So what are the things that hurt your brain?
Brain injury should be obvious. I just finished the largest NFL study, brain imaging study on retired NFL players. The NFL is no longer lying about brain injuries. They’re taking it much more seriously. Do not let your kids play tackle football, or hit soccer balls with their head.
Come on, the brain is very soft, about the consistency of soft butter. And your skull is really hard, and it has many sharp, bony ridges. You have to protect it.
Drugs and alcohol should be obvious, but what our country has no clue yet, but is learning, is that obesity damages brain function.
There are now 10 studies. We just published a study in the Nature journal, “Obesity“, that says as your weight goes up, the actual physical size and function of your brain goes down. Whoa! That should scare the fat off anyone.
I read that study, the first one that came out about three years ago, I dropped 25 pounds. I was serious, when it comes to the brain, size matters. You do not want a smaller brain.
Smoking constricts blood flow to the brain. Like it prematurely ages your skin, it prematurely ages the brain.
High blood pressure, as your blood pressure goes up, the blood flow to your brain goes down. So you need to know your blood pressure on a regular basis, and if it’s high, take it seriously.
Diabetes, standard American diet (SAD), environmental toxins, lack of exercise, and something I call ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts, the thoughts that come into your mind automatically and ruin your day. They are the seeds of anxiety disorders and depression.
So if this is true, it is, what are the things you can do to help your brain?
Positive social connections. Unbelievable, the people you spend time with determine your longevity. Isn’t that interesting?
If you spend time with people who have healthy health habits, you pick those up, because people are contagious.
If you spend time with people who do not have healthy habits, you die early. Become very serious about who you spend your time with.
New learning, so TED is perfect for this. Whenever you learn something new, your brain makes a new connection. When you stop learning, your brain actually starts to disconnect itself.
Diet is absolutely essential. You are consuming the nutrients that are helping you, or the toxins that hurt you.
The SAD diet, the Standard American Diet, is not only associated with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It’s associated with depression, attentional problems, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Food is medicine, or it is poison. Sleep, again it’s absolutely essential.
Because you know, in 1900, we got, on average, nine hours of sleep at night. In 2011, we get six hours of sleep at night.
Less than seven hours of sleep, you get lower overall blood flow to the brain. Your brain cannot go through that kind of transition in such a short period of human history, without there being very serious consequences.
And as sleep goes down, weight goes up, because your cravings get out of control. So, being physically healthy is important.
But having anxiety is important. Did you know there are great studies with longevity, and the children who were the “Don’t worry, be happy” children die early, because they didn’t take their health seriously enough.
I hope I give you a little anxiety. You know, I’m a psychiatrist by training. I was teaching people to chill out, and what I came to realize, is I need to motivate them a little bit and just increase their fear, so that the double cheeseburgers are not calling their name.
Meditation fooled us. What we thought, you know, meditate, zone out, brain calms down. Absolutely not like that at all. When people meditate, it activates the front part of their brain which is the most human, thoughtful part of their brain.
You want the best antidepressant? It’s not Prozac, it’s gratitude. You write down three things you’re grateful for every day. Within three weeks you’ll notice a significant difference in your level of happiness.
ANT-killing means don’t believe every stupid thought you have. You go, “OK, Dr. Amen, you’ve been a psychiatrist for 30 years. Single most important thing people can do?” Don’t believe every stupid thought you have.
Have this little question, in your head, “Is it true?” So when you feel like your husband doesn’t love you, is it true?