Brainy Books that Will Blow Your Mind

You know you’ve reached the epitome of nerdom when you’re at a party and someone asks you about your favourite non-fiction books and you start babbling about the fascinating world of neuroscience. (Just for the record this did not happen to me; it happened to a friend of mine. Cough cough.) It’s essentially the last frontier of the human body: we know less about our brains than any other body part. (Except for maybe the appendix. Has anyone figured that one out yet?)

Don’t take my word for it though- take Michio Kaku’s. His popular neuroscience books take complex scientific concepts and frames them in a way that the rest of us mortals can understand. My favourite, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind answers the more fun questions of the field; for example, do humans really have the capacity to move things with their mind? (You’ll have to read his books for yourself to find the answer.)

For the more ambitious reader, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dahaene chronicles every little nanosecond the brain takes to process the written word. After you read about the effort that it takes for your brain to recognize, understand and memorize letters, you’ll never look at reading the same way again. (Read slowly; this one left me a little cross-eyed.)

After learning about the memory championships (yes, there is such a thing), journalist Joshua Foer dug deeper into the why and how of what we remember and how we can better train our memories using long-forgotten techniques once used to learn entire religious manuscripts. The resulting book is called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything– part memoir, part history lesson, part how-to book. Even if you’re not a neuroscience nerd like me, you’ll appreciate this one. Some of the techniques from the book that I’ve tried have actually worked really well!

While I certainly haven’t learned how to move things with my mind, master speed reading, or memorize the order of an entire deck of 52 cards, reading these books still gave me a better understanding and a new appreciation of how our efficiently and intricately brains work. But like I said, don’t just take this nerd’s word for it.

Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

Wrap Your Head Around This!

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Up until recently it was widely accepted that the adult brain no longer generated new brain cells. The rapid death of brain cells was part of the natural aging process.

In actuality, this is only partially true. The scientific community now believes that the brain actually produces up to 1,000 new brain cells every single day that die if they are not used- 1,000 brain cells we can put towards mastering a new skill, learning a new language, or memorizing a new information. Just kaput. Bye-bye. Every. Single. Day.

This is exciting information to me because it means that learning is still a life-long process and that we as humans have the capacity to expand our brains by putting them to use and take advantage of those new brain cells that we generate on a daily basis.

Improving your brain health has longed been linked to long-term health benefits such as the prevention of devastating diseases that affect the brain and nervous system, and has been linked to greater well-being overall. I’m no scientist, and I could probably cite hundreds of articles listing the benefits of keeping your brain in tip-top shape, but my own personal experience with trying to keep my mind engaged is proof enough to me that taking care of your brain is a practice that can lead to stress reduction, improved memory, increased energy and results in a much happier, more balanced me. Who could argue with something like that?

I’ve been reading up on better brain health (call me a neuroscience nerd) and a lot of the solutions seem to be common sense to our overall well-being. A balanced diet and regular exercise all contribute to better brain health (and some argue can reduce the effects of certain mental and anxiety-related illnesses caused by chemical disorders). But keeping your mind engaged by utilizing these new brain cells we grow everyday seem to be the key for improving your brain’s elasticity in both short and long-term situations.

Environmental and social factors also play a big role in our physical and mental health. Smoking, lack of sleep and excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to poor brain health.

Brain health advocates recommend taking up fun hobbies and pastimes. Activities that require expanding on or learning new skills force your brain to work harder, and putting yourself in new social situations encourages the brain to make more connections, process more information and store more memories.

Reading, crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other fun puzzles and games are also widely touted as helping to improve memory and learning over time, and certain smartphone apps supposedly encourage activity in all areas of the brain with specially designed brain games.

There are so many ways that we constantly put our bodies (and subsequently) our brains under stress that it’s little wonder we get sick so often despite the advances in health care. In an age where it seems technology has solved all of our problems for us, we’re at risk for becoming lazy, dispassionate people too distracted by modern comforts to engage in a life that can be rich and challenging. Our brains are the only ones in the animal kingdom that have the capacity to create that kind of consciousness, and it’s something of which we do not take enough advantage.

Let’s make that change today. Learn Italian. Go back to school. Read a book. Play a game. Grow your brain.

You are totally worth it!

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Skeptical about brain games? I’m not paid or perked to write about them but I still like playing them, even if they don’t transform my brain as dramatically as their advertising claims. To brush up on the brain game controversy, click here.

What’s your favourite way to train your brain? I’m not so good at sending and receiving psychic messages yet, so comment below or shoot me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. Want some more ways to keep your brain busy? I always love me a good organizing project. You can find a list of them here.