Dr. Sanjay Gupta: 6 Keys to Staying Sharp in 2023

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Editor’s Note: CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a practicing neurosurgeon and author of the new book, “12 Weeks to a Sharper You: A Guided Program.”


At least once a year, we read a glowing headline about a promising new drug that could help patients with Alzheimer’s disease. And, at least once a year, we also hear about failed drug trials and reversals of promises that a cure-all is in sight. I wrote a book about keeping your brain sharp that came out two years ago. Since then, not much has changed in our understanding of how we can preserve our memories, and the lessons remain as relevant as ever. But one thing has become a lot clearer: prevention and even treatment of forms of dementia are largely driven by lifestyle and the choices we make on a daily basis. You are not necessarily doomed to whatever fate you think is trapped in your genes. If there’s one fact that’s becoming increasingly apparent in scientific circles, it’s that our lifestyle choices contribute powerfully to our aging process and disease risk, probably as much – or perhaps even more – than our genetics.

In fact, your everyday experiences – including what you eat, how much you move, who you socialize with, what challenges you face, what gives you a sense of purpose, how well you sleep and what you do to reduce Stress – Factors far more into your brain health and overall well-being than you might think. We may never have a drug that everyone can take to prevent, let alone cure, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. But we can all access the same proven toolkit to help stack the deck in our favor for a sharp brain for life. The program I describe in my book and which served as the basis for the interactive workbook I’m releasing this week – “12 Weeks to a Better You: A Guided Program” – features all the practical tools you need to implement in your life. today. They can help stave off brain decline, and also help you feel less anxious, sleep better, improve energy, think more clearly, make better decisions, become more resilient to everyday stress, and even lose weight and get bigger. immunity – all the resolutions most of us intend to make as we transition into a new year full of hope and high expectations. We all know that change is a challenge, and changing old habits takes effort. But it doesn’t have to be devious, and it really isn’t that difficult to do. Let me give you six things that will help you in 2023 – your keys to the realm of mental sharpness.

Skip the crash diet and simply follow the SHARP protocol: cut out the sugar and salt; Hydrate smartly; Add more omega-3 fatty acids from food sources; Reduce portions; and plan ahead. The SHARP protocol is the easiest way to gravitate toward healthier foods in general and minimize the amount of brain-destroying processed junk. And if you only need one thing to focus on here, start with sugar. The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily, most of it in the highly processed form of fructose derived from high-fructose corn syrup. My guess is that much of that sugar intake comes in the form of a liquid – sodas, energy drinks, juices and flavored teas. Swap sugar-laden drinks for water and you’ve got two steps. That’s how you hydrate smartly.

Physical exertion is the only thing we’ve scientifically documented to improve brain health and function, and it may even slow down memory loss. It’s the brain’s only superfood. And it doesn’t have to be formal or require equipment. Walk more, take the stairs and get up for light activity for two minutes every hour. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cognitive decline is nearly twice as common among inactive adults compared to active ones. In 2022, a large international study that tracked the health of more than half a million people showed that the simple act of doing household chores like cooking, cleaning and washing dishes can reduce the risk of dementia by a staggering 21%. That put housework as the second most protective activity behind more obvious things like riding a bike. In this same study, regular movement was shown to reduce the risk of dementia by 35%, followed by getting together with friends and family (a 15% lower risk). Again, simple things with huge payoffs.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most extreme, how would you rate your stress level? What if I told you that stress is now thought to be a trigger for silent neurodegeneration, which occurs years before symptoms develop? Dozens of well-designed studies routinely show that chronic stress can impair your ability to learn and adapt to new situations and subtly erode your cognition. More specifically, stress destroys cells in the hippocampus, the brain site responsible for storing and retrieving memory. So by reducing stress, you not only help preserve vital memory cells, but also improve focus, concentration, and productivity. Don’t let toxic stress get in the way of your ability to stay sharp. Take breaks during the day to engage in a peaceful, meditative, stress-reducing activity. It can be as easy as walking in nature, writing in a journal, spending time with a pet, or even daydreaming. Download an app today that will take you on a guided tour through a deep breathing exercise that you can practice daily. I have a reliable meditative routine that calms me down in 90 seconds or less. I simply close my eyes, pay close attention to my breathing, and imagine my worries in clear bubbles directly in front of me that float weightlessly up and away.

Find what works for you and make it part of your day – every day.

Are you getting restorative sleep? Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not a state of neural idleness. It’s a critical phase during which the body replenishes itself in a variety of ways that ultimately affect every system, from the brain to the heart, the immune system, and the entire inner workings of our metabolism. You can think of sleep as your brain’s rinse cycle to clean out the junk that can contribute to decline and illness. Prioritize sleep like you would anything else important. And start with your bedtime routine. Stop staring at screens an hour before bed – your smartphone included – and get ready for a good night’s sleep. I increased my pre-sleep prep time from 30 minutes to an hour and it made all the difference in my energy and productivity the next day.

Are you learning something new every day that is cognitively stimulating? Keeping yourself mentally challenged is vital, so much so that studies show that someone who retires at age 65 has about a 15% lower risk of developing dementia compared to someone who retires at age 60, even after other factors are taken into account. Retire late or never. Choose different routes to familiar destinations. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Skip the solitaire games and crossword puzzles and pick up a new hobby that involves others. Which brings me to the final key…

We are social creatures who need social connection to thrive, especially when it comes to brain health. Call a friend today. Invite a neighbor over for dinner. Go for a walk with a friend and talk through your problems. Cherish those relationships. The strength of our connections with others can predict the health of our bodies and our brains over a lifetime. Good relationships protect us. They are a secret sauce to a long, sharp life.

By 2022, scientists have documented a total of about 75 genes linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but carrying these genes is not a one-way ticket to decline. How these genes express and behave can depend a lot on your daily habits. Remember that a disease like Alzheimer’s is multifactorial, made up of different pathological characteristics. That’s why prevention and treatments are becoming increasingly personalized – individualized to a person’s biochemistry, from basic parameters like cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar balance, to the state of oral health and microbiome. bowel, relics of past infections and even how well you can see and hear. To that end, it helps keep your numbers in check. Don’t let your cholesterol or blood pressure, for example, get out of control. The same goes for your eyesight and hearing. In recent years, hearing and visual impairments have been added to the list of modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline.

Your DNA provides your body’s core language, but how that DNA behaves tells the story. In the future, interventional therapies that include a combination of lifestyle habits and medication may help end these stories well. You’ll also track your risk of cognitive decline over time into the future using a simple app on your smartphone that can help it assess your physiology (and your memory) in real time and make suggestions that are tailored to you. Until we all have this technology at our fingertips, the above six keys give you a great start and a solid foundation.

The ultimate goal is to build what is called cognitive reserve, which is what scientists call “brain resilience”. With more cognitive reserve, you support cognitive function and may lower your risk of neurodegenerative issues. It’s like having a backup set of networks in your brain when one fails or, worse, dies and no longer works. In many aspects of life, the more backup plans we have, the more chances of success, right? Well, the same is true for the physical and mental wiring of our brains. And perhaps the most important key to establishing this reserve is to do so over time – years or even decades – before the risk of decline increases with advancing age.

Always remember this: cognitive decline is not necessarily inevitable. Research suggests that healthy habits you can incorporate into your daily life can help protect your long-term brain health. Think of health as a top-down project. Focus on your brain and everything else will follow. Happy New Year!