How to become a "superager"
January 4, 2017 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Of course, the big question is: How do you become a superager? Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort. My father-in-law, for example, swims every day and plays tournament bridge.

The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.
posted by Bella Donna (45 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding is that winning the genetic lottery is a far more important factor in becoming a super ager. Nothing wrong with keeping fit and working hard to master something; but don't expect it will have anything more than a marginal impact.
posted by humanfont at 6:19 PM on January 4, 2017 [28 favorites]

At 25, I've pretty much become resigned to the fact that I'll descend into dementia pretty young. I've had two concussions in the span of only a bit over a year, one in September 2015 and another in the final month of 2016. When I was 19 I fell unconscious due to heat stroke and remained untreated until I woke up again at sundown. I fooled with a couple substances, including a bout of probably too much MDMA, and binge-smoked cigarettes from 19-23. Even before my concussions, I was pretty foggy-minded. I forget names of both people and things very easily now. Details, I'm still above-average sharp with, as I always was. My personal memory is absolutely destroyed. I forget what I do, what I've said, etc.

It's depressing to look back on my childhood, because I know I wasn't always this way. I used to be comfortably average with all these things, while now, I struggle. Coworkers correct me.

With all our obsessing over aging well, I have to wonder how many millennials are like me; already ruined. We have access to such absurd substances, and self-gratification is endorsed by our popular culture climate. This makes for a toxic combination with general medical ignorance, and feelings of confidence and invincibility that young people have.

I can think of at least a few friends who have already burned out their brains even more than I have, simply by weathering addictions-that-are-never-called-as-such. Hell, even my more "together" friends might have done some irreparable damage by taking the sort of straight up experimental drugs that are out there on the streets these days. We have never been given such effective tools for our own destruction. There is an impulse in my generation to live life to its fullest, out of desperation and fear that prosperity won't last.

And don't even get me started on the lack of understanding the field of medecine has for lifetime effects of psychiatric medications. If it took us decades to realize that, "oops, Benadryl can fuck up your memory", I'm sure there are even more wonderful "oops" moments with fluoxetine, citalopram and sertraline are ahead of us.

Makes all this prophylaxis feel futile.
posted by constantinescharity at 6:22 PM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I am moving into that territory. Much is genetic and since both parents died with Alzheimer's, I'm not terribly optimistic. But to stay mentally active and challenged as possible, I play nethack every day. Sometimes for hours on end. And ascend fairly regularly. Healers, normally. Aficionados will understand...
posted by jim in austin at 6:23 PM on January 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

Well, I had a crooked brain to start with and now that I'm older I'd like to keep what I've got. Of course, I should have started when I was 25, probably, in order to do that. For me, the main takeaway is twofold:

1. The cognitive decline that we associate with normal aging doesn't necessarily have to be normal...

2. If we are willing to do stuff that feels painful, frustrating, and difficult in the moment. And that can be either physical exercise or mental work that is actually hard for us to do.

And like most humans, I hate doing stuff that I hate to do. So I'll probably work on the exercise angle because I prefer hard physical exertion to hard mental exertion. But I should probably do both to keep my brain from dulling more than it has already.

Honestly, I'm not surprised. Naturally it's not eating ice cream while lying on a lounger and reading yummy escapist novels that keep your cognition healthy, flexible, and young. If I were Queen of the Universe, I'd totally make that the rule instead.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:29 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

1) read all emails that have Fwd: FWD: fwd: in the subject
2) stay current on the latest conspiracy theories
3) contrast/compare how bad the present is to the good old days
4) practice pattern recognition by determining who looks "shifty"
posted by benzenedream at 6:31 PM on January 4, 2017 [47 favorites]

Only if it's truly painful and challenging, benzenedream. And that list looks pretty painful. Of course, if that's the only important metric the next four years will make all MeFites superagers by default.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:35 PM on January 4, 2017

After the next four years we will all feel superaged.
posted by benzenedream at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2017 [10 favorites]

>it's not eating ice cream while lying on a lounger and reading yummy escapist novels that keep your cognition healthy, flexible, and young.

