Three years ago, when she was only 17 years old, Malala Yousafzai became the first teenager to ever win a Nobel Prize. Decades earlier, Albert Einstein (erroneously) commented, "A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so." Do you ever worry that because you are older, your smartest days are behind you?
As a baby boomer, I'm old enough to remember when conventional wisdom suggested that sharp brains belonged to only the young, and that the older people get, the slower (and less efficient) their thinking processes become. Fortunately, we now know that our brains can remain sharp well into old age.
According to Bruce Weinberg, an economist at Ohio State University, and Benjamin Jones, an innovation expert at Northwestern University, once upon a time there might have been some truth to Einstein's proclamation. Back in 1905, the average age of people who won a Nobel Prize in physics was only 37. But today that number is over 50, and in 2007, Lenoid Hurwicz won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences at the age of 90! In fact, nine of the 10 Nobel laureates in science or economics this past year were over 70. The other winner was 68-year-old Michael W. Young of The Rockefeller University.
Between 1901 and 2017, there have been 923 Nobel laureates even though no prizes were awarded during the years consumed by World War I and World War II. And if you factor in all six categories (chemistry, physiology, literature, medicine, peace and physics), then the average age of all Nobel laureates between 1901 and 2017 is actually 60. In fact, 462 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to recipients who were over the age of 60, which should put an end to the faulty argument that brainpower inevitably decreases with every passing year.
Because I've had multiple sclerosis (this means "many scars" in the brain) for over 30 years, I'll admit to being a little obsessed with any and all issues that affect brain tissue. For that reason, I've read everything written by Dr. Daniel Amen, a brilliant double board-certified psychiatrist who has devoted his entire career to the study of maintaining and improving brain function.
If you are over 60 and concerned about your creative skills or memory abilities, there are a number of things you can do to help your brain function better. Dr. Amen has long advised his patients to remember that anything that might damage the heart will definitely damage the brain. What this means is eating a diet of processed toxic food will probably have an adverse effect on your heart, your arteries and your brainpower — whether you are 17 or 75.
Brain tissue is extremely vulnerable. Dr. Amen maintains that it has the consistency of soft butter and needs to be protected at all costs because it is surrounded by the hard, pointy bones of the skull. This is why any kind of head trauma — concussion, sports injury, whiplash, etc. — can set the stage for mental health complication in the future. Dr. Amen was one of the first researchers to discover the link between NFL players and delayed brain injuries.
Even if you've never dreamt about winning a Nobel Prize, it still makes a lot of sense to pamper your brain tissue as if you were true-blue genius.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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