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Let’s talk Brain Health with Dr. Joyce Shaffer . . . Outliers as Role Models?



Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing; the study and application of what it takes for people and communities to adapt and thrive; and the study of building the best things in life.

Chris Peterson, PhD



In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell gives us food for thought about empowering ourselves to improve Brain Health. In this focus on folks who exceed our expectations, Gladwell emphasizes the “10,000 hours” rule that practicing a skill is more likely than genius to explain success beyond what would seem possible. Family and community support can also be factors. Gladwell opined that one factor in the extraordinary success of Bill Gates was the 10,000 hours of programming that was possible because he had access to a computer from the age of 13.

From a vast array of successes who will be your role model for vigorous longevity with Brain Health to live for?

Jeanne Calment of France who lived from 1875 to 1997 was confirmed to have the longest human lifespan. It’s been reported that she consumed a lot of chocolate, rode a bicycle until she was 100, walked all over town and was unflappable. While this writing is not confirming the truth of those reports, should we find fault with any of those? She lived 122 years!

Herman Wouk, author of The Caine Mutiny and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature released Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author which NPR called "a lovely coda to the career of a man who made American literature a kinder, smarter, better place."

Frieda Lefeber had her first solo art exhibit at the age of 100. Working as a nurse for more than fifty years influenced her commitment to healthy lifestyle choices which reportedly includes exercising five mornings a week.

The oldest working nurse, Florence Rigney, RN, turned 92 in May 2017. KING-5 quotes her saying she feels “honored and humbled” to still be working at Tacoma General Hospital in Washington, USA, as well as “very blessed to be still able to function.”

Robert Marchand, also of France, set a world record at the age of 105 for his age group by bicycling 14 miles in an hour. A winner of previous competitions, his apparently believes in a positively evolving personal best. There could be wisdom is modeling after his pattern of training for an hour each day and eating lots of fruits and vegetables with not much meat.

Carl Reiner at the age of 95 has produced a new documentary. Interviewed for AARP Bulletin, he attributed his vigorous longevity to stretching for flexibility, walking “around the block singing all the words to maybe 20 songs,” and enjoying the good times while walking “away from the bumps.” Could his be a model for turning stress into power and creativity?

Born in Havana in 1915 and living in New York City, Carmen Herrera’s abstract art brought her international attention late in life. Reportedly, it’s “the beauty of the straight line” that still sustains her.

Much ado about scores hit the media when the Swiss professional tennis player, Roger Federer, won his 18 Grand Slam singles title at the age of 35. That’s a record in the history of men's tennis.

In another historical record: 99-year-old World War II veteran Orville Rogers won the indoor track race by 0.05 seconds. His younger competitor, Dixon Hemphill wished he had leaned in at the finish. Rogers attributed his success to training hard three times a week in addition to visualizing success in everything he does.

These are examples of using Positive Psychology for personal empowerment in the quest for vigorous longevity.

A book published in 2001 and still worth reading is The Okinawa Program: How the World's Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health--And How You Can Too. It teaches us how a community lived such that theirs was declared a Centenarian Center of the World by the World Health Organization (WHO). One of my favorite vignettes from this book tells of the researchers approaching the home of a centenarian they planned to interview, seeing a man in his “70s” on the veranda, assuming that was his son, and announcing the purpose of their visit to the “young” gentleman who, they learned, was the centenarian they were looking for. This book is especially valuable when read along with The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest. Both books emphasize that genetic inheritance is but one factor in living a long healthy life. There’s a great deal of personal empowerment in this perspective that lifestyle choices are how you earn vigorous longevity. The Blue Zones drives that point home with poignant clarity by detailing how changes in lifestyle choices with Western influence has resulted in only one Centenarian Center remaining at that writing.

All the preceding examples that emphasize lifestyle choices highlight the key point that will be emphasized and clarified in this series on Brain Health: By the time you use every evidence-based intervention research associates with improving brain chemistry, architecture and performance, it is likely that your only side effect will be improved general health. Thus, the preferred way for you to learn vigorous longevity with a brain to live for is to use evolving neuroscience to refine your goals, strategies and game plan for consistently maintaining actions and belief that a positively evolving personal best is the greatest gift that you can give to yourself and to everyone around you. That is Brain Health by YOU.


  • Buettner, Dan. (2010). The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
  • Gladwell, Malcolm. (2011). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
  • Willcox, Bradley, D. Craig Willcox & Makoto Suzuki. (2001). The Okinawa Program: How the World's Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health--And How You Can, Too. 


  • Joyce Shaffer, PhD, is a psychologist, nurse, speaker, global bicyclist and author. She is a co-founder and collaborator in developing a Rotary Action Group for the sole purpose of improving brain health anywhere on our good globe.
  • You can contact Dr. Shaffer via the website.
  • The opinions expressed in this Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff 

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