Protecting your brain sounds like something football players would be concerned with.
Every few years, the NFL makes updates to the design of their helmets, based on the latest research, to reduce the risk of concussion or brain injury. It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t help the rest of us much.
I don’t suggest that we walk around with NFL helmets on, but the truth is, all of us need to protect our brains, especially as we advance in years.
Maintaining a Healthy Brain
Brain protection is an inside job. In other words, the best strategies to protect your brain work from the inside out. You are more likely to harm your brain’s health with food than you are from a collision with a 300-pound linebacker.
I’ve heard it said that we can survive over 30 days without food, up to 7 days without water, up to 10 minutes without oxygen, but if the electrical synapses in our brains stop, the game is over in an instant. The problem is that, while most of us don’t experience that sudden shutdown of our brains, we allow our brains to slow down and weaken gradually over years.
It starts with little things.
The Slowdown Starts Quietly
Maybe you have a repetitive job that doesn’t require much thought or creativity. Or you spend your evenings passively watching TV. Maybe you decided at your high school graduation that you were done learning.
These decisions seem harmless enough at first glance. While they aren’t actively damaging your brain, they aren’t doing it any favors, either. That’s why it’s important to think of your brain as a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly.
If you spent your life on the couch eating potato chips and drinking soda, it would have a predictable and undesirable effect on your body over time. The same can be said of letting your brain go idle for long periods of time.
How’s Your Dementia Risk?
I recently received an email from a health and wellness organization that included a dementia risk screening. Curious, I clicked the link and completed the online survey. It was a series of multiple-choice questions that identified several risk factors for dementia. I was happy to see that they aligned with topics I have been covering here on “Wellness Wednesday.” It’s always nice to have confirmation of the things I teach from people I trust and respect.
Do you know the risk factors for dementia? Here are a few:
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- High-sugar diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Fluoridated water with high aluminum content
- A family history of dementia
- High blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes (see obesity)
- Concussion or brain injury
- Inadequate sleep
- No hobbies
- High stress
- Low level of education
There is some conventional thinking that suggests that women are at greater risk than men, but I haven’t seen any real data to support it, and from my experience working with so many seniors in the Naples area, I don’t think there is any difference.
Now that You Know, You Can Do Something
Doesn’t that seem like a lot of risk factors? If this list makes you feel anxious – like everything in the world can give you dementia – don’t let it. If anything, it should be empowering. Why? Because almost all of these factors are within your control:
- You choose kind of food (and how much) you eat.
- Only you else gets to determine how much you sleep.
- No one else decided the amount of alcohol you drink (or why).
- You pick how much social interaction you allow in your life.
- Only you set the amount of stress you allow in your life. (NOTE: If you feel like your stress is out of control, then you have let yourself become a victim of circumstance. The truth is, you can control how you respond emotionally to situations, and you control whether you stay in stressful situations or remove yourself. You have control, IF you want to take responsibility for your own life and outcomes).
- You decide whether or not you smoke (although I recognize that children with smoking parents in the home are at a massive disadvantage because they can’t necessarily escape the second-hand smoke).
- Pure, filtered water is readily available, so you don’t have to drink fluoridated city water.
- You control whether you continue (or resume) your education, or just learn new skills. I encourage everyone to have a hobby that requires skill development, like dancing, painting, or playing a musical instrument.
- As for depression, I spent some time last week identifying ways you can fight depression and win, even during the holidays, when it sometimes seems depression is the worst.
How healthy your body and brain are is totally within your control.
A Brain-Healthy Start To 2019
As we move through December and roll into 2019, I want to encourage you to make a commitment to yourself (not a New Year’s Resolution – we know what happens to those) to take new steps to protect your brain.
Exercise Your Brain
Make a list of topics that interest you. Then pick one and start studying it. I mean, physically take yourself to the amazing Collier County Public Library system (or your local library if you live out of town), pick up a book about your first topic, and start reading. Take notes on a legal pad. Capture things that stand out to you.
Highlighting is helpful (if you own your own copy of the book), but there is a magnified effect on your brain if you put pen to paper and write notes by hand.
