Lillian Wilson

Breaking the Age Code by Becca Levy

Read 'Breaking the Age Code' to learn how positive age beliefs can lead to better health and well-being.

Breaking the Age Code
 “This book will shatter some of your basic assumptions about aging – and how we can lead longer, healthier, and happier lives. Becca Levy is the world’s foremost expert on the psychology of aging, and she shares rigorous, remarkable evidence that one of the best ways to stay mentally and physically fit is to rethink your stereotypes about what it means to be an older person.” 
– Adam Grant, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

The problem of ageism has been reported to effect lives of 82% of people. And while it is unpleasant for our self-image and self-esteem, these prejudices are said to affect our health and abilities.

In her groundbreaking book ‘Breaking the Age Code,’ Dr. Becca Levy demonstrates that ameliorating our age beliefs can result in positive effects on various aspects of the ageing process.

Author’s background

Dr. Becca Levy is a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and a professor of psychology at Yale University.

Dr. Becca Levy (r)

Dr. Levy’s pioneering studies have revolutionised our understanding of ageing by shedding light on the profound influence of attitudes and perceptions. Her remarkable contributions have garnered recognition from esteemed organisations, including the American Psychological Association, the Gerontological Society of America, and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, who have honoured her work with prestigious awards.

What is the book about?

The book ‘Breaking the Age Code’ delves into the fascinating realm of age-related beliefs and their psychological and social implications.

Dr. Becca Levi highlights that 82% of older individuals reported experiencing ageism in everyday life. In the book, she explores the unique prejudice that can shape our perceptions of ageing and influence our well-being and health.

With her groundbreaking scientific discoveries, Dr. Levy challenges the prevailing negative age beliefs that dominate our culture. She reveals the surprising connections between our mindset and our physical and mental health, overturning long-held assumptions about the ageing process. For instance, the book highlights that various health issues commonly attributed solely to ageing, such as memory loss, hearing decline, and cardiovascular events, can be significantly influenced by negative age beliefs prevalent in the United States and other countries.

‘Breaking the Age Code’ provides a crucial wake-up call, urging all of us to reevaluate our perspectives on ageing. Dr. Levy’s research uncovers the fallacies behind 14 commonly held negative age beliefs, examining the scientific evidence that refutes their validity. Moreover, she unearths the hidden strengths within ageing that counter these detrimental messages, empowering people to embrace a more positive view of ageing.

Key takeaways from ‘Breaking the Age Code’

1Positive age beliefs can enhance cognitive abilities

One prevalent negative age belief addressed in the book is the notion that all types of cognition decline uniformly with age. However, scientific studies reveal that this belief is far from the truth. Different cognitive abilities exhibit diverse patterns of change as we age. Some skills, such as procedural memory (e.g., riding a bike), are well-preserved, while others actually improve, including metacognition (the ability to think about thinking) and pattern recognition. Dr. Levy’s research also demonstrates that certain memory functions commonly assumed to decline can be improved with interventions that strengthen positive age beliefs.

For example, she recounts the inspiring story of an 84-year-old retired actor who memorised a 60,000-word poem, akin to the size of a novel. The actor’s motivation stemmed from his own positive age belief, inspired by cellist Pablo Casals, who continued to play sonatas beautifully in his 80s and 90s. Such stories emphasise the potential of cultivating a positive mindset and how it can enhance cognitive abilities and overall well-being.

2People with a positive mindset have better functional health

For her book, Dr. Levy interviewed Sister Madonna who is a 91-year-old nun living an extremely active lifestyle. Sister Madonna has completed over 350 triathlons since she first started running at the age of nearly fifty. Sister Madonna’s training routine is refreshingly simple and unconventional, involving everyday activities like running or biking to the grocery store, swimming, and using snowshoes during winter.

Intrigued by Sister Madonna’s vitality and positive age beliefs, Dr. Levy conducted a study to explore the influence of age beliefs on functional health, which encompasses movement capabilities like balance, stamina, and speed. Participants aged fifty and older were surveyed regarding their age beliefs, and their functional health was assessed periodically over two decades. The study revealed that those with positive age beliefs exhibited significantly better functional health over the eighteen-year period compared to their peers with negative age beliefs. This groundbreaking finding emphasised the impact of age beliefs on physical performance in later life.

3Cultivating positive age beliefs can lower stress levels

Our age beliefs play a significant role in determining the impact of stress on our bodies and mental well-being. Dr. Levy states that positive age beliefs act as a barrier against stress, while negative age beliefs amplify it.

She provides an example of a long-term analysis in which participants with negative age beliefs experienced a 44% increase in cortisol levels, the body’s main stress hormone, while those with positive age beliefs showed a 10% decline.

