You may have heard me mention that I am creating an online dementia prevention program called Optimal Brain Performance (OBP). So what exactly are the components of this program?
Let me start by saying that there is no one size fits all approach.
I get that we want health solutions to be simple, easy and quick-fix. But that’s because the marketing messages out there are oriented towards selling. Did you know that there is a whole science behind advertising that is focused on using words as weapons to trigger your primitive brain to act? Words like “FREE,” “EASY,” or “HACK.” These messages are appealing because they promise that you can get something you want for little or no effort. And who wouldn’t want that?
The problem is that the laws of nature and your body don’t actually work that way. You know from experience that it takes time and effort to build a habit like regular exercise, just as it takes planning and intention to eliminate less desirable habits, like eating junk food.
In addition, lifestyle choices can only be sustainable when you have made them from a place of integrity with your personal values and preferences. So for example, you may not choose not to focus on alcohol, or you may be more comfortable with taking a prescription medication rather than a supplement for your blood sugar.
We want to proactively explore self care practices as we embrace healthy aging
Dementia prevention is at the forefront of many fields of medicine that are shifting to a precision medicine approach. What precision medicine means is that expert recommendations target family history, specific gene mutations, environment and lifestyle preferences when making recommendations. Individuals get to retain their authority to make decisions and change their minds as they try new practices, deciding through trial and error whether or not to keep them.
There are 14 components within the OBP framework that each have varying levels of supporting evidence linking them to dementia prevention and brain health.
The 3 core Body Basics components are supported by the strongest evidence, i.e. Exercise, Sleep and Nutrition. And within each component, there will be a broad range of variables that you get to choose from in order to custom build your own protocol.
Taking Exercise as an example, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for how much or what kind of exercise each person should do. What we know from the evidence is that more movement interspersed throughout that day is better than a concentrated amount of exercise once a week. So I may choose a bit more strength training and a bit less cardio, or I may eschew the gym and choose instead to exercise by gardening and walking my dog.
Brainwork encompasses Cognitive Training, which can include crossword puzzles or learning to play a new musical instrument. We will also work on Purpose, as well as Mindset and Resilience: these components are unique to the OBP framework, and represent my take on how self coaching work will allow you to build sustainable self care practices.
Heart Health includes Hypertension, Diabetes, and Cholesterol. These are important because “what’s good for the heart, is good for the brain.” What I mean here is that when we control for these cardiovascular risk factors, we prevent the build up of clogging atherosclerotic plaque in both the heart and the brain arteries.
Environment components include Connection, Exposures, Supplements and Habits. The science supporting each category of components gets weaker as we move out to the periphery, so for example the link between dietary supplements such as omega 3 fish oils and dementia prevention is not as strong as the link between actual fish consumption and brain health.
It all matters
I’m often asked, “What’s the most important thing I should be focused on?” The answer is that it depends on you. I would encourage you to start with your gut intuition. You may be drawn to something that you have been wanting to work on for some time, like eating healthier. Many of these practices will be familiar to you because they are linked to heart healthy or cancer prevention research. So while this program is focused on brain health, it’s really about proactively exploring self care practices that prevent chronic disease as we embrace healthy aging.
I want us to be living our best lives as we age, enriching the lives of those we love most
The good news is that you may be doing a lot of good for your brain already without even knowing it. For example, you may naturally be a good sleeper, or perhaps you are blessed with the kind of genes that cause your cholesterol levels to be low. Even brushing and flossing your teeth regularly cuts down on gum disease and inflammation, which can be protective for your brain.
I used to believe that aging was about loss: loss of respect and relevance, loss of loved ones, loss of mobility, and most terrifying, loss of memory. But what if that was just a thought that I’d had over and over again, until it became a belief? Because if I look around me, I see plenty of evidence for why that’s not true. I’m blessed to know and love elders who are vibrant and active, living their best lives and best of all, enriching the lives of those they love most.