There's been a raft of recent publications dealing with the brain and how to keep it sharp as you age. The one that jumped out at me was John Medina's Brain Rules. Why? I was partially hooked on the promise of his subtitle ("12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School") but also because of Medina's background: among other things, he's the Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. The guy obviously knows quite a bit about brains.
Much of the information you'll find in Brain Rules is the same stuff your parents/teachers probably told you when you were growing up. But now you can better appreciate these facts because (a) they're presented by a real brain scientist and (b) they're accompanied by all sorts of interesting supporting evidence and stories. Plus, rather than just being told how your brain behaves, Medina makes sure you have a better understanding of why it does so.
While the book covers common advice like "physical activity is important" and "sleep well and regularly", you'll also learn more about why it's hard to give full attention to dull material and how couch potatoes lose mental skills as well as physical ones.
I found Medina's argument against multitasking intriguing. He basically says it's an inefficient path to disaster since multitaskers typically make more mistakes and take longer to finish any given item. Purely by coincidence, another book called The Myth of Multitasking recently showed up on my doorstep, and as a diehard multitasker from way back when, I plan to read and review it shortly.
The napping debate also comes up in Brain Rules. The author notes that a short nap in the afternoon (when your brain tends to slow down) will provide a mental boost for the rest of the day. I've just never found that to be the case. The few times I've napped on a Saturday afternoon I find I'm even more tired the rest of the day. Plus, I doubt I'll ever convince my boss I should take a siesta every day from 1-2 so that I'm more effective from 2-5.
There were quite a few other extremely fascinating tidbits that I discovered while reading Brain Rules...too many to cover in one blog post. I definitely recommend it to anyone who's concerned about keeping a sharp mind well into the later years of life.