Stay Thirsty, My Friends

How well are we aging, with our Fitbits, paleo diets, hot yoga and kale smoothies? Dr. John Medina has some answers in Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp (Pear Press, $27.99), following his bestselling Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby. This is required reading for anyone concerned about mental and physical health--i.e., everyone not in youthful denial. With a conversational tone and infectious wit, Medina explains what happens as we age, the science behind it, and what we can do to improve how our our brains (and bodies) function. We know about exercise and diet, but how about our minds?

First, "We begin, like a Calvinist sermon, with the tough stuff": our brains age, beginning surprisingly early for some functions, like the peak for episodic memory--around age 20. But there is definitely good news: the brain is adaptable, reacting to changes in the environment and within itself, and that compensation can be greatly aided by a number of things. "Aggressive learning" can reduce age-related memory decline: "We can treat the corrosive effects of time with a one-sentence prescription: Go back to school." Reading physical books--at least 3.5 hours a day!--is good for the brain and longevity. Meditation. Wonder. Curiosity. Gratitude. Brain-training games that "have survived the withering fusillades of peer review." Hanging out with good people. Sleep. Exercise. Music. Dance, which combines physical activity and (hopefully) human touch--touch is "wildly important for the elderly." Some tactics are unusual, like listening to the music of your 20s (the research behind this is fascinating, showing your brain favors experiences from your late teens to early 20s).

Brain Rules for Aging Well is a forceful aid in fighting inertia. Dr. Medina's research and engaging manner will have you plotting all sorts of brain- and body-saving strategies--now, instead of "Oh, tomorrow...." --Marilyn Dahl

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