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Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives

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Debunks the idea that aging inevitably brings infirmity and unhappiness and instead offers a trove of practical, evidence-based guidance for living longer and better.
--Daniel H. Pink, author of When and Drive

SUCCESSFUL AGING delivers powerful insights:
- Debunking the myth that memory always declines with age
- Confirming that health span--not life span--is what matters
- Proving that sixty-plus years is a unique and newly recognized developmental stage
- Recommending that people look forward to joy, as reminiscing doesn't promote health

Levitin looks at the science behind what we all can learn from those who age joyously, as well as how to adapt our culture to take full advantage of older people's wisdom and experience. Throughout his exploration of what aging really means, using research from developmental neuroscience and the psychology of individual differences, Levitin reveals resilience strategies and practical, cognitive enhancing tricks everyone should do as they age.

Successful Aging inspires a powerful new approach to how readers think about our final decades, and it will revolutionize the way we plan for old age as individuals, family members, and citizens within a society where the average life expectancy continues to rise.

528 pages, Hardcover

First published January 7, 2020

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About the author

Daniel J. Levitin

23 books785 followers
Daniel J. Levitin runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, where he holds the Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communication. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer and record producer. He has written extensively both in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard.



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5 stars
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585 (21%)
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53 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 426 reviews
Profile Image for Scott Wozniak.
Author 13 books72 followers
January 28, 2020
This is the best book on aging I've read yet. It covers everything from the social and emotional issues of aging to the neuroscience and even diet and supplements. The author does a great job giving you real science in a way that doesn't feel overcomplicated.

Some of this confirmed things I've read before:
-Your friendships matter tremendously and you have to keep investing in relationships or they will naturally fade as you and your friends age.
-When designing your final chapters of life, think about the people you want to be with more than the places you want to be/things you want to do.
-Don't retire from meaningful work. You can slow down or do a different activity, but to stop doing things that matter is to invite decline and despair.
-Much of the physical decline we say is aging is really just decades of being out of shape. Stay active and push yourself. You might be surprised at what you can do (and how many aches and pains go away when you're back in shape.)
-Sleep is the most important health factor--and it's harder to sleep well when you're old. That doesn't mean give up. It means get more diligent to protect your sleep quality and quantity.

And there were some things that busted a lot of the myths I've read:
-We still don't don't what diets are best. Nutrition is so hard to pin down (hard to isolate it from other factors and it's so different person to person). So most of the supplements we are told to take have no scientific evidence to support them. This includes popular things like Omega 3 fatty acids (we need them, but so far taking pills doesn't actually show any improvements in our blood stream) and popular diets who remove whole categories of food (from vegetarian to Atkins). The key is variety of food types (except processed/fried foods, of course) and limits on the quantity.
-We still don't know how to avoid Alzheimer's and dementia.
-All the studies of communities of people who live 100+ are massively scientifically flawed. They've been discussed and dismissed by all the scientists in the field. They're anecdotal stories by non-scientists. There are just too few people and the variables are so complex that there's no real patterns that hold up under scrutiny. So beware of them.
-Your genes account for only 7% of your longevity (except for those cases when you have a congenital disease, such as a faulty heart valve). It's mostly how you live.

A few bonus ideas:
-We focus a lot on the diseases that keep us from dying (cancer, heart attack, etc.). But we don't put much attention or effort on the diseases that ruin our life enjoyment (diabetes, back injury, etc.). Don't just try not to do. Plan for a life that allows for pain-free mobility.
-Purpose trumps all else. Have a plan for how you can keep learning and make a difference in the world.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,062 reviews693 followers
April 8, 2021
This book combines knowledge from (1) developmental neuroscience and (2) individual differences (personality) psychology to help the reader understand the aging brain and the choices that can be made to maximize the chances of living long, happy, and productive lives. In the book's Introduction the author, Daniel J Levitin, claims that no other book intended for a popular audience has been written that covers the intersection of these two scientific fields.

The book is divided into three parts, (1) The Continually Developing Brain, (2) The Choices We Make, and (3) The New Longevity. Part One focuses on the ability of both the brain and personality to experience change, both good and bad. Part Two explores the ways the choices made made by individuals can influence health. Part Three explores new drugs and technology that have potential for prolonging health span portion of the life span.

