Our brain is the most amazing organ in the body. Have you ever wondered how healthy your brain is? How would you know unless you looked? That is exactly what I had done in the US last week. The sport scientist in me is always looking for ways to help my athletes and executives be their best and I was fascinated hearing Dr Daniel Amen speak at a conference I attended a few years ago when he showed the effect of unhealthy habits on our brains. Dr Amen is a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist and brain-imaging expert who heads up the world-renowned Amen Clinics.
Our brain only weighs about 3 pounds or about 2% of your body weight, yet it uses 20-30% of the calories we consume, 20% of the oxygen we breathe, and 25% of the blood flow in own body and is 85% water! If you don’t take care of your brain, you lose on average 85,000 brain cells a day. That is what causes aging. However the great news is that it is reversible and you can dramatically slow the aging process and increase your mental agility. For me it was awesome to discover that I am at extremely low risk of dementia and that I had a great memory but if that was not the case, the great part of the brain, is that it can be trained too and many conditions can be reversed. Over two days of testing I learned so much and have come away with some great tips specifically to boost my brain, promote clear thinking, sleep optimally, as well as a few nutrients I need for health and longevity. It was an amazing experience with benefits to last me a lifetime.
Here are just a few of Dr Amen’s tips for you to optimise your brain for a better life in all you do.
1 Real weapons of Mass Destruction for your brain. Stay away from these.
Highly processed foods
Foods that have had pesticide sprayed on them
High Glycemic foods
Low fibre foods
Food like substances
2 Get 7-9 hours sleep a night. It is essential to your Brain Health
This is critical. Even if you cannot sleep, lie there and rest. Some people just need to train their body to sleep! Lack of sleep affects your mood, memory and ability to concentrate. With 7 hours sleep, our brain operates with 98% accuracy. With 6 hours, it is reduced to 50% accuracy and with 4 hours, you are dangerous! In fact, sleep deprived drivers cause more accidents than drunk drivers. If you suffer from sleep apnea, your potential for getting Alzheimer’s is tripled. Be sure to get tested as most people are unaware they have sleep apnea. And if you think you can get by on just a few hours, you are kidding yourself. The brain scans Dr Amen showed really told the story. Make it a priority if you want to live a long time and keep sharp, focused and energised.
3 Have a Brain Healthy Diet
Lean protein, such as turkey or chicken; low glycemic, high fibre carbohydrates, (which means carbohydrates high in fibre that do not raise your blood sugar, such as whole grains and green leafy vegetables); and healthy fats that contain omega three fatty acids, found in foods such as tuna, salmon, avocados and walnuts. Since the brain is 85% water, anything that dehydrates you is bad for the brain, such as alcohol, caffeine, excess salt or not drinking enough fluids. Be sure to drink at least two litres of water to keep you well hydrated. Even a slight dehydration can raise stress hormones, which can damage your brain over time.
4 Get to your Ideal Weight
Substantial research in animals and now in humans indicates that a calorie-restricted diet is helpful for brain and life longevity. Eating less helps you live longer. It controls weight; decreases risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke from obesity, and it triggers certain mechanisms in the body to increase the production of nerve growth factors, which are helpful to the brain.
5 Physical Exercise
It is literally the fountain of youth because it boosts blood flow to the brain, plus it increases chemicals that are important for learning and memory and stimulating the growth of new brain cells. Be sure to do at least three cardiovascular activities each week and include lots of short bursts of intense exercise too. Just as important, be sure to do weight bearing or weight training activities two times a week for at least 20 minutes. Fragility is what kills older people. Lift weights or do weight bearing activities no matter what your age and transform your fat into muscle
6 Protect Your Memory
It is critical to take early memory problems seriously and not just dismiss them as normal aging. It is not normal to have memory problems. According to a study from UCLA 95% of people with Alzheimer’s disease are not diagnosed until they are in the moderate to severe stages of the disorder, when not much can be done.
One of the MOST important things you can do to keep your memory strong is exercise because cognitive abilities are best in people who are physically active. There are also a number of supplements that have good supporting research for memory including fish oil; gingko, biloba, sage and a Chinese moss extract called hyperzine.
7 Protect Your Brain
You brain is soft and your skull is hard. Brain injuries can ruin your life, so wear your seat belt, drive in safe vehicles, don’t hit soccer balls with your head, and stay off the roof. One of the most common brain injuries in men over 40 is falling off the roof.
8 Stop Poisoning your Brain
Do not put toxic substances in your body. If you poison your brain, you poison your mind, so limit your alcohol intake. In fact, it has been shown that people who drink daily have a much smaller brain. No illegal drugs, stop smoking, limit your caffeine intake, and stop using cleaning products without good ventilation.
9 Whole Brain Workout
You stimulate new brain cells by using them and by learning something new. They connect to other cells and become part of the fabric of your brain. Include word games and crossword puzzles, be sure to get lots of laughter, and learning a musical instrument is great for your brain development. Learning new dance steps is also a great mental exercise because it involves learning, coordination, music and physical exercise. All of those things are great for your brain.
10 Live with Gratitude and Surround yourself with Positive People Focusing on negative thoughts changes the brain in a negative way. Creativity, learning, and imagination all go DOWN with negative emotion; while focusing on positive, happy, hopeful thoughts helps both the brain and you work better.
11 Supplements to Enhance Brain Health recommended by Dr Amen
Omega 3 – fatty acids
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Living a brain healthy life will increase your brain’s reserve and your ability to deal with the inevitable stresses that come your way. Added to that, you can improve your memory and increase your energy, productivity and creativity. The great news is that the brain can age backwards so make your brain health your priority and nurture and care for it.