It feels like people have been saying “70 is the new 60,” or “60 is the new 50,” or so on and so forth for ions now. Long enough that the 70 of today could likely be the 30 of then. And though the hundreds of clicky headlines and gentle reassurances on milestone birthdays might seem to ring hollow, scientific studies show there really is something to all this [insert age] is the new [insert age] talk. So what is the secret to aging well? To living longer and living well?
Well, we know we should all be sporting sunscreen year-round, drinking lots of water, and obeying our Fitbit’s demands. Then there’s the good gene lottery of it all. But the secret to new generations outperforming their elders in the aging department may be far more fundamental. At least, that’s what writer Claudia Wallis, a health columnist for Scientific American, suggests based on recent aging studies.
The studies Wallis looked at went beyond typical skin deep observations to pinpoint the keys not only to living longer but living well for as many years as possible. The factor that made a surprisingly dramatic difference: education.
The Cognitive Difference
One of the most interesting findings Wallis points to in two new Finish studies (one focused on physical aging, the other on cognition), was that more years of education seemed to lead to better brain function down the road.
In a Dutch study, which measured seniors in their 90s born in both 1915 and 1905, the subjects’ speed and strength didn’t very much at all, but those born 10 years later were noticeably more competent in performing day-to-day activities like showering and dressing. The born-later group also performed higher on a cognitive exam, which Wallis believes is a factor in their adeptness.
“With more education, you are probably going to have a larger income, which means you are more likely to go to the doctor, have good nutrition, and have a job that is not eviscerating your body,” Luigi Ferrucci, scientific director of the U.S. National Institute on Aging, was quoted saying in the piece.
Be Well, Stay Well
Though cognizance clearly has a powerful influence on the aging process, access to higher education (and even fundamental education) isn’t equally accessible across the board. Fortunately, the factors that loomed largest in the aging process — according to the Finish studies — were physical activity and a healthier diet. “Later-born adults were more physically active and had bigger bodies, which suggests better nutrition,” Wallis writes.
So often, when we (particularly women) think of the secret to aging well, our minds turn to aesthetic procedures and pricey beauty treatments. But the best way to spend your later years, should you be fortunate enough to reach them, is in good health.