Is Smartness Compensation for Old Age?

As people are living longer, they amass a great deal of information and gain an unprecedented wealth of experience which makes them cleverer than ever before, scientists have found.

But while today’s over-fifties may be the brightest in history, their health hasn’t improved. In fact, according to the latest studies it has got worse.

Researchers believe an increase in the use of technology, more intellectually demanding jobs and additional education have kept older brains more alert and consequently sharper. However, less physically fatiguing jobs and lazier lifestyles are also making our muscles whither faster and waistlines grow flabbier during the process of ageing.

In two studies on Britons and Germans, aged between fifty and ninety, researchers tested participants’ brains in 2006 and again in 2012. They discovered cognitive test scores increase significantly within the six-year period for men and women of all ages.

Valeria Bordone, of the Austrian-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis who conducted the studies, said: ‘On average, test scores of people aged fifty-plus today correspond to test scores from people four to eight years younger, and tested six years earlier.’

Previous studies have also shown that IQ increases with age. The German study, in the Journal PLOS One, also assessed participants’ physical health with a questionnaire about bodily pain, general health perceptions, energy and vitality. It found physical functioning and mental health declined over the six years across all ages, but men were more adversely affected than women. The steepest decline was seen between the ages of fifty and sixty-four, especially with men who had lower levels of education.

Researcher Nadia Steiber said: ‘Modern lifestyles are boosting brains but weakening bodies,’ adding, ‘life has become cognitively more demanding, with increasing use of communication and information technology… and people working longer in intellectually demanding jobs. At the same time, we are seeing a decline in physical activity and rising obesity.’

Well, talking from personal experience, I can vouch that lack of physical activity is perhaps the most daunting subject to overcome. Sitting at one’s desk for hours on end, totally absorbed intellectually, and ending one’s day watching television in the evening to keep up with what’s going on in the world, are not conducive to maintaining physical fitness, especially in advanced age.

A little exercise is vital, so as to keep a remotely acceptable balance to fend off the dreaded ill health. However, what I lack in exercise I compensate in retiring to bed three hours before midnight. This has kept me in reasonably good nick and ensured my sanity. Am I possibly blinkered?

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