Exercise Your Brain for Longterm Health: Have a Social Life and Build in Downtime

M.D. and Author
Life is a marathon, says Dr. David Agus. Maintaining longterm brain health is all about having positive social relationships, and scheduling time for the brain to relax.
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TRANSCRIPT

David Agus:  The brain is a tremendous organism that helps all of us. And brain obviously functions for our cognitive function, it functions for our well-being, for our mindfulness, for how we interact with others. And I want to start to tell you a couple of stories that I think gives us the flavor of what we need for long-term brain health. The first is an experiment that was initially done in mice and then it was done in humans. And that is touch, the power of touch. If you take a mouse and you take it away from other mice and put it alone, all of a sudden it gets more immune problems, it gets more disease, it takes longer to get over infections. You put it back so it's touched all the time it goes back to the way it was and much quicker getting over when it gets sick. And the same is true in humans.

We were designed to be social. And so people who are loaners that spend all their day alone where there's no touch and no other human interactions don't to do well. So you need to figure out a way to get that touch. People who live with someone, cohabitate, live longer than people who live alone. So figure out a way to do it and figure out a way to change your life. Go out tonight. Find somebody. Obviously I'm not pushing you to live with somebody right away, you have to live with the right person, because that other side of it is stress is bad. And when you have relationships that pull you down it's very hard for all of us. So there's an old Buddhist expression, detach and transcend. And I want you to do that. Start to take a look at your relationships, both good and bad. When it's difficult and when you see a relationship that really makes you crabby, whenever you're with this person it get's you in a different mood or really affects you, you need to figure out a way to get away from that. Obviously you can't eliminate all of your family because many of those are family members, but you have to figure out a way so that those interactions don't bring you down and hurt the rest of your life.
I want you to take that 20,000-foot view of you to look at your social interaction because I think that's key.

Because life is a marathon and I think it's key to go that marathon and do well is to have those designed correctly. At the same time I want you to be mindful of you. I want you to figure out what is the best schedule and ways to deal with your life. So, for example, we know is that downtime is important. Downtime every day is actually what allows what happened during the day to sink in. So if a child is at school they study and study and has no downtime, they're not going to remember as much as if they have that downtime at the end of the day. So figure out a way to do it for your children and for yourself. For me it's that drive home. That drive home I turn off my devices and I like to listen to some music, classic rock, which my kids make fun of me for listening to, and that's my downtime and it actually works. At the same time the brain needs quiet.

There was a study done in Europe where they looked at circles around and airport, the closer you were to it the higher the rate of cognitive decline. So figure out a way to get that quiet time. So whether you live in a city, whether you live next to noisy neighbors, figure out a way at night when you have the time. I wear those earplugs at night. Why? Because my dog snores and I need to figure out a way that I can get the quiet time and my brain can actually re-put itself together for the next day. We all respond to stress differently. And in today's world there are metrics that we can actually measure stress. And we can measure stress in each of us and figure out what it is. To me it's playing with the dog, it's reading a book, it's taking a walk in nature and they work for me, but figure out what works for you then use a metric. And I also know when my shoulders go up I'm in the yellow zone; I'm starting to get a little bit of stress and I figure out a way to go back to green, to less stress. So figure out a way to do it for you, know yourself.

You look back to the greatest writers of the medicine, and this is what astounds me, 2000 years ago Hypocrites wrote really the foundations of what medicine is today and the foundation of it was to know yourself. And he would look and say when I eat to this I felt good or I felt bad. And that's how he started to get these intuitions about health. And I want you to do it for you to personalize it for yourself.