Daniel Levitin on The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist's Guide to Ageing Well

Virgin Radio

20 Apr 2021, 09:57

Photo taken during a previous interview, pre-pandemic.

He told Chris: “The Changing Mind is a book that I wrote for people of any age including life hackers in their 20s and 30s or people in their 40s...

"What are the things that we know about the brain that neuroscientists have discovered primarily over the last 10 years that will help us to better prepare to be at our peak as long as possible and as often as possible. What can we do to tweak the brain to habits that we can adopt that will allow us to be productive, happy and healthy?

“One of the things is that people use music as a kind of mood alteration... people around the world use music to help them get out of bed in the morning, to get through an exercise workout, to calm them after an argument and music turns out to be therapeutic.

"There's now a lot of evidence that music is good for your health if it's music that you like and it's helping you to reach some emotional goal."

On exercise, he shared: "We all hear that we've got to be running more and faster and all this kind of stuff and that's great but the biggest enemy of brain health, the quickest way to lead into your brain not functioning well, is sedentarism. 

“If we could just get up off the couch more often and walk around the house or walk around the block. There's a new understanding that interacting with the environment, physically being outdoors, especially on uneven surfaces is tremendously restorative for the brain and taps into an ancient evolutionary connection with the hippocampus which is the seed of memory.

"When we're out in the world, moving around we're actually strengthening our general memory.”

What are his life hacks for a healthier brain? He explained: “’I'm a big fan of being deliberate. Don't let your email inbox tell you what to do or when or the bevvy of annoying alarms that come out of cell phones and computers and other devices.

"Schedule things in your day. Schedule a break, a walk or some relaxation time. Choose for yourself what you're going to work on and when and for how long and include in that play time and leisure time.

"I think part and parcel of the needlessly distracting drama is checking your cell phone or your social network every five seconds to see what's new. That's toxic and it's been shown to be as addictive as cocaine.”

On meditation, he shared: "The Dalai Lama very kindly sent a bunch of his monks to brain scanning facilities where neuroscientists could study their brains during, before and after meditation.

"These are monks who spend several hours a day meditating on gratitude and acceptance and compassion, and their brains seem to be healthier, they react with positive surprise to the world, not negative, fearful, toxic surprise."

Sleep is key to keeping calm - but how do you get to enjoy sweet slumber? He advised: “To begin with, I keep a pad of paper by the bed and I write down all those annoying intrusive thoughts.

"As soon as you write them down your brain knows that you've done that and then it can stop pestering you about them. It’s not a bad strategy during the day to carry a little notepad or make notes in your phone.

“Get it out of your head and into the world and you will be saved. The other thing is at night try to do relaxing things an hour or two before bedtime. Don't watch that horror film.

“Good sleep hygiene is sleeping in a dark room, wearing earplugs if it's noisy and wind down slowly.

"Avoid blue screens computers, TVs and phones about two hours before bed. Those are the big ones - and if you've exercised during the day that helps to promote sleep."

How to keep youthful and happy? He said: “Associate with new people whenever you can and keep your old friends close. 

“Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver the other is gold.”