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Lillian Wilson

Successful Aging by Daniel Levitin

With 'Successful Aging', you'll get valuable insights and practical advice for achieving a healthy and fulfilling life as you age.

Successful Aging

The book has gotten 3.92 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

“This book’s breadth is impressive. Excellent popular science in the service of fending off aging.”
– Kirkus Reviews

‘Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives’ by Daniel J. Levitin does not attempt to sugarcoat the process of growing older or to convince readers of its reversibility. The book primarily aims to tell us how to age well by promoting one’s health span for the sake of enjoyable older years full of communication, socialising and new opportunities rather than isolation and constant medication intake.

In this review, we will take a closer look at this read so you can get acquainted with the main ideas and topics, the book covers, and decide whether it is worth reading.

Author’s background

Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, is a renowned neuroscientist, cognitive psychologist, and highly acclaimed author.

Daniel J. Levitin (r)

He holds the distinguished position of Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI in San Francisco, as well as being a Professor Emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University. With several bestselling books to his name, including ‘This Is Your Brain on Music,’ ‘The World in Six Songs,’ ‘The Organized Mind,’ and ‘A Field Guide to Lies,’ Levitin has established himself as a leading expert in the field.

What is the book about?

In the book ‘Successful Aging,’ Daniel J. Levitin presents a comprehensive exploration of the ageing process, challenging the notion that ageing is solely about living longer and instead emphasising the importance of remaining healthy, happy, and fulfilled. The book is divided into three parts: The Continually Developing Brain, The Choices We Make, and The New Longevity.

In the first part, Levitin delves into the scientific background that drives a new approach to ageing. He examines various factors that influence how we age, including genetics, personality traits, upbringing, environment, and social factors. He also explores the meaning of memory loss and intelligence in old age.

The second part focuses on the choices individuals can make to achieve better ageing. Levitin provides a list of specific behaviours that can be modified, such as sleep, diet, exercise, and brain training games. He delves into the effectiveness of brain training games and their impact on cognitive abilities.

The third part, The New Longevity, explores strategies for living longer, smarter, and better. Levitin offers insights into the importance of maintaining healthy relationships and finding meaningful work. He highlights the role of socialisation in maintaining mental acuity, emphasising the benefits of engaging in conversations, listening, empathising, and practising gratitude. He also discusses the positive effects of volunteering, which can contribute to reduced mental decline and improved well-being.

Throughout the book, Levitin challenges common misconceptions about ageing, debunking the idea that memory always declines with age. He emphasises the concept of ‘health span’ rather than ‘life span’ as the true measure of successful ageing. Levitin provides scientific evidence to support his claims and offers practical advice for promoting well-being and happiness in the ageing process.

Table of contents

  • Praise for Successful Aging
More…
  • Also by Daniel J. Levitin
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • Introduction
  • PART ONE: The Continually Developing Brain
  • 1. INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES AND PERSONALITY The search for the magic number
  • 2. MEMORY AND YOUR SENSE OF “YOU” The myth of failing memory
  • 2.5. INTERLUDE A brief biography of the brain
  • 3. PERCEPTION What our bodies tell us about the world
  • 4. INTELLIGENCE The problem-solving brain
  • 5. FROM EMOTIONS TO MOTIVATION Snakes, rickety bridges, Mad Men, and stress
  • 6. SOCIAL FACTORS Life with people
  • 7. PAIN It hurts when I do this
  • PART TWO: The Choices We Make
  • 8. THE INTERNAL CLOCK It’s two A.M. Why am I hungry?
  • 9. DIET Brain food, probiotics, and free radicals
  • 10. EXERCISE Movement matters
  • 11. SLEEP Memory consolidation, DNA repair, and sleepy hormones
  • PART THREE: The New Longevity
  • 12. LIVING LONGER Telomeres, tardigrades, insulin, and zombie cells
  • 13. LIVING SMARTER Cognitive enhancement
  • 14. LIVING BETTER The greatest days of our lives
  • Appendix: Rejuvenating Your Brain
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Art Credits
  • Index
  • About the Author

Key takeaways from ‘Successful Aging’

1If you are able to and want to, do not retire

If you find enjoyment and fulfilment in your profession, consider continuing to work or finding meaningful work after retirement. Retirement can exacerbate the feeling of loneliness and social isolation. As the author states: “People retire and swiftly lose the social contact they had with co-workers. Friends die. Health and mobility problems make it more difficult to leave home. Ageism, present in many modern societies, leaves older adults feeling devalued, unwanted, or invisible.”

To prove his points, Levitin provides an example of KFC founder Colonel Sanders who conceived his well-known company at the age of 62. Here is how Sanders comments on the possibility of retirement: “At age eighty-nine, Colonel Sanders was asked, ‘You don’t believe in retirement?’ ‘No,’ he answered adamantly. ‘Not a bit in the world. When the Lord put Father Adam here he never told him to quit at 65, did he? He worked into his final years. I think as long as you’ve got health, and ability, use it . . . to the end.’”

