Authors: Majid Fotuhi
To our children,
Nora and Maya and Vasili, Marguerite, and Eleni,
whose amazing brains are only at the start of a wondrous journey
This book may be the most important you’ll ever read. Certainly what Dr. Fotuhi teaches in this book has changed
life. Surprised? I was.
What Dr. Fotuhi teaches has given me new enthusiasm for life: I now feel confident about my memory and brain performance. Learning how to memorize a list of twenty things, and then forty—forward and backward—in just about an hour, made me realize that “I could do it,” something I doubted strongly just a few weeks ago. I soon applied my newly discovered strategy to remember names at a dinner party and was thrilled to discover that I am now actually good at remembering names, something I always felt was my weakness. Learning about the cutting-edge research on how simple lifestyle changes can increase brain size provided new incentive to be more conscious about everyday choices. The information in this book supercharged my energy and attitude toward brain aging.
If you’ve read the RealAge or YOU books or caught me talking about aging on TV, you know I strongly believe that when it comes to longevity and living well, your “RealAge” depends less on what the calendar tells you and more on how you choose to live your life. Science backs this up: there’s clear evidence that certain choices lead you to better health, which can make you years—even decades—younger than your chronological age.
I’ve put the science to work for myself: my RealAge puts me at forty-six, far younger than my calendar age of sixty-seven. But before reading
Boost Your Brain
, I’ll admit I was beginning to worry I’d hit the tipping point for brain function. Yes, I knew tricks—like taking a daily dose of algal DHA—to keep the “house” I live in much younger than its chronological age, but I was afraid my electrical system—my brain—was constructed of fraying copper wires that couldn’t be upgraded to serve up the power the modern computer-world demands. Dr. Fotuhi changed my attitude and understanding. He taught me new secrets, like how to do the exercises I was already doing but in a way to increase my brain size and memory. And Dr. Fotuhi convinced me to reinstitute some of the steps I’d started to skip.
How much can these steps really matter? A lot. As a matter of fact, how long you live once you pass the age of thirty (genes play a large role early in life) and how healthy you are while alive is largely determined by the choices you make. By the time you reach the age of fifty, lifestyle factors account for a whopping 70 percent of your health and longevity, with genetics accounting for just 30 percent.
This may well fly in the face of the way you’ve always viewed aging. Many people—even doctors!—think that you reach your peak quality of life in your mid- to late twenties and then inevitably begin a long slow decline that lasts the rest of your life. There’s a reason that perception has held sway for so long: it’s true. Or at least, it’s true for most. Provided you do nothing about it, you can expect every function in your body—your lung function, heart function, muscle mass, bone mass, even your IQ—to decline by 5 percent every decade, beginning right around your thirtieth birthday.
In public speeches I sometimes illustrate this with a rather telling slide that shows the results of a study of Harvard physicians. The study, which launched in 1952, tracked the physicians’ IQs over their life span and the resulting downward curve shows that on average their brain function fell by 5 percent every ten years. If you’re over the age of thirty you might find this discouraging. But you’ll probably admit that it’s also not that surprising. After all, don’t most people feel more forgetful and mentally fuzzy as the years pile on?
If you drill into the data from that study of Harvard physicians, though, you’ll find the curve also offers some promising news. Looking beyond the average you’ll find a group of people who seem to defy nature: 25 percent of the physicians don’t show any decrease in their brain function as they age. That’s right: they’re as sharp at eighty as they were at forty.
The question on everyone’s mind when they see that slide is, understandably, “How do I join
You’ll be happy to hear that although it’s a small club, it’s not really that exclusive. You don’t need to have won the genetic lottery to get in. You don’t need to be a Harvard physician, or wealthy, or well connected. Admittance largely comes down to the lifestyle and choices you make in your life.
At the Cleveland Clinic, we’ve ushered thousands of people into this club by developing programs that help employees improve their fitness, eat a healthier diet, manage their stress, and quit using tobacco. The programs have been wildly successful, helping our employees become many years—or even decades—younger than they were.
I’ve seen firsthand the incredible impact moderate lifestyle changes can make, even when they’re started later in life. It’s part of the reason I was so intrigued when I first heard of a Baltimore-based doctor with a novel approach to helping improve patients’ memory and thinking.
At his Brain Center, Dr. Fotuhi has pioneered a whole-body approach to brain health that incorporates cutting-edge, neuroscience-based strategies specifically designed to maximize mental function. Through his twelve-week brain fitness program—a sort of boot camp for the brain—Dr. Fotuhi helps his patients grow (yes, that is the right term) their brains and improve their memory and thinking. (As a bonus, they almost always improve their overall health as well.)
