In the last few years, medical science has identified a new group that all of us would like to be part of: the super-agers. Researchers give this name to people in their 70s and 80s who still have the level of capabilities enjoyed by their decades-younger counterparts. Having such younger-person capabilities can qualify you as a cognitive or mental super-ager or a physical super-ager. What super-agers consistently do with their brains and bodies today, tomorrow and in years to come makes all the difference.

So what can you do to become a super-ager? Is it too early? Is it too late? Scientists like Dr. Bradford Dickerson, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, and his colleagues are still studying this question, but here’s a hint at what they’re finding. Research suggests that what sets cognitive super-agers apart from others the same age with the same IQs and educational levels may be that they embrace new mental challenges and view problem-solving differently. “Cognitive super-agers may approach problem-solving tasks as challenges they can succeed at, in contrast to typical adults who may give up,” Dr. Dickerson says. Wow! You mean all it takes to be a mental super-ager is making like the “Little Engine that Could” and adopting the philosophy of “I think I can, I think I can?”

Here at Southminster, we have our own theory: Regularly exercising and embracing physical and mental challenges, while keeping up an active lifestyle and seeking out social relationships, keeps you healthier and preserves areas of the brain involved in memory and reasoning.

How do we know that’s the stuff super-agers are made of? Because we have real-world data to back us up. We see firsthand how individual dedication to physical activity and mental attitude play out in amazing ways all across the Southminster campus on a daily basis!

Meet Super-Ager Merrill Gowdy
Southminster resident Merrill Gowdy isn’t known for having much downtime. He goes to four fitness classes and works out with a trainer one morning a week. On his days off from his cardio and strength, stretch and balance and barre classes at Southminster, he walks two-and-a-half miles. One day a week, you’ll find him in a foursome on a local public course or heading toward Pinehurst or elsewhere to play golf. He and his wife Judy can really “cut a rug” when entertainer John Lewis takes the stage, and Gowdy believes that compared to everything else he does, dancing is one of the best ways to exercise. The Olanta, S.C. native has been rock-stepping the night away ever since the days when the Pawley’s Island Pavilion and The Pad at Ocean Drive were magnets for young people who loved to dance the Carolina Shag.

Aside from pushing himself physically in retirement, Gowdy challenges his brain by working a couple of days a week to keep up with developments in the industry that fueled his career and sitting on the board of the company that bought the business he owned. When you see Gowdy greet most everyone who comes along by name, you get the feeling he also understands the mental importance of exercising his social side. “The pandemic showed us how important social engagement is,” he explains. “People who got isolated and became too used to being alone even after things opened up, are still struggling. Judy and I like to entertain and talk to people, even though they might not always be crazy about what we have to say,” he says with another super-ager trait shining through – humor. To keep his social connections flowing, Gowdy is part of “The Hunt Club, which meets” at Lola’s, Southminster’s bar. “It’s named the Hunt Club because we shoot the breeze and kill time. We don’t talk politics and religion, but it’s okay to talk about women, wives and mistresses,” he jokes. They meet at a long table pushed together, a symbol of the “intentional community” Southminster and its commitment to “Life with Purpose” strives to achieve.

As Chairman of the Men’s Club, Gowdy also helps organize off-campus trips to broaden residents’ horizons. “If the men can eat and get a beer, they don’t care where we go,” he laughs. To keep life interesting, educational, and mentally stimulating, he plans tours to places like North America’s only BMW Museum in Greer, S.C., Rick Hendrick’s personal Corvette Museum at the Heritage Center in Concord, the Air Guard, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and Southern Grace Distilleries. Through bean bag toss get-togethers, The Men’s Club also helps build bridges and gain new perspectives between residents in independent living and those with physical limitations in the higher levels of care known as Embrace Health.
Call out quote: “The more engaged you are with people, the more you get out of life.”

Gowdy said he and Judy wanted a place where they could continue to live and enjoy life, not to sit and stagnate. This super-ager grew up in a town of about 600 people and equates it with the size of the community at Southminster, with an advantage. It’s a more stimulating environment with people who are well-educated, accomplished, and have lived rich lives. At this point in life’s journey, “We don’t have as long to go as we have been, so I’m trying to stay healthy and enjoy as much of it as I can.”

Coming up Next Month: Super-Ager Becki Vaughn