Did you know that our brain continues to grow and change throughout our entire life? This is the concept of neuroplasticity. Yes, that’s right. The brain not only remaps in response to injury; we can change our brain – and our life – with simple lifestyle changes that increase our brain fitness.
Dr Daniel Amen is an expert on brain health and a proponent of “change your life, change your brain.” An American psychiatrist and a best-selling author on brain fitness, Dr Amen is prolific with his talks, writings, and teaching. His health clinics in the US receive thousands of patients each month. His big thing is doing brain scans.
Can’t make it to his clinic? Start with this free quiz to determine your brain type.
Dr Amen often shares 50 ways to grow your brain and here we share with you 25 of these tips for brain fitness.
25 Brain Fitness Tips from Dr Amen
#25 Have Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain and decreases anxiety. Enjoy a small piece of dairy-free and sugar-free chocolate every day.
#24 Listen to Mozart and Strauss
Just twenty minutes brings down blood pressure and chronic stress. Don’t like classical music? Dr Amen suggests ABBA!
#23 Protect Your Brain
We forget that the brain has the consistency soft butter, custard, or tofu, and the skull has ridges. We need to protect our brain. This is essential especially for those with genetic disposition to Alzheimer. Wear helmets, and avoid activities calling for hitting objects (think soccer ball) with your head. Buy safe vehicles. Brain injuries matter and we do not need to lose consciousness to have a brain injury.
#22 Do One Simple Thing At A Time
Make habits stick and not get overwhelmed by doing one simple thing at a time. Walk 45 minutes every day. Stop eating after dinner. Drink more water – our brain is about 80% water and hydration is critical for the proper functioning of neurons. Also did you know hydration can increase physical strength by 19%?
Exercise is as good as an anti-depressant and better for many obvious reasons. Depression is not a single or simple condition. Personal loss, low thyroid function, post-infection, terminal illness, anemia, working in a toxic environment, and a biochemical balance are some of the many varied reasons for the symptom of depression.
There is nothing as complicated as the human brain. Nothing. You have a hundred billion nerve cells. It’s the same number of stars in the Milky Way and each nerve cell is connected to other nerve cells by up to 40,000 individual connections. What that means is that you actually have more connections in your brain than there are stars in the universe.
Dr Daniel Amen, Change Your Brain Workshop
#20 Keep Learning
Learning keeps the brain growing and young. Mental activity is brain-protective, when several brain areas are activated. Even just 15 minutes a day. Join a reading club or add an activity that requires hand-eye coordination. Combine this tip with tip #21 (exercise) and pick up a sport like tennis and badminton.
#19 Know Your Why
Why do you want to be healthy? (Read Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why on the importance of knowing why.) This helps keep you on track with a powerful motivation.
#18 Avoid Low-Energy Food
Yes there is such a thing. These are the engineered, highly-processed, low-fibre, and high-glycemic food. Combine this with time #22 – do one simple thing at a time and swap out one low-energy food with something high-energy and delicious.
#17 Drink Green Tea
Enjoy a cup of organic green tea once a day to boost energy, focus, processing speed, and memory. Dr Amen calls green tea ” brain food on the go.
#16 Eat Rainbow Fruits and Vegetables
In general eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for twice as many veggies than fruits.
#15 Have healthy fats
Not only do healthy fats, such as Omega 3, lower the risk of Alzheimer (which is believed to start in the brain), fat is needed for the body to absorb vitamins. Healthy fats promotes brain health.
#14 Use Spices Like Medicine
Spices are a treasure trove of benefits. Saffron, for example, is a natural mood-booster.
#13 Think of Food like a Relationship
The more you love your food, the more it will love you back. Don’t hate your food. Don’t hate yourself.
The brain is the soul’s fragile dwelling place.
#12 Do a Daily 12-Hour Fast
A fast helps to clean out all the toxins that can cause symptoms such as foggy brain.
#11 Target your Brain Type
There are 16 brain types, with the four most common being the Spontaneous Brain type, Persistent Brain Type, Cautious Brain Type, and Sensitive Brain Type. Take the free Dr Amen quiz.
#10 Gut Health is Key
Limit antibiotics and add probiotics.
#9 Eliminate risk factors for Alzheimers
Risk factors include genetics, smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, erectile dysfunction (Dr Amen: if there is a vascular problem anywhere it is likely that the problem is everywhere), sleep apnea, untreated depression, ADHA, and a poor sense of smell.
Dr Amen reminds us that there is a gene that makes people more susceptible to Alzheimers and a brain injury for these people are “more serious” than otherwise. Simple lifestyle changes can drastically lower the overall risk.
#8 Some Anxiety is Good for You
Some anxiety helps us make safer choices. Some people are more prone to anxiety that can be seen in their brain scans.
#7 Start Each Day with Intention, Appreciation, and Gratitude
This is how Dr Amen starts his day and it makes a tremendous difference to how we approach the day and what we do.
#6 Limit Screen Time
Dr Amen shares these interesting tidbits of info – a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds and people’s average attention span these days is 8 seconds (and decreasing).
Blue light, like that from computers and smartphones, suppresses melatonin, which shifts our internal cycle and insomnia is a common symptom. Thankfully there are gadgets now that protect us from the blue light, such as glasses that block blue light or software that automatically dials up the orange on computer screen as we approach bedtime. Better yet, have better habits and log off several hours before going to sleep and minimize light pollution in our environment. Sleep is highly rejuvenating for our brain and generally.
#5 Choose Exercise You Love
Choosing the exercise you love increases compliance. Exercise is useless unless we do it.
Did you know a brisk walk for 25 minutes can increase longevity by 7 years?
Science shows that people who sleep for seven hours exhibit significantly more brain activity than those who don’t.
#4 Have 7 – 9 Hours of Sleep
Sleep turns on 700 health-promoting genes, plus it helps with learning, concentration, and memory. Have trouble sleeping? Try lavender, music, melatonin, magnesium, or hypnosis.
#3 Managing Stress is critical
Stress and inflammation underlie so many illness and poor health. Stress hormones even kill cells in the memory centres of the brain. Dr Amen has found meditation to have a positive impact on stress. One video game that Dr Amen will recommend is the Wild Divine, a Biofeedback software.
#2 Try Loving Kindness Meditation
Dr Amen shares that this has shown a decrease in pain and an increase in positivity and grey matter (size matters here).
Sit quietly and repeat these lines, first for yourself, then for someone you care about, and finally for someone you don’t care so much for.
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be at peace
May You be happy
May You be healthy
May You be at peace
May You be happy
May You be healthy
May You be at peace
#1 Know It’s Never too Early or Too Late
There is always something we can do and we can start now. Dr Amen does brain scans for people of all ages and brain health and these scans show that a healthier brain IS possible with lifestyle changes.