Aging Brilliantly: The Amazing Age-Defying Brain Behaviours of Seniors in Their Prime

Keeping brains in tip-top working order should be a real priority for folks as they depart middle age. Brains are of course essential for well-rounded enjoyment of leisurely retirement pursuits like handing the grandkids back after a long day of feeding them the candy you denied their parents. And we must keep track of our own normal to keep an eye out for any problems down the road.

Kay Van Norman from Brilliant Aging with her horse Dancer

To help us on our quest for age-defying brain wellness, we invited Internationally acclaimed healthy aging expert Kay Van Norman to join us at Synaptitude HQ (virtually, of course). She shared her experience of helping people activate lifelong vitality, take care of their brains and age as gracefully as they please. Kay spoke to our very own Max Cynader, PhD and all-round brain geek.

Bridging the Behaviour Gap

Kay is president of Brilliant Aging, a company whose entire focus is helping people bridge that gap between knowing what you should do to age well and making it happen. Whilst most people know what they need to be doing to age well, far fewer would be able to sincerely, hand on heart, claim they’re getting everything right. At the centre of Kay’s work is a series of “smart behaviours” that have been proven to transform brain health and wellness.

Healthy aging is something that should be on everyone’s agenda. How to do it properly is another thing altogether. This gap is something that we at Synaptitude are also trying to bridge through our app, which helps you to monitor your cognitive function over time. Kay’s work is all about what you can do once you have this information.

Here are some of the simple and effective solutions that Kay recommends.

Kay’s Smart Behaviours

“We can give ourselves the best chance at lifelong health by making smart choices. Create a vitality plan and make deliberate deposits into all aspects of your well-being.  That includes leveraging science-driven strategies like Synaptitude to optimize cognitive health, as well as proven strategies to maximize physical and emotional health.”  Learn more about Kay and her approach to creating personalized vitality plans here.

Exercise and Diet

Eating well is critical to everything. If the fuel that’s going in isn’t good, you’re going to have problems. Get your diet right now—whether you’re fifty-five or ninety-five. That means eating a varied wholefood diet, avoiding junk food and keeping an eye on alcohol consumption.

As Max says, “Your brain makes up 2% of your body mass, yet it uses up to 20% of your blood supply. Your brain is your heart’s biggest and best customer!” So, whatever you can do to improve your circulation, whether it’s lowering your cholesterol, fighting diabetes and obesity or controlling your blood pressure, will make a huge difference to your brain function. Exercise is truly age defying; the average brain probably made about ten thousand new neurons this week. But if you do physical exercise, you can double or triple that.

“One of the scientists who cofounded Synaptitude along with me a few years ago is Teresa Liu-Ambrose. She took a bunch of sixty-five-year-old women, put them in these various classes—cognition only, exercise only, different kinds of exercise, strength training, cardio, balance and stretching—and looked to see how their cognition improved over the next six months. And what she found was that exercise was the best, with doing both cardio and strength training together proving most effective.” Max Cynader

Try Synaptitude’s Lifestyle Assessment Today to get a free Brain Health Report. Find out how you compare to your peers when it comes to Exercise, as well as the four other brain health pillars; Exercise, Sleep, Nutrition, and Cognition.

Stress Reduction

There’s a lot of evidence that having a purpose is a really important part of healthy aging. One of the reasons for this is the toxic impact of chronic stress on the brain. We all have sources of normal stress, and in some cases these can even be helpful in the short term. (Think about that jolt of ACTH coming out of your pituitary to help you run away from that lion hiding in the jungle.) Chronic stress, on the other hand, is really bad for you. Having a sense of purpose mitigates the harm that it causes, as do being able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and having good social interactions with people you enjoy spending time with. A few years ago, researchers found that chronic release of cortisol, which is your stress hormone, is toxic to neurons. Guess which neurons are the most vulnerable? Well, it turns out it’s the babies—the new neurons you just made last week by going to the gym. And no one wants to put their baby in danger.


A lot of great athletes sleep around ten hours a night. Roger Federer gets nine or ten. So did Kobe Bryant. Good sleep means not only higher levels of cognition but also improvements in athletic capability. We spend a third of our lives asleep, and that rest is really important for a variety of reasons:

  • You can go longer without food than you can without sleep.
  • Your immune system also takes a lack of sleep very badly, and it can go disastrously off the rails when it goes without.
  • You have a totally unique waste disposal system inside your brain called the glymphatic system. When you’re asleep, it washes the toxic metabolites out of your brain. One of these metabolites is amyloid-beta, which is the precursor to the toxic proteins of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It also turns out that during sleep you rehearse, replay and rebroadcast the memories of the last few days. When you do that, you’re getting a second and third crack at remembering some of the things that you learnt during the day. This stuff doesn’t even just happen during “dream sleep”; it happens during deep slow-wave sleep, which is something that you do less and less of as you get older.

Scientists are still working on how to increase the amount of slow-wave sleep older people get, but in the meantime we need to embrace general strategies for increasing the amount of sleep that we get and improving our sleep hygiene, as both these things are essential for long-term brain wellness.

Making Your Plan for Long-Term Brain Health

Improving and strengthening brain health is a question of making sure your daily behaviours contribute as much as possible to wellness. It’s about balance and a bit of old-fashioned common sense and self-care.

Kay puts it perfectly: “You need to make a long-term healthcare and vitality plan. You need to balance your vitality assets—strength, mobility and endurance—and then those very critical core assets of resilience and ageless thinking.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about Kay’s work—we especially recommend her Project Activate series, which is being used in many senior living communities—click here. You’ll find tons of resources developed over the past twenty years to help people move from contemplating healthy-aging activities to actually doing them regularly.

Want to find out how your brain is working right now? Visit our app to see where you’re at