Best Way to Keep Your Brain Sharp


My last post was about how to keep our hearts in shape! (Read that post here!) What about keeping your brain in shape? What is the best way to keep your brain sharp? Naturally, I investigated with science. One solution is simple and backed by science. 

All you need to do is ... READ!

If you’re reading this in February, 2021, you know that this month’s been a rough one for many of us!  Winter isn’t done with us quite yet. (those of us in the northern hemisphere, anyway). The endless pandemic and isolation hasn’t released us yet, either. The fact that hope and vaccines are coming — yet still out of reach for a lot of us — makes it a little harder right now! 

For more on the science of vaccines, read this post.

Louie is a little stir crazy
Louie is a little stir crazy

Louie is craving more walks, and I’m craving more human contact. I am happy that I can chat with all of you!  Sure, there is Netflix, Hulu, and the like, with the distraction of hooking into a series, or the comfort of watching reruns and knowing the outcomes. That helps our psyches.

There’s another way to help our psyches and simultaneously build our brain power. We can get lost in a book!

The Best Way to Keep Your Brain Sharp is to read
Oversize collection!

Reading does more than give us the escape of television or youtube. Reading improves our intelligence.

This is true for kids as well as adults. (For one study, click here) And it’s not over once kids learn to read, either.

Ozzie reading
All right, maybe this won't work for Ozzie. But it will work for you!


Studies show that reading continues to develop the brains of adults! 

how to keep your brain in shape : Read!
We must take care of our brains! (I wish these were my nails, but they're not!)
Reading continues to develop the brains of adults!
This is so easy to do and so important that I wrote it THREE TIMES!
The reasons behind differences in intelligence between individuals depend on a myriad of factors
Two more substantial roles contributing to intelligence include genetic influences and environmental effects.
Right now, there is a cheaper, easier fix.
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They don't mean moving to Florida. (although that doesn't seem like a bad option right's cold where I am!)


The Brain Data Group at The University of Michigan analyzes brains!
Well, that seems obvious based on their name.
Among other tools, they use neuroimaging data (fMRI) to discover neural mechanisms
Click Here
They use an MRI
magnetic resonance imaging
They asked subjects to sit inside an MRI & read.
They wanted to eval brain wave patterns while the subjects read a literary novel.
They observed blood flow to the brain when skimming passages, and when reading more closely.
I bet $ that no subjects were claustrophobic!
The global increase in blood flow during close reading suggests that "paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions."
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Literary reading provides "a truly valuable exercise of people's brains."

Long-term changes in brain connectivity persisted for several days after reading!
Article here


Reading ability has also been associated with improved health.

The number of years you've spent in school is not a factor!

Nope, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you read.
Click Here


As we age, our brains will age along with us. It’s important to keep our memory and thinking skills aka our cognitive function high. What does science tell us about keeping our brains sharp? How can we prevent dementia? (well, maybe we can’t but we can try!) One way is by reading! (Another is by diet…I’ll write a post about this soon)

Let’s get back to reading….my post! (ha)

best way to keep your brain sharp
Reading slows cognitive decline!
Classic books to read before you die
Louie is discovering his roots and keeping his brain sharp!
A high level of cognitive functional capacity is one of the major components of successful aging.
adapting healthy brain behaviors
A 14-year study proved that regardless of education level, people who read books more than once a week were less likely to have cognitive decline!
That’s HUGE
Only once a week and you'll improve cognition!
Click Here
Using a large sample size of over 1500 people, all aged 64 or higher, scientists followed the subjects for 14 years.
They found a reduced risk of mental decline with higher reading frequencies than with lower frequencies.
Level of education was not a factor.
This didn't matter at all! The results were the same.
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The best way to keep your brain sharp at any age?  Read literary titles!

How to keep your brain in shape READ
I wouldn't want to dust these stacks!


A metaphor is, ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.’

So if you want to improve the intelligence of yourself or loved ones, hand them a book!

Dreaming of coffee
Clouds as metaphors float through our language
Metaphors like, 'The singer has a velvet voice' activate the sensory cortex of the brain
Whereas, 'the singer had a pretty voice' does not.
Emory University study
Just reading words with strong odor associations lights up the cerebral cortex!
Click Here
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Reading stories with detailed descriptions and complicated plots written in an evocative and emotional language full of metaphors and other figures of speech stimulates our brains!

Reading classics even changes how we act in life!

As in increasing our interpersonal sensitivity!
Yet another study...

One of the researchers equates it like this: “Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”


A friend of mine listens to audiobooks exclusively, so she can multitask. She’s commented that people give her trouble about this, saying that listening to books isn’t really ‘reading.’ 