I have mixed feelings about staying sharp into advanced old age so I can remember clearly all those times it would have been lovely to have some fucking ice cream. We're gonna disintegrate anyway--I'm watching my mom do it at present--and I'm unconvinced that we're better off if we do it protractedly.

("How To Become A SuperBuzzKill")
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

We have never been given such effective tools for our own destruction. There is an impulse in my generation to live life to its fullest, out of desperation and fear that prosperity won't last

Counterpoint: we're the first generation since like 1920 that doesn't automatically have childhood lead poisoning.
posted by atoxyl at 6:48 PM on January 4, 2017 [37 favorites]

Why are all the new words so bad
posted by theodolite at 6:50 PM on January 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

I misread this as "How to become a super-rager" and thought it was about hardcore partying skills. (Maybe I will not be a superager...)
posted by shortyJBot at 6:51 PM on January 4, 2017 [18 favorites]

I hope it's "drink bourbon every night".

Cause that's my current plan.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:57 PM on January 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

I hope it's "drink bourbon every night".

Cause that's my current plan.

"Superager" seems like it should mean someone who ages much faster than average. So I don't see anything wrong with this plan.
posted by atoxyl at 7:03 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bilingualism and caffeine.

That's what the research says, and that's all I've got going for me.
posted by Jeanne at 7:04 PM on January 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

"T.D. Strange" is a new way to spell "Lemmy", apparently
posted by armoir from antproof case at 7:10 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Superager" seems like it should mean someone who ages much faster than average.

I go to bed at 10 after an hour with a nice book and a measure of brandy. Sometimes I'll have a small glass of milk. I'm 35. What do I win?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:44 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

My father-in-law, for example, swims every day and plays tournament bridge.

Ha. Good luck with that. I'm 79, play tournament bridge, ride my bike or bicycle every day, play tennis and spend the remainder of the day searching for either my keys, wallet, glasses or all three.
posted by notreally at 7:48 PM on January 4, 2017 [50 favorites]

There is an impulse in my generation to live life to its fullest, out of desperation and fear that prosperity won't last. There is an impulse in my generation to live life to its fullest, out of desperation and fear that prosperity won't last.

My generation survived the late 80s/ early 90s. I think you'll be OK.

Although we did just elect Trump so maybe not!
posted by fshgrl at 7:56 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Notreally, imagine how much more you might be losing if you weren't doing all of that. Seriously, there's no way of knowing.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:00 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Clearly the solution is to dispense with the body altogether and live as a brain in a jar. If Hitler can survive unto the present day that way, then why oh why can't I?

too soon?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you meant Nixon
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:44 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've been living with major depression for a long time and as I've entered my 30s the deleterious cognitive effects have really made their presence obvious. It strikes me that the two things that are supposed to help super aging also bring significant improvements with depression. Of course, they're also two things my pathologies conspire to prevent me from achieving, but when I've maintained regular strenuous exercise & I'm developing mentally the world clears up (until the darkness rolls back in with the tide, but w/e).
posted by polyhedron at 8:48 PM on January 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

You will suffer memory problems as you get older. There are few exceptions to that rule. But. You can become better and better at some things. If you are a musician, when you get old enough to retire from your day job, you can practice exercises germane to your instrument and get way better. If you used to go to the gym only once a week because you had to work so much, and can now go every two days, you will find that your body gets stronger. They say you can't build muscle mass after age 60, but, whatever.

In your sexagenarian years, you can rediscover the wisdom you always had by working to drop dysfunctional psychological patterns which gave you something you thought was comfort in your earlier life. Comfort turns out to have been a suffocating down comforter. You can drop all that and become truly free.

All of this takes work (not the kind that pays cash money) but you have the chance of a lifetime to break through to a new happy life if you are lucky enough to live into old age.

