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

Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel J. Levitin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You will get old, and you will (eventually )die. While some things are beyond our ability to control, there are things  we can influence so that the amount of time  (or at least the proportion of time) you live with a good quality of life (a concept captured by The World Health Organization HALE (Healthy Life Expectancy measure) is greater. Successful Aging is a guide to how to change our personalities and response to our environments to make this happen.

The key idea in the book is that your life can be thought of as having a “health span” at the start, and a “disease span” at the end, and successful aging is when the ratio of health span to disease span is highest. Levitin uses the acronym COACH –  Curiosity, Openness, Associations, Conscientiousness, and Healthy practices – to describe the principles that can help you to achieve this: .

The book is divided into 3 parts. The first is a tour through the science of how we learn, feel, and interact, with a focus on how these change over time. I found this section to have a lot of information that helped me to understand day-to-day dynamics with people, independent of concerns of aging.

The second part of the book is about the science behind, and the choices we make with respect to diet, exercise, and sleep. These are the things we most can control, or at least influence, and this section will give you some context for evaluating whether something you hear about has any basis in science or is simply hype. In many cases, simple changes can have a great impact.

The third section of the book tackles the science behind longevity, discussing research into the limits of human life, and how cognitive function can change as we age, and how to keep your brain active. Levitin makes the case that continuing to  learn new skills that you enjoy, keeping active, and maintaining social connections will do far more for youy cognitive health than simply doing “brain training” puzzles (though if you like doing puzzles, go for it). The section and the book end with a chapter that ties the ideas in the book together, and provides some practical advice for the inevitable end of life issues we will all have to address as our abilities change.

Successful Aging is an engaging, easy to read, book that is rooted in science but weaves in stories about people who have led active productive lives in their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s a beyond, and also includes the occasional – well placed – witty aside from the author.

This is a book that will be useful to most everyone, whether you are thinking of your own life, of the life of a loved one, and want to understand how to help the latter portions of life better.

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