Can you use your brain to help keep you young and to add years to your life? Yes, believes neurologist Dr. Daniel Amen, a best-selling author, host of popular PBS specials and director of the Amen Clinics. Dr. Amen’s new book “Use Your Brain to Change Your Age” is currently climbing the bestseller list. ThirdAge asked him to share some secrets about looking, feeling and thinking younger every day.
At the Amen Clinics, you use special scans to access brain function. How does that work?
We use a sophisticated brain imaging study called SPECT that stands for single photon emission computer tomography, a nuclear medicine study that looks at blood flow and activity. It looks at how the brain works. Over the last years we have done more than 70,000 SPECT scans and they basically show three things: the areas of the brain that work well; the areas of the brain that are low in activity and the areas of the brain that are high in activity. A healthy scan shows full, even symmetrical activity in the brain. I believe that even though getting older is not an option, having a brain that looks and feels old is.
What ages the brain?
Many things: Lousy diet, chronic stress, health problems, drinking too much, smoking.Those are some of the factors. People don’t realize how these things specifically affect the brain. For example 25% of the food you eat specifically nourishes your brain. I recently met a business executive who told me he was 53 and said he was having trouble with his memory. He wondered if that was normal. Well, it isn’t. You should not have brain fog at any age. When we reviewed his lifestyle he said he exercised four times a week. But when it came to diet, he admitted his usual breakfast was a Pop-Tart and a Diet Coke. I asked him “If you had a million-dollar race horse, would you give it junk food?” Isn’t your brain even more important than that? When he improved his diet, his memory improved
Do men and women have different brains?
Women have busier brains than men. Women think more about their health and their appearance.That is one of the reasons women live longer than men. Single men are the least concerned about their health, to their detriment. Married men are better because their wives are often harassing them about their health. Single women can be the healthiest because they don’t have the stress of taking care of a man who is not taking care of his health.
You see a connection between the way your skin looks and the way your brain functions.
It is the same mechanism at work. If you have wrinkles, if your skin looks unhealthy it is an indication that something may be wrong inside. Anything that constricts blood flow like alcohol, too much caffeine, or smoking affects your skin and affects your brain. Some nutrients such as green tea, fish oil, gingko improve both your skin and your brain. One of my patients who changed her lifestyle, started eating better, walking ten thousand steps a day, adopting healthier habits—she told me her friends all thought she had some work done because not only was she thinking clearer but she looked so much better.
How do you prevent those senior moments some of us have?
If one is suddenly having senior moments, that’s a problem. Nobody should have senior moments. But let me explain. I am not good with names. But I never was good with names. I couldn’t always remember a name ten years ago and it is the same today. So that is okay.The problem is if you suddenly can’t remember things you once could remember. Too often Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed when the symptoms are very apparent and not in the earlier stages.
So your program includes a healthy diet, exercise, supplements—
Yes, and cognitive training to keep your brain young. You can go on to amensolution.com and take a test to see if you need some brain training. You know you have to want to do this. Too often we care more about bellies, boobs, and butts than about our brain.
And there is a couple of other things that are important. Conscientiousness. Making good decisions about your health and sticking to those healthy habits. And finally, it is important to have a community, to have a family and friends that support the healthy decisions you make. You need to be a leader helping to create a health revolution for you and your friends. I worked with Dr. Mehmet Oz implementing a plan for the members of Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. The members of that community lost over 250,000 pounds. They were there to support and love each other. It makes a big difference. So if you want to change your brain, change your health and change your life do it with you family and your friends.
Myrna Blyth is Editor-In-Chief of ThirdAge.