Sorry if this sounds smarmy or smug. I'm just giving my version of the "It Gets Better" speech to those of you who are young and dreading decrepitude.
posted by kozad at 9:22 PM on January 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

Try yoga.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:26 PM on January 4, 2017

I've been living with major depression for a long time and as I've entered my 30s the deleterious cognitive effects have really made their presence obvious. It strikes me that the two things that are supposed to help super aging also bring significant improvements with depression. Of course, they're also two things my pathologies conspire to prevent me from achieving, but when I've maintained regular strenuous exercise & I'm developing mentally the world clears up (until the darkness rolls back in with the tide, but w/e).

this is everything I was going to say

high five, MDD buddy!
posted by schroedinger at 9:37 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Conversely, to become a super rager, it's mostly just Rock Star and cocaine.
posted by klangklangston at 9:59 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

What about sleep, diet, and cutting alcohol? I thought those would have an impact on the brain as well.

After that, then you'd have to try something more experimental, like possibly certain drugs or cranial electric stimulation.
posted by FJT at 10:01 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ernestine Shepherd is 80. (Started lifting at 56, pic taken at 77.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:04 PM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

My father put men on the moon, designed and tested maneuvering thrusters for the space shuttle, and biked up and down a mountain daily. He and several other rocket scientists with similar habits are still dying from Alzheimer's. So thanks for the self-help advice but I would prefer to see advances in medical help.
posted by wobumingbai at 10:54 PM on January 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

I have this notion that working a paying job into and through the onset of old age is the worst thing that can happen to you. Working a stressful high-tech job (even a relatively mediocre and lackluster one) has been bad for my health - I'm sedentary for long stretches, I tend to eat badly as the stress mounts, etc. But if you've got a job that's bringing in money, who's going to quit it? Particularly if you are helping provide for kids, grandkids etc?
posted by newdaddy at 11:00 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Alzheimer's is something altogether different--a progressive disease that even the best advice or even medicine can only help to delay by months at most.

But the advice sounds good for diminishing the effects of aging and dementia in general (other than Alzheimer's).
posted by eye of newt at 11:05 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Neurodegenerative diseases or not, if your're sedentary and your diet is a bunch of sugar there are other diseases that are likely to get you first, on top of a few decades of low quality of life before you go.
posted by MillMan at 11:22 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kozad, that sounds nice but I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to work full-time into my 80's, like my parents, to afford to live. At some point, I'm going to have to find a job that wants to hire a forgetful, gimpy 70-yo, and I'm not looking forward to those interviews.
posted by greermahoney at 11:50 PM on January 4, 2017

Very cool article, a great read for me. This stuff is a large concern for me, for a number of reasons, some of which I think I'm going to put down here.

Age. I just clicked the dial to 62. I have a mentor, with whom I meet every week; perhaps 18 months ago I told him that I was pretty sure that Alzheimer's was beginning to kick in: forgetting peoples names, misplacing things, having trouble finding the correct word. He told me "You don't have Alzheimer's. You've turned 60. Welcome to the show." Bob is I think five years older than I, his wife two years older than he is. I guess that it's sortof a miracle that they ever do anything but they do everything and they do it well, though Jan is going to have trouble with her hip, and they have stairs. But that's not mental decline, that's stairs. The point of this paragraph being that 60 is an age where a lot of people start misplacing keys and names etc and etc.

Alzheimer's again. The reason I'm so scared of it is that my paternal grandmother was taken out by it, and most of my fathers siblings, too. My father had a very slow growing tumor in his brain but when it hit critical mass he began to show signs of Alz. A neurologist is the one who found the brain tumor, which really jangled into action when my father was really shook physically in a really bad car wreck. He began a decline and it was fast, for which I am grateful -- his twin sister suffered Alzheimer's and she lost her shit in her early 70s and lived into her 90s, living in her childhood. Point of this paragraph being that it's in my family. I listen very, very carefully to my older sibs when I speak to them, tracking them, and they're all clear, even my sister with schizophrenia, who lives in the present but just a present that's considerably different from the one you and I live in.

