SuperAger does not follow a daily routine, the neuroscientist approves
- Carol Siegler, 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 routine can be healthy for the brain.
Scientists study behavior “SuperAgers” — defined Northwest as a rare group of seniors who have the brains of people 30 years their junior — to find out how people can keep their memories sharp as they age.
But perhaps surprisingly, SuperAgers’ lifestyles can vary greatly, cognitive neuroscientist and SuperAgers researcher Emily Rogalski told Insider. Based on anecdotal data, Rogalski said some SuperAgers are “super exercisers,” but others became more active later in life. The same goes for diet, Rogalski said some SuperAgers are health freaks, while others admit to eating too many TV dinners growing up.
Take for example Carol Siegler, a SuperAger from the Chicago area who signed up to participate Danger! twice. Siegler, one of those rare, exceptional old ladies, told Insider that she doesn’t have a strict exercise routine or a superfood-only diet.
Siegler said she wakes up at an “average time” and has an “average breakfast” with meals like oatmeal, omelets and toast. The 85-year-old said she would put the coffee on 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 eating more plant-based meals, but she wouldn’t say she follows any kind of diet. He tries not to snack or keep fast food in the house, but he doesn’t limit himself beyond that.
As for exercise, Siegler said she started working out regularly more than a year ago, prompted by the death of her husband. Siegler takes yoga classes twice a week and uses the hospital gym for 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 do average things that people do, she told Insider. – I go to bed, I don’t take a lot of medicine, I don’t have any special diet.
Keeping your mind sharp means not falling into a rut
Siegler’s lack of a strict exercise routine or diet plan might seem counterintuitive, but Rogalski said the constant change might be why she’s stayed so sharp.
“Our brain actually likes change,” Rogalski said. “Changing things up and having variations helps keep us on our toes.”
The human brain evolved to stay attuned to unusual or challenging aspects of our environment, Rogalski said. The tendency goes back to our early human days, when people had to listen for rustling in the forest that might signal a snake or a bear.
“Noticing these differences helps us protect ourselves,” added Rogalski.
One 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 they found.
Siegler keeps his mind sharp by doing puzzles and reading. She bought three large crossword puzzle books and won an online competition for her age group. He also plays Wordle and Sudoku on his iPad and enjoys watching David Attenborough documentaries and keeping up with the daily news and the stock market.
“I like to learn things,” she said. “I was always a little kid who read everything there was.”
But then again, Siegler doesn’t have too many rules about his mental diet. He keeps a puzzle book by his 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 scheduled walks, Siegler sneaks in extra steps by parking far away from the store or library or carrying 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 a ditch, then a tunnel,” Siegler said. “Just keep turning your head and looking around.”