Boost Your Brain,
Dr. Fotuhi brings that twelve-week program to readers: analyzing, distilling, and translating into plain English the groundbreaking discoveries that allow you to make your brain years or decades younger and really tap in to its amazing potential. Beginning with an understandable introduction to the basics of brain science, Dr. Fotuhi elegantly explains an idea that even some doctors have yet to fully grasp: the adult brain is incredibly malleable, growing (and shrinking) based on your behaviors and choices. That’s incredibly important given, as Dr. Fotuhi will tell you, that the brain is the only organ in the body where size matters. Taking steps to help the brain grow—whether you’re thirty, sixty, or ninety—not only helps your brain function better, but keeps it younger longer.
Boost Your Brain
details the science behind four key brain boosters and guides you to custom-create your own twelve-week brain fitness program. Along with his step-by-step prescription for brain growth, Dr. Fotuhi delivers more real-world advice on how to avoid life’s many brain shrinkers—from excessive stress, to hypertension, to chronic insomnia, and more.
His program and this book come at a time when chronic health conditions like diabetes, unmanaged stress, and obesity—the very problems that keep us out of the 25-percent club—are poised to reach unprecedented proportions. And it arrives on the leading edge of a wave of scientific discovery that allows experts like Dr. Fotuhi to understand the workings of the brain like never before.
If you’ve ever thought you’d love to get back the brain you once had, or have a forty-year-old brain when you’re sixty, this is your chance. You’re not bound to the brain your birthday says you
Boost Your Brain
, a bigger, younger brain is yours for the taking. Grab hold. I have, and you can, too!
—Michael F. Roizen, M.D.
Your Bigger, Better Brain Is Within Reach
You’ve just walked into a meeting and you’re confronted with a familiar face. You’ve met him at least a half dozen times, chatted with him about the weather, the annual summer picnic, and your company’s latest sales figures. You’re about to say hello when, with a sinking feeling, you realize you have no idea what his name is. Or rather, you know it. You know you know it. But as you walk toward him with a rising sense of panic, your brain stubbornly refuses to deliver the goods. Jeff ? Jim? Jordan? You think to yourself, not for the first time,
Why can’t I just remember?
If it were just this flub with Jeff or Jim or Jordan (whose real name, you later discover, is Barry), you wouldn’t be concerned. But it’s not. For longer than you can remember (no pun intended) you’ve been feeling forgetful, a little slow on the uptake, slightly short on creativity. It’s annoying—even frightening. You joke about your shredded memory or blame the latest lapse on the all-nighter you pulled last week, but sometimes you wonder,
Will I always struggle like this?
If it offers any comfort, you should know that you are by no means alone in your worries. Most people feel their brains aren’t functioning as well as they used to, or as well as they should. And they’re right. In part, that’s thanks to a basic biological reality: the human brain shrinks with age. Over time, brain cells known as neurons shrink or die. The contacts—or synapses—between neurons are lost, the communication highways that crisscross the brain deteriorate, and blood vessels wither. This happens first at the microscopic level and then, eventually, to such a degree that it can be seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with the naked eye. Such brain shrinkage is so commonplace that I, and most neuroradiologists, can ballpark a person’s age simply by looking at his or her MRI.
As you can probably guess, such shrinkage comes with a cost, as numerous experts, including myself, have outlined in a host of scientific journals: a smaller brain means poorer cognitive performance.
Shrinkage in the front of the brain makes us less focused and slower in solving complicated puzzles, making decisions, or planning for the future. (Later in life, it even slows the pace of our talking, walking, and making simple calculations.) Shrinkage in the memory areas of the brain makes it more difficult for us to recall names, phone numbers, or directions.
What’s not so obvious is that brain shrinkage isn’t just a worry for late life. The earliest footprints of atrophy in the brain begin to accrue as early as our forties, around the same time many people begin to feel they’re not as mentally sharp as they once were.
There’s an even more striking reality: no matter what their age, the vast majority of people aren’t functioning at their full potential. Not even close. They may be operating on six cylinders in their midtwenties, or four cylinders in their seventies, but what they don’t realize is that, at any age, they could be functioning at a markedly higher level—powering through life on eight cylinders. They place too much blame for their lapses on their hectic lives or their age and rarely even attempt to fully tap into their brains’ power. Anybody can learn a language in their fifties if they have to, for example. But most decline to even try. “I’m too old to learn that,” they’ll complain. But the fact is, they
learn a new language, if they had enough of an incentive. Imagine what would happen if they were offered a $10 million prize for learning to speak Italian. I assure you most would be speaking fluently in mere months.