Mental illness. I've got this manic depression thing going, have had it my whole life, kicked off in my early teens. What's amazing is that I've never pulled the trigger when I've had guns in my mouth; many of us who suffer this illness leave the show early; this stuff hurts. I thank god -- I really do -- that finally I've reached medicinal armistice with this son-of-a-bitching illness, I thank god for these brilliant docs who have designed the drugs which help me, I thank god for the shrinks who have helped me find the right meds stew that fits my particular needs. (Treating manic depression is as much an art as it is a science, you can have identical twins who take radically different medications for it.) A good shrink -- usually a psychopharmacologist, though it can be any shrink who's bright and observant and caring -- a good shrink asks your basic ham-and-egger manic depressive person lots of questions, and they listen closely to the answers, and they'll know the entire palette of psych drugs currently available, and how they interact, and their side effects, and on and on. (How do you learn what a good shrink is? Generally by having a boatload of bad ones in your wake, sorry to say; rare is the person with this illness who gets the right shrink who writes for the correct medication right off the bat. Happens, but not often.) But why is this long paragraph in a comment about super-aging? Well, I'm glad you asked -- I take a fistful of medications for this jive every day, and these aren't some lightweight, candy-ass drugs, these are powerful psych meds, and I've taken a lot of other ones on the way to finding what I'm currently on. I can't help but think that this stuff is having and is going to have long-term effects on my brain. I'm super-grateful for the effects I get today, and yesterday, and tomorrow, but is it melting my brain? No telling. (long paragraph there -- if you got through it, send me a msg and I'll favorite five of your comments here on the site, any five you choose, even if you're a baptist republican or what-have-you)

So that's the drugs I take to deal with manic depression. How about all the drinking and drugging I did when I was young? I set it all down at 27 years old but that's after a decade of pretty much hard-core drinking and drugging. Never did anything with needles, and cocaine was a waste of money as far as I could see, but I sure loved drinking and downers and speed and whatever else was around, lightweight compared to many I know but it was enough to beat me pretty badly, beat me badly enough that I had to set it down, badly enough that I was and am very fortunate that I was able to do so. By which I mean it really had its claws in me. By which I mean I have alcoholism, and practiced it hard as I could for a decade. What has that done, what effects has that had? No way of knowing, really. Vitamins, vitamins would have been a better choice probably. I do take vitamins now -- does that count?

Concussions. Oh man, have I had a bunch of shots to the head! Car wrecks, a couple of them really good ones. Bicycle wrecks, a lot of wrecks on that mountain bike and a couple of them really, really interesting. By which I mean -- concussions. I hate bicycle helmets -- they're hot, they're cloddy (hard to wear sunglasses, hard to wear headphones), and you look like a mope. But after that last wreck where I smacked my head hard again I won't even ride my bike around the parking lot without a helmet on my head. I told my doctor I wear two of them, sometimes three, that I even wear in the shower, that I even wear them to bed. He's wary, he knows I've lied to him before, but I'm honest as hell about it now. Bike ride = Helmet. A lot of construction site accidents, my first -- which was probably the best -- was at 14 years old, I fell about 15 feet and landed on the back of my head and on my shoulders, the rest of my body snapped round so fast and hard that it threw my shoes off my feet WHAM!! I've had electrical shocks, too, one of them really bad, like, threw me across the room bad -- that cannot have been good for my brain. It knocked me senseless, for sure, really a bad jolt. It got my complete attention, it was interesting, to this day I do not mess around with electrical stuff, mostly; that's why god made electricians.

I'm single, and last I looked there wasn't a huge line of nice red-headed, freckled-up women outside my door, waiting for a chance to date a mentally ill guy with a bicycle, a condo, a pickup truck, and an internet connection. I've not been in a relationship since ... No telling. A Long Time Ago. Years. Stats say that single men don't fare as well as married men. So there's that, too.

