is also part of aging well. Brain imaging studies suggest super-agers respond to what’s called the threat-challenge paradigm, or whether you perceive a stressor as surmountable, differently than the rest of us. While super-agers do see challenges as obstacles, they tend to believe they’re within reach. This kind of “brain training” doesn’t require fancy software; rather, it comes from pursuing exciting new goals.

Super-ager secret #3: They catch their Zzzs

Ahh, sleep. Few things in life are so instinctive yet feel so luxurious. Just in case you needed another reason to book your ticket to dreamland, research shows super agers are also super slumber-ers. “Many of them have had healthy sleep habits over the long-term,” says Wong. “Most studies are a snapshot of one moment in someone’s life, but this is telling because it suggests a pattern.” In fact, a new study shows that having a regular sleep routine is more closely associated with longevity than sleep duration. British researchers found that consistently going to bed and waking up about the same time every day was linked to almost 60% lower risk of heart disease and 40% lower risk of cancer.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on what sleep does for brain health: “The prevailing theory is that during certain stages of sleep, the brain clears out harmful proteins that can lead to dementia,” Wong explains. “We’re about to tackle studies on people with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s to learn if improving their sleep can actually minimize the onset of the disease.” She adds that she’s excited about the potential of relatively easy behavioral interventions we can all do to protect our brain as we get older.

One such tweak you might consider is downloading a pink noise app. A study in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience shows that the “rosy frequency” promotes deeper sleep and improves memory. Whatever you do to foster better bedtime habits, just try to make your schedule as regular as possible because when it comes sleep, boring is best.

Super ager secret #4: They protect their hearing

woman getting fitted for hearing aid; super agers

Learning new skills, engaging with the world and strengthening social bonds all improve physical and cognitive health — and they all require keeping your senses, particularly hearing, sharp. A study in JAMA revealed that older adults with severe hearing loss were much more likely to develop dementia, but the risk significantly decreased for those who wore hearing aids. “Hearing loss can interfere with the stimulation your brain needs to create new connections,” explains Wong.

In addition to getting your ears checked and, if needed, getting fitted for hearing aids, you might also consider stretching your way to keener hearing. Research in the International Archives of Otorhinolaryngology revealed that practicing yoga regularly helps reduce tinnitus, ringing in the ears, in large part by slashing stress and increasing circulation. That’s important because tinnitus is highly correlated to hearing loss.

Plus, yoga has other longevity-boosting benefits, from improving balance to slashing depression. If downward dog isn’t your cup of tea, consider tai chi, which has also been shown to tame tinnitus and confer “super ager” perks, reveals Elizabeth Eckstrom, MD, Professor and Chief of Geriatrics in the Division of General Internal Medicine & Geriatrics at Oregon Health & Science University and co-author of The Gift of Aging.

“Practicing tai chi regularly [a few times a week for about 30 minutes] helps prevent dementia, and if someone already have cognitive diminishment, it helps reverse it,” she says. “Tai chi works by increasing ‘executive function’ in the brain, improving memory and helping people manage the complexities of daily life.”

Super ager secret #5: They eat mindfully

mediterranean diet

You’ve probably heard that adopting a Mediterranean-inspired diet—full of veggies, nuts, beans, whole grains and healthy fats — increases your odds of living to a strong, spry old age by dialing down inflammation and providing rich sources of disease-fighting antioxidants. But you may be surprised that one way to maximize the benefits of this meal plan is through what’s called the fasting mimicking diet (FMD).

“We know that modest calorie restriction promotes longevity,” says neurologist and functional medicine practitioner Ken Sharlin, MD, author of The Healthy Brain Toolbox. He explains that the FMD is designed to capture the health benefits of calorie restriction “without starving yourself.” Every three months, adherents to this plan cut calories over five consecutive days.

For example, on day one they might consume 1300 calories; on day two, 1100; on day three, 900, and so on, decreasing their calorie intake in increments of 200. This process kickstarts autophagy, the body’s process of “eating itself,” but in a good way, Dr. Sharlin says, as it cleans out aging cells.

What’s more, a recent study in Biomolecules suggests that the FMD may also thwart dementia by lowering inflammation and promoting brain health. Bottom line: even if this strategy isn’t for you, just sprinkling a few more veggies, fruits and nuts into your diet will help you supercharge your odds of becoming a super ager.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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