Heads, shoulders, knees and toes: wherever you're looking to improve your health and deepen your understanding of the human body, we have the perfect book for you.
Heads, shoulders, knees and toes: wherever you're looking to improve your health and deepen your understanding of the human body, we have the perfect book for you.
Whether we’re thinking about them or not, our bodies are always working: just in the time it took you to read this sentence, your brain, eyes, heart, and lungs – not to mention a thousand other body parts – were all keeping you alive and focused. Indeed, we tend not to think about the ways our bodies function until they fail us.
Yet, there’s so much we can do in our day-to-day lives to stay healthy, from brain functioning right down to foot health. With that in mind, we selected a handful of books per body part – starting in the head and working downwards – to help readers maintain, strengthen and even heal their body health and prevent illness. There is a book for every part of your body; find health advice for yours below.
Supercharge Your Brain by James Goodwin (2021)
Much has been made in the last decade about mental health, but what about your physical brain itself? Here, neurologist James Goodwin elucidates the way your brain functions, and the regular exercises and habits you can implement to keep your “most vital and complex organ” – and the source of your personality and experiences – in tip-top shape, into old age and well beyond.
The Better Brain by Julia J Rucklidge and Bonnie J Kaplan (2021)
Scientists Julia J Rucklidge and Bonnie J Kaplan turn their careers’ worth of research on the link between nutrition and mental health into a book that unearths some of the surprising causes of poor mental health, then illuminates the multiple ways your diet can balance your mood and improve resilience to depression and the stressors of daily life. Those looking for simple, effective ways to maintain your brain health, look no further.
Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon by Rahul Jandial (2020)
In Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon: The New Science and Stories of the Brain, leading neuroscientist and neurosurgeon Dr Rahul Jandial tells the stories of patients whose extreme cases of brain damage, disorders and illnesses reveal and illuminate new facets of brain science. From the effects of brain surgery to the ways a tumour might be affecting one’s day-to-day life, Jandial blends cutting-edge research and elegant prose in this vital book about the workings of the brain.
The Changing Mind by Daniel Levitin (2021)
A perfect book for anyone worried about the prospect of ageing, Daniel Levitin’s The Changing Mind – subtitled A Neuroscientist's Guide to Ageing Well – targets the commonly misconceptions that plague us as we get older. Did you know that decision-making actually improves as we age, and that happiness peaks in our 80s? Filled with facts and research that will change the way you think about the ageing brain, Levitin’s latest is a must-read.
The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (2008)
Drawing on real-life examples of human beings who have bounced back from extreme brain health odds, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge explores the vital concept of neuroplasticity in The Brain That Changes Itself. From cases of 90-year-old doctors to recovering stroke victims, Doidge demonstrates the remarkable power of the brain to self-heal, and overturns long-held assumptions about the brain in the process.
Vision for Life: 10 Steps to Natural Eyesight Improvement by Meir Schneider (2016)
For all things eye health, Meir Schneider’s book is a perfect place to start. As useful a guide for those with 20/20 vision as it is for those experiencing sight issues, Vision for Life spans both maintenance and troubleshooting, and is full of the tips and exercises that helped the author himself overcome near-blindness. Think of it as physical therapy for the eyes – and, for those losing their sight, a message of hope for repair and recovery.
What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness by Candia McWilliam (2011)
Neither a medical guide nor a maintenance manual, What to Look for in Winter is an uplifting memoir that tells Candia McWilliam’s story of losing her sight just as she joined the Booker Prize judging panel, and what that meant for a life built on reading. The result is a poignant examination of loss, and a model of how to redefine one’s life and regain a sense of self in its wake.
Blind Man’s Bête Noire by Peter White (2012)
In this four-programme, hour-long audio presentation, long-time British broadcaster Peter White speaks on the irritations of being blind, from the day-to-day interactions to bigger, more significant moments. Titled ‘The Countryside’, ‘Holidays’, ‘Being Introduced to Other Blind People’ and ‘Going Slowly’, the programmes provide insight into life as a blind person, whether you’re listening to relate or simply to learn. Alternately biting, revealing, and often hilarious, White’s series is a must-listen.
The Ear Book: A Complete Guide to Ear Disorders and Health by Thomas J Balkany and Kevin D Brown (2017)
We might not think about them every day, but ears are the central organs to both hearing and balance. In this informative tome, Drs Thomas J Balkany and Kevin D Brown explain the anatomy of the ear and how to identify the various causes, symptoms and treatments of ear illness, from infection to cancer, eardrum perforation to hearing loss. Along the way, they also debunk common hearing myth and provide tips to maintain ear health.
