The fears surrounding ageing are twofold; there is the natural decline of the body and the spectre of a physiological disease like arthritis.
There are also issues like memory loss and the decrease in cognitive functions to contend with.
A small strata of society, referred to as “superagers” by neurologist Marsel Mesulam, not only retain their mental sharpness well into old age, but their cognitive abilities might even rival that of a healthy 25 year old.
Neurologist Lisa Feldman Barrett and her team studied the brains of 17 of these 'superagers', and compared them with people of a similar age.
Findings showed that the brain regions associated with emotion – like the midcingulate cortex and the anterior insula - were thicker in the superagers, and thinner for regular agers.
They theorised these regions were responsible for their more alert state.
Now for the question on everyone's lips:
How can you become a superager?
Barrett puts it simply as this: work hard at something.
Characterising the brain as a muscle, the only way to make it strong is by consistently pushing it to its limits.
The brain regions which are thicker in superagers are active when a person undergoes a difficult task that requires concentration, whether that is mental – like regularly playing chess, or solving difficult maths equations – or physical.
For example, say you’ve signed up for a vigorous Muay Thai class that leaves you feeling physically exhausted: the more often you put your body through high levels of stress, the quicker it can build fitness, muscle and strength, and activities you previously found difficult will become easier.
The same theory applies for your mind.