I ask you, is there value reading to our kids? Does it help develop their intelligence? 

The answer to all these questions is…..

Researchers at Berkley found that audiobooks and reading activate the same cognitive and emotional areas of your brain

So, yes, listening to audiobooks counts as reading!

We read to our kids!

A 2010 study found the more stories pre-school children had read to them, the keener their theory of mind!
Shoot me an email and I'll send you the links to these studies...I'm overlinking on this post!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t end with a few book recommendations. You can stick to the mystery novels, romances, or biographies you prefer. To be a bit more well-rounded, it’s a smart move to venture out of your comfort zone and try a new genre. Get those blood vessels in your brain quite literally pumping in new directions!

Reading Metaphors stimulates the brain
Light up your brain!


I figured I’d go with ten literary titles in different genres. Yes, these are some of my favorites. Why would I recommend something I didn’t like?

Reading is great for your brain, but you don’t need to labor through The Art of War if the topic doesn’t interest you. You need to actually DO the reading to garner the benefits for your brain. In the end, you should read what you like!

Top 10 classic books to improve your brain
The choices are dizzying!


I could probably compile TEN top 10 classic book lists. If you click on the jacket cover pics, it will take you to bookshop dot org, where you can purchase a copy. (I might receive about five cents if you do…I’m not sure, it’s never happened.)

Forget Jeff Bezos! He’s got enough mansions. 

Jeff Bezos mansion
Where's the pool?


To Kill A Mockingbird _ Louie's favorite
Louie's favorite!

In this American classic, lawyer Atticus Finch –one of my favorite fictional characters of all time– risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime. The story is told through the innocent perspective of Finch’s tomboy daughter, Scout. 

This is gut-wrenching, gorgeous, full of symbolism and savage inequalities. 

It will have your brain going on overdrive. No wonder it won a Pulitzer!


BELOVED by Toni Morrison

The best way to keep your brain sharp? Read this!

Winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the American Book Award.

Don’t let this intimate you. It’s a great story!  The main character is Sethe, a former slave who escaped to Ohio but remains haunted by her past.

It does get a little confusing in the middle, imho, but forge on. It all ends up making sense.

This is a great story, and will help you to keep your brain sharp. (If you opt to pick up a copy of the cliff’s notes, all  the better. You won’t miss a thing)


A nail biter!

Non-fiction! Some would say a memoir. 

This diary of a 13-year-old Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the 1940s is important for many reasons.  Without question, her story humanizes World War II.

This emotional thought-provoking book will stimulate your brain.

“One of the most moving personal documents to come out of World War II.”The Philadelphia Inquirer

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME by Stephen Hawking

BEST WAY TO KEEP YOUR BRAIN SHARP read a brief history of time
I love this book!

Written by the famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, this book provides clear explanations of scientific theories from general relativity to time travel to the creation of the universe.

You’ll feel smart after you’re done reading it! Your brain will thank you!

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

How to prevent dementia read fahrenheit 451
Classic Science Fiction

This title is set in a dystopian future where literature (and all original thought) is on the brink of extinction. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn printed books — as well as the houses where they’re hidden.


As Mr. Bradbury aptly said, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

LORD OF THE FLIES by Willian Golding

Lord of the Flies
Intense story

When an airplane crash leaves a group of boys stranded without adults on a deserted tropical island, it’s not long before their attempts at civilization fail and their base instincts take over.

An excellent study into human nature, it explores what might happen if we were left to our own devices without the framework of a society and how humans are also animals at heart. Food for your brain!


Classic Fiction The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime
Give this one a try!

Just so we aren’t keeping it stodgy, I’m including a modern classic of contemporary fiction.


Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes this title captivating and unusual.

GORKY PARK by Martin Cruz Smith

gorky park
This will get your brain going!

A detective mystery thriller makes our list! I’ll warn you that it’s not funny. It’s grim. The novel opens with the discovery of three bodies in a Russian amusement park. Three bodies minus their fingers and faces. The impossible task of identifying the victims is up to Arkady Renko. His sole clue? A pair of ice skates.

I bet you thought I was going to recommend Sherlock Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr have it covered. (Not to mention Johnny Lee Miller, Henry Cavill, and more)


THe secret history
Great but dark and heavy!

This is a modern classic. I’d slot it into psychological fiction. It gets creepy and twisted.


Richard Papen had never been to New England before his nineteenth year. Then he arrived at Hampeden College and quickly became seduced by the sweet, dark rhythms of campus life — in particular by an elite group of five students, Greek scholars, worldly, self-assured, and at first glance, highly unapproachable.


Read classics like wuthering heights
Fantastic story

Literary classic extraordinaire!