This is a long book that seems to go on forever. There are overlapping subjects in the three parts so some material is referenced more than once. It’s written in a conversational tone with occasion mention of curious serendipitous phenomena, which are probably not appreciated by academic readers because I suspect they’re not all verified facts.

Aging has its down side—brain cell atrophy, DNA sequence damage, compromised cellular repair functions, and neurochemical and hormonal changes. But it’s not all bad. Among the chemical changes in the aging brain are a tendency toward understanding, forgiveness, tolerance, and acceptance. As indicated in the following excerpt, the older years are often experienced as the happiest.
When older people look back on their lives and are asked to pinpoint the age at which they were happiest, what do you suppose they say? Maybe age eight, when they had few cares? Maybe their teenage years because of all the activity and the discovery of sex? Maybe their college years, or the first years of starting a family? Wrong. The age that comes up most often as the happiest time of one’s life is eighty-two! The goal of this book is to help raise that number by ten or twenty years. Science says it can be done. And I’m with science.
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,614 followers
February 28, 2020
There are many books on the market that aim to document how to grow old in a healthy and life-affirming manner, however, this is one of the few written and comprehensively researched by a respected expert in the clinical area of neuroscience. The facts and statistics mentioned throughout are proven and so can be relied upon as methods to implement to try to ensure you live a long and happy life. The Changing Mind is a thought-provoking and eye-opening account of what happens to our brain during the ageing process and it turns on its head some of the misconceptions we all appear to have been told about how deterioration, as we age, is inevitable when this is quite far from the reality of the situation. Dr Levitin hits you with inspiring and optimistic information and I feel there are so, so many people who would gain new knowledge and reinvigoration from what they read between these pages, just as I did.

I know one of the most prominent brain diseases of our time, Alzheimer's, is one of the biggest fears many people face when ruminating on cognition and how to keep the memories we have so beautifully collected alive, therefore I am pleased there are plenty of tips to keep the mind sharp and everything intact in this book. That being said, we all roll the dice on such matters and at the end of the day you may be lucky or you may not. Levitin charts the brains development from birth right through to elder years and unlike other nonfiction titles of this nature, I found this both eminently readable and absolutely fascinating. The case studies used to illustrate points made throughout the book were all interesting and if I’m honest I could’ve read another couple of hundred pages.

If you are looking for an easy, non-challenging read then this probably isn’t it but if you genuinely want to learn more about ageing and what we can do to age well this is a must-read. Many thanks to Penguin Life for an ARC.
1 review1 follower
Want to read
January 7, 2020
Iam seventy one years old woman. But I'd like to read new novels and listen to good music so that
I want to live by my self. When I have retired from professor five years ago I had depressed losted my punctual work. In my country many people thought as an unavailable person from retired their work. I have a complaint these conception. So I start to study regular lesson at open college and I always want to know how do I live my more older age.
I hope to meet and practice my life through Successful aging. I'm going to decide to read this book. Thank you
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
634 reviews84 followers
July 27, 2022
A comprehensive book on ageing. A successful ageing does not just mean living longer, but also remaining healthy and happy or feeling fulfilled. The book consists of three parts:

Part 1 The Continually Developing Brain: the scientific background that motivates the taking of a new approach to ageing. What determines how we age–genes, personality traits, upbringing, environment, social factors, etc…, what does memory loss or intelligence mean in old age, etc…

Part 2 The Choices We make: a list of specific behaviours that an individual can modify to achieve a better ageing, i.e. sleep, diet, exercise, etc… Do brain training games actually work?

Part 3 The New Longevity: how to live longer, smarter and better.

He says: “The single most important factor in determining successful ageing is the personality trait of conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is associated with a great number of positive outcomes in life.” wow.

