Although I would sincerely recommend everyone read the book, Keep Sharp by Sanjay Gupta MD, in its entirety, I couldn’t wait to summarize its key points in a blog post. It has become the most influential book I have read all year and one that has inspired me to make important changes in my day-to-day life.
Being a neurosurgeon, he knows only intimately how cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s begins to affect a person’s life and relationships. Many people think of dementia as an older person’s disease, but Gupta reminds us that the first few signs reveal themselves in our 30’s. It’s actually a young person’s disease; young people just do not realize it! Following are a few of the tips that stood out to me from the book.
PS: This is not medical advice, you should always consult your physician before implementing any new dietary regimens, medications and habits.
Get good sleep!
Gupta talks about the importance of sleep with the same fervor as Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, another great read. Sleeping around the same time every night and waking up at the same every morning is key, even on weekends and making sure we get at least 7 hours of sleep in. Sleep is a time for your brain to reset and your body to rest. Poor sleep patterns, including snoring, getting up to pee in the middle of the night, sleep apnea, etc. disturb your circadian rhythm and leave you vulnerable to a host of other diseases, including cognitive decline over time!
Gupta recommends ditching the multivitamins, and going straight in for real, whole foods. Surprisingly, he doesn’t recommend a completely vegetarian diet, although he does say it is what he eats at home. His family has a ‘no meat’ in the house policy. He recommends eating whole eggs, avocados, olive oils, nuts, 2 servings of fish in the week and leafy greens. He also recommends having a light dinner at least 3 hours before sleep. The 3 hours prior to sleep is golden time- nothing to eat and nothing to drink! A glass of red wine on occasion is okay (yay for all Napa enthusiasts). Of course, fried, processed food, sweets, desserts are a complete no. If you have a sweet craving, have a small bowl of fruit instead- like a mango, honeydew, kiwi, apple!
Also, to be included here is drinking lots of water. He shares research on how 70% of Americans are chronically dehydrated and overstuffed. We may actually be thirsty and ‘think’ instead that we are hungry and reach for the nearest snack. Try drinking water next time and see if it satiates your appetite.
Exercise every day. I think we all always knew about this, but for me, seeing the studies that correlate obesity, and having excess fat around the belly to the risk of dementia in later life, alarmed me. 5 days a week, we should be doing a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. If getting into a rigorous exercise regimen is too difficult right now, he recommends brisk walking for 30 mins a day!
If you have a hobby like figure skating, tennis or mountain biking, you may think you’re getting enough exercise. However, Gupta recommends you to mix it up. After 3 days of hard core running or cycling, do 1 day of restorative yoga and another day of swimming. Don’t forget to do weight training as well- getting a resistance band or dumb bells at home makes it easier not to neglect.
Learn something new
While many of us may be in professions that require ‘learning on the job’ and ‘daily challenges’, that stuff doesn’t really count as learning a new skill. Gupta defines learning a new skill, as something which requires you to exercise a different part of your brain. For example, learning a new language, which he says anybody can do at any age, or taking a creative writing class, etc.
Continually educating yourself has very important benefits when we are older. He discusses studies that showed older adults that play certain kinds of video games and learn how to use the internet, lowered their risk for developing dementia later on.
Connect with others
After briefly mentioning the world’s few Blue Zones, Gupta mentions that maintaining healthy relationships and having friends to talk to in person, are a very important pillar in keeping the brain cells active. This rung true especially because I read the book in the middle of the pandemic. Don’t wait for others to invite you over or call you. Pick up the phone and make a plan to meet a friend. You need the camaraderie, laughter and friendship more than you think you do.
Joining a professional association or volunteering at a community held non-profit, are other ways to meet people that share similar interests with you. It also helps you provide mentorship and value to others and keeps you happy!
Needless to say, this was an excellent book, and I can’t recommend it more highly. Happy reading and keep sharp!