A unique study led by Alzheimer’s expert David Snowdon of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the University of Kentucky in Lexington, called the “Nun Study”, 678 catholic sisters is revealing more about how to keep the brain healthy that perhaps any other to date.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame on Good Counsel Hill in Mankato, Minnesota, show miraculous longevity with already seven centenarians and many others well on their way.
They do not drink or smoke, they live quietly and communally, they are spiritual and calm and they eat healthily and in moderation. However, small differences between individual nuns could reveal the key to a healthy mind in later life.
Some of the nuns have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, but many have avoided any kind of dementia or senility. They include Sister Matthia, who was mentally fit and active from her birth in 1894 to the day she died peacefully in her sleep, aged 104. She was happy and productive, knitting mittens for the poor every day until the end of her life. A post-mortem of Sister Matthia’s brain revealed no signs of excessive ageing. But in some other, remarkable cases, Snowdon has found sisters who showed no outwards signs of senility in life, yet had brains that looked as if they were ravaged by dementia.
How did Sister Matthia and the others cheat time? Snowdon’s study, which includes an annual barrage of mental agility tests and detailed medical exams, has found several common denominators. The right amount of vitamin folate is one. Verbal ability early in life is another, as are positive emotions early in life, which were revealed by Snowdon’s analysis of the personal autobiographical essays each woman wrote in her 20s as she took her vows. Activities, crosswords, knitting and exercising also helped to prevent senility, showing that the old adage “use it or lose it” is pertinent. And spirituality, or the positive attitude that comes from it, can’t be overlooked. But individual differences also matter. To avoid dementia, your general health may be vital: metabolic problems, small strokes and head injuries seem to be common triggers of Alzheimer’s dementia.
A similar study of Benedictine monks, the mortality rate was at least 25 per cent lower than the general population. The researchers, reporting in the Journal of Religion and Health this week, found that many of the religious groups had far less disease, including heart disease and cancer, than other people.
Studies by Stanford University have also shown how brain aging is slowed through meditative prayer in monks. Meditation is also a powerful stress reducer and the combination of a low stress lifestyle of monks and nuns if quite likely a big factor in their longevity.
However this does not mean we have to become monks or nuns to live longer and keep our brains healthy. We can learn from their contemplative lifestyle and apply it to our life.
1. Do not drink or smoke excessively
2. Try to live communally, either with family or in a more social environment. If this is difficult, join clubs or societies where you can spend time in groups doing social activities.
3. Eat healthily and in moderation.
4. Regular moderate exercise, like walking.
5. Keep your mind active by taking up a fun hobby, playing a musical instrument, crosswords, knitting, reading and art.
6. Meditate or pray daily.
You no longer have to spend years learning how to meditate like a monk, you can enter deep relaxed states using the power of Trypnaural brainwave music. In combination with the scientific prayers found in the Alpha Mind System you can help reduce stress, and rewire your negative thoughts at the same time.
Here is a soothing meditation music session that will help you meditate more deeply with embedded scientific pray mantras for stress relief. You can find the full version inside the Alpha Mind System and the Trypnaural Meditation library.