Q. I recently heard you say something about taking care of your brain "by design." Whatever does that mean?
A. To use a common metaphor, many people go through life flying by the seat of their pants rather than having a plan. Sometimes they get it right and are successful. Other times they are unsuccessful. Either way, they may have difficulty figuring out what they did to achieve a successful outcome or failed to do that contributed to a negative outcome. Studies related to maximizing brain function, to slowing down the impact of aging on the brain, and to keeping your brain in good working condition for as long of possible have provided a great deal of information on how to accomplish this.
Following a plan that incorporates many of these steps constitutes taking care of your brain “by design.” For example, studies of centenarians have shown that 16 health habits and lifestyle factors strongly predict who will live to be 100 years old and still be able to live independently (and about half of the centenarians can). Michael E. Howard, PhD discusses those 16 factors in his book entitled How to Live to 100: 16 Lifestyle Characteristics of the Oldest and Healthiest People in the World. You may want to think about these factors, especially around the holiday season, and implement as many of them as possible.
- Have low blood sugar (less than 100 mg/dL fasting)
- Have low blood pressure (target is 115/75 mg Hg)
- Have low total blood cholesterol (less than 200 mg/dL)
- Keep weight low and steady (BMI from 18.5 to 25)
- Eat fewer calories
- Follow a Mediterranean-style cuisine
- Supplement food intake with vitamins
- Exercise regularly (be active and stay busy after retirement)
- If you smoke, stop; if you don't, never start
- Minimize alcohol intake
- Get regular and restful sleep
- Have healthy gums
- Challenge your mind
- Maintain a positive attitude and avoid anxiety and depression
- Shed stressors whenever possible, have daily structure, and be resilient
- Stay socially connected with serenity and a purpose to life