- Build a Better Brain at Any Age plus Practical Tips to Offset Dementia
I picked up a book in Costco called Keep Sharp by Sanjay Gupta, who is a brain surgeon. Written in 2021, the book is about brain functioning and how to improve it and even delay dementia.
I’ve seen Dr Sanjay on CNN and he strikes me as a careful, reasonable doctor and advisor.
How to sleep better.
A long chapter in the middle of the book is called The Need for Sleep and Relaxation. He explains:
“… poor sleep may drive the development of brain decline [dementia] too… the lesson should be obvious: sleep is medicine. We need it to function during the day and refresh during the night. So with that in mind, lets turn to some strategies for a better night’s sleep.”
The book goes on to list his top ten secrets to slumber. These are very good in my view.
Dr Gupta says we must include other activities of rest and relaxation into our waking lives to stay sharp. Combating cognitive decline by reducing stress and building mental resilience is important.
Meditation is a big deal for Dr Gupta. He practices every day analytical meditation, which he learned from the Dalai Lama. He separates a problem he has by imagining it, with his eyes closed, floating in a large clear bubble.
In this way he is able to separate the problem from emotional entanglements that often get in the way of solving a problem. He could use reason and logic to clearly identify the problem, discard irrelevant factors, and illuminate the answers.
Mindfulness is another technique. This translates to being present in the moment and observing what’s happening in your life. Mindfulness does combat stress and has been proven in the medical literature. A study by the Journal of American Medical Association reviewed many medical trials and found that mindfulness reduces anxiety, depression, and pain.
Research has shown that areas of the frontal lobe (the cerebral cortex) were thicker in people who meditated. These thick-brained people are smarter and have stronger memories.
Other ways to improve mental well-being.
Dr Gupta goes on to list other strategies that can build a more resilient, productive brain. Here they are but in shortened versions:
Become a regular volunteer in your community. Volunteers have less anxiety, depression, and loneliness, as well as a sense of purpose.
Express gratitude. Do this once every day. Dr Gupta says it acts as a reset button on his brain and lets the less significant issues melt away.
Practice the art of forgiveness. Psychology research has found that forgiving oneself and others promotes life satisfaction and self-esteem.
Look for things that make you laugh. Laughter releases the “feel-good” hormones such as endorphins.
Take breaks from social media and emails. Turn off notifications, or put your smartphone in another room and on silent. Avoid smartphones during mealtimes and first thing in the morning.
Establish a system of rewards. The brain and the body both like rewards, and anticipating them can release a little dopamine surge.
Don’t multitask. Tackle your day like a surgeon. Would you want me to operate on your brain while I take a phone call? Avoid distractions and focus on one task and only one at a time.
Identify your marbles and sand. The marbles are the important tasks of your day, while the sand represents less important tasks even though they may seem urgent. If you put the marbles in the jar first, there will be room for some sand. But if you pour a lot of sand in first, there may not be room in the jar for the marbles. On Sunday night, Dr Gupta suggests making a list of “major” goals to accomplish in the next seven days.
Declutter your life. Clean out closets. Donate old clothes that no longer bring you pleasure. Mess creates stress.
Set aside 15 minutes each day for yourself. Meditate. Or write in a journal. Avoid scrolling through social media. This will help to get to know yourself.
Let yourself daydream. Let your thoughts run by themselves sometimes. This can act as a reset button for your brain.
Seek help from a professional if you have concerns about anxiety and depression. These can be treated.
In 2019, Sanjay Gupta created an HBO special video called One Nation Under Stress. He had traveled across the country for two years investigating why so many people overdosed or committed suicide. He found that too many people suffered toxic stress that fueled unimaginable depression. His conclusion: “…it became clear to me that we all need to do a better job taking care of each other.”
The Gray Nomad ….. A good reminder from Dr Gupta to take care of each other.
A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
[Gospel of John, chapter 13].