Three additional factors that determine how well we age that are more important than others:
1. Childhood experiences, in particular parental attachment and head injury
2. Exercise in a varied, natural environment
3. Social interaction

Regarding diet, he quotes Michael Pollan: "eat food, not much, mostly plants." Simple!
195 reviews2 followers
February 3, 2020
True confession: I really didn't finish this book. In fact, I only made it to page 67. Wanna know why? Of course you don't, but I'll tell you nevertheless.
Skip 400 pages of shit, go to page 401 (hardcopy edition) and read "APPENDIX REJUVENATING YOUR BRAIN." That'll give you an idea of just how bad this book is.
Alas, in my "declining," addled old age, I tend to fall for books that might give me the magic elixir, the location of the fountain of youth, the Philosopher's Stone, potions, diets, chemicals, brain games, and other gimmicks that (the books usually claim) will increase my longevity and improve my downhill years. None of them will, of course.
They're all crap, really.
Here's a better idea: read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Natural Causes." She's a great writer, funny, clever, bright, witty. And her chapter 10, "Successful Aging,"of nineteen pages is infinitely better than the 400 pages of Levitin's junk.
Enjoy these last years. Carpe diem!
Profile Image for Donna Craig.
878 reviews38 followers
April 7, 2021
Successful Aging is an invaluable resource for information about aging and how to do it in the most positive way possible. As I am 52 years old, these things are on my mind.

Although this audiobook was over 20 hours long, I really enjoyed it and subjected everyone around me to tidbits and tips that I picked up along the way. The book covers an immense spectrum of topics. However, they mostly can be filed under nutrition, sleep, exercise, drugs, social life...and maybe a couple more. The author then reports some really surprising facts about aging and the effects it has on us. And how we can increase our health spans (as opposed to lifespans regardless of quality). The book is filled with practical applications.

I started to take notes, but I realized that I should probably buy a hard copy for future reference. What a fascinating book.
Profile Image for Terri.
326 reviews
February 3, 2020
This book sounded interesting but it was way too detailed for me to enjoy. Felt more like a textbook. I’d recommend cliff notes for this one.
Profile Image for Taylor Ahlstrom.
Author 3 books3 followers
February 20, 2020
Daniel Levitin’s Successful Aging is a relatable and expertly written guide to the scientific, social, and emotional process of aging, buoyed by the latest research into what we can do to increase not just our lifespan, but our healthspan—those years when we are still living healthy, active lives, not plagued by chronic pain and disease or tubed up in a hospital bed. As a neurologist, the book is heavily scientific, but Levitin does a commendable job of making complicated neural behaviors make sense to the layman. In addition to the science, the book is filled with stories of people he knows and those he interviewed who have stayed active, sharp, and remained in their careers well into their nineties.

His point with these anecdotes is that we need to rethink aging and the elderly along with what we believe is possible after retirement. There is an undeniable stigma against the elderly in America that they are mostly useless and therefore oft forgotten. As to retirement, Levitin thinks we should get rid of it altogether. One of the main causes of cognitive decline in the elderly is not exercising those thinking muscles enough. As work also gives our lives meaning, there has been an increase in those who “unretire,” or rejoin the workforce after retirement. In addition to providing that meaning, work also keeps us active and social. Loneliness and inactivity are two significant causes of cognitive decline in the elderly. Loneliness is so serious a risk that Britain recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness just to address this problem in their increasingly-aged population.

Much of the book—in between all the science—is written from the personal perspective of Levitin, who is now sixty-two years old and is perhaps just beginning to feel many of the effects of aging that his book dives into in some detail. Whether it’s just forgetting why he walked into the kitchen, or that bum knee that will never be the same again, the reader feels a personal connection to the author and his work. Also, as a professional musician, many of his stories relate to music and his performance, which adds an extra touch of personality to a book written by a neuroscientist that had the potential to be both dry and overly technical. Luckily, his book is neither of those things.
One aspect of the book which deserves significant praise is the rigor with which Levitin investigates every possible claim or cure for aging. He informs the reader not only why certain medications work, but why others don’t, and is candid when modern medicine “simply doesn’t know why”—which is often the case when it comes to aging. The book contains over seventy-five pages of notes and resources, and the author claims to have reviewed around four thousand peer-reviewed papers to complete it. When a dietary or health claim mentions a paper or study with a low number of participants or one that was not peer-reviewed, he is quick to point that out.

While some may find the science in the book unnecessarily technical or overbearing, many may find it a helpful backdrop to understand the why behind the advice. Sure, there isn’t a lot of groundbreaking advice here when everyone knows they should eat more vegetables and get better sleep. But understanding how social interaction keeps our brains functioning at a higher level and why a walk in the woods does far more benefit than a walk on a treadmill may help more Americans embrace the suggestions he offers. He doesn’t shame or discount the medicinal benefits of many modern treatments, but he also notes their side effects and shortcomings, and it seems after every potential medication he mentions, the holistic answer is rather the better answer. You may be able to take a pill to feel happier, or you could talk to a friend and work on your coping mechanisms. The brain is an incredibly adaptable organ, and the more we train it, the more it can do for us.