The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss by Nick Coleman (2013)
Nick Coleman’s 2013 memoir about Sudden Neurosensory Hearing Loss isn’t a science or medical text, but the moving story of the day Coleman woke to find he could no longer hear music. The Train in the Night details his struggle to recover and reconnect to his life’s passion. It’s a stirring read whose balance of humour and heartbreak might provide hope to anyone experiencing struggles with hearing loss – or anyone who’s experienced loss, full-stop.
Tinnitus, From Tyrant to Friend by Julian Cowan Hill (2021)
Julian Cowan Hill developed tinnitus at 16 years old; by the time he 34, he says, “it had turned into a raging siren that kept me awake and stopped me from holding down a job, and made my life a misery.” In Tinnitus, From Tyrant to Friend, Hill relates the story of how going to a craniosacral therapist cured his tinnitus and changed his life, and how – through understanding the affliction and employing his techniques – readers can do the same.
Keeping Your Heart Healthy by Dr Boon Lim (2021)
The perfect place to start with any concerns about heart health, Keeping Your Heart Healthy is a concise, accessible guide to the vital muscular organ that keeps our blood flowing. Whether you have questions about hypertension, cholesterol and inherited cardiac conditions, or chest pain, fainting and stress, cardiologist Boon Lim’s handbook has direct, to-the-point answers in the form of maintenance steps and tips on how to keep your heart in optimal shape, long into old age.
The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations by Thomas Morris (2018)
For millennia, the heart has confounded and captivated humankind; it’s only in the last few centuries that we learned exactly how it works. In this book, Thomas Morris tracks the history of that learning process across 11 operations, from the first blue baby operation to heart transplants, that revealed the heart’s intricacies. For anyone keen to know how we’ve acquired the level of knowledge we now have about caring for this delicate organ, look no further.
The Heart Attack Recovery Plan: The Positive Approach to Managing Your Lifestyle by David Symes (2011)
If this practical guide to heart attack recovery seems specific, it’s with good reason: in the UK, somebody suffers a heart attack every five minutes, on average. That said, there are 1.4 heart attack survivors, and all of them might find something useful in The Heart Attack Recovery Plan, in which author David Symes guides readers through the after-math of an attack, from the purely physical concerns to more physiological ones.
The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer: How to Feel Empowered and Take Control by Trisha Greenhalgh and Liz O’Riordan (2018)
In The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer, professor and GP Trisha Greenhalgh and consultant breast cancer surgeon Liz O’Riordan – both of whom experienced breast cancer first-hand – collate all of the most up-to-date research, as well as their own career and personal experiences, into a book designed to empower readers with all the information they could ever need about having breast cancer, from simple explanations of treatments to mental health tips and everything they “wished they’d known when they were diagnosed”.
What to Expect When You’re Breastfeeding… And What If You Can't? by Clare Byam-Cook (2006)
Breastfeeding is never quite simple, but What to Expect When You’re Breastfeeding is. In this unemotional, straightforward book, author Clare Byam-Cook offers a plainspoken and comprehensive guide to the potential complications of breastfeeding, from preparation and ‘what to expect’ through to common problems and how to solve them. Never preachy about bottle or breast, and always sympathetic, Byam-Cook provides a welcome guide through what can be a tumultuous time.
Breath by James Nestor (2020)
It’s not quite specific to lungs, but then, James Nestor’s 2020 bestseller touches on so many aspects of health, it’s almost difficult to locate it. In Breath, the author elucidates the many ways that breathing – via a wide variety of methods and exercises – can benefit our health, from revitalising our organs to fighting autoimmune diseases. Breathing wellness may extend to various parts of the body, but it begins, Nestor shows here, in the lungs.
Helping Lung Health, By the Book by Robert Redfern (2018)
Subtitled Pulmonary Rehabilitation Plan For COPD, Emphysema, Fibrosis, Bronchiectasis and More, this book from nutritionist Robert Redfern is a wide-spanning guide to rehabilitating your lungs after suffering any of the above conditions – or any of a host of others. It’s a great jump-off point for any reader with a pulmonary condition, or for anyone looking to help a loved one through the same.
Asthma and Beyond by Paul Sherwood (2011)
Using his career’s worth of studying the lymphatic system, and employing case studies from his practice, physician Paul Sherwood explains the causes of asthma and a host of other lymphatic disorders, concentrating on preventative measures and explaining how symptoms are caused in clear, direct terms. If you’re one of the 4.3 million adults in the UK suffering from asthma, there’s likely something in Sherwood’s book for you.
