LIVING HEALTHY – DR. JOHN KALB– I recently ran into an old friend at the gym and had quite a shock. He looked years younger than the last time we met. I remembered that he’d been putting in 60 to 80 hours a week at a stressful job while going through a painful divorce.

Not only had he survived, he now had a huge grin on his face, a youthful bounce to his step, and he looked several inches taller. I couldn’t wait to ask him, “So, what happened to you?” He told me that he was now fully retired and had been traveling the world with his new partner, enjoying a satisfying romantic relationship.  He also told me that between trips he was working out regularly at the gym and cooking healthy meals at home with his new love.

Here it was, a perfect example of what I call “winning at aging.” That’s the title of my last book and my friend was doing it—living the lifestyle scientists have discovered helps  prevent premature aging as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Here right before my eyes my friend was literally building a beautiful brain – happy, healthy, and dementia-free.

The benefits of building a healthy brain seem obvious. This could be the most important thing any of us ever do. We can lower the risk for Alzheimer’s and most other diseases and experience less depression, anxiety, mood swings, cravings, fatigue, frustration, suffering, pain and brain degeneration. Does that sound unlikely, even impossible? Hardly, in fact, it’s well within the reach for all of us. Imagine aging—not with fear of what’s coming—but with the expectation of increased health, happiness, creativity, energy, passion, productivity, intelligence, better sleep, and more fun.

The brain is our master control center, supercomputer, and the source of our individuality and consciousness. Just as a sculptor fashions a beautiful piece of work out of clay so too can we sculpt our brain. Just as an architect designs and builds a beautiful, productive structure, so too can we build a beautiful, productive brain. How? Through the power of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. This is how our brain responds functionally and structurally to the demands of our day-to-day activities. We have remarkable power to sculpt and build a beautiful brain through choosing wisely what we actually do and how we choose our lifestyle. It’s profound but really quite simple.

My re-vitalized friend was taking eight actions we can learn from. First, build a strong foundation:

  1. Move your body daily with lots of physical activity and scheduled exercise
  2. Feed your head with good nutrition and brain stimulation
  3. Engage socially with friends, family, and members of your community

Next, build a spacious framework:

  1. Choose happiness
  2. Be curious and creative
  3. Find ways to continually improve yourself

Finally, build a panoramic view through:

  1. Mindfulness, including regular meditation and spontaneous moments of conscious awareness
  2. Focus on meaningful goals that support your higher purpose or power

Add one new building block at a time. Know your triggers and temptations and avoid them. This will minimize your need for willpower. Focus on what’s meaningful to you and what you are passionate about. You may not become as ecstatic as my friend, but each step has value in itself because, quite beyond any destination we may have in mind, building a beautiful brain is a deeply rewarding journey.

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