While we may have figured out how certain drugs work in certain ways in the brain, there is still a lot we don’t know. At one point he refers to this as “looking for your keys under the streetlamp because it has the most light.” We are forced to experiment with the things we know the most about, because the other stuff just doesn’t make any sense yet. For every drug you put in your body, there are dozens or hundreds of interactions with every other system in your body, and each of those interactions are different for each and every person. Because of this, we can’t ever say one pill can cure this or that, but only that more people felt better than didn’t. In fact, for a treatment to gain FDA approval, it has to perform only 10 points better than a placebo—which is no treatment at all!

Ultimately, the point is that our bodies are miraculous things, and the only treatments we have found that work for everyone are the simplest ones: more love, more companionship, more meaning in life, more exercise—both mental and physical—and of course, eating more plants. These give you the best chance for extending your healthy years on earth. And most of the other medication that’s out there might help manage some of the aches and pains that inevitably come along the way.
762 reviews3 followers
August 23, 2020
I felt like the book mostly dealt with research on drugs to reduce effects of aging. I wanted to hear more about what I can do personally. There was some of that, and those were the parts I enjoyed. What I found most interesting is the effect moderate or even slow walking can have on the cognitive processes of the brain. In other words, keep moving.
Profile Image for Ruth Kamau.
658 reviews33 followers
February 5, 2020
This book is long, filled with technical terms, and in the end... it does nothing to fulfill the promise given by the title.

It goes on and on about roles of hormones, what doesn’t work, experiments gone wrong, and then provides the most cliche advise about how to be happy in old age.

Coulda just started with that and saved us the repetitive ways of explaining Alzheimer’s and dementia.

All in all, some may appreciate this.
2,327 reviews90 followers
December 20, 2019
I thought this was a heavy book about how to age well. It is pretty scientific but it has good information.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,869 reviews8 followers
February 27, 2021
This is Non Fiction Science mostly about brain health. The author was heavy on the medical jargon and lingo that I guess Neuroscientists use, but the author did his own audio narration and he did a great job relaying the info in a way that didn't make me feel like I was completely in the weeds. For that, I recommend the audio to anyone one who wants to give this book a shot.

When I finished this, there were no boxes to check off. No list to gird your loins with before heading off to the health food store. Instead he uses a lot of studies to illustrate his points on health span.

Now some of these studies are old and they have been used quite prolifically in other health & science books. But what I liked was that he often gave us both sides of the coin. I appreciated that the most. He also pointed fingers but it such a nice way. Also, while this book didn't change my life, it definitely gave me food for thought. So 4 stars for that and the fact that if the author ever wanted to dip into another occupational field, he could easily narrate books.
Profile Image for Jia嘉.
67 reviews4 followers
January 14, 2021
though there were some interesting things that made me go "OH?!", 70 percent of this book was just.. not relevant to the title which was SUCCESFUL AGING. I expected scientific information about how to age better, essentially, live a better life. AND SADLY i read about hormones, decaptivated worms and the anatomy of eyes. THOUGH all of that was interesting, i. did. not. ask.

Objectively wise, its very informative. but from my perspective going into this book with a whole different expectation, it was very dissapointing.
Profile Image for Kristin.
1 review
February 28, 2020
I only got 54 pages in and screw this book. Far too technical and I can’t stand the tangents made in the book that are irrelevant. No one cares about you learning to drive clutch in San Fran when you’re discussing procedural memory. Had some interesting points that makes me wish this book just kept the interesting stuff and therefore shortened into a 150 page book. As another reviewer said, just flip to page 401 and read the appendix.
Profile Image for Yumiko Hansen.
475 reviews8 followers
June 7, 2021
4 stars

I read this book with a great enthusiasm. I have read multiple books on aging and am thoughtful and intrigued to try to find a way to live the rest of my life healthily, meaningfully, and happily. My main interest is “Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.“
Dr. Levitin offers practical advice on how to age well, he also offers hope that one can lead a meaningful and productive life, even as one’s body is in the last laps of life.
The book is entertaining, a quick read, and quite informative about numerous important topics related to looking at aging in a positive light.

