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What Do We Really Know About the Aging Brain? Conversation with Dr. John Medina

By Margaret Manning January 15, 2014 Health and Fitness

Dr. John Medina has a passion for unlocking the mysteries of the aging brain. He is a developmental molecular biologist and the author of a New York Times best-selling book called Brain Rules.

What Can “Brain Rules” Tell Us About the Aging Brain?

In Brain Rules, he attempts to answer basic questions about how the brain works. Dr. Medina is also fascinated by what he calls the “pre-loaded software” that we have in our brains and what happens when things go wrong with the machinery in our heads.

In my recent interview with Dr. Medina, we discussed the brain in all of its amazing complexity. We covered two basic things. First he explained several misconceptions that we have about the way the brain works and 12 things we know to be true.

Then we talked about the specific brain rules that apply to the aging brain and the “13th rule” – this is the one that I personally find most fascinating.

Here’s what I learned from my interview with John Medina:

Things We Know About the Brain… and 3 Misconceptions

The brain is amazing! Most of us have no idea what is really going on inside our heads. Yet brain scientists like Dr. Medina are working to uncover facts about our minds that will help us to live happier, healthier lives.

His research addresses questions like how we learn, why we sleep and how stress affects the brain. Dr. Medina’s work addresses why multi-tasking is a myth, and what science can teach us about raising smart, happy children.

In his books, Dr. Medina also addresses several myths about the brain. First, contrary to what we hear in the movies, we use much more than 10 percent of our brains. In reality, in a resting state, we probably use 60 to 70 percent.

He challenges the argument that there is a left and a right brain personality and refutes the conclusion that male and female brains are completely different. Actually, I’m not sure about this last one :)

3 Important Ways to Keep the Aging Brain Healthy

In our conversation, Dr. Medina outlined 3 of his brain rules that are very important for the aging brain. Exercise is number one. It boosts brain power and protects us against the negative effects of stress.

He emphasized how important it is for women over 60 to exercise 150 minutes a week to improve their cognitive and emotional brain health. Exercise helps us stay calm under pressure and, since the brain evolved under conditions of constant movement, it is logical that this activity is still important today.

Avoiding stress is the second rule that applies to the aging brain. As we age, some stresses are heightened and stimulated by negatives like the loss of friends and concerns about finances, illness, or divorce.

Stressed brains simply do not learn quickly or remember well. In fact, he explained that stress causes us to produce more cortisol, which can damage the brain. So, it is very important to get control of the stress in our lives.

Enhancing memory is the third rule that applies to the aging brain. To a certain extent, memory loss and forgetfulness are a natural part of aging, but, with exercise – both physical and mental – you can slow down this process dramatically.

Finally, Dr. Medina introduced the idea of a 13th rule – nostalgia. By focusing on memories from the past, you can actually stimulate, rejuvenate and heal the brain. His advice was to listen to old music, write your memoirs, and surround yourself with things like posters, books and art that stimulate memories of your past.

Watch this fascinating and energized conversation with Dr. Medina and learn more about your mysterious brain!


Brain Rules, by John Medina

Scientist in the Crib, by Alison Gopnik

Old Man In Nursing Home Reacts To Hearing Music From His Era, YouTube video mentioned by John while talking about the power of nostalgia

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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