I’d like to recommend the article How to Become a ‘Super-ager’ which was published Dec 31, in the NY Times. I’ve read several articles on this topic. This was one of the better ones because it’s succinct and pretty clear.
The main argument of the article is captured in this paragraph:
“How do you become a superager? Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort. My father-in-law, for example, swims every day and plays tournament bridge.”
It’s terrific that the writer’s father-in-law swims every day and plays tournament bridge. My good friend Bruce Gianniny swims Masters in Rochester NY and has broken the two national age group records I once held. He also has standing bridge and chess games with groups of friends.
I admire Bruce for his ‘brain-teasing’ pursuits and would emulate him if I found a group locally who would bring along a beginner by the hand. I’ve been encouraging my 92 y.o. mom, who hasn’t played bridge in over 40 years, to take it up again to maintain her already impressive mental acuity. The social aspects would be just as valuable as the cognitive demands as elements of a Super-aging program.
However my favorite way of pursuing the Super-aging effect is to work hard at swimming. But, the TI way of working hard at swimming is different than for most people.
It’s not about coming to the wall huffing and puffing, with muscles aching, after a set of repeats or dragging into the shower after pushing to your physical limits for an hour or so.
And it’s not that I entirely avoid high level physical exertion; I do occasionally explore the limits of my physical capability, as I described in last month’s post How to Be Kaizen While Swimming Slower Than Ever.
It’s that the one constant of my practice is that there’s always at least one set in which I combine a very demanding level of skill and cognitive difficulty. You see, synthesizing physical and mental demands in a single activity is far more valuable than doing two activities, one in which you work physically and a separate one in which you sit quietly and work your brain.
- Researchers say the brain works best during, or immediately following, exercise because it gets a rich supply of oxygen and glycogen, the fuel on which both brain and muscles work.
- Brain scientists have a saying “Neurons that fire together wire” When you are focused intently on entering your hand through the Mail Slot, for instance, the motor neurons that do the physical action and the cognitive neurons that carry the intention and visualization that guide you form a more powerful circuit.
- Finally, when you are working physically your muscles secrete Neural Growth Factor (NGF), a group of proteins that are the raw material for neurogenesis—the growth of new neurons. These new neurons form new circuits to support the activity you’re doing at the moment—let’s say, honing the timing of your 2-Beat Kick.
Collectively all of this activity is thought to be your best insurance for staying mentally sharp as you age. And you’re maintaining peak physical health at the same time!
If you’re like me, the feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and being fully engaged with life you experience while working on fine points in your stroke–or connecting with a TI swim buddy in a sync-swim–are examples of that rare synthesis of mind and body.
Two other blogs I published in the past month give more examples of swim practices that can help you be a Super-ager.
As can one of our freestyle Self-Coaching Courses—the 1.0 Effortless Endurance and 2.0 Freestyle Mastery courses.