The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind

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"As the bulge of the baby boom reaches middle age and beyond, we are worried about getting old. We are worried about getting sick. And we are really worried about losing our minds. Will we forget to tie our shoes? Fumble our words? Fall in our soup? Are our brains on an inevitable slide?" "While we might not be able to find our keys, our brains still have dazzling talents. In The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, you'll meet neuroscientists and psychologists who are proving how we have badly underestimated the middle-aged brain. We may lose some ...

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The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind

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Overview

"As the bulge of the baby boom reaches middle age and beyond, we are worried about getting old. We are worried about getting sick. And we are really worried about losing our minds. Will we forget to tie our shoes? Fumble our words? Fall in our soup? Are our brains on an inevitable slide?" "While we might not be able to find our keys, our brains still have dazzling talents. In The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, you'll meet neuroscientists and psychologists who are proving how we have badly underestimated the middle-aged brain. We may lose some gray matter but we increase the white stuff (myelin) that lets us process information faster. As the grownup brain reorganizes itself, it creates powerful new systems that cut through complex problems to find unique solutions. We often become happier overall, since our brains manage emotions more calmly. Even if the brain cannot cram as many Civil War battle dates into its databank as it once did, it is at the top of its game. Because of better pattern recognition, we know how to size up situations and find answers quickly. We know how - with incredible ease - to juggle hundreds of e-mails, negotiate a complex deal, and cope simultaneously with a car that talks and a teenager who doesn't." The baby boom generation is also the first to enter middle and old age having had antibiotics, vaccines, better nutrition, and a cleaner environment; all of these improve the health of the aging brain. Barbara Strauch reviews the evidence pro and con on everything from nutrition, supplements, and exercise to the environment and genetics. Part scientific survey, part how-to guide, her book is much needed and reassuringyour smartest years are still ahead.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Your mind is getting older, but it's also getting (mostly) better, argues this very comforting treatise on the aging brain. The bad news, according to New York Times health editor Strauch (The Primal Teen), is that, as we sail past our 40s, the brain slows down a mite and occasionally forgets names and loses its train of thought. The good news is that it more than compensates with experience and know-how, improved verbal and spatial skills, brilliant intuitions, and “sustained wisdom-ness.” The even better news, Strauch notes, is the improvements in brain function that flow from health regimens ranging from exercise (huge benefits) to drinking red wine (uncertain benefits) to chronic semistarvation (what was that about wine?) right into old age. And forget those myths about midlife crises and empty-nest syndromes: the middle-aged mind, the author insists, is at its peak of both competence and contentment. Sprinkling in conversations with graying but vigorous brain researchers who double as role models, Strauch gives a breezy rundown of developments in neuroscience that shatter the received picture of inevitable mental stagnation and decline. Her mix of intriguing pop-science and reassuring pep talk should win her hopeful message an avid readership. (Apr. 19)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670020713
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/15/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Strauch is health and medical science editor and a deputy science editor at The New York Times and the author of The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries About the Teenage Brain Tell Us About Our Kids. She previously covered science and medical issues in Boston and Houston and directed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism at Newsday.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Changing Landscape of Middle Age xiii

Part 1 The Powers That Be

1 Am I Losing My Mind?: Sometimes, but the Gains Beat the Losses 3

2 The Best Brains of Our Lives: A Bit Slower, but So Much Better 12

3 A Brighter Place: I'm So Glad I'm Not Young Anymore 28

4 Experience. Judgment. Wisdom.: Do We Really Know What We're Talking About? 41

5 The Middle in Motion: The Midlife Crisis Conspiracy 54

Part 2 The Inner Workings

6 What Changes with Time: Glitches the Brain Learns to Deal With 69

7 Two Brains Are Better Than One: Especially Inside One Head 91

8 Extra Brainpower: A Reservoir to Tap When Needed 104

Part 3 Healthier Brains

9 Keep Moving and Keep Your Wits: Exercise Builds Brains 125

10 Food for Thought: And a Few Other Substances, as Well 144

11 The Brain Gym: Toning Up Your Circuits 170

Epilogue: A New Place for Better, Longer Lives 191

Acknowledgments 199

Sources 201

Index 221

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Customer Reviews

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( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2011

    good information

    Identified what science was unknown but outlined results of other studies. Interesting. Made me spend time thinking about the content.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2010

    I was intrigued by the title and subtitle as I was browsing for a new book to read regarding health and nutrition.

    Reading about the body and the mind has always been a favorite topic of mine, although I am far from being any expert regarding biology, science or nutrition. I look for books that take complex information and make it understandable to the novice. This book does that and does so with humor written in. Some of the examples of memory loss are so true and yet hilariously funny. The author was able to take the intricate workings of the brain and clearly explain not only how our brain functions physically, but how factors like emotions, memory, IQ, diet, exercise etc. affect the interactions of brain activity. Subtitled, "The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind" lead me to believe that all is not lost and possibilities exist that I may not have considered. I think I may have found some answers in this book. I dog-eared many pages so will pick this book up and read it again. I have recommended it to many of my middle-aged, yet youthful, friends and coworkers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    It is pleasing to be able to own that one¿s brain is ¿grown-up.¿

    It is pleasing to be able to own that one’s brain is “grown-up.” It is challenging to understand what a “grown-up brain” means. When I discovered this book, the title caught my attention (as it hints at speaking to my favorite subject – brain plasticity); it was the subtitle that made the sale.  Having approached, my some definitions, my “middle years,” I was excited to explore what talents I possess now that I have crossed that threshold.  The author, a Science Editor at the New York Times, does an admirable job of researching this topic and translating that research into a clear, often enjoyable read.
    The book is divided into three sections.  The first, The Powers That Be, is an overview of the “software” that makes up the brain and how it is enhanced (by experience, education, health, etc.) to be far more powerful in Middle Age than was previously suggested. The author discusses research that indicates the Middle Aged brain is agile enough to handle situations, complexities and challenges incomprehensible in earlier life. 
    The second section, The Inner Workings, highlights how the “hardware” (how the MA brain has been shaped by experience, genes, education, etc.) and “software” (what the MA brain knows and is able to learn) are co-creating a mind that can, with attention and a bit of luck, continue to learn, grow and develop well into one’s 70’s.  This section also introduces how the brain can (and does) regenerate itself over one’s lifetime. This idea is exceptional news for those who have suffered brain damage and takes exception to the long-held idea that brain cells cannot be regenerated.  It is also welcomed by those who are advancing in age without the “curse” of having diminished capacities merely because they are aging.
    The final section, Healthier Brains, is just that, what can be done to have a healthier (and healthy) brain.  Primary to that end is aerobic exercise.  According to the author, any aerobic exercise produces new brain cells in the memory centers of lab animals (such tests on humans cannot be done due to the “untimely demise” required of the test subjects). Consistent such exercise has shown results in humans based upon cognitive testing. Added to exercise is diet. Eating foods higher in ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) and avoiding (of course) foods high in Trans fats have shown positive results. Some studies have shown low grade stress (like the stress produced by the hunger experienced while dieting, for instance) will improve the brain processes. Most of the studies mentioned by the author are in the early stages or are small sample studies. More than a few, however, are longitudinal (50+ years), broad sample studies, the gold standard of research.
    This book is a good source for information about what happens to our “minds” as we age. The sources appear to lengthy, broad and well documented. It is easily accessed for reference and in not overly technical, allowing for a wider readership.  It is of depth enough that it needs to be read carefully, it is NOT a weekend read.

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