- Carol Siegler, 85, has kept her memory sharp as she gets older, all without any special diets or routines.
- Scientists are studying the brains and behaviors of SuperAgers to better understand cognitive decline.
- Cognitive neuroscientist Emily Rogalski says breaking a routine can be healthy for the brain.
Scientists are studying the behavior of “SuperAgers” – defined by Northwestern as a rare group of elders who have the brains of people 30 years younger than them – to find out how humans can keep their memories sharp as they age.
Eating plants and whole foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining social connections are all research-proven ways to stay fit in old age.
But, perhaps surprisingly, the lifestyles of SuperAgers can vary widely, cognitive neuroscientist and SuperAger researcher Emily Rogalski told Insider. Based on anecdotal data, Rogalski said some SuperAgers are “super exercisers,” but others became more active later in life. The same goes for diet, Rogalski said some SuperAgers are health freaks while others admit to eating too many TV dinners growing up.
Take Carol Siegler, a Chicago-area-based SuperAger who applied to be on Danger! twice. Siegler, one of those rare exceptional seniors, told Insider that she doesn’t have a strict exercise routine or a diet consisting only of superfoods.
Siegler said she woke up at an “average time” and had an “average breakfast” with meals like oatmeal, omelettes and French toast. The 85-year-old said she would put on some coffee first thing in the morning and play Wordle or The New York Times Spelling Bee while it waits for it to brew – but only if she “feels like it”.
The SuperAger said she recently started incorporating more plant-based meals, but she wouldn’t say she’s on any diet. She tries not to snack or keep junk food in the house, but doesn’t limit herself beyond that.
As for exercise, Siegler said she started exercising regularly more than a year ago, following the death of her husband. Siegler attends yoga classes twice a week and uses her hospital gym to do other exercises on other days. She had played volleyball in college, but for much of her adult life she watched her husband and children practice on the sidelines.
“I don’t have a specific routine, I just do the average kind of stuff that people do,” she told Insider. “I go to bed, I don’t take a lot of medication, I don’t have a special diet.”
Keeping your mind sharp means not falling into a rut
Siegler’s lack of a strict exercise routine or diet might seem counterintuitive, but Rogalski said the constant change could be a reason she’s stayed so strong.
“Our brain really likes change,” Rogalski said. “Changing things up and having some variation helps us stay on our toes.”
The human brain evolved to stay tuned to unusual or challenging aspects of our environment, Rogalski said. The trend dates back to our earliest human days, when people would need to listen for a rustle in the woods that might signal a snake or a bear.
“Noticing these differences helps protect us,” added Rogalski.
A common pattern among SuperAgers is their tendency to challenge themselves to read new books, play puzzles and mind games, or learn new things, Rogalski and other researchers have found. study these people.
Siegler keeps his mind sharp through puzzles and reading. She bought three big crossword books and won an online contest for her age group. She also plays Wordle and Sudoku on her iPad and enjoys watching David Attenborough documentaries and keeping up to date with daily news and the stock market.
“I like to learn things,” she said. “I was always the little boy who read everything there was.”
But, again, Siegler doesn’t have too many rules about his mental regimen. She keeps a puzzle book by her bed and sometimes plays it at night, and other times not.
Instead of following a strict plan every day, Siegler encourages others who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle to make frequent changes to their routine. For example, instead of taking scheduled rides, Siegler squeezes in extra steps by parking away from the grocery store or library, or taking small loads of laundry to and from the machine.
“You go into a groove and if you stay too long it’s a rut, then it’s a trench, then it’s a tunnel,” Siegler said. “Just keep turning your head and looking around.
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