The Wisdom of Middle Age

The first thing I did upon turning 40 was run my first marathon. It was my way of saying "I'm not ready to slow down." Of course, it will be difficult to keep up the pace. Our bodies largely decline with age.

But that's not true of our brains. Despite widely-held beliefs to the contrary, modern neuroscience suggests that we're smarter (creativity, judgment, pattern recognition) between 40 and 65 than we were in our twenties.


In The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, Barbara Strauch offers a multi-disciplinary survey of the scientific literature. Highlights include:

In four out of six categories tested - vocabulary, verbal memory, spatial orientation, and, perhaps most heartening of all, inductive reasoning - people performed best, on average, between the ages of forty to sixty-five.
Sometime in middle age we begin to develop the ability, when faced with a perplexing problem, to use both sides of our brain instead of one. This bilateralization is part of the reason we begin to see the big, connected picture.
As we age, the two sides of our brains become more intertwined, letting us see bigger patterns, have bigger thoughts...that's why age is such an advantage in fields like editing, law, medicine and coaching and management.
Exercise has emerged as the closest thing we have to a magic wand for the brain...Neurogenesis is not an event, it's a process. And, there's no question, physical activity makes new brain cells proliferate.

So, I'm looking forward to becoming a better information architect as I grow older and wiser. Of course, it's unlikely I'll ever run a faster marathon, which is why I'm trying my first Olympic distance triathlon next weekend. Apparently, we not only get smarter with age, but we also grow crazier.

Strange Connections

I'm also looking forward to User Focus 2011 (9/16) in Washington, DC.

Mark your calendars: February 11, 2012 is the first ever World IA Day.