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

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

Editor’s note: CNN Chief Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and author of a 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 could help Alzheimer’s patients. And at least once a year we also hear about unsuccessful drug trials and the cancellation of the promise that a cure for everything is in sight. I wrote a book on how to keep your brain sharp that came out two years ago. Not much has changed since then in our understanding of how we can preserve our memories, and the lessons remain as relevant as ever. But one thing has become much clearer: the prevention and even the treatment of forms of dementia are largely determined by the lifestyle and choices we make every day. You are not necessarily doomed to the fate you think is hardwired into your genes. If there’s one fact that’s becoming increasingly apparent in scientific circles, it’s that our lifestyle choices contribute heavily to our aging process and risk of disease, probably as much—or maybe 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—are a much bigger factor in your brain health. and overall well-being than you can imagine. We may never have a drug that everyone can take to prevent, let alone cure, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. But we can all access the same tool that’s proven to help stack the deck in our favor for a sharp brain for life. The program I described in my book that influenced the interactive workbook that comes out this week – “12 Weeks to a Sharper You: A Guided Program” – contains all the practical tools you need to implement in your life today. They can help you prevent brain decay, and also help you feel less anxious, sleep better, improve energy, think more clearly, make better decisions, become more resilient to everyday stress, and even lose weight and boost your immune system—all resolutions most of us make. the goal to do at the transition to a new year filled with hope and great expectations. We all know that change is a challenge, and changing long-established habits requires effort. But it doesn’t have to be painstaking and it’s actually not that hard to do. Let me give you six things that will help you in 2023 – your keys to the kingdom of mental acuity.

Skip the fast diet and simply follow the SHARP protocol: reduce sugar and salt; Hydrate yourself smartly; Add more omega-3 fatty acids from food sources; Reduce portions; and plan ahead. The SHARP protocol is the easiest way to gravitate towards healthier foods in general and reduce the amount of processed junk that is wreaking havoc on your brain. And if you have to focus on just one thing here, start with sugar. The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of added sugar per day, most of it in the highly processed form of fructose, derived from high-fructose corn syrup. I suspect that much of this sugar intake comes in the form of liquids – sodas, energy drinks, juices and flavored teas. Replace sugar-laden drinks with water and you’ll be doing two steps. It hydrates so smartly.

Exercise is the only thing we have scientifically documented to improve brain health and function, and may even slow memory loss. It is the only superfood for the brain. And it doesn’t have to be formal or require equipment. Walk more, take the stairs and stand 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 in adults who are inactive compared to those who are active. In 2022, a large international study that followed the health of more than half a million people found 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 placed housework as the second most protective activity behind more obvious things such as cycling. 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 a big payoff.

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, which occurs years before symptoms develop? Numerous well-designed studies routinely show that chronic stress can impair your ability to learn and adapt to new situations and subtly impair your cognition. Specifically, stress destroys cells in the hippocampus, the place in the brain responsible for storing and retrieving memories. So, by reducing stress, you not only help preserve the cells vital for memory, but also improve focus, concentration and productivity. Don’t let toxic stress get in the way of staying sharp. Take breaks throughout the day to engage in activity that is peaceful, meditative, and stress-reducing. It can be as simple as taking a walk in nature, writing a journal, spending time with a pet or even daydreaming. Download the app today to guide you through a deep breathing exercise that you can practice daily. I have a reliable meditative routine that calms me down in 90 seconds or less. I simply close my eyes, watch my breath carefully, 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 part of your day – every day.

Do you sleep restoratively? Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not a state of neural idleness. It is a critical phase during which the body renews itself in various ways that ultimately affect every system, from the brain to the heart, the immune system and all the inner workings of our metabolism. You can think of sleep as a flushing cycle of your brain to clean out the junk that might contribute to decay and disease. Prioritize sleep as you would anything else important. And start your bedtime routine. Stop looking at screens an hour before bed – including your smartphone – and get ready for a good night’s sleep. I increased my bedtime prep time from 30 minutes to an hour and it made a huge difference in my energy and productivity the next day.

Do you learn something new every day that is cognitively stimulating? Remaining mentally impaired is critical, so much so that studies show that someone who retires at age 65 has about a 15% lower risk of developing dementia compared to someone who retires at age 60, even after other factors are taken into account. consideration. Retire late or never. Choose different routes to known destinations. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Skip the lonely games and crossword puzzles and pick up a new hobby that involves other people. Which brings me to the final key…

We are social creatures who need social connection to thrive, especially when it comes to brain health. Call a friend today. Invite your neighbor over for dinner. Go for a walk with a friend and talk about your problems. Nurture those 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, sharp 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. The way these genes are expressed and behaved can greatly depend on your daily habits. Do not forget that a disease like Alzheimer’s is multifactorial, made up of different pathological features. Because of this, prevention and treatments are increasingly becoming personalized – individualized according to a person’s biochemistry, from basic parameters such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar balance, to the state of a person’s oral health and gut microbiome, remnants of past infections, and even how well they can see. and hears. To that end, it helps keep your numbers under control. Don’t let your cholesterol or blood pressure, for example, go wild. 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 involving a combination of lifestyle habits and medication could help these stories end well. You’ll also track your risk of cognitive decline over time in the future with 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. Until we all have that technology at our fingertips, the six buttons above will get you off to a great start and give you a solid foundation.

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

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

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