Dr. Sanjay Gupta shares his top 5 tips to boost your brainpower JAN.26.2021WELLNESS
The top neurosurgeon shares key insights from his new book, Keep Sharp: How to Build a Better Brain at Any Age.
As a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta shines a light on cutting-edge medical issues. With his latest book, Keep Sharp: How to Build a Better Brain at Any Age, he tells readers of any age how they can improve their brain’s efficiency and prevent cognitive impairment. “The groundwork is set decades before and the period in between where you see the objective changes in the brain and someone who has symptoms,” he says. “There is a best way to live your life, take care of your brain.” Read on for Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s top five tips to boost your brainpower.
Movement is about more than a quick workout, explains Gupta. “Human beings weren’t designed to sit or lie for 23 hours a day and then go to the gym for an hour. That would be exercise,” he says. Moderate physical activity, such as taking a brisk walk, releases brain-cell-boosting neurotrophic factors—”Miracle-Gro for the brain,” he says, noting that walking around the block and getting out of your chair whenever possible is key. So put those “no pain, no gain” workouts on the backburner. “They found with very intense exercise, people would also release a lot of stress hormones like cortisol, which could be counterproductive,” he says.
We don’t often think about eating to fuel our grey matter, but the good news is a heart-healthy diet is also good for your brain, Gupta says. (So yes to fish, nuts, seeds, and fruits and veggies; no to excess sugar, saturated fats, and trans fatty acids.) “The brain is just two per cent of your body weight and yet takes about 20 per cent of your blood flow,” he says. Staying hydrated is also important—it helps prevent brain fog, that fuzzy-thinking feeling. “Even two per cent dehydration can cause a lapse in memory,” he adds.
“It’s very important to recognize that when the brain is at rest, there’s lots of important things happening … and when you do go into sleep, that’s the time period when you are consolidating your memories,” Gupta says, noting that it’s also the time during which our brains rinse out unwanted stuff, such as amyloid-beta (a protein associated with Alzheimer’s) and cellular waste. While it’s important to get sufficient good-quality sleep, incorporate relaxing pauses into your daytime schedule to rest your mind, too.
When Gupta researched loneliness, he found that it suppressed brain-building neurotrophic factors, and that a truly deep connection with others can help. “So how do you get to a more profound connection? One way … is the idea of vulnerability … And when we don’t show our vulnerability, we tend not to have as strong a connection … Talking about your problems, however you want to do it, makes a big difference,” he says. “It can be uncomfortable. It can make you feel awkward, which is not bad because you’re probably harnessing new real estate in your brain when you’re doing this.”
Gupta likens the brain to a map, and in order to make new roads you have to engage different parts of your brain. Eighty to 90 per cent of your brain time is spent in 10 to 20 per cent of your brain, he explains. To change that, you need to make new pathways. “That road that you know so well … What if that road is one of the roads that becomes obstructed with an amyloid plaque at some point later in life? And if you don’t have any other roads, [you might experience] cognitive decline, memory loss, all that. But if you’ve built dozens of other roads, then, yes, the amyloid plaque is still there, but it’s not affecting you.” He advises carving out new space in your brain by continually trying different things, such as taking a pottery class or learning a new language.