Another year of reading is in the books. And while this was anything but an easy filtering exercise (so many good ones to choose from), below are my top 10 books in the realm of health and fitness -- which I define broadly as the harmony of physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs -- from the past year.
Note: Although not all of these books were first published in 2015, they are all recent works, and they are listed in no particular order. Also, since a lot of my writing ideas come from the books I read, I've linked to a few of my related articles where appropriate. Consider these as teasers on the topic, and then go read the book!
Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb: When fragile structures, people, and systems face stress, they often break. But when antifragile structures, people, and systems face stress, they not only withstand it, but thrive and grow as a result. Nassim's writing style is provocative -- at times even offensive -- and he slays many sacred cows. But the overarching concept and his exploration of it is fascinating and I've found it helpful when applied to my own life.
The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal: While we are on the topic of stress... Kelly absolutely nails this book. Instead of seeing stress as something toxic and to be avoided at all costs, Kelly says we should embrace it, and she presents a compelling case. Stress, it turns out, is a wonderful vehicle for personal growth and development. I had the privilege of discussing this with Kelly in the context of endurance sports here.
What Makes Olga Run, by Bruce Grierson: Want to stay young and fit forever? You can learn a lot from Olga Kotelko, a 94-year-old track and field star. (Although she didn't take up the sport until "later in life," when she was 77!) Bruce interleaves story and science masterfully in this tour de force on aging with grit and grace. You'll be wiser, and healthier, for reading.
Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science is Creating a New Generation of Super Athletes, by Mark McClusky: A wonderful overview of how the fast evolving field of sports science (including medicine and psychology) is literally changing the game. Mark's writing is fast paced and thought provoking, raising questions like: What will it mean to be a "human athlete" some 30 years from now? For a preview of what you'll find in the book, check out this piece I did on a fascinating way to cheat fatigue, and try it yourself!
The World Beyond Your Head, by Matthew Crawford: A powerful meditation on "becoming an individual in an age of distraction." It seems that we are more empowered than ever thanks to technology, but is this really the case? Matt makes a compelling argument that our modern, "always-on" surroundings make it harder to discover our selves. This book is filled with rich philosophy that is every bit as accessible as it is thoughtful. Reading left me more aware of my autonomy and the constant threats to it.
Becoming Odyssa, by Jennifer Pharr Davis: Once I got into this book, I couldn't put it down. Jen's recap of her journey on the Appalachian Trail is energizing and inspiring. The trail not only turns Jen into a fine hiker (she'd later go on to break the world record for speed hiking the A.T.), but it also turns her into a fine young woman. Few interviews have moved me as much as my conversation with Jen did for this story.
Spark, by John Ratey: Though the physical benefits of exercise are well known and commonly discussed, the psychological benefits are equally as powerful. John makes brain science accessible in this overview of how and why exercise is good for your brain. I recently spoke with John for this short article on how exercise makes you smarter, including a few practical tips you can try today.
Story of the Human Body, by Daniel Lieberman: A thorough look at how we became who we are today, starting with our far-off ancestors. Dan explains why many of our current health problems are rooted in behaviors and physiology that, not too long ago, were beneficial for our survival. By helping us understand our past, this book puts us in a better position to problem-solve for our future.
How Bad Do you Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald: At the highest level of sport, it's often not physiology but psychology that separates the best from the rest. Matt goes well beyond just telling stories of great athletes (though he's really good at doing that, too) and delves deep into cutting-edge brain science to show us all how we can strengthen our own mental muscle. Here's a sneak peak.
Animal Madness, by Laurel Braitman: Though on its face this is a book about better understanding the animals in our lives, it's also a book about better understanding the humans in our lives. Laurel writes beautifully (jenex nearby) about what's going on inside the heads of our pets, and, in doing so, she sheds light on the human condition. This is especially a must-read if you have cats, dogs, dolphins, or elephants in your life!