—— “The only thing you know for sure is the present tense.
That nowness becomes so vivid to me now, that in a perverse sort of way, I’m almost serene, I can celebrate life. Below my window, for example, the blossom is out in full. It’s a plum tree. It looks like apple blossom, but it’s white. And instead of saying, “Oh, that’s a nice blossom,” looking at it through the window when I’m writing, it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomiest blossom that there ever could be.
Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter—but the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.
And if people could see that—there’s no way of telling you, you have to experience it—the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance. . . . Not that I’m interested in reassuring people, you know. The fact is that if you see the present tense, boy, do you see it, and boy, can you celebrate it!”

... Yes, in the end, in the battle to hang on to life, nature always wins.
Profile Image for Valerie.
70 reviews
August 23, 2020
Your Brain On Age

Wonderful book loaded with health information younger eyes should read. I found answers why and how my husband and my own thinking are changing as we approach our sixth decade. The science, anatomical, chemical and time changes accumulated in life is explained with an energy to age with courage, love and laughter. Will keep for future reference!
Profile Image for Sara Budarz.
639 reviews23 followers
May 12, 2020
My mother is in her 70s and she has spent the last decade often casually mentioning the fact that if she didn't happen to look in the mirror, or down at her aging hands, she would never know that she is that old. She doesn't feel her age. What it means to be in your 70s is of course subjective, but what she means is that she doesn't feel the way that others seem to expect her to feel. She doesn't want to slow down, she still has big dreams and plans for the next decades, she still travels, and is learning a new language (her fifth? sixth?) and she does intense physical work in her garden. Sure, there might be some aches here and there, but overall, she has very little interest in the "senior" activities offered by her community and the implied lower level of these activities. Last summer, one of her neighbors kindly reprimanded her for traveling abroad, saying that "people our age really shouldn't be doing those sorts of things." We often talk about aging and the way she notices people treating her differently, or the feeling of becoming more and more invisible as you age. Society, it seems, has very low expectations for the later decades of our lives.

And so when I saw this book, I was excited to read it, because it seemed to be a book that goes against the general trend of talking about older age as this terrible time of aches and pain and decline. After reading it, I’d highly recommend this book to everyone, both because we will all age someday and/or have people we love who might get there first.

There is so much information packed into these pages, but here are some of the key takeaways:

1. One of the most important things that will determine how well you age is the strength of your bonds to others. So cultivate love and friendships, and keep at them, throughout life. And rid yourself of toxic people; stress is bad. Love is good.

2. Physical activity matters, a lot. Your brain wants novelty and exercise, ideally in nature. So go for runs and walks and hikes and bike rides and keep at it. Most of what we think of as inevitable signs of aging is actually just the effect of being out of shape. Even if you have been out of shape, start now, even if you are in your 80s and 90s. It will make a huge difference to your mental alertness.

3. Your brain wants and needs to keep exploring and learning new things. So take walks and take in new surroundings. Travel if you can. Interact with new people. It is especially important to engage with new technology, both because learning to use it is good for your brain, but also bc it keeps you from feeling like you are too old to be current.

4. Drink more water, and use hydration salts if needed. A lot of mental fogginess is probably just dehydration, because as we age, the system responsible for signaling thirst gets worn out and we don't register the need as much.

5. Eat well. There are probably many forms of eating that will work, but the few absolutes are that we need veggies, lots and a variety, and proteins and good fats. Also, restricting calories (via fasting intervals) seems to be really healthy, but do whatever healthy thing feels doable. But lots of veggies, and nuts and fish and lean meats.

6. If you enjoy your profession, don't ever retire. Or if you retire, find a way to fill your day with meaningful work. Retirement is bad for your brain. Feeling needed and knowing you have a reason to get up each morning to meaningfully contribute to society matters. Knowing someone is counting on you to deliver matters. Stay involved. There is no reason you can't still be contributing in your 80s and 90s and beyond.

7. A lot of mental confusion in elderly adults is often actually a side-effect of all of their medicines interacting and causing havoc. Take responsibility for your medical records, and continue discussing what you are on, and whether you should drop any drugs. Many doctors are reticent to do this, since the status quo is easier to uphold than risking seeing how you fare without all of the medicines, but you are often overly medicated. Find a primary care physician you trust and build a relationship with them.