Apparently, this book was written as a reaction against the popular romantic fiction of Jane Austen! I find this deliciously enticing, though be forewarned. It is darker and far more complicated than, say Pride and Prejudice. (by Jane Austen) Pride and Prejudice is an excellent read and a kind of antithesis to Wuthering Heights, light-hearted and humorous.

Both books are great!

Wuthering Heights is one of my favorites of the classic 19th C novelists! This book will haunt you long after you put it down.


Charlotte's Web

This is the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur – and of Wilbur’s dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn.

The description of swinging in the barn on a rope and falling into the hay will stimulate your brain as if you were there!

This title won a Newbery!

Just because this is written for kids doesn’t mean it’s not a classic. This story will do the trick to keep your brain sharp.


I’ve stuck with classic recommendations above. I wanted to include ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and Louie urged me to add, ‘Catch 22’ but I topped it off at a dozen.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” 

I’ve seen that quote attributed to different people. Now we have the evidence that it’s true! (While I’m on the subject of exercise, here’s a post about how to keep your heart healthy. Please take a peek here!)

What is your favorite book of late? Have you read any of the books above? If so, what did you think?


Top 10 classic books to read before you die
The choices are dizzying!


And other important science stuff!


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Retirestyle Travel
Retirestyle Travel
February 15, 2021 1:14 pm

We agree that reading keeps our minds sharp, especially as we age. We read 4 of your suggested books. So good.

Unwanted Life
February 15, 2021 2:02 pm

My granddad had dementia so I know from experience just how awful that condition is, and I hope that’s my last experience of it. However, I don’t really read that often so hopefully writing content for my blog and reading other blogs is enough to keep my brain in good condition

Amy Laundrie
February 15, 2021 2:35 pm

Hi Sue,
I’ve read 7 of the listed books with “Charlotte’s Web,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” topping the list. One of my ulitmate joys in life is to sit in an afternoon beam of sunlight, puppy dog on my lap, and read. Life hardly gets any better than that.

February 15, 2021 2:49 pm

I had no idea that reading was so good for us! I’ve read a few of your titles already. I may take Louie’s advice and try Catch 22.

Jaya Avendel
February 15, 2021 3:22 pm

As a writer as well as a reader, I love this, though I do think I often end up reading with writing at the back of my mind when I pick up a book. I love an unexpected metaphor and connect with characters that I love as a way to see how they face the troubles in their life. Then I try to carry some of their courage and innovative thinking forward with me. 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing this!

February 16, 2021 5:53 am

Reading is so important for brain health! I’d be really curious to see how audiobooks compare. Thanks for sharing!

Bob McInnis
February 16, 2021 6:44 am

Thanks for the reminder and recommendations. My pandemic distraction level and winter blues has hampered my focus but I commit to reading 100 pages a day for the rest of February.

February 16, 2021 7:39 am

The old adage use it or lose it definitely relates to the brain. Thanks for the list of Things to read during these dreary days of winter. Great work as usual. Thanks, Mike

February 16, 2021 7:58 am

I really do love reading and it’s been a goal of mine to try and improve how much I read for fun this year, as opposed to for research. I love the selection you recommend, which includes some brilliant classics, and I’d be intrigued to give Gorky Park a try – I love detective thrillers, and it sounds brilliant!

Jessica Khater
February 16, 2021 8:23 am

It’s a good thing I love reading a lot.

February 16, 2021 8:35 am

I really loved reading this! I am so lucky that I love reading and trying to add it even more during the day and not just before bed. Now i wake up and it’s the first thing I pick up and I feel amazing! I really like reading your posts, they’re always full of informations and fact and can’t deny that I keep coming back for louie and Ozzie too! Thanks for sharing x

Katherine Knowles
Katherine Knowles
February 17, 2021 6:00 am

Great post! We love reading in this house, thank you for your recommendations, will have to check a few out.

Meredith Dent
Meredith Dent
February 17, 2021 6:01 am

I’ve been looking to get more into reading this year! Thank you for this list.

Luke Slater
Luke Slater
February 17, 2021 6:03 am

I’ve started to enjoy doing some reading lately, I’ve ordered a couple of books, but I tend to read autobiography books, I like to learn about the life’s of certain people.

Anika May
Anika May
February 17, 2021 6:24 am

Great article and findings. I totally agree that reading has way more benefits than an entertaining escape. It’s amazing how your mind sharpens the more you take in new information! I have Donna Tartt’s books on my TBR, she sounds like a great author.

