How 93-year-old track star stayed forever young

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I stumbled upon a recent article in Prevention magazine, "Forever Young" by Timothy Gower, who told an enlightening story about how a brain researcher discovered the fountain of youth in a 93-year-old athlete, Olga Kotelko.

Kotelko was an avid coed slow-pitch softball dynamo, who at the age of 77 decided she'd had enough and wanted a new athletic challenge.

Olga turned to track and field and quickly dominated her new sports discipline by winning "750 gold medals and setting 37 world records in sprinting, long jump, javelin throw and other events."

How could someone set so many records, you might ask? Smiling, Olga would chuckle, "No one else my age could do the events."

Enter brain researcher Aga Burzynska, a neuroscientist, who was amazed at how a 93-year-old could be so cognitively razor-sharp while performing athletic feats typically reserved for those decades younger. Burzynska, granted the opportunity to study MRI's of Kotelko's brain, said, "Looking at her brain, I would have placed her in her 60s."

The question now asked was: "Did the running, jumping and, perhaps most crucially, learning at that late age help keep Kotelko's brain strong well into her tenth decade?"

The answer appears to be yes, but Burzynska's explanation was more complicated.

Daily exercise and engaging activity is incredibly healthy for mind and body, but introducing new experiences and challenges also forces one to continue to learn.

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine determined that one of the best ways to stay cognitively and physically fit is to exercise regularly; however, if you've never worked out in your life, there is plenty of research suggesting it's never too late to start.

A University of Maryland study had a group of inactive adults ages 61 to 88 walk for 30 minutes, four times a week, on a treadmill.

Three months later, MRIs showed many participants experienced a thickening of the frontal cortex. The study supports previous research that exercise can improve memory function.

If you want to lead a happy and healthy life, continue (or start) to stay active, exercise and challenge yourself to learn new things - a foreign language, a new card game, creative writing - whatever they might be.

It worked for Olga Kotelko, but you don't necessarily need to learn how to throw the javelin.

Joe Agee is the marketing and sales director for The Seabrook of Hilton Head. www.TheSeabrook.com

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