Super-ager refers to someone in their 70’s or 80’s, that possesses similar mental and physical capabilities of those that are far younger. Let’s explore and unlock the secret behind youthful living.
Have you ever wondered why there are people who age better than others? They seem to maintain their youth and stamina well into their 70s or 80s? Are they just blessed with good genes, or do they know the secrets to the fountain of youth?
We all want to age as gracefully as possible in order to maintain a better quality of life. While genes do play a role in how we age, there are some key habits that can keep us feeling young longer – both mentally and physically.
What is the secret? We can find out by studying the segments of the population that tend to age very well, those that actually seem to have more energy than some of their younger counterparts. These people are called “super-agers.”
The term super-ager refers more specifically to someone who is in their 70’s or 80’s, that possesses similar mental and physical capabilities of those that are far younger. These forever youthful older adults tend to be concentrated in certain areas of the world.
For example, the residents of Acciaroli, Italy are one group with a larger percentage of super-agers. In this southwest region of Italy, the residents have a disproportionately higher number of centenarians, which are those who live into their 100’s.
If you are striving to be a super-ager and live a higher quality life, there are a few trends to observe amongst the groups that seem to be getting it right.
The Process of Aging
Before we dive into the mind of a super-ager, let’s talk about what typically occurs during the normal aging process.
The average life expectancy has increased significantly over the last few decades.¹ However, length of life does not always correlate with a higher quality of life.
Your quality of life is often directly related to physical, mental, and spiritual health. Keeping both your physical and mental attributes strong can help delay the aging process, and enable you to continue living life to its fullest.
As we move into our 70’s and 80’s, we may start to see more signs of the aging process. Natural signs of aging can show up as physical or mental changes.
Physical Signs of Aging:
Weakness in bones, joints, or muscles – As we age, our bones, joints, and muscles start to weaken over time. This can be due to a poor diet, lack of exercise, or health conditions such as osteoporosis, which can cause a more rapid breakdown of our bones.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is incredibly common and affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over age 50.2 Onset of osteoporosis results in an increased risk for injury and fractures. Therefore, it’s ideal to catch it early on and remain physically strong.
Reduced flexibility – Our flexibility also naturally decreases as we age if we don’t actively focus on maintaining it.
A decrease in flexibility of the shoulder and hip joints by approximately 6 degrees per decade was observed across ages 55 to 86 years in both men and women. Another research analysis showed that it is common for both shoulder and hip joints to experience significant declines after 70 years of age.3
Such a decrease in flexibility is not inevitable, however. Staying physically active, and practicing flexibility exercises in particular can help delay this process.
Stiffening of the blood vessels or arteries – As we age, the structures in our cardiovascular systems (like vessels and arteries) can change. As a result, our hearts have to work harder to pump blood through our vessels and arteries. This can cause more strain on the heart.4
Keeping your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape is key for an improved quality of life and a reduced risk of disease. This starts with healthy habits such as regular physical exercise, and avoiding harmful habits such as smoking or eating a diet high in saturated fat.
Altered digestion or constipation – Age-related changes in the structure of our digestive system can lead to an increased risk for constipation.5
While some of this happens naturally, there are certain lifestyle factors that may worsen constipation such as being sedentary, not drinking enough water, or not eating enough fiber.
Bladder weakness – You may find that as you age, your bladder muscles start to weaken. It is common to go to the bathroom more frequently, but to also feel like you never fully emptied your bladder.
It is also more common to have incontinence. This is when you lack control of your bladder muscles, which results in more accidents.
Bladder leakage can really impact your quality of life, but it doesn’t have to. Practicing some key habits, such as remaining active, can strengthen your bladder muscles.6
Mental Signs of Aging:
Slower thinking – As we get older, it may become harder to process our thoughts.7 When this happens, it can feel harder to carry on a conversation or make good decisions.
Trouble focusing – Focusing on a particular task requires a certain amount of brain power. As we age, staying focused can become more difficult if we don’t challenge our brain.
Harder to multitask – Multitasking is a skill that requires quick thinking. It can become harder to switch from task to task as we age.
