Book Review: Soft-Wired

The trouble with trying to write a fair review of SoftWired is avoiding clichés.

 

There are several that are applicable and so maybe I should just list them here and get them out of the way.  Here they are ( some of them, anyway):  revolutionary; earth shaking; groundbreaking; life changing; landmark.

Yes.  This book is all of that.  Its appeal is to basically two groups of people:

  1. those who have suffered trauma to the brain either through accident or disease;
  2. anybody over forty years old

I’m not going to hide the punch line here.  The message of the book – the thing that makes all those grand cliché s appropriate – is this:  the brain is like a muscle and it can be strengthened dramatically through the right kind of exercise, diet and lifestyle.  The book is full of examples of dramatic changes – healings, really – in the lives of men and women who had suffered terrible, seemingly permanent brain damage or who had been born with congenital defects that prevented them from functioning normally.

Not only that, the book claims that the neurodegenerative effects of aging can not only be slowed, they can be reversed.  Fading memory, slowing processing speed, all can be remedied.

Think of this:  If you are over forty years old you can look around at your peers and see enormous differences in physical health.  Some of your friends are overweight, some have even allowed themselves to slip into Metabolic syndrome and are obese.  Some are stiff as a board and some are weak.  Many have digestive or respiratory problems and have a line of prescription pills on their table every morning.  Then, on the other hand, there are those who have kept themselves in shape – women who can still turn heads and finish marathons and men who can do more pull-ups and push-ups now than they could at twenty.

What Mezernich is saying in this book is that with the same kind of dedication to our brain health we may enjoy that same difference in mental vitality.  That is, we may take twenty years off our brain age and fifty-year-olds may think and perceive as fast and remember just as accurately as a thirty-year-old.   Here is an appropriate time for one of those clichés.  That is revolutionary!

Here is what Mezernich tells us:

“But understand that as your brain gets healthier, that health will be manifested to a very significant extent by a greater capacity for having fun and enjoying life.”

And, yes, he does tell us how it can be done.   The modern lifestyle – the lifestyle of Western Civilization – does much to encourage the natural, age-related degeneration of the brain.  It’s very like the relationship between the Standard American Diet and the diseases of aging that are now raging among us – diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  That is, it is not a matter of doing a few things wrong some of the time; we are doing almost everything wrong almost all of the time.  The paved and air-conditioned world we live in does not present our brains with enough of the right kind of challenges needed to keep it sharp.  Moreover, we find ways to compensate for our fading memory and our slowing processing speed and these shortcuts only make matters worse.

The book convincingly makes the case that a concentrated effort to retrain our brains, done over a reasonable amount of time, will make profound and lasting changes in our abilities and, accordingly, our lives.  We can do this on our own with a computer and an internet connection.  It is that available.   We may consequently avoid mental decline and enjoy more freedom and longer independence and productivity.

That is earth-shaking; that is groundbreaking; that is life-changing.

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