About This Episode
As entrepreneurs, we need to be able to think fast and focus in order to be productive, effective, and successful. That is why taking care of our brains is so important for us. That’s what Dr. Marc Milstein, the guest for this episode of Brilliant Thoughts, a Success magazine podcast, specializes in studying.
He released his book called The Age-Proof Brain, where he tackled small things and changes in our lifestyle that we can start doing now in order to improve our brain health, increase our focus, boost our productivity, and remember things more quickly and effectively.
Our brains hate major changes. Doing these small things on a daily basis is more than enough to help improve our focus and memory now, and they also add up to help lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the future.
“The roots of memory loss happens 10-40 years before you see it,” Marc says, “so you want to take care of [your brain as early as] now.”
Let’s dive right in.
The secret to memorizing things more effectively is to be like a squirrel.
“Memory is a practice. It is use it or lose it,” says Marc. The secret to making things stick better and more efficiently is by making memorization a whole-brain activity. Simply trying to remember something because we want to remember it can be tricky.
Thoughts and memories are abstract, and despite being a dealer of abstract things, our minds find it difficult to hold on to them unless we give them form. Our brains also love associations. So, in order to remember and memorize things, we need to take some extra steps to give something abstract a more concrete form.
One way is by taking down notes. When we write things, we see the words, and our bodies remember the movement we did to write down the words. Saying things out loud works the same way—our lips move and we remember the sounds we said.
We remember things better when we engage our sensorimotor memory—that is, we remember things our senses perceive, as well as body movements. That’s why we remember how to walk without thinking of the steps consciously: it has become part of our muscle memory.
When we attach thoughts to things we see, hear, and smell, and even engage our bodies in movement, we store the information in multiple parts of our brain.
“Think of your memory as a squirrel hiding nuts in winter—the more places you hide the nuts, the more likely you’re going to find it,” Marc shares.
Another effective way to remember things is by making a silly rhyme or attaching information to emotions. It is part of human evolution: Our brains tend to remember things that are funny, scary, silly, etc. because it helps increase the chances of survival.
Smell is one example. It is crucial to our survival to remember scents. Scents are also very closely related to our emotions: the smell of certain foods or spices might make you remember what was cooking at grandma’s house during summer vacation when you were fifteen.
Another example is why we remember faces over people’s names easier. We don’t need to know the name of a friend or foe; we need to see at first glance and identify whether something or someone is a threat.
When we tap into how our brain naturally works, we are able to remember things more efficiently, and the more “extra steps” we take, the more likely we are going to recall something we need to remember. So, the next time you want to remember where you parked your car or kept your keys, try saying it to yourself out loud.
Focus and brain health
If you want to improve your focus, listen up entrepreneurs! Sleep is probably the most crucial aspect of maintaining our brain health. The number of hours and quality of our sleep influence how well we focus and stay productive. It also affects our mental health and our short- and long-term brain health.
This is tough because as business owners, we can get busy, and sometimes, getting a full night’s rest is just not in the cards for us. As much as possible, we should aim for the recommended hours of sleep (ranging from 7-9 hours on average) but if we can’t get the number of hours in, we have to make it count.
We prepare for sleep at night as early as the morning prior. Try to spend ten minutes outside under natural light within 30 minutes after waking up. It can be as simple as drinking your coffee on the balcony or walking to the mailbox to check your mail. This “outside time” sends a signal to your brain to start your body’s natural clock, which helps you sleep better when nighttime comes.
Another way to improve sleep quality is by making sure your room is as dark as possible. Disconnect from your gadgets one hour before bedtime and remove all sorts of small lights that can disrupt deep sleep.
“Our brains have not adjusted to this modern way that we sleep,” Marc shares. In fact, the smallest light sources in our room during bedtime can disturb our sleep.
Another important aspect of maintaining our brain health is by keeping ourselves physically healthy. Proper diet and exercise (or any form of physical activity) are crucial to our overall health. In fact, walking for 30 minutes daily can lower the risk of memory loss by up to 50%!
Eating healthy, natural whole foods over processed foods also works wonders for our brain health. The “mind diet” which is very much similar to the Mediterranean diet, lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by 35-53%. These foods are heart-healthy and good for the gut, and we need a healthy heart and gut to have a healthy brain. In fact, Alzheimer’s is heavily associated with inflammation—and inflammation in the gut can spread to the brain.
“If we think of inflammation like a fire, we don’t want our brain to be on fire. It just does severe damage,” Marc says.
Some foods help stoke the “fire” while others put it out.
As a general rule of thumb, Marc advises making sure you see a rainbow (of fruits and vegetables, not skittles) on your plate. Variety and ratio matter as much as what kind of food you eat. And our brains are made up of our diet.
Omega-3, a healthy fat we find in salmon, and other “brain foods” recommended by physicians, helps us maintain our brain cells. The neurons which make up the brain and nerves are covered with myelin sheath—think of it like the plastic coating of wires for our electrical devices.
This coating helps our brain cells send electrical signals faster, and we know that in any industry, if we want to succeed, we need to be able to think fast. The myelin sheath “frays'' and erodes with age, and we need to take in the materials necessary to fix and maintain it in our diet.
We become what we eat.
Underlying medical conditions and genetic predispositions also factor into brain health, memory, and focus. Diabetes, aside from age, is one of the biggest risk factors for memory loss, and 50% of the population has diabetes or pre-diabetes. We tend to ignore these things that can really decay our brains.
It is important to get a complete health check-up and screening for such medical conditions as heart problems, blood pressure, and diabetes to name a few, and try to treat and manage them during the early onset.
On the other hand, we have some good news. Genetic predisposition isn’t everything. Studies show that Alzheimer’s, despite being a genetic condition, majority of its cases are not strictly genetic. About 95-99% are influenced by lifestyle more than genes.
So, if you are one of those who live in fear of their genes, it’s okay. Not everything is destiny. You can take empowering actions as early as now to change your lifestyle and lower your risks for brain-related diseases.
Mental and social health
We live in stressful times. While stress can be good for the brain and helps keep the brain young, too much of it too often is destructive to our health. We need to prioritize our self-care and focus on our mental health.
Practicing mindfulness, taking breaks to manage stress, and building healthy relationships to ensure you don’t feel isolated are good ways to improve your mental health. Having conversations about it and being open to raising your hand to ask for help is also important. Good thing is, the stigma surrounding depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues is slowly decreasing the more we open dialogue about these topics.
A study in Japan also showed interesting results about nature: Staring at a plant on your desk for two minutes is good for lowering your stress hormones. It is even better when you spritz a bit of water on it.
“A little bit of purpose, taking care of something, also contributes to taking care of our long-term mental health,” Marc shares.
Nature is indeed nurturing. But when we take initiative to nurture and cultivate something, it works better at lowering stress, being more present in the moment, and having a healthier appreciation of the world around us.
Humans are biological, psychological, and social beings. We need to take care of ourselves in a well-rounded manner in order to keep being at our best and succeeding.
Listen to the podcast to hear more from Dr. Marc Milstein.
Where to Follow Marc Milstein
You can learn more about how to take care of your brain and keep it young in his book, The Age-Proof Brain, now available on Amazon and other bookstores nationwide.
You can also visit Dr. Marc Milstein’s website at drmarcmilstein.com, or follow him on social media platforms (@drmarcmilstein):
DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.