The study, published in September, was conducted by scientists at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine as part of ongoing research on SuperAgers—or "80-plus-year-olds who show exceptional memory at least as good as individuals 20 to 30 years their junior," according to a press release of the study. In this new batch of findings, the brains of these SuperAgers were found to contain large neuron cells in certain areas of the brain that influence memory, including the memory hub known as the entorhinal cortex.
The brains of these SuperAgers were found to contain large neuron cells in certain areas of the brain that influence memory, including the memory hub known as the entorhinal cortex.
These cells found in SuperAgers were specifically larger than the same cells of peers decades younger and those diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease. A conclusion of this finding is that "larger neurons are a biological signature of the SuperAging trajectory,” lead author Tamar Gefen, PhD, said in the press release.
- James Giordano, PhD, PhD, MPhil, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center and chief of the neuroethics studies program
The memory-boosting function of these larger cells is reflective of longevity benefits, because the cells may be stronger and better at sending signals to one another, says James Giordano, PhD, a professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. "These nerve cells may have certain mechanisms that increase their functions and their resistance or resilience to biological stress and its negative effects," he says. This resilience, in turn, may even help SuperAgers fight neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a neurological disease that's a leading cause of death.
While the findings of this study are an exciting development in understanding neurological diseases and also what it means to be a SuperAger on a biological level, there are still plenty of questions left to answer. Namely, whether it's possible to reap SuperAger effects by adopting certain lifestyle choices like eating a nutrient-rich diet, doing regular exercise, and keeping stress levels in check. “A key question raised by the study is whether genetics are most influential to the development of these mega-neurons, or if environmental and lifestyle variables prompt their development and functionality,” says Dr. Giordano.
That said, previous research does offer some guidance on caring for an aging brain—even if those efforts haven’t been definitively linked to SuperAger status.“In general, it is known that lifestyle factors such as physical and mental exercise—for example, acquiring new skills through physical activities, sports, games, and learning opportunities; certain practices, such as guided relaxation and meditation; and sound nutrition—all positively affect brain health,” says Dr. Giordano.
He adds that research has shown that a diet composed of fatty fish, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, good fats, and nuts, will also help you look after the organ upstairs. Meanwhile, habits like smoking, excessive drinking, and lack of physical exercise can all dull your cognition as you age.
So, while no one’s guaranteed an immortal brain just yet, there are certain tweaks you can make with your diet, movement habits, and leisure time that keep your brain feeling years or even multiple decades younger than the number of candles on your birthday cake. Whether you're a scientifically recognized SuperAger or not.
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