Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age Book Review

Corrine Marconi
April 13, 2021

I had the pleasure of reading the book, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta, MD and wanted to share what Dr. Gupta suggests on how to better understand brain function and how to preserve it. 

About the Author: Dr. Gupta is a three-time New York Times Best Selling author and has served as the chief medical correspondent for CNN since 2001. He has hosted several long- form documentaries based on deep investigations including his Weed series and One Nation Under Stress for HBO. For his work, he achieved multiple Emmy and Peabody awards, as well as the DuPont Award, the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer. Forbes magazine named him one of the ten most influential celebrities. In 2019, Gupta was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the medical field. Gupta lives in Atlanta where he is also an associate professor of neurosurgery at Emory University Hospital and associate Chief neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital. 

According to Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, focus on your brain, and everything else will follow. Here’s the key point–when you put your brain first, everything else health-wise falls into place. The brain is ground zero; it determines your quality of life! Without a healthy brain, you cannot even make healthy decisions. A healthy brain comes a healthy body, weight, heart and so on but also a stronger sense of confidence, a more solid financial future thanks to smart decisions, better relationships, more love in your life and heightened overall happiness.

How to Keep your Mind Sharp:

  • Move: Exercise both aerobic and nonaerobic, like (strength training), is not only good for the body, but also even better for the brain. Physical exertion, in fact has thus far been the only thing we’ve scientifically documented to improve brain health and function.  Movement can increase your brainpower by helping to increase, repair and maintain brain cells and it makes you more productive and more alert throughout the day.  Just try to break a sweat every day!
  • Discover: Picking up a new hobby, like painting or photography or even learning a new language can strengthen the brain. Doing something new can even be seeing a 3D movie, joining a new club, or even using your nondominant hand. Do you have a strong sense of purpose in life?
  • Relax: The brain needs to chill too. Poor sleep can lead to impaired memory and that chronic stress can impair your ability to learn and adapt to new situations. Trying to multitask can slow your thinking! We all need restorative sleep on a nightly basis.
  • Nourish: Consuming certain foods like cold-water fish, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, fibrous whole fruits, and vegetables while limiting certain foods like high in sugar, saturated fats and trans fatty acids can help avoid memory and brain decline, protect the brain against disease and maximize its performance.
  • Connect: Having a diverse social network can improve our brain’s plasticity and help preserve our cognitive abilities. Interacting with others not only helps reduce stress and boosts our immune system, but it can also decrease our risk for cognitive decline.

In part 2, “The Brain Trust: How Not to Lose Your Mind, the Miracle of Movement,” Dr. Gupta says, “A body in motion tends to stay in motion!” Physical exercise may offer the greatest return on investment in yourself and it’s an antidote to many things that play into your risk for decline. Exercise improves digestion, metabolism, body tone and strength and bone density.  Being inactive regardless of your body weight, has been shown to be twice as deadly as being obese. Most of us think about it as weight loss tool, which it is but it’s much more than that. It can turn on your smart genes, support emotional stability and stave off depression and dementia. When you choose the right exercise for you, you can be smarter by some measures after one hour of exercise through the effects of movement on the brain. Getting up for light activity such as walking for two minutes every hour can lower the chance of dying over a three-year period. Prolonged sitting, more than eight hours a day with zero physical activity can kill you or lead to an early death. Most of the damage is done metabolic. Your circulation slows down, and your body uses less of your blood sugar, which means more sugar is circulating.  Sitting puts muscles into a sort of dormant state where their electrical activity is diminished, leading breakdown. Without exercise, Dr. Gupta finds that most of what he thinks are his “new” thoughts are basically a repackaging of old ideas. With his brain on exercise, he finds that he is more likely to have truly novel thoughts.

In the chapter, “The Power of Purpose, Learning and Discovery,” we learn that for each additional year of work, the risk of getting dementia is reduced by 3.2%. An important goal is to build and sustain your cognitive reserve and this can be done by maintaining demands on your brain that keep it thinking, strategizing, learning, and solving problems. Cognitive reserve reflects how much you have challenged your brain over the years through education, work, and other activities. Cognitively stimulating activities such as traditional classes, offer a level of complexity that has long term benefits that employ cognitive skills like visual comprehension, short and long-term memory, attention to detail and even math skills. Research has long shown that new knowledge, whatever it is, pays off.

The need for sleep and relaxation is key on how to keep sharp! Here are the top ten secrets to slumber:

  • Stick to a schedule and avoid long naps
  • Don’t be a night owl
  • Wake up to early morning light
  • Get moving
  • Watch what you eat and drink
  • Mind your medicine
  • Cool, quiet, and dark
  • Eliminate electronics
  • Establish bedtime rituals
  • Know the warning signs

Don’t forget daytime rest and relaxion! Here are some tips on how to relax during the day.  Meditation, deep breathing, become a regular volunteer in your community, express gratitude, practice the art of forgiveness, look for things that make you laugh, take breaks from email and social media, find another hour in your day at least once a week, establish a system of rewards, don’t multitask–tackle your day like a surgeon, declutter your life, set aside fifteen minutes each day for yourself, let yourself daydream and don’t be afraid to seek help from a health professional!

To nourish your brain, here is a guide to good eating, the SHARP acronym.

  • S: Slash the sugar and stick to your ABC’s
  • H: Hydrate smartly
  • A: Add more Omega 3 Fatty Acids from Dietary Sources
  • R: Reduce Portions
  • P: Plan Ahead

Lastly, in the chapter, “Connection for Protection,” here are some tips to feel more connected to yourself and others. The type, quality and purpose of your relationship can affect your brain functions. Quality of your close relationships matters. One key ingredient is where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need had their memories stay sharper longer. Maintain social connections with people of different ages. That means people older and younger than you are. People with fewer social connections have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation, and higher levels of stress hormones. At least one in five people or roughly 60 million Americans suffers from loneliness. If you feel isolated, reach out to professionals who can help you!

I highly recommend this book for everyone to read, in the last section of the book he lays out a detailed twelve-week plan on to integrate all this knowledge into your daily life every week.  For more tips and tricks please follow Sanjay Gupta on Instagram @drsanjaygupta.