What does aging well mean, anyway? I cannot stop it can I, so what does it mean to age well?
I will bet you $5.00 that your aging well plans never included the word neurogenesis. More on neurogenesis in a moment.
I think aging well means the same thing that "maturing well" meant to us in our teens and our early and middle years in life, making wise decisions about those things we can control and letting go of anything else.
In other words, how can I keep my thoughts positive, and my feelings grateful, and my behaviors generative as I move through the aging well process?
Practice. Thought by thought, heart beat by heart beat. Sound impossible? Not so.
Studies comparing fraternal and identical twins finds that only 20-30% of longevity is genetic. Thus, 70-80% of longevity depends on what we think and the lifestyle choices we make. Certainly nutrition and physical activity affect how long and how well people live. One of the biggest factors is cognitive—Attitudes, Beliefs, and Coping Skills.
Another major factor in aging well is to take advantage of recent discoveries in regards to brain fitness.
We can work on keeping our brains fit, and working well, so we are very effective at doing those attitudes, beliefs, and coping skills.
To keep our brains fit, we need to take care of the pillars of brain fitness, physical activity/exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences.
When we do that, we have encouraged our brains to grow new brain cells, which is neurogenesis, and we have encouraged our brains to strengthen existing connections, form new circuits and connections, and if we practice using those new circuits, they will stay available for us to age well, which is the neuroplasticity component of brain fitness.
Examples of attitudes include optimism, gratitude, having a sense of purpose, and embracing lifelong learning and change. Examples of beliefs include believing in making new friends all your life, and expecting to enjoy living a very long, healthy, happy life. Coping skills include dealing well with change, loss, and death, making intimate relationships work or dealing well them ending, and continually renewing one’s purpose, or mission.
Maturing as youngsters and aging well as Boomers or Seniors both involve attending to my thinking, and keeping and repeating the attitude is gratitude thoughts for example, rather than the thoughts which leave me depressed or resentful or angry.
Call that a mindfulness component, and the Sharp Brains folks have recommended a tool for stress management from the Heartmath folks called emWave, which has a wonderful mindfulness component built in, because I learn to manage the time between my heart beats, and the hormonal bath that happens in my body heart beat by heart beat.
I can keep my body filled up with DHEA, the antiaging hormone rather than adrenalin or cortisol, by doing Heartmath? Yes.
So aging well can be learned and practiced, enhanced, and encouraged by using new tools like the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program and the HeartMath heart rate variability biofeedback program.
With a brain that is incorporating the new neurons I grow every day because I am minimizing stress hormones, booze, or other brain cell poisons by using HeartMath, I can age well.
So what are those pillars of brain fitness I mentioned above?
They are physical exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and, novel learning experience.
Sounds something like what your Doctor told you to do to take care of your heart, doesn't it?
If you are curious about the pillars of brain fitness, then please take a look at this book, Brainfit for Life which is a great e-book, or hard cover, if you want that, which culls the neuroscientific research for tidbits of information which you and I can use to age well.
In fact, the authors state in their preface that their goal is for us to move effectively through the aging well process using their information.
Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, start out by saying the key pillar of brain fitness is physical activity/exercise.
If you are not an training for marathon kind of person, there is good news, you can simply do more of what you already do. If you take a quick walk around the block every day, go around twice, or park further from the door of the shop you are going to.
The goal with brain fitness activity is to get your breathing deep enough that it is hard to talk and breath at the same time, for short periods of time several times a day. And when you can, start doing brain fitness exercise, which is a little more intense.
I enjoy working out, and seldom go for less than an hour. And I am routinely insulted and teased by the guys at the YMCA who are in their 80's about the intensity of my workout or my sports allegiances.
Brain fitness exercise does not have to involve expensive club memberships or personal coaches either.
It can be done at home, in your basement, using the HIIT or high intensity interval model of 10 minutes of exercise, each exercise done at your pace and level of intensity, but for 10 minutes.
Want to see how 88 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do it? When you click on that link, go about half way down the page you are sent to to see Bill and Pat.
Evans and Burghardt spend a great deal of time talking about nutrition for your brain, including the need for antioxidants and really emphazizing the need for omega 3 fatty acids.
It turns out that those neurons I am growing every day are sheathed in a membrane which is significantly composed of omega 3 fatty acid, and since I do not make my own omega 3, I need to get it from my diet.
The best source of omega 3 fatty acid is fish, which are full of mercury these days, so I take a supplement which I have made sure the mercury is processed out of to make sure I get enough.
If my neurons do not get enough omega 3, then the membrane gets brittle and cell to cell communication is garbled.
Omega 3 fatty acid also helps with my mood and energy, important aspects of aging well.
The next important pillar of brain fitness is the novel learning experience.
Most of the brain fitness writers I have seen say that the learning that is best for your brain is the kind of learning that is involved in learning a new language or a new musical instrument, or from one of the computerized brain fitness programs like the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, specially made for Senior Brains.
The Posit Science program was just put to the research test in April of 2009 when the IMPACT study was published.
Both the participants and researchers were surprised at how good the results turned out to be.
If you go the way of computerized brain fitness programs for your novel learning experience, make sure they offer graduated challenge, and the most effective opportunity for correct answers, which is about 80% of the trial.
The following three programs I have tried and like very much, and they are followed by a link to Heartmath.