Too often we think that the rate at which we age is pretty much beyond our control. Daniel Amen’s book brings scientific proof that this is definitely not the case. Based on his work with nuclear medicine studies of the brain, called SPECT imaging, he argues conclusively and shows many case studies that demonstrate that brain health and effective brain age can be dramatically changed for the better by adopting appropriate healthy habits.
He says, “From looking at all these SPECT scans it is very clear to me that you can either accelerate the aging process and make your brain look and feel older than your chronological age, or you can decelerate it and have a brain that looks and feels much younger than your age. Even though getting older is not optional, having a brain that looks and feels old is! (p. 2)”
Dr. Amen argues conclusively that such things as brain injuries, abuse of alcohol, smoking and obesity are very bad for your brain. The first three are not surprising to us. On the third one he says bluntly, “As your weight goes up the size of the brain goes down (p. 15).” Dr. Amen was recently involved in designing and implementing a high-profile weight loss and lifestyle change campaign at Saddleback Church in California. His desire is to help Americans have a much more brain healthy lifestyle.
The book contains a great deal of practical information for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including 20 Brain Healthy Tips and Numbers to Know for a Long, Healthy Life (pp. 60-63). This section gives added meaning to the yearly physical. Chapter two also addresses brain healthy eating plans. There is also Twenty Brain Habits to Get You Moving for a Long and Healthy Life (pp 142-145). Of course, Dr. Amen really encourages exercise. Quoting another researcher, the book says. “We looked at the effect of walking on 299 cognitively normal subjects. We found that people who walk a mile a day or about 12 city blocks, six times a week, had increased brain volume over time in areas for memory and learning.” Dr. Amen comments, “Taking it further, he discovered that there would be a 50% reduction in the possibility of getting Alzheimer’s over a 13 year test period.” This is enough to make me walk more and I think Dr. Amen’s arguments will have that effect on most everyone who reads the book.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book was the section talking about Dr. Amen’s research on the correspondence between SPECT scan results and several types of conditions previously thought to be purely mental and emotional. Just by examining brain scans, Dr. Amen could categorize patients as having impulsive brains, compulsive brains, impulsive-compulsive brains, sad/moody brains, anxious brains, temporal lobe brains, toxic brains, or post-traumatic stress brains (pp. 242-251). Patients were often relieved to realize that it was not “all in their” head” in the metaphoric sense, but that what had been going on in their lives had a definite physical basis. In addition, and even more fantastic, Dr. Amen has demonstrated by his work with patients that through a combination of diet, exercise, lifestyle change, supplements, and sometimes counseling, he has been able to not only help such patients improve, but actually change over time their SPECT scans, that is change their brains, into much healthier ones. Such results gives tremendous hope to sufferers and great credibility to Dr. Amen’s work.
This book needs to be read by health professionals first so that they can help the rest of us put it into practice. Secondly, it needs to be read by all thinking people who influence others so that we can improve our own examples and then spread the information more widely. Thirdly, it should read by everyone who wants to be healthier, think better in their older age, and live a longer life. I highly recommend it.