Daniel Amen, MD, is a physician, double board-certified psychiatrist, international speaker, and the founder of Amen Clinics. Called “the most popular psychiatrist in America,” Dr. Amen has written, produced, and hosted 12 shows about the brain on public television and is the author of over 30 books, including the #1 New York Times best seller, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.
1440: If you were to prescribe a brain workout that someone could start on right away, what would you suggest?
Daniel Amen: If you want to keep your brain healthy, you have to prevent or treat the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind. I love acronyms, and this one I call the Bright Minds approach. Each risk factor has a number of things you can do for it. I love this framework because it gives you so many options for a brain health workout plan. Here are some of my favorites:
B is for blood flow, and the trick for that is exercise. Get your heart rate up.
R is for retirement and aging, and the prescription for that is learning something new. I’m learning to play the piano right now.
I is for inflammation, and for that I take fish oil every day.
G is for genetics, and if you have a genetic risk for something, you need to be more serious about that than the average person.
H is for head injuries, and for this it’s more about prevention. Don’t let your child play football; it’s really okay to say no. Trust me. I’ve seen the scans of dozens of players and many more people with head injuries. You don’t want one.
T is for toxins and for this I recommend you download an app called Think Dirty. It allows you to scan your personal products and it will tell you on a scale of 1 to 10 how toxic they are. When I was writing the book Memory Rescue, I scanned all the products in my bathroom and threw out half of them. Here I am, a neuroscientist obsessed with my own health and the health of my patients for decades, and I never once thought of my shampoo. Shame on me! Whatever goes on your body goes in your body and becomes your body.
M is for mental health. I have this one little exercise I do every day: When my feet hit the floor in the morning, automatically I say, “Today is going to be a great day.” And it’s been so helpful for me because the brain tends to go to a negative place. With that thought, I’ve reset my day to a positive place. Your brain will follow the direction you give it. So if I thought, “Oh, today is going to be an awful day,” I’ll think of all the reasons it’s going to be awful. But if I just say to myself, “Today is going to be a great day,” my brain will begin to look for why it’s going to be a great day.
I is immunity and infection. My brain health practice here is to take vitamin D. I make sure my level is close to 80. Normal is 30 to 100. I’ve also learned to like onions, mushrooms, and garlic. I put those in my diet a lot because they boost my immune system.
N is neurohormone deficiencies, and for this I measure my hormones every year. I’m 63 and my testosterone level is awesome. I don’t take anything for it, but I also don’t eat sugar, which steals your testosterone. I also lift weights, which helps to strengthen it.
D is diabesity. I was headed toward it at one point until I found the right motivation to lose weight. I really go after my patients’ diet and exercise on this one because it can steal a decade or more of your life.
S is for sleep. I wear a Fitbit and it tells me how I sleep. It took me a week to get used to it because the brain doesn’t like change, but it can change. I target seven hours of sleep each night because if it’s under seven I get irritated.
1440: That’s a long list—it seems like there is an entry point for everyone on there somewhere.
Daniel Amen: Yes. And if you know your vulnerabilities—there is a questionnaire in the book Memory Rescue, which outlines this approach—you can target specific areas. Just start with one thing, because if you do one thing you’re likely to do two. And if you do two, you’re likely to do four. Your brain will respond.