Dr. Sanjay Gupta: 6 Keys to Staying Sharp in 2023

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: 6 Keys to Staying Sharp in 2023

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Editor’s note: CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and author of the new book, “12 Weeks to a Sharper You: A Guided Program.”


At least once a year, we read a sparkling headline about some promising new drug that may help Alzheimer’s patients. And at least once a year we hear about failed drug trials and canceled promises that a cure-all is in the offing. I wrote a book about keeping your brain sharp that came out two years ago. Not much has changed in our understanding of how we can preserve our memories since then, and the lessons remain as relevant as ever. But one thing has become much clearer: preventing and even treating forms of dementia is largely determined by the lifestyle and choices we make on a daily basis. You are not necessarily destined to whatever destiny you think is stuck in your genes. If there’s one fact that’s becoming increasingly apparent in scientific circles, it’s that our lifestyle choices contribute significantly to the aging process and disease risk, possibly as much—or perhaps even more—than our genetics.

Indeed, your daily experiences—including what you eat, how much you move, who you hang out with, what challenges you face, what gives you a sense of purpose, how well you sleep, and what you do to reduce stress—factor much more into your health. your brain and overall health than you can imagine. We may never have a drug that everyone can take to prevent, let alone treat, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. But we all have access to the same toolkit that has been proven to help stack the deck in our favor for a sharp brain for life. The program I outline in my book, which informs the interactive workbook I’m releasing this week— “12 Weeks to a Clearer You: A Guided Program” – includes all the practical tools you need to apply in your life today. They can help prevent brain decline and also help you feel less anxious, sleep better, improve energy, think more clearly, make better decisions, become more -resistant to daily stress and even to lose weight and increase immunity – all resolutions, most of us aim to make the transition to a new year filled with hope and great expectations. We all know that change is challenging and changing long-established habits takes effort. But it doesn’t have to be tortuous, and it’s really not that hard to do. Let me give you six things that will help you in 2023 – your keys to the realm of mental sharpness.

Skip the crash diet and just work on following the SHARP protocol: Cut back on sugar and salt; Hydrate smartly; Add more omega-3 fatty acids from food sources; Reduce portions; and Plan Ahead. The SHARP Protocol is the easiest way to navigate healthier foods in general and minimize the amount of processed, brain-busting junk. And if you only need one thing to focus on here, start with sugar. The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily, most of it in the highly processed form of fructose derived from high fructose corn syrup. My guess is that much of this sugar intake comes in liquid form – sodas, energy drinks, juices and flavored teas. Swap sugar-filled drinks for water and you’ll be taking two steps. Here’s how to hydrate smart.

Exercise is the only thing we have scientifically documented to improve brain health and function, and may even slow memory loss. It’s the only superfood for the brain. And it doesn’t have to be formal or require equipment. Walk more, climb stairs and get up for light activity for two minutes every hour. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cognitive decline is almost twice as common among adults who are inactive compared to those who are active. In 2022, a large international study that tracked the health of more than half a million people showed that the simple act of doing household chores like cooking, cleaning and washing dishes could reduce the risk of dementia by a staggering 21%. This puts housework as the second most protective activity after more obvious things like riding a bike. In the same study, regular exercise was shown to reduce the risk of dementia by 35%, followed by meeting friends and family (15% lower risk). Again, simple things with huge payoffs.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most extreme, how would you rate your stress level? What if I told you that stress is now considered a trigger for silent neurodegeneration that occurs years before symptoms appear? Multiple well-designed studies routinely show that chronic stress can impair your ability to learn and adapt to new situations and slightly erode your cognition. Specifically, stress destroys cells in the hippocampus, the area of ​​the brain responsible for memory storage and retrieval. Thus, by reducing stress, you not only help preserve cells vital to memory, but also improve focus, concentration and productivity. Don’t let toxic stress keep you from staying sharp. Take breaks during the day to engage in an activity that is calm, meditative, and reduces stress. It can be as simple as taking a walk in nature, journaling, spending time with a pet, or even daydreaming. Download an app today that will take you on a guided tour through a deep breathing exercise you can practice daily. I have a reliable meditation routine that calms me down in 90 seconds or less. I simply close my eyes, pay close attention to my breath, and imagine my worries in clear bubbles right in front of me, floating weightlessly up and away.

Find what works for you and make it a part of your day – every day.

Are you getting restorative sleep? Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not a state of neural inactivity. This is a critical phase during which the body recharges in various ways that ultimately affect every system, from the brain to the heart, the immune system and the entire inner workings of our metabolism. You can think of sleep as a brainwashing cycle to clear out junk that could contribute to decay and disease. Prioritize sleep as you would anything else important. And start with your bedtime routine. Stop looking at screens for an hour before bed – including your smartphone – and prepare for a good night’s sleep. I increased my bedtime prep time from 30 minutes to an hour and it made all the difference in my energy and productivity the next day.

Do you learn something new every day that is cognitively stimulating? Staying mentally fit is vital, so much so that studies show that someone who retires at age 65 has about a 15% lower risk of developing dementia than someone who retires at age 60. even after taking other factors into account. Retire late or never. Choose different routes to familiar destinations. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Skip the lonely games and crosswords and pick up a new hobby that involves other people. Which brings me to the last key…

We are social creatures who need social connection to thrive, especially when it comes to brain health. Call a friend today. Invite a neighbor over for dinner. Go for a walk with a friend and talk about your problems. Cherish these relationships. The strength of our connections with others can predict the health of both our bodies and our brains as we move through life. Good relationships protect us. They are the secret sauce for a long, spicy life.

As of 2022, scientists have documented a total of about 75 genes associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but carrying these genes is not a one-way ticket to decline. How these genes are expressed and behave can depend largely on your daily habits. Remember that a disease like Alzheimer’s is multifactorial, made up of different pathological features. That’s why prevention and treatment are increasingly becoming personalized—individualized to a person’s biochemistry, from basic parameters like cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar balance, to the state of oral health and gut microbiome, relics of past infections, and even how well you can to see and hear. To this end, it helps you keep your numbers under control. Don’t let your cholesterol or blood pressure go up, for example. The same goes for your vision and hearing. In recent years, hearing and vision impairment have been added to the list of modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline.

Your DNA provides the basic language of your body, but how that DNA behaves tells the story. In the future, interventional therapies that include a combination of lifestyle habits and medication may help these stories end well. You’ll also track your risk of cognitive decline over time in the future using a simple app on your smartphone that can help you assess your physiology (and your memory) in real time and make suggestions tailored to you. While we don’t all have this technology at hand, the six keys above give you a great start and will give you a solid foundation.

The ultimate goal is to build what’s called cognitive reserve, what scientists call “brain resilience.” With more cognitive reserve, you maintain cognitive function and can reduce your risk of neurodegenerative problems. It’s like having a backup set of networks in your brain for when one breaks down or, worse, dies and no longer functions. In many aspects of life, the more backup plans we have, the more chance we have for success, right? Well, the same goes for the hard and soft wiring of our brain. And perhaps the most important key to establishing that reserve is to do so over time—years or even decades—before the risk of decline increases with age.

Always remember this: Cognitive decline is not necessarily inevitable. Research shows that healthy habits you can incorporate into your daily life can help protect your brain health in the long run. Think of health as a top-down project. Focus on your brain and everything else will follow. Happy New Year!

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