Want to Keep Your Brain Sharp? Dr. Sanjay Gupta Has Your Prescription
Memory loss is not inevitable as we age, says neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, M.D. “There’s a natural wear and tear that happens to our bodies, but the brain is different,” Gupta says. “It can be sustained throughout your entire life and can even get stronger.” Here are eight of his tips to prevent memory loss.
- Take a hike - What’s the perfect activity for the brain? “Take a brisk walk with a close friend or family member and talk about your problems,” says Gupta. Fitness and physical exertion is the only thing scientifically documented to help brain function. Add in social connection and unburdening your problems, and this is the ultimate preventive measure for cognitive decline, he says.
- Chill out - Reducing stress and building mental resilience is vital, and it was the Dalai Lama who suggested Gupta try analytical meditation. “Instead of thinking about nothing, I think about something very specific, usually a problem or issue I’m trying to solve,” he says. Other ways you can practice R&R daily is with free daily apps like Headspace which showcases a different mindfulness technique each episode, or get artistic with a custom paint by numbers.
- Drink before you eat - People who have just 2 percent dehydration may experience cognitive decline, Gupta says. And as we get older, we’re even more susceptible to dehydration. “The brain is not very good at distinguishing thirst and hunger. As a result, the tendency is for people to walk around dehydrated and overstuffed.” The solution: Drink a big glass of water before each meal.
- Try something new - Breaking out of your crossword puzzle rut and trying something new will be better for your brain, Gupta says. Word puzzles exercise a very specific area of the brain, typically improving word fluency, but there’s no evidence they improve brain function, he says. Instead, get your neurons firing by trying something out of your comfort zone, such as practicing a new language, brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand or learning to play chess. (Thanks to the popularity of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, chess sales have skyrocketed, with one manufacturer’s sales up 1,048 percent.).
- Be a learner - Sign up for an online class, which can improve cognitive skills, attention to detail, comprehension and more, says Gupta. Boosted by the pandemic, 180 million learners enrolled in massive open online courses (MOOCs) this year, free classes offered by universities like Stanford, MIT and Harvard. The most popular class in 2020? Yale’s The Science of Well-Being, designed to build more productive habits and increase happiness. classcentral.com.
- Find purpose - Ask yourself basic questions and assign purpose to simple tasks. Why are you running? So you’re around longer for your kids? Why are you eating healthy? So you can improve your mood around others? “You see the brain lighting up in people who do purpose-driven activities more so than people who are doing more rudimentary, task-oriented jobs. It’s incredibly healthy for the brain,” Gupta says.
- Make a Phone Call - Change the phone conversations with your parents, children, siblings or friends from something cursory to something more meaningful. “Ask them to help you with something. What you’ll find is not a burden to people, but rather purpose in your interactions. It’s a way of sharing and developing bonds,” Gupta says.
- Eat Smart - Gupta follows the SHARP acronym: Slash the sugar. Hydrate smartly. Add more omega-3s from natural sources like cold-water fish. Reduce portions. Plan meals ahead.