Anika |

Fadima Mooneira
February 17, 2021 7:21 am

Super awesome post! I agree with you. Reading is a MUST and super important hobby. I don’t understand why most people in my country doesn’t like reading. They said reading is a waste of time. And because of that our bookish industry is really bad now. As a bookworm, I’m feeling sad. Reading makes you intelligent, knowledgeable, intellectual, and an interesting person. People must not be stingy to buy books.

Brooke Ressell
Brooke Ressell
February 17, 2021 8:26 am

I loved the question about audiobooks. It makes sense because there are so many amazing benefits for kids when they are read to on a regular basis. I used to listen to a ton of audiobooks when I was commuting but now I’m obsessed with podcasts. I wonder if there is any benefit for your brain with that.

February 17, 2021 10:59 am

What a great post, I agree. I love reading and listening to podcasts, they really help me. My brain sometimes feels stuffed with info about COVID and it hurts!


Kelly Diane
February 17, 2021 11:25 am

I love reading and definitely agree it helps to keep your brain sharp. I prefer to read physical books rather than audiobooks but it all comes down to what each person prefers.

February 17, 2021 4:36 pm

These are great tips to keep your brain sharp! Thanks so much for sharing!

February 18, 2021 8:16 am

I’m so happy to hear that reading keeps your brain sharp because I do a lot of that! I have read several of your list. Literary fiction is hit or miss with me but I do enjoy it if it isn’t the predominant genre. Thanks for sharing! Great post.

Molly @ Transatlantic Notes
February 18, 2021 9:38 am

Yes! I knew being a bookworm would pay off in the end! Thanks for this, I feel like this will boost my reading tonight!

Fransic verso
February 18, 2021 2:20 pm

With all this lockdown, it drive some people crazy. I recently started reading book and it feels good and help. Thank you for sharing!

Jenny in Neverland
Jenny in Neverland
February 19, 2021 4:01 am

Reading has so many benefits doesn’t it? I’m a life long reader but have found solace in reading so much during this time. I’ve read quite a few of the books you’ve suggested here!

February 20, 2021 12:35 am

Love these tips about keeping your brain in check. Reading does so much wonders. I need to do a better job with reading – I’ve been procrastinating on my reading. Love the book suggestions! Thanks for sharing!

Nancy ✨

February 20, 2021 8:14 am

My gran was an avid reader but sadly still got dementia, I do agree books keep our minds sharp though! And personally I love nothing more than getting lost in a good book!

February 20, 2021 9:03 am

I think the best ways to keep your brain sharp is to use it as much as possible, and you’ve come up with some really great ways to nourish and improve your brain during the down-time we have at the moment x

Carolyn Holton
Carolyn Holton
February 20, 2021 4:16 pm

I love reading and it really takes my mind off of the negative happenings in our world right now. thanks for the book suggestions.

February 21, 2021 9:07 am

Such an interesting post! I love reading and definitely need to make more time for it regularly, I go through phases where I read lots and then nothing. I’m in a slump at the moment!

Tash – A Girl with a View

February 21, 2021 5:10 pm

As an avid reader, I really appreciate this post! Great use of GIFs, and the list of 10 classics is really handy – I admit, I haven’t read them all!

February 24, 2021 7:30 am

Another fabulous, informative post! Thank you! And who knew as a fellow writer, I’m also a purveyor of brain health? 🙂 Also great list of recommended books.

JoJo Hall
February 27, 2021 10:20 am

Great post! Reading books has so many benefits! And I’ve enjoyed reading a few of your recommendations in previous years, they’re amazing. And Ozzie looks like he can get into reading as well lol.

Love and Literature
Love and Literature
March 4, 2021 9:18 am

Oo, some fab classic recommendations here – I’ve read a few of them, but yet to read the others. It’s definitely important to keep your brain sharp, I was recently given a book of puzzles for each day of the year which I love. Thanks for sharing 🙂

The Apocalypse Daddy
The Apocalypse Daddy
April 19, 2021 9:37 am

My sensory cortex is doing cartwheels right now.

Isa A
Isa A
May 9, 2021 7:54 am

I’ve read all genres. But lately only stick to my fav philosophy for some reason. Haven’t read many books since covid because got on a few more new things and activities. But yea, gonna get a new one. Just ready to be placed to order. Not doubtful over audiobooks use but I personally prefer and only get physical ones. From the list wuthering heights was my fav classic!! Xx
Isa A. Blogger

February 23, 2022 6:26 am

Glad I stopped by your blog – thank you, Susan. It’s also known that an active lifestyle has a beneficial effect on the brain. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but our physical and mental states are interconnected.

Optymalizatory Modułów Fotowoltaicznych
Optymalizatory Modułów Fotowoltaicznych
February 20, 2024 12:34 am

Your article was a pleasure to read. The information was well-presented and extremely useful.

Susan Berk Koch author

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