Thanks to improvements in medicine, more of us are living longer. That makes we have a heightened investment in making sure our brains stay in shape as we age, too. While an increased life expectancy will not necessarily lead to a higher incidence of cognitive disorders, Alzheimer’s alone is expected to affect over seven million American seniors by 2025.
Daniel G. Amen, MD is a child and adult psychiatrist, clinical neuroscientist, brain-imaging specialist, distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, multi-time New York Times bestselling author and founder of Amen Clinics.
All incredibly impressive, of course, but his new book, You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type, may be his most groundbreaking accomplishment to date. You, Happier is rooted in Dr. Amen’s innovative scientific research, and in it he explains the ways neurology affects happiness and offers practical, science-based strategies for optimizing your happiness. Sign us up!
Dr. Amen sat down with Yahoo Life to share five essential items he recommends to anyone who is looking to give their brain a boost, from a fun phone app to a sweet way to wind down.
Lucky for us, advanced technologies have enabled researchers to understand how the brain works, what it responds to, and even how to retrain it. For instance, we know our brains prefer foods with high levels of antioxidants, including blueberries, kale, and nuts. We know that a Mediterranean diet, which is largely plant-based and rich in whole grain, fish, fruits, and red wine, can lead to higher brain functions. And we know that smiling can retrain our brains to look for positive possibilities rather than negative ones.
Whether you’re 25 or 65, consider adopting these five simple rituals that cognitive scientists say can help your brain grow new cells, form new neural pathways, improve cognition, and keep your outlook positive and sharp.
Congratulate yourself for small wins
The frequency of success matters more than the size of success, so don’t wait until the big wins to congratulate yourself, says B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. Instead, come up with daily celebrations for yourself; your brain doesn’t know the difference between progress and perceived progress.
Both progress and setbacks are said to greatly influence our emotions. So the earlier in the day you can feel successful, the better—feelings of excitement help fuel behaviors that will set you up for successes. For instance, a productive morning routine can be used to motivate you through the rest of the day. We feel happier and encouraged as our energy levels increase, and feel anxiety or even depression as our energy levels go down.
Keep your body active
According to neurologist Etienne van der Walt, keeping active is one of the best ways to improve brain health. As he told Quartz earlier this year, “Specific forms of exercises have been shown to be very beneficial for … brain growth.”
Simply speaking, when we exercise, our heart rate increases, oxygen is pumped to the brain at a much faster rate, and new brain cells develop more quickly. The more brain cells we create, the easier it is for cells to communicate with one another, developing new neural pathways. Ultimately, our brains become more efficient and plastic, which means better cognitive performance.
“Simple, daily brain-health practices are critical in keeping your brain healthy,” Dr. Amen begins, “but I really love Hapibrain!” Hapibrain, an app that Dr. Amen himself developed, provides psychological tools to stimulate your brain, games, meditations, quizzes and so much more so you can keep sharp seven days a week!
Speaking of fun games, Dr. Amen particularly recommends the family classic Boggle to give your brain a good workout. “It [works out] the language center in your brain, which is usually for most people your left frontal lobe.” For those not in the brain know, the frontal lobe is responsible for memory, emotions, impulse control and problem solving — so it’s important to keep it limber! “It’s mental exercise, which is as important to you as physical exercise.”
To bring the entire body into your neurological wellness, Dr. Amen recommends giving pickleball a shot — and we recommend this handsome pickleball set on Amazon! “It’s aerobic, it’s cognitive, and it’s good for your brain,” he enthuses. Games that involve hand, eye and foot coordination stimulate the cerebellum and help to positively affect automatic learning processes, which can only help keep your mind going strong.
For more day-to-day brain support, Amen says you need to provide the right nutrients…and brainMD’s Brain & Body Power supplement is just the ticket. “If you give your brain the nutrients it needs, it will love you, and help you!” So how does Brain & Body Power work? Unlike some other multivitamins, it provides a high dose of high-quality vitamins along with highly concentrated fatty acids, which may work to improve your memory and mood. And the brain isn’t where it stops: This particular supplement also includes CoQ10, a nutrient that helps support your heart. As Amen says, “If your heart is healthy, your brain is likely to be healthy.”