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Simple Steps to Age-Proofing Your Brain

Did you know that your brain makes 5 lbs of waste per day? One of the big goals in life is to keep the brain healthy, and by doing so we hope to reduce the risk of dementia and maximize longevity and quality of life. When it comes to this subject, it's good to follow the research, and researcher leading the charge. Enter Dr. Mark Milstein. He was one of the lecturers I attended while at the Parker Seminar this past month. He holds a PhD in in Biological Chemistry and his Bachelor of Science in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and wrote a book called "The Age-Proof Brain." In his talk, he presented research based data on what we know of dementia and Alzheimer's and simple ways we can reduce our risk.



First, we need to understand the concept of brain age versus age of our brain. As you may have surmised, the brain age is the perceived "age" at which our brain is performing verses the age of our brain, which is the true chronological age of our brain. Ideally, our brains should be functioning at a younger or lower age than the actual age of the brain itself.


 

Ideal = Brain Age < Age of Brain


 

You can imagine that if the brain age is older then our actual age, that's where we can come into problems. Luckily for us, there are many ways to preserve our brain age!


The first way that Dr. Milstein talks about is with sleep quality. He emphasizes that it is not just amount of hours, but how good those hours are. This is because at night the brain gets squeezed to help rid the waste that it made throughout the day (remember that 5 lbs?). Deeper sleep helps "wash" the brain of that waste. He also shares research that finds that sleep apnea is starting to show evidence of damage to the brain similar to early dementia. The long-term use of over-the-counter sleep aids has also been shown to increase memory loss and dementia as well. So how do we get good restful sleep? Dr. Milstein says that there is a circadian rhythm for the relationship to sleep and brain function that he calls your "brain clock." It's where natural light and dark will play a role in when melatonin is naturally released in your body so you are prepped for sleep. Because the brain clock is sensitive to light exposure, artificial light can disrupt it... whether it be from screen devices or even night lights. Blue light will have an effect on our brain clock for up to half an hour after we have stopped exposure to it. It even has been shown to throw off our heart rhythm! Simple fix: Stop use of screen devices 1 hour before bed and resume screen use 1 hour after waking. While sleeping, it's also a good idea to keep light leak as minimal as possible by unplugging devices with light, or wearing a sleep mask.

*Other ways to "power wash" our brains include learning something new 2-3 times a week. This can be any hobby that we enjoy that is outside of our expertise (i.e. not related to our day job).


Another big concept he shared was on the microglia, which he describes as bottom feeders. They are crucial for modulating cognition, memory, behavior, gene expression, oxidative stress, and inflammation. They do this by cleaning up that brain waste and are most sensitive to preservatives and additives in our diet. There is a "mind diet" that he shared. If you hate diets, I have good news for you! The literature says if people "sort of" follow the diet, it will lower their risk of Alzheimer's by 30% and if they "strictly" follow, the risk drops by 53%! Simple fix: Read your food labels-- if there is an ingredient you can't pronounce or a shelf life that is over 3 weeks, it has additives and preservatives and you shouldn't eat it! Aim for real, perishable foods.



*Social isolation can also increase the incidence of dementia as well. Stress can cause the hippocampus to shrink. Mindfulness (focusing on present moment) and being in the presence of nature can help. One study showed just staring at a plant for 2-3 minutes reduced stress in people working at desk jobs, and their stress markers reduced more when they sprayed the plants with water.


The last piece to share is the importance of exercise and movement. It turns out that one of the best ways to reduce chances of dementia is to walk 30 minutes per day! Dr. Milstein says that the 30 minutes of walking doesn't even have to be consecutive, it can be broken into three 10 minute walks, or then 3 minute walks, as long as the total amount equates to a total of 30 minutes per day. He notes that other forms of exercise are of course good, but the minimum to protect your brain age is that 30 min of walking. Simple fix: walk a total of 30 minutes minimum daily!


 

"At any age, we can make our brain younger"


 

I've given you a total of at least 6 simple ways to improve your brain age sprinkled throughout this article that will provide protection against dementia and Alzheimer's according to Dr. Milstein that you can start doing today! A lot of these are so simple that it can be easily skipped or dismissed, but do them daily and your brain will thank you!

*Last bonus tidbit he shared: one of the best ways to keep your brain young is not sudoku or puzzles, but ... DANCING! It is learning a new skill, physically active, and requires social interaction!




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