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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sister Mary Atlas

The magazine New Scientist had an article on steps for a better life that included this section on the value of being a nun:

Nuns on a run

If you don't want senility to interfere with your old age, perhaps you should seek some sisterly guidance

THE convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame on Good Counsel Hill in Mankato, Minnesota, might seem an unusual place for a pioneering brain-science experiment. But a study of its 75 to 107-year-old inhabitants is revealing more about keeping the brain alive and healthy than perhaps any other to date. The "Nun study" is a unique collaboration between 678 Catholic sisters recruited in 1991 and Alzheimer's expert David Snowdon of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The sisters' miraculous longevity - the group boasts seven centenarians and many others well on their way - is surely in no small part attributable to their impeccable lifestyle. They do not drink or smoke, they live quietly and communally, they are spiritual and calm and they eat healthily and in moderation. Nevertheless, 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.

Obviously, you don't have to become a nun to stay mentally agile. We can all aspire to these kinds of improvements. As one of the sisters put it, "Think no evil, do no evil, hear no evil, and you will never write a best-selling novel."

So, I figure that there will probably be a market for exercise and workout materials produced by religious sisters. If it works out, the religious brothers can hop on the band wagon as well. As one who doesn't exercise nearly as much as he should, this video could come in handy - especially when the pleats in the habit don't expand like they used to.

Posted by Hello


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