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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Writers and Aging

I Remember When. . . . . .

Aging and the Writer’s Mind

"Old men retain their mental facilities, provided their interest and application continue." ---Cicero, Roman statesman and orator, about 100 BC.

One of the best things about a writing career is that you don’t have to give it up as you get older. In fact, barring memory or vision loss, many of us become much better with age. We will have a lifetime of experiences to draw on, and with any luck the time to get it onto paper.

A lot of the material on the ‘net refers to “anti-aging,” which I find a bit strange. After all, we are all aging, the alternative is death, so why not just “improve aging?” I’m “middle-aged,” in that I expect to live to 90, so I found this topic particularly interesting. How can we improve our chances of aging gracefully and maintaining our mental health? We all know proper diet and moderate exercise are key aspects of health, but what else should we do to keep our minds fresh? And do our habits really shape our older selves?

Dr. Judy Salerno, deputy director of NIH's National Institute on Aging (NIA), says, "When I entered the aging field many years ago, we didn't talk about disease prevention. We simply characterized normal aging. Now we are seeing that people can age successfully in good health well into old age. Disease and disability are not inevitable consequences of aging. . . . Our basic message to older people is that it's never too late," How your grandmother aged is not necessarily how you will age. Genes are not necessarily your destiny. Genes are only part of the story."

Dr. Salerno says perceptions about old age have undergone an almost total change in the last decade or so. What's more, she said, insights on getting older are no longer useful only for people of a certain age. "Habits that are established young in life may help determine how healthy you will be in old age," she says.

"Maintaining good habits and positive attitudes is what we should all be aiming for.
Once a couch potato does not mean always a couch potato. It's never too late to establish good habits, but it's never too early either."
Sheila Wilkinson of has a list of steps to take for graceful aging, including the need to keep interacting with others, keep moving, eat well and get enough antioxidants, take time to be thankful and to volunteer to help others. Also on the list were reading, keeping a hobby and getting a pet. Her suggestions are good for body and brain.

Can what we eat keep your brains young?

The Real Age people believe so, and recommend the following 6 foods for maintaining brain power:

1) Nuts
2) Fish
3) Soybeans
4) Tomato juice/spaghetti sauce
5) Olive oil, fish oils, avocados and flax
6) Real chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)

Good News for Writers!

Jennifer Warner of Web Md, reports that learning a second language keeps us young—and I believe the same principles apply for writers. (If you can write in a second language, even better!)

“Two languages may be better than one when it comes to keeping the mind young. A new study shows that being fluent in two languages may help prevent some of the effects of aging on brain function.
Researchers found that people who were bilingual most of their lives were better able to stay focused on a task amidst a rapidly changing environment compared with people who only spoke one language.

The ability to keep one's attention on a task is known as fluid intelligence, and it is one of the first aspects of brain function to deteriorate as people get older.
Researchers suggest that that the ability to stay focused and to manage attention while ignoring irrelevant information may involve some of the same brain processes involved in using two languages. This means bilingualism may offer a wide range of benefits for keeping the mind sharp and fighting the effects of aging.”

So as we age, the exercise we do mentally is as important as the physical, and it’s never too late to develop healthier habits. Keep writing and read every day—the Bible makes great brain work. Be aware of the symptoms of memory problems and disease onset such as Alzheimer’s, and seek treatment as soon as possible.

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