Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, gained global recognition as he reported on 9/11. Since then, Dr. Gupta has won multiple Emmys on his reporting, become an associate professor at Emery University Hospital, and the Associate Chief of Neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital.
In his most recent book, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, Dr. Gupta invites us to uncover myths, address the elephants in the room (coffee and video games, no less), and adopt habits that will reinvigorate our brain. Dr. Gupta avoids fear-based arguments and provides a hopeful outlook on the future of brain health.
If you don’t have a science background, you’ll find yourself hooked by his ability to distill complex information into compelling (and digestible) material. His educational and warm voice implores you to consider the science behind the facts he puts forth.
Throughout the book, Dr. Gupta includes personal anecdotes that break down the wall between teacher and student. We learn that his grandfather suffered a stroke that hindered his ability to communicate. As surgeons helped his grandfather recover, Dr. Gupta submerged himself in reading medical literature, acquired his medical degree, and now desires to see us adopt two things: a hopeful perspective on the future of brain health and a lifestyle that optimizes our brain’s capacity.
Dr. Gupta does it all in three acts. First, he takes us down memory lane, with an introduction to neurosurgery with Phineas Gage, the most prevalent causes of cognitive decline, the different types of cognitive defects. These pictures help identify the differences between mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s, and more—crucial information! He then removes the focus on myths and lets research take center stage, like debunking that “dementia is an inevitable consequence of old age.”
Second, Dr. Gupta shares recent research methods, like speed training exercises with video games, how education impacts our brain, and more. He remains transparent on what researchers and practitioners around the world know and don’t know. He’s unafraid to address the pushback on topics like “brain resilience” and “cognitively stimulating” video games and highlights the social and economic biases in studies.
With that, Dr. Gupta explains the jarring results that simple acts can elongate your life and prevent cognitive decline. He provides insight on how to improve the efficacy of habits, like “eliminating electronics” to improve your rest. Most importantly, he backs up each claim with the science behind the habit. For example, when you eliminate electronics before you sleep, you’re eliminating a distraction. It’s easy for us to brush off little sleep, but “a single night of inadequate sleep is enough to activate the inflammatory processes in the body.” Unfortunately, inflammation can cause brain shrinkage. Thankfully, Dr. Gupta shares tips to get a better sleep, exercise, and improve our mental health.
Dr. Gupta also does a deep dive into food, including breakfast recipes that prepare your brain for a better day. I enjoyed his discourse on sugar and artificial sweeteners (opt for honey or real maple syrup – go natural). Following a tasty discourse on dinner, Dr. Gupta lays out a 12-week plan that’ll help you ease into a new lifestyle.
Dr. Gupta dedicates the last act of his book to caregivers, family members, and individuals navigating cognitive decline, focusing on empathy and compassion. Dr. Gupta shares his friend’s battle with Alzheimer’s and the promise of pursuing a better quality of life. This section serves as encouragement to those caring for loved ones with brain disease.
If you want to take actionable steps to keep your, and your community’s, brain healthy, then read Keep Sharp!
If you’re interested in mental health resources, check out UTM’s Health & Counselling Centre.