In last week’s article I shared what Dr. Daniel Amen, a leading expert on brain health, says is an essential key to success – optimizing your brain’s health. Most of us too often take for granted our most powerful muscle and how it is affected by our daily habits and choices.
While we might consider what that chocolate donut is going to do to our waistline or how a lack of sleep emphasizes the bags under our eyes, most of us don’t think about how our brain physically reacts to these little daily choices we make. At best, we realize certain foods provide some measure of alertness and exercise tends to relieve stress, but beyond that, I’m willing to bet the average person knows very little about how to develop and nurture a healthy brain.
In a recent SUCCESS Magazine article, Dr. Amen encourages readers to commit to improving in the following 5 critical areas, which directly affect the overall performance and health of your brain:
Dr. Amen notes that sleep deprivation has been linked to disastrous events like the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, British Petroleum oil spill, Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and over 100,000 automobile accidents. Catastrophic and tragic events aside, sleep deprivation is also to blame for poor performance in the ordinary workplace. Dr. Amen explains:
“It’s vital to get enough sleep to function at your highest level. It is especially important for the prefrontal cortex, located in the front third of your brain, which is involved in CEO function: forethought, judgment, impulse control, organization, planning and learning from the mistakes you make. When there are problems with the prefrontal cortex, people have short attention spans. They get distracted; they’re impulsive, disorganized and don’t learn from their errors.”
In a busy world where many people struggle to get everything on their list done, it becomes too easy to sacrifice sleep for more achievement. Unfortunately, this tends to do much more damage in the long run than postponing those last items on your to-do list. Dr. Amen urges everyone to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each day to optimize your brain function.
You already know you should eat healthy in order to maintain an ideal bodyweight and give yourself more energy. What you might not realize is how critical a brain-healthy diet is. Dr. Amen says, “Diet isn’t just about looking good. Eighteen studies now show that as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down. I always say, ‘That should scare the fat off anyone.’”
The average American diet is full of high-calorie processed foods that have low nutritional value and are packed with sugar, salt and bad fats. For top performance and personal satisfaction, substituting brain-healthy food in place of ordinary American fare is essential, and the difference is significant: “Food can make you focused, vibrant, happy and trim, or unfocused, sluggish, sad and overweight.” The choice should be clear! Dr. Amen gives a few suggestions for foods to indulge in for better brain health:
“In general, I advise a diet high in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables and low in refined sugars. It should include high-fiber carbohydrates and a nominal amount of fat from sources like olive oil, walnuts and fish. In addition, at each meal and snack you should strive to consume lean protein, such as meat, cheese, eggs, soy or nuts.”
Again, exercise is an obvious necessity for maintaining a healthy bodyweight, developing stronger muscles, and improving cardio function, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s also a necessity for optimal brain function. According to Dr. Amen, exercise is beneficial to brain health in several ways, “most essentially by increasing blood flow and raising serotonin levels.” When your serotonin levels are low, “you tend to get sad, negative, unmotivated, more socially isolated and less passionate.” I don’t know about you, but to me none of those symptoms sound productive toward achieving greater success!
Dr. Amen’s recommendation: “Walk like you’re late for 45 minutes, four times a week.” He also recommends lifting weights twice a week to improve lean muscle mass, which is associated with longevity and better health overall.
Intentional, challenging mental activity is an essential for optimal brain health and function. “Whenever you learn something new, your brain makes a new connection. So being a lifelong learner both physically and mentally is essential.” What can you do to keep your brain active? Try reading, or playing brain games like Sudoku, Words With Friends or crossword puzzles.
Last but not least, Dr. Amen stresses the importance of not believing every negative thought you have. We all have excuses to make poor decisions, but Amen says, “Getting rid of the little lies that make you sad, depressed and feeble-minded is crucial to staying well and staying motivated.” Instead of accepting negative thoughts and excuses as truth, you should challenge, question, evaluate and “talk-back” to them. Incredibly, “This technique has actually been found to be as effective as anti-depression medication for people with depression.”
To read the full article by Dr. Daniel Amen as featured by SUCCESS Magazine, please click here.
What are your suggestions for improving brain health? Do you have any practical tips for implementing Dr. Amen’s advice? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!