8. When it does come to aging, three questions to ask yourself will help guide decisions about where and how to live: Who will change the lightbulbs? (targets questions of care, cleaning, housework, cooking). What if I want to go out for ice cream? (targets questions of spontaneity, walkability of neighborhood, autonomy). Who will I have lunch with? (targets questions of social network, community fit, availability of social events and activities, friendship).

Reading this book made me realize that there is a lot more hope in aging and aging well than we usually talk about. And it did make me realize why, in part, my mother has done well: she is intellectually engaged, keeps trying new things, keeps learning new languages, is very physically active, and eats healthily. She isn't letting a number keep her from setting goals. She is, in other words, doing many of the things this book recommends. Now if only I could get here to drink more water. But that might be a battle I will never win.
Profile Image for David.
25 reviews2 followers
May 26, 2020
Sensible advice wrapped in scientific garb.
Profile Image for P.T..
Author 10 books50 followers
January 2, 2022
I liked this book and found it valuable, even though it's kind of a mess.

Levitin summarizes the latest science on aging and the brain, and most of it is rigorous and clear in my opinion. He relies mostly on meta-analyses that summarize hundreds of studies to arrive at a conclusion, though there are occasional forays into more experimental drugs and techniques, with an appropriate degree of caution about whether anybody should take them seriously.

There are a few practical tidbits about how to age well, though none are particularly surprising (a good thing, IMO, when being scientifically credible), and not organized into any sort of plan aside from a bulleted list on the last page. In the beginning it kind of seems like he'd turn his "COACH" acronym into some sort of healthy aging system, but that fizzles out and is never returned to. This is more about better understanding the factors that contribute to healthy aging, rather than self-help.

I do like the emphasis on personality, because that doesn't come up as often as the obvious things like diet and exercise. As a (mostly former) personality researcher myself, I'm a bit biased, but I think it's important to acknowledge that every person is different, and maybe even bluntly state that certain personality profiles (e.g., high conscientiousness) can be better than other personality profiles if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Where the book falls short of its potential is in its structure and focus. Is this a book about the neuroscience of aging? The brain on the cover seems to say so, and it refers to itself as a book about the brain, but then it has entire chapters that focus on the rest of the body. Some sections are focused on particular topics, but others sort of meander through various loosely-connected ideas, sometimes looping back on themselves to cover research that had already been mentioned in previous chapters. There's a great collection of references at the end, and an index for if you need to look up a particular lifestyle factor or drug later, which makes sense, because this can feel a bit like a reference book rather than a cohesive flow of ideas.

I'm only in my early 40s, so reading this wasn't an emergency, but I still found it extremely valuable for getting a head start on having the best chance of reaching old age without my brain turning to mush. I find myself thinking about it while I'm on my exercise bike—if I push myself a little bit harder today, maybe I'll have a few more years of lucidity when I'm in my 80s. Despite any nitpicks about the writing, that motivational push is priceless.
Profile Image for Karen Ng.
471 reviews87 followers
January 28, 2020
The book is more technical and scientific than I expected. I find some chapters too overwhelming and tedious even though I was a scientist before retirement; read hundreds of books on neuro/ cognitive science after my brain bleed 3 years ago. The author's researches were very thorough and interesting, but attempting to educate an average reader with function and anatomy of the human brain, personality traits, memory categorization, cognitive science, as well as the effects of genes, environment, curiosity and parenting on sucessful aging is a bit too much to jam into one book. I actually was somewhat relieved when I finished.
Profile Image for Deedi Brown (DeediReads).
629 reviews99 followers
April 15, 2020
All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/.

Successful Aging is a scientific but well-written and interesting look at current thinking about how the brain works and how you can protect it as you age.

For you if: You are a curious person and don’t mind reading a lot of scientific info.

I got my hands on a copy of Successful Aging through the Next Big Idea Club. I wouldn’t normally reach for a book like this on my own, but I’m glad I read it! I was feeling especially curious and drawn to nonfiction one weekend, so I picked it up. And it certainly scratched my curious itch!

This book is an in-depth look at how the brain works (at least, what we know of it today) and how we can protect it as we age in order to live happily and fully for as long as possible. It’s very scientific, but I was impressed with how Daniel Levitin didn’t make it feel like a textbook. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of biological words and concepts here. But the way the book was written made them feel as conversational as I think it’s possible to be on a topic like this.

