SuperAger doesn’t follow a daily routine, neurologist approvesThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
- Carol Sigler, 85, keeps her memory sharp as she ages — all without a special diet or routine.
- Scientists are studying the brains and behavior of SuperAgers to better understand cognitive decline.
- Cognitive neuroscientist Emily Rogalski says breaking a routine can be healthy for the brain.
Scientists study the behavior of “SuperAgers” – defined by Northwest like a rare group of elders who have the brains of people 30 years their junior – to understand how people can keep their memories sharp as they age.
But, perhaps surprisingly, SuperAgers’ lifestyles can vary widely, cognitive neuroscientist and SuperAgers researcher Emily Rogalski told Insider. Based on anecdotal data, Rogalski said some SuperAgers are “super exercisers,” but others become more active later in life. The same goes for diet, Rogalski said some SuperAgers are health nuts, while others admit they ate too many TV dinners growing up.
Take Carol Sigler, a Chicago-area SuperAger who applied to participate Danger! twice. Sigler, one of those rare, exceptional seniors, told Insider that she doesn’t have a strict workout routine or superfood-only diet.
Sigler said she wakes up at an “average time” and has an “average breakfast” with foods like oatmeal, omelets and French toast. The 85-year-old said she would put on her coffee first thing in the morning and play Wordle or the New York Times Spelling Bee while she waited for it to brew — but only if “she wanted to.”
The SuperAger said she recently started incorporating more plant-based meals, but wouldn’t say she follows any particular diet. She tries not to snack or keep junk food in the house, but she doesn’t limit herself beyond that.
As for exercise, Sigler said she started working out regularly more than a year ago, prompted by the death of her husband. Sigler takes yoga classes twice a week and uses her hospital’s gym to do other exercises on other days. She played volleyball in college, but spent most of her adult life watching her husband and children practice from the sidelines.
“I don’t have a specific routine, I just kind of do the average things that people do,” she told Insider. “I go to bed, I don’t take a lot of medicine, I don’t have a special diet.
Keeping your mind sharp means not falling into a rut
Siegler’s lack of a strict workout or diet plan might seem counterintuitive, but Rogalski said the constant change may be why she stays so tough.
“Our brain actually likes change,” Rogalski said. “Changing things up and having some variation helps keep us on our toes.”
The human brain has evolved to stay tuned to unusual or challenging aspects in our environment, Rogalski said. The trend goes back to our early human days when people had to listen for rustling in the woods that might signal a snake or bear.
“Noticing these differences helps us protect ourselves,” Rogalski added.
A common pattern among SuperAgers is their tendency to challenge themselves by reading new books, playing puzzles and mind games, or learning new things, Rogalski and other researchers studying these people have discovered.
Sigler keeps his mind sharp through puzzles and reading. She bought three large crossword books and won an online competition for her age group. She also plays Wordle and Sudoku on her iPad and enjoys watching David Attenborough documentaries and keeps up with daily news and the stock market.
“I like learning things,” she said. “I was always the little kid who read everything there was.”
But then again, Siegler doesn’t have too many rules about his mental diet. She keeps a book of puzzles by her bed and sometimes plays it at night, sometimes not.
Instead of following a strict plan every day, Siegler encourages other people who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle to change up their routine often. For example, instead of taking planned walks, Siegler sneaks in extra steps by parking far away from the grocery store or the library or taking small loads of laundry to and from the machine.
“You get into a groove, and if you stay too long, it’s a rut, then it’s a ditch, then it’s a tunnel,” Sigler said. “Just keep turning your head and looking around.”
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