By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
Keeping physically, socially, and mentally active helps us to age better. Many studies show that exercising our bodies and brains leads to reaping great benefits later in life. Doing so will be vital if we can live up to 150.
Research in recent decades has shown that physical exercise, a full social calendar, and keeping our brains cobweb-free can help us stay healthy in later stages of life. These practices may be more important than ever in the years to come, since a new study published in the academic journal Nature has suggested that humans could have a maximum lifespan of 150 years.
The study argues that our bodies’ natural resilience decreases as we age, finally giving out completely at 150 years. Depending on our personal optimism or pessimism, we could view that 150-year mark as a goal to reach or as an unbreakable ceiling.
In his video series The Aging Brain, Dr. Thad Polk, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan, cited several examples of how to age well.
The Social Network
The Great Courses Daily has previously reported on how exercising seniors reap health benefits including better memory skills. We’ve also detailed the science of physical activity with regard to the aging brain. Can social activity also help our brains age well?
“Laura Fratiglioni and her colleagues tried to address this question in a large, longitudinal study at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm,” Dr. Polk said. “They followed more than 1,200 older adults, assessing their social networks, and testing their cognitive abilities over a three-year period. They found that people with strong, positive social networks were 60% less likely to develop dementia compared with people with a poor or limited social network.”
Additionally, he said, social support may also improve recovery after a brain injury. Several researchers at Columbia University investigated post-stroke recovery and how social activity would help or hinder it. They found that six months after a stroke, patients with strong social ties and stronger emotional support consistently fared better than those without.
Further Social Networking
“Living alone versus with other people has also been shown to have a significant effect on cognition in older people,” Dr. Polk said. “For example, one study followed over 1,000 European men over the age of 70 for 10 years. Men who had lost a partner, who were unmarried, or who lived alone exhibited more than twice as much cognitive decline over the 10-year period compared with men who lived with someone.”
It’s no coincidence that the seniors with the best cognition had overall positive social structures rather than toxic or negative ones. In other words, yelling at neighbors over fences or getting into arguments with strangers on social media don’t make for better aging.
“In fact, people who report less satisfaction with their social network tend to exhibit greater cognitive decline than people who are more satisfied,” Dr. Polk said. “So lots of evidence suggests that positive social interactions can improve cognition, and can slow down age-related cognitive decline, and maybe even reduce your risk of developing dementia.”
If life expectancy ever reaches the 150-year potential proposed by scientists, it may be best to start getting our social practice in now.