Retirement can also be detrimental to brain health, so staying active and feeling needed can contribute to a fulfilling and purposeful life. Maintaining involvement and contributing to society, even in your 80s and 90s, can have a positive impact on cognitive function and overall well-being.

2Be mindful of medications

Mental confusion in older adults is often a result of the interactions between various medications they are taking. Take responsibility for your medical records and have open discussions with your healthcare provider about your medication regimen. It is essential to evaluate whether certain drugs can be reduced or eliminated. Building a trusted relationship with a primary care physician who values this dialogue is crucial, as many doctors may be hesitant to adjust medication without careful consideration. Taking steps to avoid overmedication can lead to improved mental clarity and overall health.

3The brain thrives when you move

Physical activity is crucial for maintaining mental alertness and overall well-being. The human brain is ‘designed’ to organise movements and actions. When you stop moving, it can slow down your cognitive function.

Your brain thrives on novelty and exercise, so engaging in activities like running, walking, hiking, and biking, especially in nature, can make a significant difference. Regardless of age, even if you’ve been out of shape, starting now can have a profound impact on your mental acuity.

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews

Strengths

  • Rigorous scientific approach. The book is grounded in scientific research, incorporating meta-analyses and hundreds of studies to provide evidence-based insights on ageing and the brain.

  • Personal perspective and relatability. Levitin shares personal anecdotes and stories of individuals he knows or has interviewed, creating a relatable and engaging reading experience.

  • Thought-provoking and informative. The book offers a wealth of information on various important topics related to ageing, encouraging readers to view ageing in a positive light.

  • Motivational and inspirational. ‘Successful Aging’ motivates readers to take control of their own ageing process by emphasising simple yet impactful lifestyle changes. It encourages individuals to prioritise love, companionship, meaningful engagement, mental and physical exercise, and a plant-based diet as key elements for extending their healthy years.

Weaknesses

  • Overemphasis on research about drugs and their effects on ageing.

  • An excessive amount of biological and scientific explanations makes the reading process monotonous and time-consuming.

  • While the book provided a wealth of information, it is lacking in clearer and more concise recommendations.

Best quotes from ‘Successful Aging’

“Fending off Alzheimer’s, he says, involves five key components: a diet rich in vegetables and good fats, oxygenating the blood through moderate exercise, brain training exercises, good sleep hygiene, and a regimen of supplements individually tailored to each person’s own needs, based on blood and genetic testing.” 
“Spend time with people younger than you. See your doctor regularly, but not obsessively. Don’t think of yourself as old (other than taking prudent precautions). Appreciate your cognitive strengths – pattern recognition, crystallized intelligence, wisdom, accumulated knowledge. Promote cognitive health through experiential learning: traveling, spending time with grandchildren, and immersing yourself in new activities and situations. Do new things.” 
“Remember also that memory is mood-state dependent. If you're in a bad mood, you tend to have easier access to memories of other times you were in a bad mood or were sad, or times when things didn't go right, and it's easy to fall into a despondency cycle of ‘this pain is just going to get worse and worse... this always happens to me.’ If you're in a good mood, your mind tends to recall happy events, and you predict a more positive future. This good mood can lead to a virtuous cycle in which the positive-mood neurochemicals help with healing and you do actually get better more quickly.”

Final takeaway

‘Successful Aging’ offers a fresh perspective on ageing and provides powerful insights into how individuals can age successfully by nurturing their physical and mental health, making positive lifestyle choices, and cultivating gratitude and meaningful connections with others.

This book is recommended for those interested in understanding the science behind ageing and seeking inspiration to lead a fulfilling and healthy life as they grow older.

Where to buy

You may purchase ‘Successful Ageing’ on Amazon at the best price. It is available in paperback, hardcover, spiral bound, audio and Kindle versions, so you may choose an option that appeals to you the most.


Healthypedia FAQ

While the book primarily focuses on the process of ageing and the strategies for successful ageing, it is not limited to older adults. The insights and advice provided by Daniel J. Levitin are applicable to readers of all ages who are interested in understanding the ageing process and implementing healthy habits for their own well-being. The book offers valuable information and perspectives that can benefit individuals at any stage of life.

The book recognises the multidimensional nature of ageing and addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of the ageing process. Daniel J. Levitin explores topics such as memory, emotions, motivation, social factors, and meaningful engagement. He emphasises the importance of maintaining healthy relationships, finding purposeful work, and cultivating gratitude to enhance overall well-being as we age.

Yes, the book is rooted in scientific research and evidence. Daniel J. Levitin draws from a wide range of studies, meta-analyses, and peer-reviewed papers to support his claims and recommendations.

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