Sunday, 6 February 2011

Book Review: Think Smart, by Richard Restak (2009)

Neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak pulls together the latest research related to brain health, with a focus on identifying methods of keeping the brain active and flourishing into old age.

With an aging population in North America as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age and beyond, and greater recognition that dementia and Alzheimer's disease are significant risks to an ever increasing proportion of the population, this is a timely topic.

If Think Smart has one over-riding message, it is that the brain can be improved and sharpened throughout life. Contrary to well-entrenched traditional thinking that a large part of intelligence is pre-set at birth and that the brain starts an irreversible decline relatively early in life, the latest research shows that with proper training, healthy habits, and continued mental stimulation, the brain's health can be maintained and indeed boosted at all ages.

Writing in an easily accessible style that contains minimal scientific terms and a lot of common sense, Restak describes the recommended habits related to nutrition, physical activity, sleeping habits, social interaction and memory strengthening. Always linking back to the latest research and his discussions with scientists conducting brain activity research, the book is grounded in science without being overwhelmed by it.

There are interesting tidbits related to many of today's realities, including multi-tasking, video-games, mood-management and socializing. But Restak does get bogged down for long stretches describing methods of enhancing memory and puzzles to keep the brain stimulated; this is well-worn territory since the 1970s.

Think Smart is a timely reminder that while society is obsessed with physical health and body image, looking after the brain should be the priority to achieve long-term health. Where the brain goes, the body follows.

Subtitled "A Neuroscientist's Prescription For Improving Your Brain's Performance"
254 pages, plus Suggested Readings and Index.
Published in softcover by Riverhead Books.

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