Medical Doctor Claudia Kawas has been researching whether exercise and diet can affect brain health. What she found was astounding! Kawas and her researchers believe that they have discovered a connection between a thriving heart and a lower chance of dementia. Additionally, many of her subjects have one or more things in common with the communities in the five Blue Zones. As noted in an article by WebMD titled: “Longevity Secrets of ‘Super Agers,'” Kawas’s subjects
- attended religious services weekly
- Drank a minimal amount of 1-2 cups of coffee per day
- Read a lot
- Involved in regular physical and non-physical leisure activities
- Consumed 1-2 alcoholic beverages per day
Now it is important to realize that there are multiple other factors that are notable in these many life-prolonging activities. For example, socializing: “The socializing that goes along with an afternoon martini may be more important to mental alertness than the vodka you’re drinking,” said Kawas.
In a small study done in October of 2017, thirty-one super-agers over the age of 80 were compared to nineteen of their peers who possessed “average” cognitive abilities. The scientists and researchers concluded that the super-agers tended to have “significantly more satisfying, high-quality relationships than their normal peers.” This once again suggests that the amount of social activity–as well as the quality of the socialization– may have an enormous effect on one’s mental aging!
Progress in mental improvement and aging is ever-increasing and continually amounting to new all-time heights, as evidenced by Claudia Kawas and her researchers. Another significant observation that she made in her many studies is that not only does physical exercise benefit the brain, but also the simple pursuit of knowledge. “The higher your education level, the more likely you are to maintain normal cognition in the face of Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” extolled Kawas.
It’s been discovered that the brains of super-agers have very thick outer layers. This is the section of the brain that is abundant in neurons and made up of gray matter.
In fact, a study published in the journal Nature Communications in 2014, found that in older people, the white matter often acts as a substitute to gray matter. When gray matter decreases and/or dies, the white matter may take its place. However, if this doesn’t happen, then aging will take its toll and memory, focus, learning, etc. will become harder.
Once again, we must ask the question- how do we “make” our white matter serve as a substitute for our gray matter? From what scientists know and have observed, it comes down to a few key factors. The main factors are diet, activity level, social activity, and continual engagement in mental challenges.
Additionally, numerous studies are now beginning to suggest that not only does exercise help in slowing down your aging, but specifically high-intensity exercise. Super-agers more often than not, actually posses a VO2 max level (“VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise.” verywellfit.com, “V02 Max Testing in Athletes.”) much higher than that of their peers- often higher than those younger than them.
- Quinn, Elizabeth. “The Value of VO2 Max Testing in Athletes.” Verywell Fit, Verywell Fit, 26 July 2019, www.verywellfit.com/what-is-vo2-max-3120097.