7 ways super-agers keep big brains

Imagine being 80 or even 90 years old and still having the memory and mental sharpness you did when you were 25.

It’s everyone’s dream. And for some, this dream is a reality…

There are “super agers” who have astonishingly resilient minds well beyond the ‘norm.’ In fact, their minds are so resilient that they give people decades younger than them a run for the money in intelligence and memory.

A few years back, researchers noticed that super agers who were in their 80s had memories that were just as sharp as people 30 years younger than them. So they decided to dig a little deeper.

They did an MRI scan of their brains and found that their cerebral cortex (the part of the brain responsible for intelligence and memory) appeared middle-aged.

Now, for most people, brain shrinkage is an inevitable part of aging. So researchers were astounded that these super-agers’ had someone how beat that rap. But it gets better…

In the most recent study, super-agers took this mental aging magic one step further. This time researchers compared the brains of super agers between the ages of 60 and 80 with the brains of people young enough to be their grandchildren. And guess what?

These super agers performed as well on memory tests as people in their late-teens, 20s and 30s! And when researchers scanned their brains, they saw exactly why…

Their cerebral cortexes were just as thick as those forty to fifty years younger than them. Their brains never shrunk!

The great new is… yours doesn’t have to either. There are a lot of simple ways to keep your cortex thick and your memory sharp. Here are the top seven scientifically-proven ways to keep your brain from shrinking:

  1. Take a walk. One study found that people who walked six to nine miles per week had significantly less brain shrinkage than people who were sedentary. Walking is great because it’s easy and practically everybody can do it. But any type of exercise will prevent brain shrinkage. Basically, the more you move, the less gray matter you lose.
  2. Eat a Mediterranean diet. A 2015 study published in the journal Neurology found that older adults who had eaten a Mediterranean diet for a year or more had heavier brains and more gray and white matter than those who didn’t follow this type of diet. That’s why the Mediterranean diet is one of the go-to diets for Alzheimer’s prevention.
  3. Be a teetotaler. A 2007 study found that the more you drink, the more brain volume you lose. For example, non-drinkers had .25 percent more brain volume than former drinkers. Former drinkers had .25 percent more brain volume than low drinkers. Low drinkers had .25 percent more brain volume than moderate drinkers. And moderate drinkers had .25 percent more brain volume than heavy drinkers. So put down that cocktail! And if you smoke and drink — you brain faces a double whammy.
  4. Relax and stay positive. Stress and depression are ominous forbearers of a shrinking brain. In 2012, Yale scientists figured out why. They both trigger a genetic switch in your brain that stops synaptic connections between your brain cells and ultimately leads to a loss of brain mass.
  5. Avoid brain-shrinking drugs. Some of the top culprits when it comes to shrinking your brain are antibiotics and anticholinergic drugs like cold medicines and allergy medications.
  6. Make meaningful social connections. A 2015 study conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that seniors who volunteered to teach young children how to read in understaffed schools libraries were rewarded in more than just warm, fuzzy feelings—they were rewarded with more brain matter.
  7. Sit in the sun. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to more brain shrinkage. If you don’t get enough D, your brain is doomed. So make sure you sit outside in the sun for at least 20 to 30 minutes per day without sunscreen to get your daily dose of D.
  1. W. Sun, M. R. Stepanovic, J. Andreano, L. F. Barrett, A. Touroutoglou, B. C. Dickerson. “Youthful Brains in Older Adults: Preserved Neuroanatomy in the Default Mode and Salience Networks Contributes to Youthful Memory in Superaging.” Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (37).
  2. M. Harrison, et al. “Superior Memory and Higher Cortical Volumes in Unusually Successful Cognitive Aging.” Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2012.
  3. “How to Keep Your Brain From Shrinking.” Forbes. http://www.forbes.com. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  4. “Study: This diet may prevent your brain from shrinking.” The San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  5. “Drinking Heavy Amounts Of Alcohol Shrinks Your Brain.” ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  6. J. Kang, et al. “Decreased expression of synapse-related genes and loss of synapses in major depressive disorder.” Nature Medicine, 2012.
  7. C. Carlson, et al. “Impact of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial on cortical and hippocampal volumes.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 2015.
  8. Annweiler, et al. “Vitamin D and brain volumetric changes: Systematic review and meta-analysis.” Maturitas, 2014 May;78(1):30-9.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.