You’re As Old As You…Do?

Bruce Springsteen with guitarWe’ve all heard the expression, “You’re as old as you feel.” Well, this morning I’m giving Methuselah a run for his money. But only last night it was 19 all over again. What, or should I say who, was responsible for this miraculous four decade leap of reverse time travel? None other than Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band!

Who cares if my enjoyment of this marathon performance of familiar songs about love, heartache, disaffection and joy has me a little stiff and sore this morning? It’s a small price to pay for the emotional lift that comes from experiencing one of The Boss’ shows live! Besides, think of how he must feel after tearing it up for three-plus hours on stage every night. According to the calendar he’s ten years older than me but you’d never know it from seeing him racing back and forth with a Telecaster guitar strapped across his back. Must be something in the Jersey water. Okay, maybe not.

This masterful entertainer’s ability to transport an arena full of (mostly) graying fans back to their youth shows how little chronological age can have to do with how old we feel. Often our emotions matter more. For anyone concerned about living well as we get older, the importance of this idea is hard to overstate. In fact, a recent study by University College London goes so far as to theorize that how old a person feels relative to their actual age can be a determining factor in how long they might live.

So if the goal is longevity, and perception of one’s own age is a key to improving it, are there things that older adults could be doing to help themselves feel younger? Roger Anunsen believes so. He is an Oregon based brain health educator who has been working in the field of memory and aging since 2001. A founder and co-principal in MINDRAMP Consulting, he recently presented a SAGE sponsored workshop called “Volunteerism – Health, Happiness and Well-being.”

In addition to discussing the tremendous emotional lift and satisfaction that volunteering can elicit, Mr. Anunsen guided attendees through some of the science and physiology associated with the study of the aging human brain. He talked about the exciting breakthroughs achieved by Dr. Norman Doige and others in the field of neuroplasticity. He spoke of the importance of sensory stimulation, the need for surprise and routine disruption in our daily lives, and the absolutely critical role of social interaction in maintaining the mental health of older adults.

Mr. Anunsen’s informative and inspiring presentation then shifted toward practical mental tools that can be used to help maintain and improve cognitive agility in older adults. Many of the techniques he espouses are deceptively simple: sharing a joke, good or bad, to release a “squirt” of oxytocin in the brain, breaking up periods of mental concentration with a brief physical exercise, introducing a subtle memory recall test into a conversation to inject variety. All of these have been proven effective through testing and experimentation, and they all involve active engagement, not co-incidentally a major philosophical tenet here at Busier Now.

Lastly, Mr. Anunsen touched briefly upon an area of academic focus of which I’m sure The Boss would approve: the benefits of music in keeping our minds young. It’s one of the most effective tools we have. Dr. Daniel Levitan, and others are doing exciting work in that field. Of course millions of Springsteen fans will tell you that such studies were unnecessary. All it takes is a rousing rendition of “Born to Run” to make a person feel like a teenager again!

– Tim Hill



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