How to Grow Old Successfully
WebMD News Archive
"Physically active people are more likely to maintain sharp mental
ability, physical health, and a positive outlook," says Robert Kahn, PhD,
an 81-year-old professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan
and co-author of Successful Aging. "Weight training helps even the
frail elderly increase muscle strength and balance. And lifting just a few
pounds, on a regular basis, helps reduce the incidence of falls."
Lawrence Katz, PhD, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and
co-author of Keep Your Brain Alive, advocates more than just physical
activity. He says you have to exercise your brain.
"The mental decline we associate with aging isn't due to the death of
nerve cells, but rather the connections between them," Katz says. "And
using the senses in new ways helps maintain these connections. We call it
neurobic exercise, and it's based on using different senses for routine
activities, like finding keys in a drawer without looking. This puts brain
circuits into high gear."
Katz tells WebMD that social interaction enhances neurobic exercise.
"Research shows that being out in the world is like a gym for the
brain," Katz says. "And social interaction is a big part of a
"Just as you need to keep your muscles toned, you need to keep your
brain toned," says Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, director of the Center for
Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University in Washington.
"If you stimulate your mind with reading, taking classes, and other
activities, your brain continues to sprout new cells," says Cohen, author
of The Creative Age.
In a study published this spring, researchers at Cornell University
demonstrated that cells derived from an area of the human brain essential for
learning and memory are capable of regeneration, at least in a laboratory dish.
That came after a Princeton University study in monkeys provided the first
evidence in mammals that the adult brain continues to make new versions of the
nerve cells involved in higher functioning.
New research also points to the importance of a balanced diet.
In a recent study of older adults at Tufts University, men with normal blood
levels of the vitamins folate and B-12 scored significantly higher on memory
tests than men with low levels. Previous studies have linked vitamins C and E
and beta-carotene with mental dexterity.