Breathe: A practical guide to breathwork exercises by Rebecca Dennis (2021)
The past year has seen such a plethora of books about breathwork that it’s become something of a trend, but between works by James Nestor, Wim Hof and Richie Bostock, the results have seemed emphatic. In this audiobook from Rebecca Denis, aptly titled Breathe, the breath coach offers a practical approach to breathwork, with over 15 guided exercises to help you become more aware of your breathing.
Mayo Clinic on Digestive Health: How to Prevent and Treat Common Stomach and Gut Problems by Sahil Khanna (2020)
Now in its fourth edition, this comprehensive and authoritative guide to stomach and gut health has become a go-to for anyone experiencing digestive health issues. From prevention to treatment, and ranging from simple issues like bloating and gas, heartburn, constipation and diarrhoea to more urgent ones like celiac disease, colorectal cancer, Crohn’s disease and more, Digestive Health is a practical and thorough tome, and a must-have for any health-related bookshelf.
Perfect Digestion: The Complete Mind-Body Programme for Overcoming Digestive Disorders by Deepak Chopra (2000)
In this short but informative book, Deepak Chopra outlines how to understand your digestive tract and how to calibrate your diet to minimise intestinal problems, with helpful advice on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhoea, gaseousness and other digestive disorders. By treating the stomach as part of wider bodily health, Chopra describes techniques and tips on how taking care of your digestive system can affect mood and wellness.
Stomach and Bowel Disorders by Jan de Vries (2011)
As succinct and direct as its title implies, this entry in Jan de Vries’ ‘By Appointment Only’ series, on Stomach and Bowel Disorders, advocates for treating digestive and absorption disorders in their early stages, before they develop into serious conditions such as ulcers, colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. By pinpointing the warning signs of poor digestive health, and giving clear, effective diets, remedies and exercises, de Vries helps readers take care of the stomachs before it’s a real issue.
Dr Ali’s Ultimate Back Book by Mosaraf Ali (2002)
“A healthy spine”, says Mosaraf Ali in this book all about back and spinal health, “depends on a healthy lifestyle”, and across the pages of his Ultimate Back Book, he shows how an integrative approach to back health – combining diet, exercise, massage, sleep positioning and posture work – can prevent major issues in later life. By keeping a strong back, he argues, the rest of the body will benefit.
The Back Sufferer’s Bible by Sarah Key (2000)
In this gospel according to author Sarah Key, she preaches the power that back problem sufferers have over their back health, placing emphasis on the patient’s ability to treat their back problems. In plainspoken language, Key identifies the many sources of back pain, then provides solutions to relieve the issue, whether it’s back exercises, medication or simple bed rest. If you or a loved one are suffering from back pain, The Back Sufferer’s Bible is an ideal place to start.
Back to Life: How to unlock your pathway to recovery when back pain persists by David Rogers and Grahame Brown (2016)
Based on cutting-edge research from the Functional Restoration Service at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham – the UK’s leading centre for back pain – comes Back to Life, wherein authors David Rogers and Dr Grahame Brown outline their ‘biopsychosocial’ approach to back pain. By identifying the biological, psychological and social factors (“the environmental factors that will contribute to your back pain”), Rogers and Brown reveal a method that finds, understands, and solves the issues contributing to back pain.
Understanding, Preventing and Overcoming Osteoporosis by Gillian Tidey and Jane Plant (2004)
Less a book about the spine, specifically, than about bone health overall, Gill Tidey and Professor Jane Plant’s Understanding, Preventing and Overcoming Osteoporosis is aimed at doing exactly what its title promises. Here, the authors advise on how to prevent osteoporosis and how to increase and maintain bone strength by taking a full-body approach to the matter that includes diet and lifestyle.
The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An intimate journey across our surface by Monty Lyman (2020)
The skin is our largest, fastest-growing organ, yet we rarely think about it unless something is going wrong. In this wide-ranging book that studies skin “through the lenses of science, sociology and history”, Dr Monty Lyman examines ageing, whether beauty products work, our inability to tickle ourselves, the skin’s microbiome and much more, revealing a complex world that holds our delicate bodies together. You’ll never think about skin the same way again.
Skin Diseases by Jan de Vries (2011)
In this entry in his ‘By Appointment Only’ eBook series, author Jan de Vries draws on his 35 years of experience to write simply and straightforwardly about the issues affecting our skin, “from acne, allergies and dermatitis, to the latest developments in the treatment of psoriasis” – not to mention fungal conditions, eczema, and much more. For anyone suffering skin afflictions, from simple itch to cancer, Skin Diseases is a must-read.
