Best books on health: nutrition, fitness, sleep

Best Health Books: Nutrition, Fitness, Sleep (Updated 2022)

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by Sven WoltmannJanuary 12, 2022

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Why we sleep - Book cover

by Matthew Walker, PhD

Link to the book at Amazon

Dr. Matthew Walker is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology and one of the world's leading sleep researchers. In his book, he explains the enormous importance of sleep and its effects on physical and mental health in an easily understandable way. He draws on his own research findings and numerous studies.

He explains the different phases of sleep and what they are responsible for. He describes how the biorhythm is influenced by natural and artificial light and caffeine or alcohol – and what happens in the body when you act against its natural rhythm.

You learn how the biorhythm changes in the course of life. After reading this book, parents will understand why small children do not sleep longer in the morning when you put them to bed later ... and why teenagers are not fit for school at 8:00 am – no matter how early they went to bed.

But why is good sleep so important anyway? Sleep is essential for the transfer of knowledge from short to long-term memory. Sleep promotes creativity, makes you more attractive, strengthens the immune system, prevents diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer, dementia, depression, and diabetes, and reduces heart attacks.

Of course, the author also gives practical tips on improving the quality of your own sleep (e.g., by going to bed regularly or by adjusting the light conditions a few hours before going to bed).

In summary, good sleep – and therefore reading this entertaining and stimulating book – is one of the best investments you can make in your health.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power

by Lisa Mosconi, PhD

Link to the book at Amazon

Lisa Mosconi is a doctor of neuroscience and nuclear medicine and an expert in Alzheimer's prevention and nutritional counseling. In her bestseller, she explains how our diet affects our brain and which foods we should (and shouldn't) eat to keep our brain fit for peak performance well into old age.

The author gives numerous practical tips and advice, such as what kind of olive oil to buy, which types of meat and fish and which dairy products are recommended (and which are not), and what to look out for in food labels.

She dispels common myths, explaining, for example, why most low-fat foods tend to be bad for us and why chocolate and wine (in the right types and amounts) are healthy.

The book is based on years of research and is written easily for laypeople to understand. The author does not expect readers to completely change their eating habits overnight but provides specific, prioritized recommendations for a gradual transition.

The book concludes with an extensive collection of healthy, delicious, and easy-to-implement recipes.

Suitable as an audiobook? Only limited due to the just mentioned recipe collection, which is unfortunately not supplied as a PDF.

The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day

by Andy Puddicombe

Link to the book at Amazon

In his bestseller, Andy Puddicombe, former Buddhist monk and founder of the "Headspace Foundation", introduces us to meditation and mindfulness – without any spiritual elements and with only ten minutes of commitment per day.

The book has three parts:

The first part introduces the importance and benefits of meditation. For example, meditation can reduce stress, promote concentration, positively affect sleep, and bring the mind to greater peace overall.

In the second part, the author describes simple but effective meditation techniques, especially the "Take 10" method, which can be easily integrated into a busy daily schedule.

The third part shows how to integrate meditation and mindfulness into daily life, such as walking, riding the subway, and even eating.

The book is excellently written. The casual writing style makes it easy to read, and numerous insightful metaphors help to understand how mediation works. Interesting stories by the author from various monasteries make this book quite entertaining.

The book does not replace the Headspace app – or vice versa. While the app goes into breadth with a variety of guided meditations, the book goes into depth. I can recommend both wholeheartedly.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes, and it is read by the author himself.

The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory

by Dr. Julia Shaw

Link to the book at Amazon

How reliable are our memories? Did everything we remember really happen exactly like that? As a rule, no, claims legal psychologist, Dr. Julia Shaw.

In this book, she shows that our memory is not only unreliable ("Where did I put my key?"), but also stores memories incorrectly, changes them afterward, combines them with other memories – and can even be unconsciously manipulated from the outside.

As an example, the author describes studies in which she implanted false memories in test subjects until they were firmly convinced that they had committed a crime.

These research findings are particularly relevant to the justice system: If we cannot trust memories one hundred percent – should we be allowed to convict people based on witness testimony alone?

We also learn what our modern world, in which we are constantly inundated by stimuli, in which information is available at the touch of a button, and in which we share filtered aspects of our lives on social media, is doing to our memory.

We can use the insights from this book to clear up misunderstandings and disagreements, protect people from misjudgments, help overcome trauma, and – combined with the proper techniques – to store information almost unaltered.

This book is written in an understandable way; it's entertaining and eye-opening. A recommendation for all who do not want to be helplessly exposed to the fallibility of their memories.

Suitable as an audio book? Yes.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

by John J. Ratey

Link to the book at Amazon

Exercise is not only good for the body but also for the mind. Regular aerobic exercise sharpens the intellect, promotes learning, and makes the brain fit for top mental performance. It reduces stress, lifts mood, boosts motivation, and protects against diseases such as depression, dementia, and attention deficit disorder – all from childhood to old age.

Why is that?

Aerobic exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system, thus ensuring the transport of sufficient nutrients to the brain and promoting the production of neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for the growth of brain cells ("neurogenesis") and their connections with each other.

Even though the author tries to describe the biological connections in an understandable way for laypeople, he sometimes delves deeply into the scientific background. You have to concentrate hard if you want to follow the explanations of which neurotransmitters are responsible for which functions. As a reading before going to bed, it is therefore only suitable to a limited extent.

I recommend the book to those who want to understand the scientific background in detail. To all others, I recommend regular exercise :-)

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

by Jeff Hawkins

Link to the book at Amazon

Jeff Hawkins is the founder of Palm Computing and Handspring – and is widely credited as the inventor of handheld computers. He uses the fortune earned through his computer companies to fund his primary passion, neuroscience.

In almost two decades of research, he developed a new theory about the functioning of the brain, human cognition, and intelligence. After numerous publications in professional articles, the author presents his "Thousand Brains" theory to a broad audience in a highly readable, popular-science form.

Hawkins reflects on how his discoveries may lead to the next breakthroughs in artificial intelligence – from purpose-driven to general AI – and whether it may develop consciousness and pose a threat to humanity.

Last, he explores the extent to which human intelligence itself poses an existential threat – by causing disasters, such as climate change and potentially nuclear wars.

The book is easy to read; a thoughtful structure and regular summaries of the completed thoughts make the profound subject easily accessible to non-neuroscientists.

If you, like me, attended AI lectures before Hawkins' time and think you know how the brain works, you will be surprised at how much has changed since then.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

The Power of When: Learn the Best Time to do Everything

by Michael Breus, PhD

Link to the book at Amazon

Is there a right time to sleep, eat, study, or talk to the boss? Interestingly, there is, but it varies from person to person. It depends on our (or – in the case of the conversation with the boss – also on their) so-called "chronotype".

"The Power Of When" is about recognizing our chronotype (with the help of several multiple-choice tests) and, based on that, planning the activities of our day – from eating and drinking alcohol to doctor's appointments and taking medication to concentrated work, vacation and wedding planning, to meditation, sports, and sex – according to our biological rhythm.

This part of the book is very factual, reads like a reference book, and is tedious to read. Especially if you don't manage to assign yourself to one of the four chronotypes unambiguously, as is the case with me and many other readers (according to their comments on the Internet).

As the book progresses, it gets a little more interesting when it talks about the importance of a consistent sleep schedule and how sleeping late, caffeine and alcohol affect our bodies and sleep.

It is beneficial to recognize the chronotypes of our partners and our children. This way, you can better understand and respond to their particularities.

Suitable as an audiobook? Due to the lengthy explanations of when which actions are best for which chronotype, I would rather recommend it in the print version. This way, one can focus on those areas that apply to the identified chronotype.