If you are experiencing this, it’s important to not try to do too many things at once. For example, talking on the phone while cooking, as this could be dangerous if you forget you left something on the stove.
Forgetfulness – As we age, our brain also starts to lose its ability to retain information. We may forget day-to-day things or possibly more important things, such as someone’s birthday. While some element of forgetfulness is normal, practicing habits that keep the brain sharp can reduce this.
Many of these physical and mental symptoms are ones that we may expect as part of the aging process, and we can therefore become accepting of them. However, some of these issues can be better managed through healthier habits.
Key Habits of a Super-Ager
It is possible to keep your brain and body sharper as you age, so you can more easily enjoy doing the things you love.
Study results suggest that continuously embracing new mental challenges may be the key to preserving both brain tissue and optimal brain function.8
Additionally, increasing your exercise capacity has been shown to reduce the amount of muscle loss as well as the risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.9
Here are the top key habits of successful super-agers:
Embrace mental challenges
Challenging your brain on a regular basis will help to keep it in tip-top shape. If you’ve been engaging in the same hobby for a long time, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard to do it anymore.
Once a task becomes too easy, your brain doesn’t generate new cells as rapidly as it does with something new and challenging. This can contribute to cognitive decline.
Be open to embracing new mental challenges regularly, such as starting crossword puzzles, or learning a new skill such as gardening, sewing, or creative writing.
Continue to learn new things
Become a bookworm! If you find yourself watching the television way more often than you read, this can make your brain too complacent.
Reading on a daily basis can increase your focus and keep your mind sharp – whether it’s reading news articles, non-fiction books or a fictional novel, this will assure your brain is always thinking and using more of its imagination.
For more information on how certain activities can help create new cells, check out this summary from a National Academies Workshop.
Get enough rest
Research shows that chronic lack of sleep increases the likelihood of cognitive decline and dementia.¹⁰ There is an increased risk of insomnia as we age, which can be attributed to several factors – an increase in urinary frequency, less physical activity, stress, or lack of social engagement.
To improve your sleep: increase your physical activity, limit your fluid intake at night, and stay connected with those you love. Physical activity, especially when done outside, can help tire you out and make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Too many fluids at night, especially caffeine, can contribute to an increased urinary frequency. If you’re getting up often to go to the bathroom, chances are it’s getting in the way of a good night’s sleep.
Staying connected with those you love creates endorphins and makes you feel more content. When you are in a good mental space, this makes it easier for you to wind down and relax.
Nurture close relationships
Research has shown that a lack of social connection increases the risk of depression.¹¹ Maintaining social connections also keeps our brain waves intact and strong, as it takes some effort to foster these connections.
Staying connected with others is a basic human necessity, but it can become easy to forget in the retirement years. It can feel harder to get out there and stay connected, but there are so many ways to do so.
Join your local YMCA or senior center to learn about social programs in your area. Additionally, being in closer touch with those you love is also equally important.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – just 10 minutes on the phone with someone close to you will bring great benefits. Just checking in to show that you’re thinking about them will help improve your mood and your quality of life.
Don’t let your age deter you or stop you from trying something you’ve always wanted to do. While trying a new skill or hobby can be frustrating, persevering through it will pay dividends.
Keeping a positive attitude and remembering all that you’re grateful for is paramount for healthy aging.
Eat a Mediterranean-type diet
Research shows eating more of a Mediterranean-style diet supports health and longevity.12
The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish. It also minimizes red meats and processed meats, and includes cheese and wine in moderation.
However, if you are not already consuming wine regularly, it is not recommended to start for health benefits.
Increase your exercise capacity
It is a fact that physical activity throughout the entire lifespan improves our health and longevity.13
Physical activity can encompass many forms of exercise – including cardio, resistance, stretching, and flexibility movements.
While all forms of exercise are beneficial to our health, challenging yourself in any way possible is important.
For example, increasing your exercise intensity or duration helps to improve your cardiovascular health and preserve lean muscle mass. We naturally lose muscle as we age, and so regular strength training exercise in particular can help reduce this decline.¹⁴
Exercising with a friend can also help with accountability and to make it more enjoyable. The more regularly you do it, the bigger benefits you will see.
