BUILD A BETTER BRAIN: Sanjay Gupta gathers the evidence and provides the road map
It has been two months or so since you’ve made your New Year’s resolutions—and you’ve probably tabled them by now—but it’s never too late to reassess. Especially when the target of your resolution has to do with something as important as brain health.
Neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta will guide you to “build a better brain at any age” with his latest book, Keep Sharp, published by Simon and Schuster in January. If you have watched CNN during the past 20 years, you’ve seen Gupta, the network’s chief medical correspondent, providing calm reassurance from the front lines of some of the most harrowing medical stories—from 9/11 to COVID-19. Here he turns his attention to various forms of dementia and how to prevent, delay or treat the onset of this brain disease.
Gupta takes a logical, scientific and optimistic approach to this most complex of topics, explaining in easy-to-understand language exactly what dementia is and why it occurs. This is all good background information for the crux of his book, which is about making lifestyle choices that can keep dementia at bay.
You’ve probably heard it all before, but Gupta lays it out in clear terms and, most importantly, backs up his arguments with scientific evidence. He focuses on the five pillars of brain health: move, discover, relax, nourish and connect. The book devotes a chapter to each; then Gupta puts forth a 12-week program to help you achieve each of these goals.
The first, which is exercise, could well be “the most important ingredient to living as long as possible, despite all the other risk factors you bear,” writes Gupta. Thirty minutes of cardio five days a week could add years to your life.
The second pillar is staying engaged in cognitive activities, and by this Gupta means more than doing crossword puzzles. It means speaking a foreign language, taking up a musical instrument, enrolling in a cooking class. It also means, importantly, developing a sense of purpose.
Third on the list is the need for sleep and relaxation. Gupta advocates seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and he provides 10 strategies for achieving that goal. He also says you need to set aside plenty of time for daytime relaxation—perhaps meditation or just plain old daydreaming.
A good diet is another important factor for brain health. Gupta does not subscribe to any particular branded diet. Rather he argues in favor of a style of eating, which includes staying away from sugar, hydrating, eating omega-3 foods, counting calories, and planning meals so you are not tempted to indulge in last-minute fast food or highly processed items.
Finally, social connections have been shown to be fundamental to a long and healthy life. Although this book came out well into the COVID-19 pandemic, Gupta does not address the difficulties of social distancing as an impediment to maintaining friendships and community involvement, but he provides plenty of ideas for keeping connected in the best of times, including effective use of social media.
There’s nothing startlingly new in Gupta’s book, but he manages to put it all coherently in one place while providing a calming and knowledgeable voice. Keep Sharp is enough to make you put those New Year’s resolutions back on the table.