Really want to supercharge the learning? Find the book on Audible or some other audiobook source, and read along as the narrator reads it. AND take notes. Now, you have the information coming in your ears, eyes, and hands, reinforcing the learning.
Switch Your Sugars
Nearly every food you can find in the grocery store is packed with sugar and preservatives. I am convinced that future generations are going to look back at this time in history and wonder how we allowed ourselves to be fooled into accepting the outrageous amounts of sugar manufacturers use today. Sugar is cancer’s favorite food and it has a disastrous effect on brain cells.
Here’s a topic for you to study: learn how to eat a brain-healthy diet. As you transition away from unhealthy foods and target the foods that work best for your body, you will enjoy clearer thinking, better moods, more precise memory recall, and more energy. And don’t be shocked when you lose 20 or 30 pounds and your medical doctor takes you off some of your meds.
The same diet that is healthy for your brain is good for the rest of your body, too. Some of the food you are currently eating is causing the pain in your joints, your headaches, digestive problems, acne, hair loss, tooth decay, and nearly every other health problem you deal with.
Start with the articles here, here, here, here, here, and here. That will keep your brain busy and active for the next few hours. Then go deeper. Grab a book on the Mediterranean Diet or the great books on Ketogenics from Dr. Joseph Mercola or Dr. Don Colbert.
But don’t buy those books online or download them onto your iPad. In fact, print out my articles on paper and keep them in a binder. Go to the library or the bookstore and pick up the printed books. Be around humans. Attend our “Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners,” where you can learn about strategies to maximize your health and longevity (the next one is December 13th with Denise Peterson). It really doesn’t matter how old you are, you are never too old to learn. Plus, you need to have communication with other humans.
Set A Higher Goal
I recently talked to a friend who just turned 60 and was starting to think about slowing down and transitioning into retirement. I asked if he really wanted to retire and he said no. He enjoys his work, he has a lot of wisdom and experience in his field, and he is growing a position of influence in his industry. So why slow down? He just felt like that was what he was supposed to do. Make room for the younger ones coming up behind him. Plus, he doesn’t have the energy he had in his 40s anymore. He is having a harder time getting around as his body gets old.
I shut him down right there. I had heard enough. It’s not just that he was acquiescing to the symptoms of old age; his vision was too low. He has seen too many people die in their 70s and he was expecting to go that way, too.
I made him change his thinking.
The Best Success and Wellness Book Ever Written (the Bible) has a promise in it that most people overlook. Go find it for yourself. In Genesis 6:3, after a dozen generations of people living to be over 900 years old, God established the parameters for human life. But He didn’t set it at 70 years as some Christians think. That was just the Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years. No, God set the limit of human life at 120 years. Look it up.
Have a Bigger Vision
Even if we don’t make it all the way to 120, we need to have a vision for it. Set a plan for your life that goes all the way to your 120th birthday. If you knew you had that long to live, what would you do with all that extra time?
- Set up a foundation to serve the poor?
- Start a second (or third or fourth) career?
- Write a book and go on a speaking tour?
- Learn to play an instrument?
- Travel around the world?
You have to start each morning with a reason to get out of bed or one day, you won’t. I see too many people give up early because they think they’re supposed to get sick and die in their 70s or 80s. That’s a crock. Press toward 120.
And I don’t mean spend those extra years in a wheelchair. If that’s your plan, I guarantee you won’t make it. Part of longevity is physical activity and nutrition. You have to eat in a way that keeps your bones and muscles strong, and you have to keep moving.
The other part is giving your brain something to keep it active. Learn to dance, sing, or paint. Teach someone. Learn to help people with their money.
Healthy Brain, Healthy Thinking
Next week, I want to transition our topic from keeping a healthy brain to keeping a healthy thought life. They are related but different. I hope you’ll join me.
In the meantime, please take a few seconds right now to share this article on your favorite social media channel. Together, we are building a community of people who want to live their fullest, healthiest, longest, maximized life. I’m sure you know people like that who haven’t come into this community yet. We’d love to meet them. We’re also not selling anything here. Yeah, some have told me that I am leaving money on the table by not selling products, but that’s not what I’m about. I’m interested in helping people live healthy, joyful lives.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas