How to Grow Old Successfully
"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.
"Fortunately, these vitamins and antioxidants are contained in a lot of
foods," says Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Georgia
State University and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.
"Folate is found in dried peas and beans, vitamin B-12 is found in meats
and dairy products, and vitamin C is found in citrus fruits. Orange fruits and
vegetables are good sources of beta-carotene, and vegetable oils are rich in
But, Rosenbloom warns,"prolonged exposure to air, heat, and water can
deplete the nutritional value of vegetables. So just after chopping, they
should be cooked for a short time in a small amount of water."
What are the experts' own favorite strategies for healthy aging?
"I don't adhere to a certain diet or deny myself of foods I enjoy, but I
do eat a lot of bran, fruits, vegetables, chicken, and fish," says Jerry
Clark, PhD, an 87-year-old member of the American Psychological Association's
Council of Representatives. "And I usually steam fish and vegetables to
avoid butter, margarine, and cooking oil. I also meet friends for breakfast on
a reg ular basis to stay connected with others." Clark also tells WebMD
that exercise helps him maintain a positive outlook.