Always consult with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise regimen.
The Secrets of the Acciaroli Italy Residents
In 2016, ScienceDaily reported, “The average life expectancy in the United States is approximately 78 years old. Americans live longer, with better diets and improved health care, than ever before, but only 0.02 percent will hit the century mark.”.¹⁵
But, there is one particular village in Italy that has a higher than average number of super-agers. What is their secret?
Acciaroli is a small village in southwest Italy, where 1 out of 3 residents are over 100 years old. Many researchers have interviewed the Acciaroli residents to find out why they are so lucky.
What is interesting is that some of these residents are actually overweight and are smokers. However, it’s possible some of their other healthy habits are helping to counteract the possible risks of these factors.
Many of their daily habits are very similar to those of super-agers, such as:
- Living a more simple, relaxed lifestyle
- Eating more farm-fresh whole foods
- Gardening for fresh food and exercise
- Making movement part of their every day
- Keeping a close-knit community
How can you become a Super-ager?
Although good genes may play a partial role in those who are super-agers, there are always ways to improve your chances of leading a longer and better quality life.
The secret to becoming a super-ager is implementing small, but meaningful health habits into your day-to-day life. This includes nutritious food, daily exercise, and making time for community.
It may also mean slowing down to stop and smell the roses from time to time. Living life at a slower pace, not only means living longer, but also enjoying the journey much more.
Want more information about healthy aging?
- Crimmins EM. Lifespan and Healthspan: Past, Present, and Promise. Gerontologist. 2015;55(6):901-911. doi:10.1093/geront/gnv130
- Sözen T, Özışık L, Başaran NÇ. An overview and management of osteoporosis. Eur J Rheumatol. 2017;4(1):46-56. doi:10.5152/eurjrheum.2016.048
- Stathokostas L, McDonald MW, Little RM, Paterson DH. Flexibility of older adults aged 55-86 years and the influence of physical activity. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:743843. doi:10.1155/2013/743843
- Xu X, Wang B, Ren C, et al. Age-related Impairment of Vascular Structure and Functions. Aging Dis. 2017;8(5):590-610. Published 2017 Oct 1. doi:10.14336/AD.2017.0430
- Rémond, Didier et al. “Understanding the gastrointestinal tract of the elderly to develop dietary solutions that prevent malnutrition.” Oncotarget vol. 6,16 (2015): 13858-98. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.4030
- Siroky, M B. “The aging bladder.” Reviews in urology vol. 6 Suppl 1,Suppl 1 (2004): S3-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472849/
- NIH Staff. How the Aging Brain Affects Thinking. NIH website. October 19, 2020. Accessed May 24, 2021. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-aging-brain-affects-thinking
- NIH Staff. Cognitive super-agers defy age-related decline in brainpower. NIH website. July 31, 2020. Accessed May 24, 2021. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/cognitive-super-agers-defy-typical-age-related-decline-brainpower
- Mayer F, Scharhag-Rosenberger F, Carlsohn A, Cassel M, Müller S, Scharhag J. The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2011;108(21):359-364. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2011.0359
- Spira AP, Chen-Edinboro LP, Wu MN, Yaffe K. Impact of sleep on the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2014;27(6):478-483. doi:10.1097/YCO.0000000000000106
- Van Orden KA, Bower E, Lutz J, et al. Strategies to Promote Social Connections Among Older Adults During ‘Social Distancing’ Restrictions [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 18]. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2020;10.1016/j.jagp.2020.05.004. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2020.05.004
- Harvard School of Public Health, Diet Review: Mediterranean Diet. December 2018. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/mediterranean-diet/
- Reimers CD, Knapp G, Reimers AK. Does physical activity increase life expectancy? A review of the literature. J Aging Res. 2012;2012:243958. doi:10.1155/2012/243958
- Siparsky PN, Kirkendall DT, Garrett WE Jr. Muscle changes in aging: understanding sarcopenia. Sports Health. 2014;6(1):36-40. doi:10.1177/1941738113502296
- University of Southern California, San Diego Health Sciences. Remote Italian village could harbor secrets of healthy aging. Sciencedaily.com. March 29, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160329185329.htm