01 Oct The secret to keeping the body young is keeping the mind active (HECTOR GARCIA & FRANCESC MIRALLES)
Having a youthful mind also drives you toward a healthy lifestyle that will slow the aging process.
Just as a lack of physical exercise has negative effects on our bodies and mood, a lack of mental exercise is bad for us because it causes our neurons and neural connections to deteriorate—and, as a result, reduces our ability to react to our surroundings.
This is why it’s so important to give your brain a workout.
One pioneer in advocating for mental exercise is the Israeli neuroscientist Shlomo Breznitz, who argues that the brain needs a lot of stimulation in order to stay in shape. As he stated in an interview with Eduard Punset for the Spanish television program Redes:
“There is a tension between what is good for someone and what they want to do. This is because people, especially older people, like to do things as they’ve always done them. The problem is that when the brain develops ingrained habits, it doesn’t need to think anymore. Things get done quickly and efficiently on automatic pilot, often in a very advantageous way. This creates a tendency to stick to routines, and the only way of breaking these is to confront the brain with new information.
Presented with new information, the brain creates new connections and is revitalized. This is why it is so important to expose yourself to change, even if stepping outside your comfort zone means feeling a bit of anxiety.
The effects of mental training have been scientifically demonstrated. According to Collins Hemingway and Shlomo Breznitz in their book Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom, mental training is beneficial on many levels: “You begin exercising your brain by doing a certain task for the first time,” he writes. “And at first it seems very difficult, but as you learn how to do it, the training is already working. The second time, you realize that it’s easier, not harder, to do, because you’re getting better at it. This has a fantastic effect on a person’s mood. In and of itself, it is a transformation that affects not only the results obtained, but also his or her self-image.”
This description of a “mental workout” might sound a bit formal, but simply interacting with others—playing a game, for example—offers new stimuli and helps prevent the depression that can come with solitude.
Our neurons start to age while we are still in our twenties. This process is slowed, however, by intellectual activity, curiosity, and a desire to learn. Dealing with new situations, learning something new every day, playing games, and interacting with other people seem to be essential antiaging strategies for the mind. Furthermore, a more positive outlook in this regard will yield greater mental benefits.
The mind has tremendous power over the body and how quickly it ages. Most doctors agree that the secret to keeping the body young is keeping the mind active—a key element of ikigai—and in not caving in when we face difficulties throughout our lives.
One study, conducted at Yeshiva University, found that the people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness. In other words, those who face challenges with a positive outlook and are able to manage their emotions are already well on their way toward longevity.
A stoic attitude—serenity in the face of a setback—can also help keep you young, as it lowers anxiety and stress levels and stabilizes behavior. This can be seen in the greater life expectancies of certain cultures with unhurried, deliberate lifestyles.
Many centenarians and supercentenarians have similar profiles: They have had full lives that were difficult at times, but they knew how to approach these challenges with a positive attitude and not be overwhelmed by the obstacles they faced.
Alexander Imich, who in 2014 became the world’s oldest living man at age 111, knew he had good genes but understood that other factors contributed, too: “The life you live is equally or more important for longevity,” he said in an interview with Reuters after being added to Guinness World Records in 2014.
An ode to longevity
To keep healthy and have a long life,
eat just a little of everything with relish,
go to bed early, get up early, and then go out for a walk.
We live each day with serenity and we enjoy the journey.
To keep healthy and have a long life,
we get on well with all of our friends.
Spring, summer, fall, winter,
we happily enjoy all the seasons.
The secret is to not get distracted by how old the fingers are;
from the fingers to the head and back once again.
If you keep moving with your fingers working, 100 years
will come to you.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Garcia Hector,Miralles Francesc