Dr. Daniel Amen, award-winning psychiatrist and brain imaging expert, gives us much food for thought and motivation in his Public Broadcasting special program Use Your Brain to Change Your Age. In this program he shares with us his experience of having performed more than 70,000 brain scans on patients over the last 20 years from 90 different countries. He has seen time and time again successes where brains were in variuos stages of deterioration and by going through a brain healthy program were able to reverse damage and prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia related illness. Through his expertise he is able to give us Seven Steps to Boost Our Brain Health and Change Our Age.
- Know about the health of your brain. What you don’t know may hurt you. Having a brain scan early in life will alert you of early damage, giving you the knowledge and time to take the necessary steps to improve your health and reversed your condition. Researchers think that Alzheimer’s starts in the brain 30 to 50 years before there is any show of symptoms.
He showed an example of woman at 59 years with Alzheimer’s who he said probably started having trouble with her brain when she was in her 30′s. What are the signs that you may have trouble with you brain?
- Start making better decisions today. The single most important factor in determining your health is the quality of the decisions that you make every day, not your heredity or your environment. Dr. Amen explained that in 1921, researchers evaluated over 1500 10 year-old children and followed them over the next 90 years looking for the traits associated with success, health and longevity. The number one trait associated with longevity was the consistency in making good decisions over a long period of time. How can we be stronger decison makers with regard to our health? Dr. Amen suggest the following:
- Always keep your blood sugar stable. Blood sugar levels are associated with overall blood flow to the brain. Research showed that drug addicts were more likely to relapse when their blood sugar level was low. To keep your blood sugar level make sure you eat high quality food with some protein 4 or 5 times a day. Consider using an Alpha Lipoic Acid supplement that has been found to help balance blood sugar levels.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep at night. Less than six hours of sleep is associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain.
- Eliminate toxins such as alcohol. Consider why they give you free alcohol at gambling casinos. That toxin will very likely cause you to make a bad decision!
- Always ask yourself “Then what?” If I do this “then what” will happen?” What will happen if I eat this extra slice of pizza, skip my work out, say the wrong thing to my wife etc.
- Know your motivation to live longer, to be healthy, and to have a great brain? Maybe it’s your wife, your beautiful kids and family. Maybe it’s a sick loved one who needs you to be at your best so you are better able to help them. Or maybe you may want to be the leader of your family instead of being a burden due to illness.
- Start “Now”. So many people keep telling themselves that they will get serious tomorrow or Monday or January 1. Knowing that Alzheimer’s can start 30 years before symptoms show, you may not have tomorrow.
- Avoid anything that hurts your brain and may cause brain injuries. Your brain is soft, about the consistency of soft butter. Past brain injuries are major causes of homelessness, alcoholism, depression, anxiety attacks, suicide, premature aging and dementia. In some studies brain injuries have been shown to double your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. You want to protect your head at all costs. According to Dr. Amen, not only does physical trauma hurt your brain but anything that decreases blood flow to the brain. A long list of culprits include diet soda, fast food, little or no exercise, chronic stress, alcohol and drug abuse, caffeine, nicotine, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, overweight and obesity. Also consider environmental toxins such as pesticides and paint fumes.
- Engage in regular brain healthy habits. From using food as medicine to learning a new dance step, Dr. Amen shares brain healthy habits that can add 14 years to your life.
- Treat brain problems early. Learning how to deal with stress and loss is crucial to staying healthy. People who react to a loss or illness with depression, anxiety or drinking die earlier than others. While those who stay healthy after a period of grief get a resiliency boost and live five years longer than average. Whenever you feel sad, stressed, or out of control make sure to take care of your brain first. Remember, depression is a risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease and when it goes untreated it more than doubles your risk of sudden death. It is not always necessary to treat depression with medication. There are good scientific studies that report taking fish oil, exercising, correcting a negative thought patterns and taking targeted supplements can be effective at treating depression with a lot fewer side effects. The best time to start healing from a crisis is before it starts. Eating bad food, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs only makes the crisis worse.
Dr. Amen told the story of one of his patients suffering from grief from the death of her young daughter due to illness. The patient ate and drank as a way to cope and after two years considered suicide. Dr. Amen said after doing his program in which she gave up all the alcohol, ate no processed food, and began taking fish oil and vitamin D, the change was immediate. Within eight days she felt free of depression and her cravings for bad food and alcohol went away. She also started sleeping better for the first time in years. After 10 weeks she lost 24 pounds and was running 4 days a week. Of course she will always miss her daughter but her daughter would not want her mother to be in such pain.
- To be the most successful, do your program with a partner. Support each other in getting healthy. Learn how to influence those around you to make positive healthy changes. That’s what Dr. Amen did together with Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman to make Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in America, a healthier congregation. You may want to consider these ideas to make your home, church or community healthy places.
- Never stop being a warrior for the health of your brain. The older you get, the harder you have to work at staying healthy. As we age we have less room for error. We have to be constantly vigilant in our health. According to Time Magazine, 75% of our Health Care Dollars are spent on preventable illnesses.
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