80% of Health Resides in the Brain: Here’s How to Take Care of Yours

When we think about health, images of toned muscles, balanced diets, and cardio workouts often come to mind. While physical fitness is undeniably important, I firmly believe that 80% of our health resides in the brain. Our mental state profoundly influences our overall well-being, impacting everything from our immune function to the condition of our skin. In addition, the brain controls many aspects of biological functioning, including our:

  • Senses: The brain receives and interprets sensory information like sights, sounds, smells, and tastes
  • Movement: The brain controls motor skills and initiates body movement
  • Cognitive abilities: The brain controls remembering, planning, organizing, and making decisions
  • Emotions: The brain regulates mood
  • Other processes: The brain controls breathing, temperature, hunger, and more

So, how do we take care of this critical organ? Here are some key strategies to ensure your brain is in top shape, which, in turn, will enhance your overall health.

  1. Stay hydrated

Water is essential for every bodily function, and the brain is no exception. Dehydration can lead to cognitive decline, poor concentration, and mood swings. Although conventional wisdom says to drink eight glasses of water a day (or more, if you’re active or live in a hot climate), I recommend eating your water. That’s because the water you drink runs right through you, but water you eat in the form of water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, is released into your body gradually, along with nutrients like fiber and antioxidants.

  1. Eat a brain-healthy diet

Your brain needs the right nutrients to function optimally. To properly feed your brain, give it plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, and in what I call embryonic foods, which are eggs, seeds, and nuts. (Pastured eggs have higher omega-3 content than conventional eggs.) Antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, dark chocolate, and leafy greens help protect brain cells from damage. Certain supplements have also been shown to prevent cognitive decline. These include curcumin (found in turmeric, the bright yellow spice we associate with curry), Vitamin B12, and benfotiamine, a precursor of Vitamin B1, and quercetin, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.  And, of course, reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods, which can cause inflammation and impair brain function.

  1. Exercise regularly

Physical activity isn’t just good for your body; it’s crucial for your brain. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function and boosting your mood by releasing endorphins. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. This can include walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, skating, pickleball, or other activities you enjoy. Enjoyment is key to consistency—and enjoyment is also good for your brain!

  1. Get enough sleep

Sleep is when your brain does most of its housekeeping. During deep sleep, your brain clears out toxins that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. Establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and create a relaxing pre-sleep ritual to help signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down.

  1. Manage stress

Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your brain, leading to memory problems, anxiety, and even depression. Unfortunately, unless we take active steps to manage it, we’re all living with chronic stress: the 24-hour Cultural Stress of modern living.  That’s why it’s essential to incorporate stress-reducing techniques into your daily routine. These could be meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or simply spending time in nature. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress is essential for maintaining brain health.

  1. Stay mentally active

Just like your body, your brain needs regular workouts to stay strong. Engage in activities that challenge your mind, such as reading, puzzles, learning a new language, or playing a musical instrument. Social interactions also stimulate your brain, so make time to connect with friends and family. My wife Loralee and I particularly enjoy ballroom dancing, which is great for our brains because it combines exercise and social stimulation, along with the mental challenge of learning new steps and matching our partner’s moves.

  1. Practice mindfulness and gratitude

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, help increase your awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, and improve emotional regulation. Gratitude journaling, where you regularly write down things you’re thankful for, can also boost your mood and mental well-being. Both practices can help rewire your brain for more positive thinking patterns. I like to say, “Your attitude introduces success.”

  1. Limit toxins

Alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs can all impair brain function and overall health. Limiting these substances can prevent cognitive decline and improve mental clarity. Also, be mindful of environmental toxins—use natural cleaning products, avoid unnecessary exposure to pesticides, and choose organic foods when possible.

  1. Protect your brain from injury

Wear your seatbelt when riding in a vehicle and wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycle, boxing, skating, skiing, snowboarding, or doing other high-speed or high-impact sports where a fall or collision could result in head injury.

  1. Foster healthy relationships

Strong, supportive relationships can buffer against stress and improve emotional well-being. Positive social interactions release oxytocin, which reduces anxiety and promotes feelings of happiness. Invest time in building and maintaining healthy relationships, and don’t hesitate to seek support when needed.

  1. Take care of your skin

When you take the time to care for your skin, you’re building up its protective barrier. This barrier helps skin protect the rest of your body from burns, scrapes, and scratches, and also from toxins and inflammatory agents—including inflammatory agents that affect the brain.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, “For years, scientists assumed that an overloaded immune system was the explanation for inflammaging and its negative health effects, until dermatologists at UC San Francisco proposed a different explanation.” Skin—our bodies’ largest organ.

As our skin starts to deteriorate around the age of 50, changes to its pH, its ability to retain moisture, and damage to its permeability barrier can also cause it to release inflammatory cytokines. We now know that this chronic, low-grade inflammation can increase the risk of age-related degenerative diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

However, the study’s authors also showed that skincare—specifically, twice daily application of an over-the-counter skin cream formulated with cholesterol, free fatty acids, and ceramides that had previously been shown to contribute to skin repair—was able to reverse cytokine levels and return them to levels nearly equivalent to people in their 30s.

Although larger studies are needed, the early evidence is that skincare not only repairs and protects the skin—which, in itself, is essential to your well-being—it also protects your brain and other organs.

  1. Keep a positive attitude

Your mindset can significantly impact your health. Positive thinking has been linked to lower rates of depression, reduced stress, and a longer lifespan. Practice positive affirmations, focus on your strengths, and approach challenges as opportunities for growth. Over the years, I have written many Insights to help patients and friends keep a positive attitude. Here are some of my favorites:

“You have no control over the cards that are dealt to you. But, you do have control of making the best of them.”

“Even in disaster, look for the good.”

“Take pleasure in every minor success.”

“The best is yet to come; you just have to let it enter.”

“Rewrite and reframe the negatives in your life.”

“Life is good, bad, and indifferent – focus on the good.”

“Forgive yourself.”

“Be thankful.”

“Be kind to yourself.”

“Magic only happens when you create your own.”

Taking care of your brain is a holistic endeavor that involves a balanced, hydrating diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management, mental stimulation, and strong social connections. By prioritizing your brain health, you’re not only enhancing your cognitive function. You’re also improving your overall quality of life. Remember, a healthy mind truly is the cornerstone of a healthy body.

That’s #ModernWellness!


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