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

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

by Barbara Strauch


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A leading science writer examines how our brains improve in middle age.

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Barbara Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate how the middle-aged brain is more flexible and capable than previously thought. In fact, new research from neuroscientists and psychologists suggests that the brain reorganizes, improves in important functions, and even helps us adopt a more optimistic outlook in middle age. We recognize patterns faster, make better judgments, and find unique solutions to problems. Part scientific survey, part how-to guide, The Secret Life of the Grown- up Brain is a fascinating glimpse at our surprisingly talented middle-aged minds.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143118879
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/22/2011
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 584,204
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Barbara Strauch was a reporter and newspaper editor who directed health and science coverage for the New York Times for a decade. Prior to joining the New York Times, she had covered science and medical issues in Boston and Houston and directed Pulitzer Prize–winning news at Newsday. She was also the author of two books about the brain. Strauch died in 2015 at the age of 63.

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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Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Dorothy-from-Michigan More than 1 year ago
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.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Barbara Strauch, examining the scientific research currently being done on understanding human brains as they age, concludes that the news is, in general, surprisingly good. Middle-aged brains may be a little slower than younger ones, she says, and subject to problems such as lapses of memory, but in other areas we actually improve with age, becoming calmer, more competent, more optimistic, and better at big-picture thinking. Better still, the psychological difficulties of middle age, such as the infamous mid-life crisis or the empty nest syndrome, are more myth than science. And while the possibility of dementia always haunts us as we age, there may well be things we can do to help keep our brains young and fit.The science she cites here, it should be noted, is mostly very preliminary and speculative. After all, as Strauch points out, it hasn't been very long that we've even thought of middle age as a separate stage of life, let alone made a special study of it. So I'm inclined to take her optimistic thoughts on the subject with a small grain of salt. But it is interesting, and some of it sounds very promising.As someone currently hovering on the cusp of 40 -- roughly the age at which the middle years are said to begin -- I'm not sure I really find it all quite as reassuring as she means it to be, though. The examples she offers of people who feel better and smarter and happier in middle age than they did in their youth all seem to be the kind of ambitious, successful folks with challenging jobs and busy social lives who already make me feel slightly inferior. The niggling thought that just possibly their lifestyle also makes their brains fitter and less likely to deteriorate with age than mine isn't helping my mild fear of facing the big four-oh. And as for the kind of lapses that she describes as hallmarks of normal middle age -- distractibility, a tendency to drift off into daydreaming, forgetting names on the tip of your tongue or what you came into a room to do -- well, those are all things I've been subject to my entire life. The thought that I can expect them to get worse is somewhat alarming.Still, that's probably just me. And maybe next year when that middle-aged optimism kicks in, I'll feel differently about it, anyway.
Well-ReadNeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The one area that I felt was missing from this overall good book about the aging brain was coverage of the effects of meditation.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
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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Identified what science was unknown but outlined results of other studies. Interesting. Made me spend time thinking about the content.
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rachel44 More than 1 year ago
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