I was dead without oxygen for at least 8 minutes. Brains don't like to go without oxygen, is what I've been told. A great story to tell, lots of fun, and just in conversation I'll say "Well, I think that was before I died." and not be doing it to be cool or what-have-you but it's a show-stopper. It took my sense of smell, totally, but fact is that I got off really, really easy. When I was re-habbing, the speech therapists (speech therapist are not just to teach you to talk, it's a really big job, they teach ppl how to use their phone, how to balance their checkbook, blah blah blah) the speech therapists could not get over what I was able to do, given what'd happened to me. They could only attribute it to Freecell, a computer solitaire game to which I've pretty much been addicted to since first I learned it. They would give me these native IQ test sheets-- here's two triangles, then a circle, then another triangle, and space for one thing to fill in the last. Duh -- another triangle. So they start super-easy but by the time you're on the bottom of page two of these things you've pretty much got to have a mind that can bend spoons to get through them, and I would do them pretty much no sweat, hand them in, they'd hand me another, same thing, and they really could not figure it out, and began to ask me questions, and Freecell came up, and that is all they can attribute it to.

So that's all the possible things I've got going against me being sharp at 96 years old.


But I really, really want to be sharp when I'm 96 years old.

That presumes I'll still be alive @ 96 years old of course. There's a billion things that can nail me, I might have polio waiting for me, just around the next bend. I want to stay indoors, under the covers, somehow get someone to shop for me, healthy organic greens and flax seeds and salmon, just stay indoors here, climb under the covers and drool.

But that wouldn't be fun, seems to me.

I try to eat well. Mostly I do eat well but I am weak; I love disgusting junk food and I do eat it. I would benefit hugely if every fast-food place burned to the ground tonight -- maybe it's happening right now! I rather doubt it, but I can Have Hope, right? Plus eating well, even as a peasant, it can be expensive -- have you checked out the price on organic brown rice lately? Organic black beans, pinto beans, lentils? Wild-caught salmon? The best deal in town is these wild-caught sardines at Trader Joes, they're $1.29 a can, filled with good-guy fat, filled with protein, etc and etc. But man does not live on sardines alone, not this man anyways.

While I am single and live alone I do have a huge social network, I have lots of people in my life. I meet weekly with my mentor, Sunday evenings @ 5:30, done so since before I died, which was in July 2004. It's a deep friendship but also I do trust him, and if/when he sees me heading off on some tangent or another he can take the wheel, so to speak: I've allowed him that room in my life. I've benefited from doing so, though I certainly don't always like it In The Moment. I've got this big fat ego, and it damn sure is *not* my amigo, and when called out on it by people I truly trust I listen. Also, I mentor three younger men, guys in their late 30s mid 40s, and I meet with them weekly, and I benefit from it tremendously: Though I do not have children I sometimes wish that these men were my sons, fine, fine men. I don't have as much veto power in their lives as my mentor has in mine but I have enough; it'd be way easy for my big fat ego to get dictatorial on them and I know it, plus they don't need it as much as I do, generally....

I live on SSDI. I was in the trades until my back and neck just totally blew me out -- they're covered with arthritis. I became a mainframe computer programmer, if you can believe that -- I've never even taken algebra, I still cannot do long division, which is ridiculous but it's true. But I became a mainframe programmer, and a good one, too, not Great, not A Natural at it but I was good at it; worked for a bank in downtown Houston, I worked for a state regulatory agency here in Austin, then saved the world from Y2K, then worked at Compaq and then Hewlett Packard bought Compaq and they got smart and fired my ass -- I'd gotten caught by The Peter Principle, got promoted to my level of incompetence, I was a program manager for systems I didn't have a clue about. HP ran me off and they were right to do so but I was going to get another gig of course but I sortof got caught up in some family business and spent most all my money and then in late 2002 I really lost my shit W/R/T the whole manic depression thing and then in July 2004 I died and the hospital got me onto SSDI so they'd get their bill paid. And here I am.

I wrote all that to write this: I have enough money but not enough to eat fresh salmon every night, or even every week. I live in a condo about the size of my shoe which I bought in 1993 and it's damn near paid off. Losing most of my money and going nuts and dying and living on SSDI, I'm really ashamed of it, not so much going nuts and not so much dying but losing my money and living on SSDI -- it's painful to cop to, here on this site or anywhere else. But there is No Way I could afford the medications I am on, no way I could afford to see my shrink, my cardiologist, my regular MD, the odd trip to the ER behind bicycle wrecks or what-have-you, so SSDI it is.

