It may “feel” like we can’t retain a youthful brain as we age, but Henry Emmons, MD, and David Alter, PhD, are here to say “Yes, we can!” I like that, and I liked the book that provides common-sense tips and evidence from scientific research to help us along.
Their new book, “Staying Sharp,” is a good read, and here’s a summary of just what they have to say about staving off dreaded cognitive decline. To do that, we all must be:
- Active: Staying in motion makes the brain bigger, stronger, and faster while protecting against harmful effects of stress. Exercise and moving the body mindfully (yoga is great for this) improves brain health, energy and emotional resilience.
- Rested: Sleep is among the most powerful means to promote mood, memory and healing. Sleep problems, although more common as we age, are preventable. The mind can be recharged through safe and natural mind-body approaches including accessible self-hypnosis.
- Nourished: Nutrition has a vital impact on brain health. A brain-supporting approach to diet encompasses whole and plant-based foods, healthy fats, fiber, probiotics, and emphasizes nutritional diversity to nourish and protect the mind.
- Curious: Novelty, play and wonder act as potent brain “fertilizers” that reboot the brain, keeping it fresh and vital by balancing knowledge with a desire to know more. People who remain curious and open to new experiences tend to lead longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.
- Flexible: Neuroplasticity is the brain’s amazing ability to rewire in the face of new experiences. Learning to adapt and respond more flexibly to change through meditation and other means allows people to thrive despite the challenges faced in the second half of life.
- Optimistic: Higher levels of optimism lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. Cultivating the inner quality of optimism supports greater resilience against age-related challenges and setbacks.
- Empathic: Our brains are wired to be compassionate and generous. Practicing empathy skills regulates one’s own mind and behavior, promotes contentment, calmness and satisfaction—and influences the brains of those with whom we interact.
- Connected: It is important to connect meaningfully with others and develop a sense of belonging in the world. Mental and physical health depends on how well social connections provide meaning, purpose and direction.
- Authentic: The true self may be found in all of life’s experiences—triumphs and failures. By discovering one’s true self through awareness, honesty and discernment we become fully embodied authentic individuals. Learn to stop “wearing other people’s faces” or living out others’ expectations to simply please them.
So, what are we waiting for? A longer life of sharpness might just be ours if we think about it—and act upon it. Try some of the exercises in this book. They’re easy and they allow you to “take charge” of your own brain.