The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin by Anjali Mahto (2018)
As our most visible organ, the skin is subjected to the most severe aesthetic judgement – it’s the reason we spend millions of pounds per year on beauty products and skincare regimes. In this No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin, dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto cuts through the noise to distinguish medical science from myth when it comes to our skin’s appearance. The Skincare Bible will be gospel to anyone suffering from or with questions about acne and dryness, rosacea and aging.
Clean: The New Science of Skin and the Beauty of Doing Less by James Hamblin (2020)
Shower and bath avoiders, unite: in this fascinating new book, Dr James Hamblin uses cutting-edge research to show why “a more natural approach to being clean” might be the way forward when it comes to our concept of skin cleanliness – in fact, he argues, the way we currently scrub, and the amount of soap we use, might just be hurting our skin’s microbiome. Clean will change the way you think about your skin – and maybe your relationship to the natural world, too.
The Beautiful Cure: The New Science of Human Health by Daniel M. Davis (2019)
Less a ‘body part’ than an intricate full-body network of vital processes, our immune system is nonetheless central to maintaining our health and well-being. Here, Professor Daniel Davis reveals its mysteries to the reader, from the day-to-day functioning of the immune system to the way it is affected by our lifestyles, including stress, sleep, age and our state of mind. Davis’s interweaving of science with real-life medical cases and the history of discovery makes The Beautiful Cure a page-turner, as well.
Viruses, Allergies and the Immune System by Jan de Vries (2011)
Another in Jan de Vries’ ‘By Appointment Only’ series, Viruses, Allergies and the Immune System is a handbook-style approach to “problems such as viruses, allergies and post-viral syndrome.” In this straightforward book, de Vries examines the role that our immune system plays in our body, and explores how that role is affected by diet, allergies and even social behaviour. For those new to understanding our immune system, this is a great place to start.
When it comes to sexual health, there’s no better place to start than with the facts. This third edition of the Oxford Handbook of Genitourinary Medicine, HIV, and Sexual Health, is “fully updated to encompass the changes in the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, British HIV Association, and Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare guidelines and recommendations”, and is an ideal resource for any question related to genital and sexual health.
Genital health also means reproductive health – and whether you’re starting to think about pregnancy or just have questions, Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a thorough, painstakingly complete guide to all things reproductive. Full of insights that span from birth control to overall gynaecological health, it more than earns the descriptor ‘definitive’ in its title. This is an essential book for anyone with unanswered questions about their own body and fertility.
The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford (2020)
Until the last few decades, precious little information was available, in the mainstream at least, about sexual health for people on the LGBTQ spectrum. The Pride Guide aims to change that: Jo Langford’s Pride Guide was “written explicitly for the almost ten percent of teenagers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or any of the unique identities that are not heterosexual/cisgendered” and “explores sex, dating, relationships, puberty, and both physical and online safety in one resource.” Perfect for teens, parents and educators alike, there’s something here for anybody whose sexuality transcends boxes and binaries.
The Relate Guide to Sex and Intimacy by Cate Campbell (2015)
Sex doesn’t stand alone as a physical issue – sexual relations are often bound up in the social, psychological and most intimate aspects of our being, and can be a delicate issue to confront. Written with this in mind, The Relate Guide to Sex and Intimacy empowers readers by outlining the ways available to respond when faced with a sexual or intimate dilemma, whether it pertains to confidence, trust or safety. Why not make your sex life better?
Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet by Katy Bowman (2016)
We would be remiss not to mention the very bottom of the human body, and the part that takes the hardest beating: our feet. In this all-encompassing guide to foot health, bio-mechanist Katy Bowman provides facts and visuals to help illustrate proper foot care, from body movement to adequate footwear, in order to prevent hammertoes, bunions, plantar fasciitis and poor posture. The rest of your body will thank you.
In Praise of Walking: The new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us by Shane O’Mara (2020)
Says author Shane O’Mara, walking is a “uniquely human skill [that] defines us as a species”. Yet, we often take our feet for granted. Here, O’Mara – from his vantage point as a neuroscientist, rather than a podiatrist – waxes divinely about human movement, and the way being bipedal has not only defined our species but conferred benefit after benefit upon it. It’s a perfect book for literally anyone who walks on two feet.
What did you think of this article? Did we miss a crucial book or body part? Let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images: Ryan MacEachern / Penguin
There’s much to learn from ageing, argues Lucy Pollock, geriatrician and the author of The Book About Getting Older – if only we can reframe our negative thinking about it.
Reading to inspire small improvements in your diet, mental health and more this year.