I still play Freecell and some days it's Pretty Damn Hard but most days I can get through them pretty easy, so I know that I am not bleeding enough playing Freecell. I took some accounting classes when I worked for that bank -- the debits are on the side of the room that the windows are on -- I took some accounting courses and I hated every goddamn minute of it, I bled for every page in those stupid books -- maybe I should take some accounting classes. From that the article says, it's that sort of suffering that is needed to ward off the problem, if it can be warded off at all. There has to be something else though, something that I'd have to bleed to get through but would actually appreciate what it gave me. I'll have to consider this one.

The problem is that "I'll have to consider this." can easily be "I'm going to sit here slackjawed playing Freecell while listening to Dan Carlin." and nothing changes. I've got to bleed, is what they're saying, and I'm sure they're right, though I hate them for bringing it to my attention.

I loved reading that bit about the triune brain idea being pretty much hogwash. That is something I learned today, something I carried from that article, and will carry. I believed in the triune brain idea(s) which are what I have learned from anywhere I've learned anything about the brain, I would have bet you 200 dollars on it, knowing it was easy money in my pocket. I do love learning about the brain. Mine is such a mess for so many reasons yet it does get me through day, and may yet get me through this comment, though I'm sure that it looks doubtful to you about now -- I do go on. Gawd....

Today was Day 316 @ 11 Miles Per Day, consecutive. Last February I was helping a friend build a gate for his patio, it was a gorgeous day, we had our shirts off, and I had occasion to see myself without a shirt on, and really *look* at what I was seeing, and I was truly annoyed. It's not like it was some big secret, I knew that I'd put on fat, and on that day I was wearing my fattest "fat-guy" pants and even with them on I was mushrooming over the top of them. For some reason it really caught my attention that day though, and maybe two days later I said "I am going to ride my mountain bike around the Town Lake Trail every day for the next 30 days." And I did it.

And at Day 30 I was like "Why quit?" and I haven't quit yet. I didn't know it then but I know now that it's almost exactly 11 miles from my condo to the trail and around the trail and back to my condo. Cool. I don't give a damn if it's raining. I don't give a damn if it's hot. Or cold. Or cold and raining. I don't give a rats ass if it's some huge honkin' thunderstorm, wind and rain and lightning and thunder. I don't care if the trail is completely flooded in spots, 14 inches of water -- tough shit. I'm riding. I've ridden at 100F, last week it was in the high 20sF. I dress up or dress down. I'm riding. It's just a lot of fun, it really is.

My cardiologist just could *not* believe the change from July 2015 to July 2016, change in my blood pressure, my cholesterol levels, my weight. I mean, really, you should have seen his face. He was literally shaking his head.

Maybe seven or eight months ago I sat on this one bench, pouring sweat, and watched the evening come on, and it's a beautiful place to watch the sunset; I've sat on that bench every day since. Hot. Cold. Rain. Wind. Whatever. I call it The Sunset Bench, capital T, capital S, capital B. The Sunset Bench. It's been lots harder for me to make sunset there here with these short days but we've made the turn now, every day the days will be getting longer, in high summer it's not dark until 10 PM. I'm guessing today it was maybe 6:45, maybe 7PM.

Something i learned when dating Alison, 23 years gone by now, we'd go out to somewhere or other to see the sunset. And every day which we did this, whether in Tucson or here in Austin, we'd wait until we saw some particular beauty or other in the sky. Only one day did we give up -- we'd driven an hour out of town, the park in Marble Falls, and the sky was just not going to give us anything but gray, and finally we gave up, sadly, and we're in the pickup headed back to Austin and damned if there wasn't a corner of the sky that was just flat gorgeous, rich purple and reds and a deep blue and I pulled that truck over and we got out and watched it in the deep silences out there, the only sound the ticking noises of my pickup as the motor cooled, seeing that beauty gave us Hope somehow; that relationship was rocky but we had these Hopes, reflected that night in a small corner of the southwestern sky at sunset.

It was gray tonight, but I got stubborn, and just flat was *not* going to leave until I saw beauty in that sky. And I waited, and waited; I waited it out, freezing my ass off but No. Way. was I going to leave: I was thinking of Alison, and all the good of that night those long years ago, and all of the good she taught me about everything else, too, and there I stood, tonight, I'm right on the river, standing on the rocks, looking west, waiting.

