As Henry talked about dementia in his TED talk, he displayed two brains on the screen. The one on the left, a normal healthy brain, weighs 1.3 kilograms, contains fluid, protein, and fat.
However, for a person having dementia, the brain shrinks to half the normal size — about 650 kilograms. And according to Henry, the major facilitators of dementia — like physical inactivity, high blood pressure in mid-life, smoking, etc — are habits we can all do something about. That said, here are simple lifestyle changes that are effective in staving off dementia according to a brain surgeon Dr. Rahul Jandial.
Skipping A Meal
“When you fast,” Dr. Rahul explained to Dr. Regan just a few minutes into their discussion, “you strengthen the natural growth factors in your brain, which in turn make your brain grow better and stronger neurons.
As research has also confirmed, about 16 hours of intermittent fasting a couple of times a week will make your body start using ketones because starvation makes the body run out of its glucose reserves. And ketones, as studies have shown, besides acting as fuel for the body, also have a great impact on our health and how well we age.
The good news is that you don’t have to starve yourself all day just to get your body to start using ketones. As Dr. Jandial explained, one of the easiest ways to meet up with the 16 hours of fasting is to add your sleeping time. If you had dinner by 7 pm on Saturday, then consider having your first meal by noon on Sunday.
Dr. Jandial explaining his fasting routine said that he likes to eat normally — breakfast in the morning, lunch, and dinner — three days a week. On the day that precedes a fast, he’ll eat dinner by 5 pm, after which he will not eat anything until noon the following day.
The Right Kind of Food
Fasting is counterproductive if you don’t eat well when it’s time to eat.
As Dr. Jandial explained, there’s no drug for Dementia yet, but there’s the MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s specifically designed to fight against dementia and the cognitive decline that comes with aging.
Vegetables and fruits contain antioxidants that have been shown to help with aging. And the idea behind a MIND diet is to incorporate green-leafed vegetables and fruits in your meals every day. This helps get enough antioxidants and chemicals such as vitamin E into your system.
As nutritionist Yu-Han Huang advised in her video about superfoods, incorporating other superfoods like berries, nuts, and fish, which are also part of the MIND diet, into meals at least three times a week has remarkable benefits. Fish, for instance, as Dr. Jandia explained, contains omega-3 which reduces oxidative stress in the brain and also slows down cognitive decline that comes with aging.
The Importance of Exercising
In his episode on Impact Theory, Dr. Jandial explained to Tom Bilyeu that not exercising is like clogging the plumbing to your garden (the brain). And when this happens, the swaths of your garden will wither.
After starting your day with intermittent fasting and incorporated the MIND diet for your lunch, the next best thing to do for your brain health is to exercise. As Dr. Jandial put it, “the brain loves exercise because it’s flesh.”
Exercise, besides producing endorphins that make you feel good, also fosters the growth of new brain cells which helps keep your brain sharp and active.
Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain. And according to Dr. Jandial, old people have strokes because blood stops flowing to a particular part of their brain. When you exercise, you trigger the brain to take care of itself. As Dr. Jandial said, the brain has its own pharmacy and its reward system. All you have to do is get into the right habits like eating right, exercising, intermittent fasting, etc., and the brain will do the rest.
It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise. Anything that takes you out of that state of “physical inactivity” will do. Instead of always taking your car to your friend’s, you could decide to walk. Opt for the stairs once in a while instead of always taking the elevator.
How to Keep the Brain Active
Now that you’ve started your day with intermittent fasting, exercising, and eating the right food, how do you keep the brain active even in your resting time?
Well, according to Dr. Jandial, anything that is unfamiliar, or difficult just above the level you’re already used to will do. As a practice, Dr. Jandial collects magazines. He has a stack of old magazines that he flips through once in a while. These magazines contain topics, unfamiliar things that he isn’t used to, or may not even be interested in. But this is precisely why it’s effective.
You want a bit of tension for the brain. Anything too familiar will bore you and may not have any impact. Since the brain is a thinking flesh, the best way to keep it active is to make it think.
If you asked Malcolm Gladwell or Neil Gaiman “How do I become a better writer?” I’m sure they’ll tell you to write more. In the same way, if you want to keep your brain active, you need to make it think.
It’s energy-consuming to learn something new. On an evolutionary level, the brain was designed to quickly form patterns based on our past experiences. This is why we are quick to generalize and interpret new experiences with old patterns. To keep the brain active, you have to actively engage it. This is why serious games have been shown to help with dementia.
The Importance of Building Great Relationships
To conclude, Dr. Jandial told Tom Bilyeu on Impact Theory that “since depressed or mentally ill people are brain injured, it is always a good thing to pursue crafts or relationships that make you happy.”
According to studies, people who remain unmarried have a 24% higher risk of coming down with dementia at old age. Good social interaction, hugs, kisses, sex, a simple mutual gaze, all have a remarkable impact on the brain. These shared experiences produce neurochemicals that make the brain healthier.
Furthermore, having people around you to care for (and who care for you) just gives life more color and meaning. When the inevitable chaos of life hits, having someone you can trust to withstand the storm with is a big deal.
Also, as studies have confirmed, having someone to hold you accountable makes it much easier to build good habits like fasting, exercising, or eating the right food.
Dementia is a big deal, no doubt. The stats say that somewhere in the world, someone comes down with dementia every 3 seconds! That’s a lot.
But don’t let its seriousness scare you. Indeed, we don’t have a drug for it yet, but we wouldn’t need a drug if we had the right lifestyle. As the world-leading expert on Dementia Dr. Henry Broadatry concluded in his TED talk, the major cause of dementia at old age is the accumulation of the impact of a lifestyle of bad habits. Hence, our best bet against it is to eradicate health damaging habits and put on these new, better ones.