Be Well

How’s Your Brain Health?

Our brains, like our bodies, show the wear and tear of life. But what if we could slow that process down? Or actually improve the way our brains function as we age?

This question leapt to the front of my mind when watching clips from today’s US Presidential debate between two increasingly senile men. Oh dear.

I’ve recently been diving into the fascinating work of Dr Daniel Amen, the renowned and somewhat controverail brain disorder specialist and author of more than 30 books, including the New York Times bestseller, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Dr Amen’s research emphasizes the crucial link between brain health and overall physical health, highlighting the importance of maintaining a healthy brain to ensure a healthier body and mind.

Dr Amen and his team have scanned the brains of over 250,000 people, including veterans, people with ADHD, and even murderers. Turns out, people with different cognitive disorders have different brain structures. The brains of murderers show abnormal activity, especially the prefrontal cortex involved with empathy, judgment, and forethought. The brains of people with typical ADHD show decreased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia, all of which help produce dopamine. And so on.

This work suggests we should focus on brain health, as well as mental health. If the physical brain is the hardware, the mind is its software.  Deficits in the hardware (brain) affect the proper functioning of the software (mind), as do defects or damage within the software (mind) itself.

Perhaps Dr Amen’s most important finding is that brain health is not isolated from physical health; rather, the two are deeply intertwined. If our body suffers ill-health, this negatively affects our brain function, leading to poor mental health and cognitive decline.

So how can we optimise our brain health?

Our brains are ‘plastic’; we can change the way they operate. Here are 11 strategies promoted by Dr Amen to improve our brains, and therefore our minds. (Count how many you already use!)

Blood flow strategies:

Exercise for 30 minutes a day, eat foods that boost blood flow (such as beets and cayenne pepper).

Retirement and aging strategies:

Make new learning part of your everyday life no matter how old you are.

Inflammation strategies:

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, increase your intake of dietary omega-3 fatty acids with fatty fish (such as salmon or anchovies), and take supplements (such as fish oil, probiotics, and curcumins).

Genetics strategies:

If you have a family history of dementia, it is critical to be serious about brain health as soon as possible. Get screened early for memory problems.

Head trauma strategies:

Heal the brain from past head injuries with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (our Aipod!) and protect your head from future injuries.

Toxin strategies:

Avoid toxic exposure and support the four organs of detoxification:

  • Kidneys – drink more water

  • Gut – eat more fiber and choose organic foods

  • Liver – quit smoking and drugs, limit alcohol, eat brassicas (such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts)

  • Skin – sweat with exercise and take saunas

Mental health strategies:

Adopt brain-healthy habits, including daily physical activity and good nutrition. In addition, learn to eliminate your Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) and seek professional help to treat any mental health issues.

Immune system problems and infections strategies:

Boost your vitamin D intake and eat onions, mushrooms, and garlic. If you suspect a lingering infection, such as long COVID or Lyme disease work with an integrative or functional medicine doctor who can properly diagnose and treat you.

Neurohormone strategies:

Have your healthcare provider test your hormone levels and optimize them if necessary.

Diabesity strategies:

Eat a brain-healthy diet, eliminate sugar, and be calorie-smart.

Sleep strategies:

Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and develop a nightly routine that promotes relaxation.

Having done all that, you should easily spot the acrostic: the first letter of each strategy spells BRIGHT MINDS, smile.

I really like the premise of Daniel Amen’s message –  nurturing our brains is key to a healthier, happier life. As readers know, Be Well’s approach is based on lifestyle medicine (‘make your lifestyle your medicine’), which underpins much of Dr. Amen’s advice. Our suite of cardio, resistance, flexibility, and recovery options, along with the excellent suite of services provided by our team of Allied Health Professionals, all play are role in promoting overall health, and so brain health, and so mental health.

Here’s to your increasingly healthy brain (and fingers crossed for our American cousins).  

Look forward to seeing you at Be Well soon.

Be Well is the first-of-its- kind urban health, wellness and lifestyle club in Melbourne, Australia.  Informed by the science of longevity, Be Well nurtures the relationship you have with yourself and others, to optimise your lifestyle, and live your longest, best life.