I waited a long, long time.

I'd sweated on the 8 miles from my condo to that bench; there's three pretty good climbs and I jammed up them tonight, it was cold but I was dressed for it and it was a great ride. I'd layered my clothing, and I made a mistake -- a cotton turtleneck as my bottom layer. Would not have been a problem at all except now I'm not moving, and that sweat is in that cotton shirt, and it's cold, and I'm standing there waiting, and I'm stubborn.

The sky was shutting down, there was this tiny band that still had light behind it but it wasn't beauty. But slowly, ever so goddamn slowly it came a blue, very pale but definitely blue, and then I looked on the water and that blue on the water was so beautiful, and I considered saying that was enough, just bag it now, pull my pack on, jump on that bike and start jammin' home. But I'm stubborn. As I saw the first star shine, a tiny fleck of white in that small band of pale blue, and the blue became richer and here's another star, a fleck, but then I looked east and the gray clouds there had this tiny orange tint on them, and then as that blue band of light shut down smaller it became richer, a richer blue, and I don't have any idea how this happens but on the bottom of the gray clouds in the east there is now definitely orange, and that blue band became bluer yet, and her comes that orange in the east, and now here's whichever planet it is that's been showing so bright in the evening sky, and the whole thing is coming together and -- Look at this shit! The moon, damn near halfway white, it's coming through those pale orange clouds and I'm really cold and I do not give even one tiny bit of a damn, I waited and here it is, and I'm so happy I waited it out, it's small but it's beautiful, I don't always need Hans Hoffman or Jackson Pollack, I love the soft burnished beauty of those Dutch painters in the 1500s also, I don't need to be bludgeoned with beauty -- though I do prefer that -- if I'm patient I can see a richness that I'd otherwise walk right past. It's the patience, it's the waiting, if only I'll hold on Life will help me see beauty, I can have Joy even if I'm cold as hell, maybe especially if I'm cold as hell.

Does that count as bleeding?
posted by dancestoblue at 1:36 AM on January 5, 2017 [24 favorites]

I was resigned to popping off in my 70s like most of my fam but my husband, whose family lives to their 90s, has asked me to try hanging out longer for his sake. So I will do what I can.
posted by emjaybee at 5:23 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm the opposite of Dancestoblue (who should consider himself a cat with about 14 lives instead of someone who has an anvil of dementia dangling over his head). Never had any concussions, never broken any bones aside from fracturing a toe here and there, never been in the hospital for more than an ER visit (I had an allergic reaction a couple times, treated and released). I haven't wiped out on my bike for decades, decided I would not push my luck and bought a helmet. I've been working out with reasonable consistency since I was 25. Never took any drugs because I thought it was stupid to risk addiction and/or arrest just for being high for a couple hours. Didn't drink until I was 30 because when I was living at home as a teenager, my parents would have killed me; when I was in college, I still looked 14 so forget about a fake ID. By the time I turned 21, the novelty and risk-taking area of my brain was mostly over the whole idea. Now I enjoy an occasional glass of moscato or a mudslide-like cocktail a few times a year, and that's about it. Dementia doesn't run in my family. ADHD sure does, though, got diagnosed with that as an adult after developing a ton of coping mechanisms, went on medication for a year and then stopped because of some of the side effects. Discovered that, after roughly a year of intense stress and consequently eating and sleeping like shit and not exercising, I was anemic and hypothyroid. (I was finishing my degree while going through an excessively tumultuous time at work.) Hey, you know what a major symptom of both of those are? Memory loss and brain fog. Get those things checked regularly.

So, now I'm in my 40s. I love junk food and that's my biggest downfall. I play a cheesy iPad game or two because that's fun (if you ever wondered who was stupid enough to spend $100 on those freemium boosts, look no further), one of which is "find the hidden object". I play some other actual video games, too, mostly strategy-based. I've made a point in the last few months to practice good sleep hygiene--turn screens off at 8pm, take some melatonin, time my sleep with my Fitbit. You know what, when I get 8 solid hours of restful sleep, it makes a huge difference in my performance during the day. Even 7 1/2 hours shows a decline. I've been using the Headspace app to practice mindfulness and stress reduction. I take walks around my building at work every couple hours since I work a desk job, and usually get my 10k steps in per day.

