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.” The plan needs to be somewhat flexible, of course, but a plan can help ensure you arrive at your destination insofar as it is possible to do so.

Studies have shown that more than half of the factors that impact the health of the brain in terms of keeping it functioning optimally and helping to slow down the onset of aging symptoms, are within your partial (if not complete) control. Including those types of key factors in your lifestyle is part of 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.

  1. Have low blood sugar (less than 100 mg/dL fasting)
  2. Have low blood pressure (target is 115/75 mg Hg)
  3. Have low total blood cholesterol (less than 200 mg/dL)
  4. Keep weight low and steady (BMI from 18.5 to 25)
  5. Eat fewer calories
  6. Eat mostly a vegetarian "Mediterranean diet"
  7. Supplement food intake with vitamins
  8. Exercise regularly (be active and stay busy after retirement)
  9. Do not smoke
  10. Minimize alcohol intake
  11. Get regular and restful sleep
  12. Have healthy gums
  13. Challenge your mind
  14. Maintain a positive attitude and avoid anxiety and depression
  15. Shed stressors, have daily structure, and be resilient
  16. Stay socially connected with serenity and a purpose to life

You might want to order a copy of my book Age-Proofing Your Brain on Amazon.com (21 Key Factors You Can Control). You may also go to "Care of the Brain" on my website under Brain References to find some of the studies that have been done.