By Dr. Austin Perlmutter
In the wake of the global spread of the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19), many of us have started to think more carefully about our health. How can we reduce our risk of infection and of infecting others? How can we improve our immune function? What might the virus do to our lungs, heart and blood vessels? But while these questions are very important, it’s also critical to consider how a pandemic affects our brains and how to guard them against this damage. Specifically, we need to be considering strategies to protect our mental and cognitive health.
We’ve long known that mental health suffers in periods of high stress. So it’s no surprise that the current pandemic has been linked to a spike in feelings of anxiety and depression. A troubling May 2020 survey reported that over 34% of Americans are now experiencing these symptoms. This comes at a time when the world is already experiencing an epidemic of mental illness. Continue reading
While there has been so much attention as of late focused on infectious diseases, there is another epidemic that may have even wider implications—type 2 diabetes. In and of itself, diabetes is a significant life-threatening condition. In addition, it is strongly associated with other important and potentially life-threatening diseases like Alzheimer’s, stroke, kidney disease, coronary artery disease, and even cancer.
According to CDC data from 2018, some 34.2 million Americans, or 10.5% of our population, have diabetes. The percentage of adults with this diagnosis increased with age, affecting more than 25% of those aged 65 years or older. And clearly, the data indicates that these numbers are progressively worsening with time. Continue reading
The number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease has continued to grow at a dramatic rate. Currently, it is estimated that some 5.8 million Americans (of all ages) have Alzheimer’s disease. By and large, this is a disease of elderly individuals, with approximately 5.6 million of those diagnosed age 65 or older. To put that number into context, consider that this means 1 in 10 people age 65 or older suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Further, it is instructive to note that there are some 200,000 individuals here in America under age 65 years who have also been given the diagnosis.
Despite heroic research efforts, Alzheimer’s remains a disease for which there is no cure or meaningful treatment whatsoever. That said, it is critical that we ask ourselves if there is any evidence that the disease could be prevented, or at least explore what could be done to lower one’s risk. Continue reading
Like eating healthy food, it can be challenging to see the short-term benefits from exercising. In fact, engaging in exercise can be downright uncomfortable at the start. But as we describe in Brain Wash, once started, exercise feeds upon itself to improve your brain and your body. It is the perfect positive feedback loop once you’re able to get it started. Here are three additional ways to overcome the hurdles to consistent exercise.
- Redefine yourself. One of the things we’ve learned from behavioral psychology is that we strongly value internal consistency. We are willing to go to incredible lengths to make sure that what we do is in keeping with who we believe ourselves to be. This bias can create problems for us, but it can also be harnessed to our advantage. The key is to redefine your identity in a healthier way, so that you develop a desire to stay consistent with the new identity. To make the consistency bias work for your benefit, make a commitment to engaging in some form of exercise each day—something you’re sure you can manage. For example, I (Austin) started doing 20 daily push-ups. Once I had done 20 push-ups a day for a week, I started to feel uncomfortable when it got later in the day and I hadn’t done my push-ups. This then became a strong motivation for me to be consistent in my exercise.
- Remember, you’re always training for a marathon. It’s tempting to jump onto the latest exercise kick, to buy expensive new equipment and sign up for the most intense workout classes you can find. The problem with these options is that they tend to be unsustainable. Your goal is to spend as much of your life as possible with a healthy, active body, not to go all out for two weeks and then revert to a sedentary lifestyle.
- Incorporate new routines. There may not be a substitute for a dedicated 30-minute exercise period. But one way to supplement your base workout is by incorporating brief exercises into your usual routine. For example, if you find yourself watching an hour of TV each night, make a deal with yourself that you have to do 20 push-ups and 30 crunches before you watch the show. I like to make all commercial breaks into an obligatory exercise interval. In this way, the TV show becomes a reward for doing the exercise, and you build movement into your day.
For more on exercise, discover our exercise focus page!