So, maybe I'll be a super-ager, once I get my iron and thyroid straightened out (I was about to say "ironed out" but that'd be too ironic). Only time will tell. But if I've noticed anything in the last few years since hitting 40, it's that the physical body becomes a lot more use-or-lose so I'm focusing on that. Flexibility, strength, cardio capacity--I'm way healthier and visibly more youthful in appearance than my mother was at this age, but she's been a chain-smoker my whole life and hates doctors, so hey. It pays to pay attention to those things. Yes, it's true that even if I do everything right, I might still have a stroke or a heart attack, get cancer or get hit by a bus--healthy people do too. I have a HS classmate who is a *personal trainer* and suffered a brain tumor. She survived, and I'm willing to bet a considerable amount of money that her excellent physical condition was integral to her ability to recover.

Guess we'll see, right?
posted by Autumnheart at 5:46 AM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

You will suffer memory problems as you get older.

My issue is that I've suffered from memory problems since I was a kid and now that I'm in my fifties, I scared that I won't realize that I'm getting even worse. I wonder if there's some sort of cognitive and memory test that I could take yearly to try to graph my decline.
posted by octothorpe at 6:48 AM on January 5, 2017

My mother's family lives into their 90's almost without exception despite being all moderately overweight, anxious as fuck and not at all interested in exercise. My father's family smoked, so they died young.

My husband's father is 86. Alzheimer's. Doesn't know who we are but loves visitors. Was an athlete and a carpenter who did calculations on a piece of graph paper and exercised obsessively every single day until he was 82.

There are exceptions to every rule and there are always going to be outliers. Don't put yourself into a category or count yourself out just because there was a study or two.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:04 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I try to stay fit and keep my brain active, but that's because I'm pretentious and vain.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:31 AM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

grumpybear69 for president! Gotta fight fire with fire.
posted by mono blanco at 8:33 AM on January 5, 2017

posted by grumpybear69 at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2017

We have never been given such effective tools for our own destruction. There is an impulse in my generation to live life to its fullest, out of desperation and fear that prosperity won't last. There is an impulse in my generation to live life to its fullest, out of desperation and fear that prosperity won't last.

My generation survived the late 80s/ early 90s. I think you'll be OK.

Has nobody round here heard of the 1960s?
posted by penguin pie at 12:38 PM on January 5, 2017

> I wonder if there's some sort of cognitive and memory test that I could take yearly to try to graph my decline

There is. I got some good advice here about having one done professionally, or you could try something like Identifor.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

My grandma just turned 93. She boozed it up until she was in her late 40s, and didn't quit smoking until her husband died of lung cancer in 1976. She was in good shape physically up until a bad bout of bronchitis a couple of years ago (she's reliant on a walker most of the time now), and she's only just starting to decline mentally (forgetfulness mostly, no dementia or Alzheimers). But she passed her drivers test last year, passed the cognition tests her doctor gave her, and she still lives alone in the house that she moved into in 1958.

The genetic lottery is a weird thing. My mom is going to be 68 in June and she's amazing. But at the same time, December 28th marked the 15th year of my dad's death at age 52. Mom exercises and takes classes and is as active as she can possibly be... my dad weighed 450lbs, drank a fifth of bourbon a day, smoked 2+ packs a day, and had sleep apnea.

Seems obvious there... but my mom's little brother, an athlete who biked up and down the West Coast, ran marathons, and kayaked regularly, had four heart attacks, stents, and bypasses, before he died of a heart attack a year ago at the age of 65. Apparently heart disease runs in the family, but it seems to miss the women.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:08 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Beans could be one of the best defenses against dementia.

Beans are cheap. Soak 'em if you got 'em. (Or maybe not.)
posted by mrgrimm at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

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