Table of contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Dedication
  • Introduction: Ideas Bouncing Between the US and Japan
  • 1: The Pictures in Our Head
  • 2: Anatomy of a Senior Moment
  • 3: Old and Fast
  • 4: Brawny Brains: Genes Aren’t Destiny
  • 5: Later-Life Mental Health Growth
  • 6: Longevity Advantage of 7.5 Years
  • 7: Stars Invisible by Day: Creativity and the Senses
  • 8: Ageism: The Evil Octopus
  • 9: Individual Age Liberation: How to Free Your Mind
  • 10: Societal Age Liberation: A New Social Movement Afterword: A Town Free of Ageism
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix 1: ABC Method to Bolster Positive Age Beliefs
  • Appendix 2: Ammunition to Debunk Negative Age Stereotypes
  • Appendix 3: A Call to End Structural Ageism
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Praise for Breaking the Age Code
  • Copyright
  • About the Publisher
  • Contents

Overall rating & strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews

The book has gotten 3.88 ⭐️ on GoodReads.


  • Addresses the need to change societal perceptions of ageing.

  • Offers a transformative perspective on ageing.

  • Presents compelling stories and data.

  • Highlights the societal impact of ageism.

  • It is easy and quick to read thanks to a balanced approach to the presentation of scientific information.

  • Personal and relatable.


  • Reliance on personal stories and anecdotes. The book heavily relies on personal stories and famous individuals to make the content relatable and engaging. However, this emphasis may result in an incomplete representation of the scientific evidence, focusing on exceptional cases rather than the overall context.

  • Lack of depth and complexity. The book’s focus on creating a concise and attention-grabbing narrative may sacrifice depth and complexity. It lacks the detailed explanations, footnotes, and comprehensive bibliography expected in scientific work.

Best quotes from ‘Breaking the Age Code’

“…important than gender, income, social background, loneliness, or functional health – was how people thought about and approached the idea of old age. Age beliefs, it turns out, can steal or add nearly eight years to your life. In other words, these beliefs don’t just live in our heads. For better or worse, those mental images that are the product of our cultural diets, whether it’s the shows we watch, the things we read, or the jokes we laugh at, become scripts we end up acting out.” 
“Expectations can be quite useful in many situations. When we come across a closed door, we can expect, based on previous experiences, that it will either be locked or unlocked. We generally don’t have to ask ourselves whether the door will fall down flat or burst into flames if we give the handle a wiggle. We can thank our brains for this ability to process situations quickly, visually, and often automatically, which is why there’s no need to relearn how a door works. Instead, we can rely on what we already know to be familiar. This is pretty much how we get through the world every single day: by generating and then relying on expectations.” 
“And as you finally enter your own old age, whenever you can’t recall something, you blame it on ageing. When you do this, you’re actively manifesting the stereotype you grew up hearing applied to older people, but now you’re directing it at yourself. This, in turn, can lead to stress, which can reduce memory performance.”

Final takeaway

‘Breaking the Age Code’ by Dr. Becca Levy offers a transformative perspective on ageing, challenging prevailing negative age beliefs and highlighting the societal impact of ageism. Through compelling stories and scientific data, Dr. Levy demonstrates the profound influence of attitudes and perceptions on all aspects of our health ranging from cognitive abilities, and functional health to stress levels. The book serves as a wake-up call, urging readers to reevaluate their perspectives on ageing and embrace a more positive mindset.

Overall, this thought-provoking book is recommended for anyone seeking to understand the power of age beliefs and the potential for a fulfilling and vibrant life as we age.

Where to buy

You may purchase ‘Breaking the Age Code’ on Amazon at the best price. It is available in Kindle, audio, paperback and hardcover versions, so you are free to choose the format that suits you best.

Healthypedia FAQ

Absolutely. The book is valuable for readers of all ages, as it promotes a broader understanding of ageing and the importance of cultivating positive age beliefs early on. It can help younger readers develop a more positive outlook on their own ageing process and shape their attitudes towards older adults.

'Breaking the Age Code' is highly relevant and beneficial for professionals in gerontology, psychology, healthcare, and other fields that involve working with older adults. It provides valuable insights and evidence-based information that can enhance their understanding and approach to aging-related issues.

Yes, 'Breaking the Age Code' promotes intergenerational understanding and appreciation. By challenging negative age beliefs, the book encourages readers to view older adults as valuable contributors to society and fosters empathy and respect between different age groups. It can be a valuable resource for strengthening intergenerational relationships and bridging generational gaps.

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