Scientists used to think that you were stuck with the brain you were born with for the rest of your life. However, recent advances in medical research have taught that good lifestyle habits play a critical role in keeping your brain healthy even as you age.
It’s never too early or late to think about ways to improve your brain health. Even if you already lead a healthy lifestyle, you could be missing some key habits you can implement to ameliorate the way your brain functions.
These five doctors and researchers are all near the top of their fields and have been studying the brain for decades. There are few people in the world with a better understanding of the way the mind works than them. Here are their recommendations for keeping your brain healthy your entire life.
Dr. Mark Hyman – Take up Running and Exercise
Dr. Mark Hyman is a celebrity doctor and New York Times best-selling author. He was a regular contributor on the Katie Couric Show and regularly acts as a medical contributor on CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, and CNN. He has worked as a columnist for the Huffington Post and now regularly publishes a podcast called The Doctor’s Farmacy.
In one episode of his podcast featuring Dr. Sabbagh, Dr. George Shapiro, and Dr. Daniel Amen titled Why Neuroscientists Love Running, the doctors explain how taking up running can have a huge impact on your brain health.
Running supports the increase of a protein in your brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Increasing BDNF levels in the brain may improve the connectivity between your neurons and stimulate the process of neurogenesis, which is the development of new brain cells.
In this podcast episode, the doctors explain how almost all neuroscientists love running because of its potential for improving brain health. They also explain that scientists now realize that your body makes new neurons throughout your life so regular exercise might be even more important than previously thought.
A major reason why the brain ages is because blood vessels tend to become damaged over time. Exercise can help increase circulation and increase the transportation of essential nutrients to your brain.
Daniel Levitin, PhD – Prioritize a Regular Sleep Schedule
Daniel Levitin is a neuroscientist and professor at McGill University in Montreal. He has written several best-selling books describing how to age well. His latest book is called Successful Aging and explores ways to stay healthy as you get older.
In a 2020 PBS interview, he dispels the myth that older adults don’t need as much sleep as younger adults. As you get older, hormonal changes in your body make it harder to set a regular sleeping schedule. Staying up later than usual can affect you more the older you get because your body can’t regulate itself as efficiently as it could when you were younger. Levitin recommends sticking to a regular sleep schedule whenever possible.
In the interview, he goes on to explain that some people age better than others because of a combination of genetics and environmental influences. Adopting good lifestyle habits in your life can set you up for smoother aging down the road.
Dr. Daniel Amen – Decrease Sugar Intake and Increase Healthy Fats
Dr. Daniel Amen is a celebrity doctor, five-time New York Times best-selling author and brain disorder specialist. He has also worked as a consultant for the NFL looking at post-concussion issues in football players. In a 2019 interview with Tom Bilyeu, Dr. Daniel Amen explained some of his dietary recommendations for improving brain health.
He recommends that everybody should reduce their sugar intake. Dr. Amen explains that sugar is pro-inflammatory and increases erratic brain cell firing. Eating sugary foods elevates your blood sugar, which causes your body to increase its production of the hormone insulin. Insulin stimulates the production of serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. When you eat sugary foods, this release of serotonin makes sugar addictive and hard to stop eating once you start.
In the interview, Dr. Amen also explains that 60% of the weight of your brain is fat. He doesn’t recommend low-fat diets because depriving your body of fat can negatively affect your mood. He recommends including fatty fish like wild salmon into your diet as well as avocado.
His dietary philosophy can be simplified to eat clean protein, healthy fat, and avoid sugar.
Moran Cerf, PhD – Make Less Decisions
Moran Cerf is a neuroscientist and a professor at Northwestern University who studies decision-making. He completed his PhD in neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology and has won numerous awards for his work including the Templeton Foundation “Extraordinary Minds” award.
In an article published in Business Insider in 2018, Cerf explained that he thinks that people should take steps to minimize the number of decisions in their daily life. Dr. Cerf explains a rule he follows in his own life. Whenever he goes to a restaurant, he picks the second item on the menu to avoid having to overload his brain with low-importance decisions. Picking a menu item may not overload your brain, but if you make a thousand tiny decisions a day, the cumulative load can cause your brain to fatigue.
You don’t need to follow Dr. Cerf’s rule when going to restaurants, but looking for ways in your own life to eliminate low-importance decisions can free up your mind for more important tasks. Many of the world’s greatest thinkers including Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerburg, and Steve Jobs stick to a basic wardrobe to minimize decision making.
Dr. Thomas Holland – Add More Dark Leafy Greens to Your Diet
Dr. Thomas Holland is a faculty member at Rush University Medical Center. His research includes investigating the impact of lifestyle changes on chronic diseases as people age. He has a particular interest in examining how diet affects the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In an article published in Neurology Times, Dr. Thomas Holland gives his dietary recommendation for keeping your brain healthy as you get older. His take-home message is to include more fruits and vegetables into your diet, especially dark leafy greens.
Most fruits and vegetables contain healthy compounds known as flavonoids. These flavonoids have strong antioxidant properties that can protect your body and brain from stress. Some foods that are particularly high in these flavonoids include the following:
Dr. Holland also recommends regular exercising and partaking in mind-stimulating activities to keep blood flowing to your brain.
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