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A letter about looking after our brains

This is a letter about looking after our brains.

Last week I spoke about health and wellness, focusing on looking after your body.

I strength train and I am now working on mobility and flexibility too. Now that I no longer hammer the booze (I am coming up to five years sober next month) I also feel like I am looking after the insides of my body too. I put my liver and kidneys through quite the test in the 90s and now that I am healthier, I like to think that I am taking care of those organs that keep me alive too.

Those of you who have been reading my letters for a while will know that I believe in looking after mind, body, and soul. For optimum health, you can’t really look after one without the others. Everything is interconnected and one of those will send us signals when one is out of whack. If we care to listen. One of those organs is our brain and so I was fascinated to listen to a podcast this week on brain health. In this week’s Diary of a CEO, Stephen Bartlett hosted Dr Daniel Amen as his guest. He is a doctor and therapist who has scanned and examined over 200,000 brains.

The link to the episode on Spotify is here

I would recommend that you give this one a listen, but if you’re just not into podcasts or you don’t have time, I thought I would share what I took away from it and what has stayed with me since I heard it at the beginning of the week.

Sometimes I have a debate with my daughter who studies psychology and philosophy about what is consciousness. The way Dr Amen described how to distinguish between the brain and mind is the brain is our hardware and the mind is our software.

He says that some psychiatric issues are to do with brain health and if he can get your brain healthy your mind will follow. The physical functioning of the brain creates your mind. When he saw that mental health is brain health, he said it changed everything for him. And that is why he does what he does. His book is another one to add to my ever-growing list of books I want to read.

Dr Amen has been credited with helping some really big names stop drinking and I know from my own journey that this is the number one thing I did that started to turn my life around. By stopping drinking alcohol, I got better physically, I got better mentally, and I got better spiritually. It changed everything, so that is my own personal recommendation for making life infinitely better. I am happier now than I ever was when I was drinking, even through the challenging times, of which life throws us many.

Looking after your diet is another key thing he talks about is the food we eat. Drug companies, food companies, media companies they all want to sell us something. We are bombarded with messages to buy more stuff.

We need to lean into self-love, and listen to ourselves rather than what others want us to buy and do. Below I have listed the three steps for looking after our brains and the key things Dr Amen says we must do to protect this precious organ that drives the rest of what makes us human.

Step One: Care about your brain

Step two: Avoid things that hurt it

Step three: Engage in regular brain healthy habits

And know the list of what hurts the brain and what healthy habits are. The ones below are what I remember from the podcast ahead of getting the book.

And then once you know them think about how to make them a habit.

Think about - what is the smallest thing that you can do today that will make the most difference?

For example, get into the habit when making a decision to ask yourself "is this good for my brain or is it bad for it?"

Imagine you're making a decision about what to eat you're in a petrol station you have a choice of sweets or nuts - should you eat the sweets or the nuts?

The nuts are going to be better for your brain. The fat content in the nuts is going to protect the brain from potential future Alzheimer’s.

Avoid too much caffeine (this one is now the hardest one I still need to crack)

Keep learning! Either through studies, hobbies or at work. So that your brain keeps making new connections.

‘Don’t be an asshole' so that you're not lonely. Being lonely is a risk factor for dementia.

Floss. Gum health is correlative with brain and heart health.

Eat fish once a week.

Don't eat highly processed foods and make sure you have plenty of fibre in your diet.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. Especially before you're 25 when your brain is still developing.

Look at the ingredients in your personal care products - are they toxic? They might be disrupting your hormones. This is something that I am going to be more mindful around.

Mindfulness - don't believe every stupid thing you think. Be aware of ANTs - Automatic Negative Thoughts.

Make sure your Vitamin D levels aren't low.

Optimise your sleep. And don't eat too close to bedtime. Have a bedtime ritual. Think about what went well today as you go to bed.

I hope that is helpful. I am sure a lot of that isn't new, but I always need reminding of these key things and I notice that a lot of looking after your brain is looking after your body too. You really can't do one without the other.

As ever I wish you a peaceful Sunday.

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