The Secret of “Super-Agers”

The aging brain thrives on a healthy diet and vigorous exercise, but the real key to long-term mental acuity may simply depend on a roll of the genetic dice.

My late grandfather, William Winters, spent most of his long life struggling to carve out a living as a tenant farmer in Minnesota and the Dakotas. He died 43 years ago, sharp as a tack, at the age of 93. Though I can’t recall anyone ever expressing much interest in what went on in Grandpa’s brain, recent research tells me that some young and agile minds at Harvard Medical School might have enjoyed taking a peek. They may have even called him a “super-ager.”

I’m reminded of Grandpa after stumbling last week on an article in Scientific America describing the results of a Harvard study suggesting that geezers spend less time worrying about their thinning hair and more time firming up their thinning cerebral cortices. This outermost layer of the brain, which includes a couple of vital networks related to memory and attention, tends to trim down as we age. A thicker cortex, they found, translates to a better memory and more efficient cognitive function overall.

Super-agers are somehow able to maintain this thickness better than most elderly folks, though the study’s authors could only speculate on the forces at play. Other recent studies, however, have linked healthy aging brains to diet, exercise, and genetics.

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supermercado

A cualquiera le ha sucedido. Se entra en el supermercado con un listado de alimentos perfectamente escogidos que nos ayudará a llevar esa dieta saludable que tantos beneficios nos va a aportar y, como por arte de magia, de repente se está enfrente del estante de la bollería industrial o las patatas fritas, que parecen meterse solos en el carrito de la compra.

Un estudio publicado en Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience parece ofrecer una oportunidad para que esto no suceda, una pastilla mágica que hace elegir la opción más sana frente a la más dañina para la salud.