In the face of shifting demographics and an increase in human longevity, it is important to examine carefully what is known about cognitive ageing, and to identify and promote possibly malleable lifestyle and health-related factors that might mitigate age-associated cognitive decline. The Lothian Birth Cohorts of 1921 (LBC1921, n = 550) and 1936 (LBC1936, n = 1091) are longitudinal studies of cognitive and brain ageing based in Scotland. Childhood IQ data are available for these participants, who were recruited in later life and then followed up regularly. This overview summarises some of the main LBC findings to date, illustrating the possible genetic and environmental contributions to cognitive function (level and change) and brain imaging biomarkers in later life. Key associations include genetic variation, health and fitness, psychosocial and lifestyle factors, and aspects of the brain's structure. It addresses some key methodological issues such as confounding by early-life intelligence and social factors and emphasises areas requiring further investigation. Overall, the findings that have emerged from the LBC studies highlight that there are multiple correlates of cognitive ability level in later life, many of which have small effects, that there are as yet few reliable predictors of cognitive change, and that not all of the correlates have independent additive associations. The concept of marginal gains, whereby there might be a cumulative effect of small incremental improvements across a wide range of lifestyle and health-related factors, may offer a useful way to think about and promote a multivariate recipe for healthy cognitive and brain ageing.