The book definitely inspired me to tweak a few of my habits. He emphasizes things we already know are good for us — sleeping well, eating moderately well, moving our bodies every so often — but clarifies why those things are important for the brain, specifically. It also opened my eyes to the psychology and emotional motivations typical for older adults, which I think will help me interact with my 97-year-old great grandmother specifically!

Several times while I was reading, I looked up and asked my husband, “Did you know that ___?” And I think that’s the mark of a good scientific nonfiction.
Profile Image for Dima Yousef Jadaan.
85 reviews8 followers
July 26, 2021
This book covers a wide range of topics related to ageing including the neuroscience, psychology, and social aspects of ageing. It is divided into 3 parts: (1) The Continually Developing Brain, (2) The Choices We Make, and (3) The New Longevity. The first part covers personality, memory, perception, intelligence, emotions, pain, and how social factors relate to ageing. The second part covers the internal clock and circadian rhythm, diet, exercise, and sleep. The third part explores topics such as telomeres, genetics versus the environment, and potential drugs and technology for cognitive enhancement. The book ends with 10 actionable takeaways for "rejuvenating your brain".⁣

The book is comprehensively researched and offers an exhaustive list of references at the end. It is very well-written and offers a balanced blend of science, storytelling, and actionable takeaways. The book also has an optimistic vibe as it focuses on the positive aspects of brain ageing. I think the book's title "The Changing Mind" captures the content more accurately than the other title "Successful Aging".⁣

Few points to note: although the book is comprehensive, it doesn't cover epigenetics, there are no graphs or illustrations, and the introduction is extremely long-winded. Nevertheless, after reading the whole book, I'd say don't judge a book by its introduction. Normally, I would deduct a point due to these limitations, but the book for me was so enjoyable, interesting, and informative that I decided to give it five stars. I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about ageing especially in relation to how the brain changes with age.⁣
896 reviews6 followers
September 12, 2020
I have read Daniel Levitin's "Organized Mind" and liked it very much. Thus I was eagerly looking forward to this book. I won't say it was a disappointment. However, it was not easy reading. Granted the subject was a difficult one but I found I had to read some sections over and over again before understanding them. The book has a good premise that Life is about Heath Span and not Life Span. The author explains how to live a life such that one can be as healthy as possible and this is a definite plus. The dust jacket describes the book as "A guide to the ultimate stage of human development" and it certainly lives up to that billing. I'm glad I read the book. It will certainly prepare me for my seventies and eighties which are ahead.
Profile Image for Russel.
2 reviews
January 10, 2021
Levitin describes the current state of our knowledge of neuroscience and how it affects the brain. The language is mostly accessible. To help the reader understand some of the more complex ideas of the book, Levitin uses anecdotes and metaphors. I found these effective most of the time, but every now and then he would finish a metaphor and I found myself forgetting what the subject of the comparison was. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Overall, this book is useful to anyone who is curious about aging and doesn't mind not understanding every idea presented. Levitin does a good job "selling" the thesis that just because we are getting older doesn't mean that life is inevitably getting worse. This is a book of hope, grounded in science, that we can all live meaningful lives at any age.
Profile Image for Liz Moffat.
303 reviews4 followers
January 30, 2021
I’ve taken so many notes from this book. It reinforces what I already thought about ageing well and backs it up with neuroscience. A lot of the science was difficult to follow but really interesting in relation to the advice and practical steps to live a long and healthy life. Keeping active, social connections, nature and diet all help towards leading a long and healthy life. The book also highlighted the impact that loneliness can have on every one of us.
Profile Image for Steve.
935 reviews41 followers
December 24, 2020
A lot of good information, and Levitin is a good writer. But I think I’ve read most of the neuroscience stuff in other pop-neurosci books, and almost all of the old-age advice seemed pretty familiar also, like from NYT articles. Not Levitin’s fault if I read this kind of stuff a lot I guess. I really liked his book about music, none of his other books have matched that for me.
Profile Image for Kristin.
283 reviews33 followers
September 3, 2020
It took me forever to finish this, but it was worth it. Leviton cites his sources and has thousands more studies and peer-reviewed papers on his website if you want to see them. Lots of great tips for aging with info on how your brain works.
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