Aging expert offers tips for longevity and improved cognitive function
As one ages, physical and mental health tends to decline. Although aging is inevitable some individuals age at a slower rate and lead active lives well into their senior years—sometimes beyond age 100. To gain insight into the aging process, I spoke with David Gobble, PhD, CHES. He advised me regarding factors that can not only slow the aging process but also improve mental and physical function. He noted that by following his successful aging plan a senior can not only gain muscular strength but also increase cognitive function. In the past, it was believed that one loses neurons (brain cells) as they age; however, in 2000, researchers determined that with physical and mental exercise, an individual can actually grow new neurons. Exercise is part of the formula for improved brain health because it improves blood flow to the brain, which supplies it with more oxygen.
Dr. Gobble noted that successful aging has four components: physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. All Masterpiece Living communities embrace these concepts.
As one ages, he or she loses muscle mass; however, with exercise, even a 100-year-old can increase strength. Dr. Gobble notes that it is never too late to begin an exercise program. Also, as one ages, nutrient absorption decreases. Dr. Gobble recommends that one eat lots of fruits and vegetables, minimize consumption of red meat, refined sugar, and fats (especially saturated fats and trans fats). One example of a healthy diet is the Mediterranean Diet, which stresses fish, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Obviously, refraining from smoking and limiting alcoholic beverages are important components of a healthy lifestyle.
Aerobic exercise provides the following health benefits:
- Vigorous walking reduces biological aging up to 12 years for 64-year-old seniors.
- Prevents atrial fibrillation.
- Increases brain density in early Alzheimer’s
- Maintains volume of Hippocampus in the brain. The Hippocampus is involved in memory function.
- Reduces falls.
- Increases oxygen uptake up to 25%.
Dr. Gobble is a founder of Masterpiece Living, a network of 60 senior communities, located throughout the United States. These communities stress social interaction. Residents are encouraged to develop and oversee activities that promote wellness. In many US neighborhoods, social interaction is minimal. Social interaction is a vital component of successful aging Dr. Gobble notes that all Masterpiece Living communities promote social interaction. In fact, residents are encouraged to develop and manage their own activities; thus, promoting a rich, interactive environment.
Social connections and successful aging:
- Building five or more deep friendships increases well-being and longevity
- Activity/involvement improves optimism and positive self-perception.
- Connections with others improve coping skills and increase the probability of high functional aging.
- General sense of well-being and self-appraised health increases with number/quality of connections.
Impact of social connections:
- Good social connections add 3,285 days (9 years) to your life expectancy.
- Being married adds 1,825 days (5 years) to your life expectancy.
- Loners are four times more likely to come down with a cold.
- Risk of death is between two and three times higher in socially isolated.
- Harvard medical student 30 year study: “loners” had 16 times more cancer than all other groups.
- Low social support increases risk of coronary heart disease death between 1 ½ and 2 times in both healthy and diagnosed patients with established coronary heart disease
Numerous studies have noted that mental stimulation improves cognitive function. Any form of mental exercise, such as playing bridge or working a crossword puzzle is beneficial. Dr. Gobble notes that the brain is plastic; thus, it can continually be molded and improved with stimulation. He recommends that seniors engage in new forms of mental exercise are needed to continue challenging the brain. Here are some ideas:
- If you play bridge, seek out new individuals to play with rather than your usual foursome.
- Learning a foreign language is an excellent way to improve one’s brain power.
- Learn to read music or play a musical instrument.
- Practice writing with your non-dominant hand.
- Learn to paint or draw.
- Play games that can improve cognition. Many are available as computer programs.
Dr. Gobble that spiritual connectivity includes overall life satisfaction, frequency of participation in spiritual activities, worries, and feeling “blue.” Spirituality adds meaning and purpose to life. Spirituality encompasses religious beliefs, meditation, communing with nature, and many other practices.
Summary: Long-term outcomes from a healthy lifestyle
- Life span can increase significantly.
- Onset of disability can be delayed from 8-14 years
- The amount of near death morbidity is reduced by 1/3rd to ½.
- Healthcare costs are significantly reduced.
David Gobble, PhD, CHES