‘I’m a Neurosurgeon, and This Is Your 3-Step Equation for Lasting Brain Health’

Photo: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez
Start digging into research on brain longevity and you'll be met with years and years of data. CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, MD, has dedicated much of his career to studying what keeps the brain ticking well into old age. And following his 51st birthday, Dr. Gupta wrote that three behaviors (which you can do all at once, by the way) outpace the rest when it comes to protecting your thinking organ.

"In my role as a doctor and public educator, I've noticed that people tend to have a limited view of what their brains are capable of doing as they age, and the power they have to make themselves better, faster, fitter and, yes, sharper," writes Dr. Gupta. "I think because the brain is encased in a hard shell of bone, many assume it is a black box, only measured by its inputs and outputs."

The idea that the brain is immovable, says Dr. Gupta, is a collective delusion that the scientific community is now working steadily to disarm. And as they do so, three strategies emerge as the best ways to improve brain health. First, move: "[P]hysical activity pumps out substances in the brain that act like a fertilizer on brain cells for their growth and survival. This allows us to continually learn new skills and explore new hobbies that are stimulating, de-stressing, and rewarding—all good things for staying sharp," he adds. So consider your go-to way to sweat the first part of the equation.

"[P]hysical activity pumps out substances in the brain that act like a fertilizer on brain cells for their growth and survival."

Next, Dr. Gupta points to the wealth of evidence that suggests the brain thrives on human connection. A slew of studies have found that those with a strong social circle have fewer health problems and live longer than those who do not. So when you're out there getting sweaty, see if a friend (or a quarantine mate) can come along with you. And to round out your brain-healthy trifecta, Dr. Gupta you'll also need to make sure you're truly engaging with the person in front of you. Make awkward eye contact as you do jumping jacks, ask about the hard stuff, tell them what's really up with you.

"If you put it all together, one of the best things you can do for your brain: Take a brisk walk with a close friend and discuss your problems. These strategies may sound extraordinarily simple and perhaps quaint, but they work," says Dr. Gupta. Your brain may be a complicated organ, but treating it well is actually quite simple.

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