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Nuns uncover secrets to living longer

CREATED May. 10, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - We are all looking to discover a fountain of youth, and now science is saying some very generous local nuns have it all figured out and may hold the secret to a long and happy life.

These nuns gave their hearts to God but their brains to science, and in the process taught us all some lessons on how to live better and live longer.

You would expect to see The School Sisters of Notre Dame in a church, but these nuns don't just do mass. They do mass media too. Books, magazine covers and talk shows. They became famous because of a scientific study, a study in which they agreed to take mental and physical tests, then donate their brains when they died. That was in 1994.

Only three of the sisters who took part in the study are still alive. Sister Gabriel Mary Spaeth knew every sister in the study. That's because, for years, she drove around the country conducting the tests.

"I always said to them that they would never know until they die, what good they have done for all of humankind," said Spaeth.

She was right. Because of their gift, we know part of living longer and healthier is a choice. Keeping your body active and your brain busy.

Sister Spaeth points out, "as we always said, whatever's good for the heart is good for the brain."

And you don't have to be a nun, or even religious, to benefit from something else the study taught us. To live longer, it helps to be an optimist.

Sister Mary Gilda Sturino, now in her late 80s, was too young to take part in the study, but there is no doubt she is a "glass half full" type of person. And while her feet don't quite reach, she's grounded when it comes to the meaning of life.

"it's a pure gift. I like the package I got," Sturino said.

And she insists sharing that gift with other people, is what keeps us young at heart.

"I don't think we realize how much presence means in our world today," she added. "It means a whole lot, and that presence that we bring is the gift that we give to each other."

The original research in 1994 was actually an Alzheimer's study, and through that they discovered other clues to living a longer life. The University of Minnesota is now working on another study with The School Sisters of Notre Dame. This time the nuns won't have to donate their brains. They are planning on using brain imaging technology instead.