The Aging brain – Proven Steps To Prevent Dementia And Sharpen Your Mind

I have completed reading the second book of the year and writing down a summary as per the promise I made to myself. It is the previous book that motivated me to pick a book that talks about human brains. In the book “Conversational Intelligence,” the author Judith E. Glaser provided many insights into how our brain reacts to threats or fear. So, I picked the following book as my next choice, expecting that it will give me a deeper understanding of Judith E. Glaser’s concepts.

2021 Book #2:

I started reading this book on February 10 and completed it on February 17, five hours of reading over eight days. This book focused on explaining how our brain ages, changes, evolves, along with recommendations on lifestyle changes to prevent dementia. My interest was mostly around understanding how brain functions deteriorate and how to improve brain health. So, I skipped sections of the book, which talked in-depth about dementia and other illnesses. Similarly, I cut portions that talked extensively about the health impacts of alcohol, smoking, drugs, etc., because those were not applicable for me, and I do not have any intentions to start such habits anytime soon 🙂

Healthy Body for a Healthy Brain

“If you want to get something stronger, you must exercise it. If you don’t use it, you lose it!”

Citing several studies and examples, the author establishes that the body and brain are intimately connected, and one cannot maintain brain health without keeping a healthy body. So, naturally, healthy practices such as healthy food, regular exercise, ample sleep are essential to keep the brain in good health.

“Environmental factors, life experiences, and even the thoughts we think can impact how our DNA is being expressed.”

The benefits of being grounded

“Direct contact with the earth, such as walking barefoot on grass, swimming in the ocean, touching a tree, etc., helps to be grounded and achieve electrical balance.”

Daily electrical reset results in improved sleep, reduced pain, normalization of cortisol levels, less fatigue, better energy, and lower blood pressure. For those of you interested, given below are a few additional references for this.

Intermittent Fasting

“Intermittent fasting slows aging, improves brain health, and prolongs life.”

Several studies highlight that intermittent fasting or caloric restriction can improve brain health, slow down aging, and prolong life. This reminded me of the Nobel Prize-winning discoveries of mechanism for autophagy by Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi in 2016.

Key Takeaways

  • Chronic anxiety, worry, conflict, and stress cause too much damage to our body and brain, including accelerated aging. 
  • Stress Reduction, meditation, physical exercise, a healthy plant-based diet, etc., can increase telomeres’ length, slowing down aging. 
  • While high sugar consumption reduces the length of telomeres.
  • Standing several hours a day does increase the length of telomeres (One more reason for me to love my standing workstation, where I spend several hours working each day :))
  • Continuous exposure to loud noise activates the brain’s fear/stress circuitry.
  • Bring different experiences to life. Stimulate your interest and expand your imagination: art, music, crafts, bird watching, visiting national parks, and so on.

Summary

I enjoyed reading this book, and in fact, it motivated me to read many scientific and medical research papers and studies referenced in the book. This book inspired me to continue some of the healthy practices I started some time ago because now I have proven reasons and research conclusions to support those practices. For example, intermittent fasting, adopting a more plant-based diet, trying to work more from my standing workstation (sitting less), regular exercise, yoga, meditation, staying more time “grounded to the earth,” etc.

I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand more about how our lifestyle and environments, such as food habits, constant exposure to loud noise, stress, etc., impact our body, brain, expression of genes, and overall health. Many health improvement recommendations in this book are already well known; however, this book adds a lot of value by explaining why and how by citing real-life examples, scientific studies, and research findings.

Additional Reading

Two additional books I added to my reading list, based on the references given in this book, are the following:

2021 Reading Progress

Conversational Intelligence – How great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results

I wasn’t able to read much in 2020, and I am not very happy about it. So, to compensate for that, I included a reading goal in my list of resolutions for 2021. This year, I will be trying to read at least one book every three weeks, which will result in 17 books by the end of the year. Besides, I decided to write a short review of the books with the following intentions:

  1.  In my experience, having a publicly visible goal adds the right amount of pressure to keep going and achieving it. When the goal is private, I might sacrifice it to give priority to other unplanned activities. 
  2. To write a review, I should read the books with enough attention, and it will ensure that I don’t compromise quality for quantity. 
  3. And finally, it may motivate someone else to grab a copy of the book and read it. 

2021 Book #1

I started reading on 18th January and completed it by 1st February. It took 11 hours to complete the book over 15 days. 

Overview

The book emphasizes the importance of having the right conversations, which build trust and openness, and collaboration. The author does an excellent job making the point very clear by citing examples from her own experience and scientific studies. The book provides a detailed explanation of how good conversations activate the ‘trust’ network in our brain and how bad conversations result in ‘distrust’ network takeover.

One of the reminders I added to my daily reflections is that something spoken with good intentions can result in a bad impact. Most of the time, we expect good results from what we say with good intentions, but it may not be accurate if the conversation is not well thought out. If we do not build the required level of trust at the beginning of the conversation, people may listen differently – they might listen to reject, not listen to connect. They will listen to the implications of how the change will negatively impact them. When we listen to a conversation without trust, we listen with threatened ears, which distort what we hear and selectively add fear-based interpretations and bad intentions to what others are saying. 

This book contains several generally well-known pieces of advice. However, what makes this book very special is explaining the “whys” and “hows.” The author has put much effort into explaining how our brain interprets and reacts to different types of conversations. It explains the crucial role of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in our brain to comprehend and respond as we are listening to a conversation. It talks about how the heart communicates to the brain chemically, neurochemically, and energetically. 

The author brilliantly summarizes the conversational blindspots that human beings have. These blindspots play an important role in conflicts and breakdowns in a conversation. To ensure an effective conversation, one needs to pay attention to and overcome these blind spots. I found it fascinating that the study found the impact of temperature on the outcome of a conversation. So, the result of a chat over a hot coffee may be different from that of a cold coffee! 🙂

Key Takeaways

Reading this book added several action items to my to-do list. Most of these are around preparing for conversations and paying attention to ensure trust buildup right from the beginning of a conversation. It reminds me to ensure that I include a clear agenda and expectations when sending out meeting invites to eliminate the uncertainty. Uncertainty blocks our efforts to build trust.

Conversations occur at the chemical level first and fastest; judgments are made within 70 milliseconds by our lower brain while our higher brain where language resides operates at 100 milliseconds. It indicates that by the time we fully understand and comprehend what the other person is saying, our trust or distrust network is already activated, which will impact the outcome of the conversation. So, it is essential to set up the right context at the beginning of a conversation.

“Providing context moves people from uncertainty to understanding.”

It is important to remember that others may not see what we see, may not feel what we feel, and may not think what we think. It is a normal tendency to fill a conversation with as many pieces of information as possible. But an equal or more volume of effort needs to be put into ensuring that the listener understands the same meaning that the speaker wants to convey.

“meaning resides in the listener until the speaker takes time to validate and link back to make sure both have the same picture and shared meaning. “

Summary

This book explains what happens within our brains as we are listening to a conversation. I found the author’s conversation improvement techniques quite practical and scientific and have already started influencing my conversations. I genuinely believe it was a good 11 hours, very well spent reading this book. I would recommend this to everyone, particularly to people in managerial or leadership roles.

Side Note

I am so heartbroken to know that the author, Judith E. Glaser passed away in Nov 2018.  

2021 Reading Progress

Credits: Momin Riyadh for the code to generate the progress chart. You can find his code here.