How to be a SuperAger?

這是 You can do anything 的升級版。雖然切入角度不同,層級不同,但是初級班和升級版的結論一致,就是找件事情挑戰,然後 Just do it

人類平均年齡越來越長的今日,我們要做些什麼,才能讓日漸老邁的身體維持智力和體力在起碼的水準,年紀漸長時,仍然享有良好的生活品質?神經學家 Marsel Mesulam 將這種擁有年輕人般注意力與記憶力的長者,稱為 SuperAger1 。問題是,究竟要如何才能成為一個 SuperAger?

關注這個問題的人越來越多。無獨有偶,最近 GizmodoHBR 都有文章談到西北大學的 Lisa Feldman Barrett 教授和研究團隊做的研究2Youthful brains in older adults

研究人員找到 17 位在各方面都極為優秀的高成就 SuperAger,掃瞄他們的腦部(Our lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan and compare…),比較他們的腦部和一般的年長者,以及年輕人的腦部有何不同。

他們發現 superager 的大腦有些區域比一般老人要厚,這些區域好像從他們年輕時代到老都一樣厚實,而一般老人則隨著年紀日漸削薄。

We succeeded in identifying a set of brain regions that distinguished the two groups. These regions were thinner for regular agers, a result of age-related atrophy, but in superagers they were indistinguishable from those of young adults, seemingly untouched by the ravages of time.

目前人類掌握與大腦有關的知識,認為大腦不同區域分別負責認知(cognitive)與情感(emotional)相關事務。但這個研究發現,SuperAgers 大腦裡面與年輕人大腦一樣厚實的區域,不在負責認知事務的區域,而是負責情感的區域。

However, that’s not what we found. Nearly all the action was in “emotional” regions, such as the midcingulate cortex and the anterior insula.

究竟要做些什麼,才能稱為一個 SuperAger 呢?研究人員目前還沒有精準的答案,但是找件事鍛鍊自己準沒錯。因為研究人員發現,所有 SuperAger 都經常性的從事(一種甚至多種)體力或智力活動,比如網球、橋牌,或許當他們經常性的驅使自己離開已經駕輕就熟的例行事務和舒適圈,大腦結構就因此慢慢的改變了….

至於為什麼是 emotional region,我也不知道。或許和現在流行的某個 buzzword 有關 – Grit,或許「精誠所至,金石為開」的「精誠」,是真的可以化為實質力量的某種東西?

All the superagers engaged in difficult physical and mental tasks, such as tennis or bridge, regularly. By pushing themselves into challenging efforts that were outside their comfort zones, rather than engaging in leisurely activities…

總之,研究團隊給我們的建議很簡單 : Work hard at something

We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something.

….

So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember.

HBR 作者 Karen FirestoneWhen Was the Last Time You Took On a New Challenge 裡面,提到她自己做的研究(對260個 CEO 做的問卷)和 Laura Otis 做的研究都表明,接受新挑戰(learn something difficult)對創造力、記憶力、心智能力的表現都有好處。

不僅如此,學習新事物還有一個好處:

Plus, acquiring new skills is enjoyable.


  1. 照西北大學醫學院 SuperAging 計畫的說法3,SuperAger 是有嚴格定義的:a person age 80 or older with memory performance equal to or even better than healthy people in their 50s and 60s. To qualify, an individual must pass a rigorous set of memory tests, ones so tough that less than 10 percent of people who believe they could be a SuperAger actually qualify. 
  2. F. W. Sun, M. R. Stepanovic, J. Andreano, L. F. Barrett, A. Touroutoglou, and B. C. Dickerson, “Youthful brains in older adults: Preserved neuroanatomy in the default mode and salience networks contributes to youthful memory in superaging,” Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 36, no. 37, pp. 9659-9668, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/37/9659  
  3. Unlocking the Secrets to ‘SuperAging’ – http://magazine.nm.org/fall-2016/features/unlocking-the-secrets-to-superaging/ 
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