In the past few decades there has been an explosion of interest in physical fitness. We know that cardio workouts lift our moods and weight-training fends off bone loss. We’ve tried yoga and dedicated ourselves to the elliptical machine.
But what about mental fitness? Now that Americans are living longer than ever, researchers, psychiatrists and other doctors are turning their attention to how we can maintain sharp and lucid minds, and also optimize happiness and creativity. Not surprisingly, many of the same practices used for physical fitness are also good for your brain.
Each book below provides a slew of science-based tips to keep your brain sharp and your body healthier as you grow older.
1. Hardwiring Happiness
By Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Want to have a happier, more peaceful brain? Rick Hanson says we first have to overcome our negativity bias, or how our brains learn more easily from negative experiences than from positive ones. His book explores his “HEAL” method: Have a positive experience, Enrich it, Absorb it, Link it to negative thoughts and feelings to soothe and eventually replace them (OK, that’s a long L). Practice daily and you can change your brain to a more nurturing and happy place, according to the book.
2. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
By Dr. Daniel G. Amen
Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen offers scientific evidence on how to optimize brain function. The case studies he presents indicate that anxiety, depression, anger and obsessive-compulsive behavior are related to how structures in your brain work, and that you can in fact change how these structures work. His “brain prescriptions” to make those changes include breathing techniques, improvements in diet, meditation, self-hypnosis and writing exercises.
3. Your Creative Brain
By Shelley Carson, Ph.D.
Harvard psychology professor Shelley Carson, Ph.D., shows how brain-activation states (“brainsets”) influence the way we think, approach problems and perceive the world. Her “CREATES” model comprises seven brain-activation states that she says can enhance your creative brain and mental functioning: Connect, Reason, Envision, Absorb, Transform, Evaluate and Stream. She encourages the reader to use specially designed quizzes, problem-solving techniques and self-tests to tap into what she calls our most important asset, creativity.
4. Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance
By Dr. Majid Fotuhi and Christina Breda Antoniades
Boost Your Brain offers actionable advice on how to get a “bigger and better brain,” based on more than 25 years of neuroscience research. Find out what foods help build new synapses and what key behaviors you should avoid. Dr. Majid Fotuhi explains that the size of our brains can be increased (due to neuroplasticity) in just a matter of weeks, resulting in improved focus, memory and creativity. To get a bigger brain, he recommends fitness training, stress reduction, meditation, cognitive skills training and improved nutrition.
5. The Brain Warrior’s Way: Ignite Your Energy and Focus, Attack Illness and Aging, Transform Pain into Purpose
By Dr. Daniel G. Amen and Tana Amen, RN
“The key to victory rests between your ears,” writes psychiatrist and best-selling author Daniel Amen. Fight against the constant bombardment of technology, negative news and a typical American diet that isn’t healthy, he says. While poor choices can lead eventually to disease, the book advises, thoughtful and goal-directed decisions can slow aging, help prevent dementia and improve your health, focus, energy and moods.
6. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
By Dr. John J. Ratey
Exercise is a master key to brain functioning, says Dr. John Matey. Discover the role exercise plays in our mental processes and why it’s the best defense against numerous health conditions and diseases, including depression, addiction and Alzheimer’s disease. Matey’s research includes numerous case studies about how important exercise is to your overall well-being.
7. Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients that Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform
By Dr. Drew Ramsey
What you eat is directly connected to the health of your brain, says Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist. Your brain impacts your mood, health, focus, memory and appetite. By fueling it nutritiously, your brain and body can operate optimally. With 100 recipes, Eat Complete shows readers how to avoid nutritional deficiencies and stimulate growth of new brain cells. Start your day with a cup of Tumeric Cinnamon Hot Chocolate if you want to slow your brain’s aging process, Drew advises.
Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.