Science Shows ‘SuperAgers’ Have These 3 Lifestyle Factors in Common

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If life were a video game and you could choose your player, you’d probably want to select a SuperAger, or someone set to live 80-plus years with the mental acuteness of someone decades younger. In the real world, we don’t get to choose an avatar, but new research suggests that we may be able to improve our chances of super-aging with a few key behaviors. A July study published in The Lancet indicates that advanced agers share three significant things in common regarding movement, sleep, and mental health.

Past research has shown that SuperAgers have more gray matter, essential tissue that aids in daily functions, in their brains. For this study, researchers chose 55 cognitively healthy participants aged 79 years or older, plus 64 SuperAgers (including 38 women and 26 men over 81 years of age) based on their scores on the Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test, a memory test that evaluates learning abilities.

Experts In This Article
  • Diogo Barardo, PhD, distinguished longevity researcher, machine learning expert, and head of R&D at Novos
  • Trinna Cuellar, PhD, head of research and development and vice president of biology at Tally Health

“The study compared SuperAgers with typical folks, both in their 80s, in order to understand which differences in lifestyle, clinical factors, and brain structure exist between them,” says Diogo Barardo, PhD, from Novos, a longevity solutions company. “This can be a starting point to explore if any, or a combination of these differences, is ‘causal’ in the future. That is, if these factors are the source of the SuperAgers’ superpower of having almost no memory decline.”

Scientists employed an artificial intelligence (AI) model to distinguish between SuperAgers and typical older adults. Ultimately, researchers discovered a correlation, or a scientific connection, between SuperAgers and three of the 89 demographic, lifestyle, and clinical predictors scraped by the AI.

First, SuperAgers displayed faster movement speed. “There was no difference in the amount of exercise, but there could be a difference in the amount/intensity of physical activities not identified by subjects as exercise per se, such as climbing stairs and gardening, that is contributing to the difference in movement speed,” says Trinna Cuellar, PhD, head of research and development and vice president of biology at Tally Health. SuperAgers were also seen to have better mental health, and didn’t complain as often about sleep (even though there was no markable difference in actual sleep duration between SuperAgers and typical folks).

However, what this study didn’t find is just as interesting, according to Dr. Barardo. “There was no gender or genetic difference between the groups,” he says. The AI model also defied earlier research that has showed that those with life partners are likely to live longer. “At least in this cohort, SuperAgers were more likely to be separated and divorced than typical old adults,” says Dr. Barardo.

Of course, like all scientific research, this study had its limitations. “This study is focused on associations, factors more or less common among people with better or worse memory, but we can’t say if or how every factor associated with memory also biologically improves memory,” says Dr. Cuellar. “It could be a coincidence or causality in the opposite direction, with memory actually influencing those factors. For example, does maintaining high movement speed somehow support gray matter maintenance, or does better brain health help you move more quickly?” The authors also acknowledged that their AI model for this study wasn’t perfect.

Even though no study is the be-all, end-all—especially on a topic as complicated as aging—that doesn’t mean you can’t take something away here. Dr. Cuellar says that committing to daily exercise is one of the ways you can look after your own longevity. “Commit to not just regular exercise but to making ‘movement’ a part of your all-around routine,” she says. Try squeezing in short bursts of activity into your daily schedule by taking the stairs whenever possible, doing a quick HIIT workout after a Zoom call, or going on a short stroll around the block during lunch.

You can also manage your stress and boost your mental health by keeping a gratitude journal, meditating, and, of course, nurturing your relationships. “In this study, SuperAgers were more likely to be divorced, but marital status isn’t a perfect predictor of relationship satisfaction. So don’t be too concerned that SuperAgers were more likely to be separated or divorced. Your social relationships should be whatever makes you happiest because good mental health is one of the SuperAger group’s strongest traits,” says Dr. Cuellar.

Sleep is the final factor. But let’s be honest, not complaining when you’ve had a rough night’s sleep is pretty much impossible. And as not-so-SuperSleepers (trademark) ourselves, we’re not here to tell you to suck it up. Instead, consider following this doctor’s five-step guide to clocking some good shut-eye. And, hey, if tonight’s not a good one, we say F the AI and complain all you want to.

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