Magnificent mind at any age

When you change your brain, you change your life. Fortunately, your behavior can help your brain function even better.

When your brain works right, you work right. When your brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life. This is the most important thing that you can learn: When you take care of your brain, you’re taking care of yourself and you’re taking care of those you love.

Here’s how you can take care of your brain:

Restrict alcohol. No more than two glasses of alcohol a week. People who drink every day have smaller brains. I suggest when it comes to the brain, size matters. You don’t want a smaller brain.

Don’t smoke. It’s a nightmare for brain function. Secondhand smoke is really bad for you.

Sleep more. There are more people who die every year in the U.S. from sleep-deprived drivers than from drunken drivers. Your brain needs great sleep. With less than six hours of sleep at night, your brain has decreased blood flow.

Exercise regularly. Exercise is critical. Do you want the one prescription for your brain, the fountain of youth? It’s exercise, which boosts blood flow to your brain. At any age, abilities are best in people who exercise. Exercise boosts a chemical in your brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which encourages the growth of new neurons.

Learn something new daily. New learning makes new connections in your brain. Whenever you learn something new, the brain starts to make new connections. Without learning, the brain actually starts to disconnect itself. So, you want to strive to learn something new every day — even just 15 minutes a day. Einstein said if you spend 15 minutes a day learning something new, after a year you will be an expert. In five years, you will be a national expert.

Eat a brain-healthy diet. This includes lean protein. Your brain cells are made up of protein. Also, eat low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrates. What are those? They are carbohydrates that don’t raise your blood sugar. You need to be careful because sugar is pro-inflammatory. You want to decrease the bad fat in your diet but not all fats. Sixty percent of the solid weight of your brain is fat.

You also want to boost the omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, in walnuts, Brazil nuts and avocados. They are amazing for your brain. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Reduce stress. Chronic stress kills cells in the memory centers of your brain.

Reduce caffeine. It constricts blood flow to the brain. Caffeine also dehydrates you. Your brain is 80% water. Caffeine fools you into thinking that you don’t need to sleep. It’s not a good thing for you. Less caffeine is better.

Curb negative thinking. This is one of the biggest for brain health. Do not believe every stupid thought that comes through your head. Thoughts lie. They lie a lot, and our research demonstrated that when you think negatively, you actually become physically less coordinated and more vulnerable to depression.

It’s essential to get rid of the automatic negative thoughts that come into our minds and ruin our day. You need to get rid of negative thoughts, such as, “It’s the worst economy; I’ll never sell a policy.” Yes, you can think that, and you will never sell a policy. Or, you can realize this is the biggest opportunity that most of us have had in our lifetime. The quality of your thoughts, which you can train, impacts how your brain works.

The attitude of gratitude

Gratitude makes a huge difference in your brain. We have proven that writing down five things that you’re grateful for every day will make a positive difference in your life within three weeks. Your level of happiness will significantly increase in three weeks.

No one is “normal”

The last really critical thing a lot of people don’t understand is that “normal” is a myth. Someone you know at some point in their life will likely have a psychiatric illness. Anxiety, depression and substance abuse are common. If you live with those things and do not treat your brain problems and instead tell yourself you don’t have a problem, it overwhelms you and ruins your money, relationships and physical health.

Creating a brain-healthy life will enhance everything you do. It will increase your income. It will increase your affection.

Daniel Amen is a child and adult psychiatrist, brain imaging specialist and distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. This is excerpted from the 2009 MDRT Annual Meeting presentation “Magnificent mind at any age.”

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