A Perfect Day of Brain Health
This article is adapted from 30 Days to a Better Brain, by Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS, Chief of Health Innovation at Canyon Ranch and 17th Surgeon General of the United States.
At Canyon Ranch, we believe that medicine, diet, exercise, spirituality and behavioral modification all play equal roles in your brain’s health. The last step is integrating them into one seamless program: a perfect day of brain health.
You don’t need to give up your job and your life in order to devote your attention to your brain. Taking care of yourself can be easily worked into your day, and by following these guidelines you will be incorporating all of our best information, tips and tricks. And while we know you’ll get the most benefits by following this strictly, we understand that not everyone can do this perfectly every day.
Strive for most days at first, but once you start, you’ll quickly see how much better you’ll feel and think, and before long, you’ll want to live like this every day. Ultimately, that’s what Canyon Ranch is all about. While we like our visitors to come and stay with us, we’re more impressed when they take what they’ve learned home and incorporate it into their daily lives.
A perfect day at Canyon Ranch begins bright and early, but we’re not going to put you on the clock just yet. The following are simply good suggestions so you can organize a day of optimal living in terms of your brain health. By the time you’re ready to go to work, you’ve done the majority of your daily health care. The practices that matter most have been done for the day, and the rest of the day is about having control. By the end of the day, you need to make sure you’ve incorporated the Canyon Ranch philosophy, which is based on four spheres of well-being:
- The Physical: Am I taking care of my body?
- The Mental: Am I actively engaged in learning?
- The Emotional: Am I working toward balance?
- The Spiritual: Am I connected to something outside myself?
- Start your day with an energizing meditation, taking between five and 20 minutes. Allow yourself a moment, even before your feet hit the floor, to remember that there’s something bigger and broader in life.
- Exercise for brain health. Focus on aerobic activity.
- Start your eating day with a high-protein breakfast and a handful of antioxidant-rich berries, such as blueberries. When you have a high-protein breakfast, you feel more satisfied and are less likely to snack before lunch. Eggs are a terrific choice because the whites are a complete protein and the yolks are an excellent source of healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Protein shakes and Greek yogurt are also excellent choices. This kind of breakfast also addresses inflammation and detoxification.
- Don’t forget the coffee, if you can tolerate it. Caffeine has been shown to inhibit plaque formation in the brain.
- Brush your teeth and floss to make sure you don’t develop infections of the gum like periodontitis that can travel to the brain.
- Detoxify your body: Move your bowels and drink plenty of water now and throughout the day.
- Do 20 minutes of brain-training exercises to keep your mind active and learning new things. Or take a quick break with a challenging piece of fiction or a magazine article that requires a close read.
- Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day to maintain good blood-sugar levels and supply your brain with glucose in a smooth and even way.
- Think about the Japanese saying Hara hachi bu, which means “Eat till you’re 80 percent full.” Eighty percent full is going to be different for each of us, but it is important to implement; when you overeat beyond what your body can process, digest, assimilate and distribute evenly, you overwhelm the system, causing harmful oxidative stress.
- Perform a mindfulness practice to refocus your attention. This second 20-minute meditation segment can help you become more productive, particularly in the late afternoon.
- As you focus on the last meal of the day, make sure it includes lots of healthy antioxidant-rich foods. Treat yourself to one of our recipes, and use your time cooking as an opportunity to be creative or to try something new.
- Turn off the electronics and begin to unwind. It wasn’t so long ago that we all survived in a world without smartphones and instant Internet access. Use your time in the evening to go for a stroll or get out and socialize.
- Try a stress-relieving activity like calming yoga or a soothing bath before you turn in for the night. Change the activity frequently so you can find just the right one for you.
- Brush your teeth a second time.
- Do a breathing practice that increases oxygenation and improves overall brain health.
- Get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep to rest and reset your brain.
The Practice Is More Important Than Perfection
Our goal for you is simple: to put you on the path toward better brain health, but not to insist on perfection. There will be plenty of days when you aren’t able to eat perfectly or have the perfect workout. But every minute of every day counts toward moving your health forward, because something is always more than nothing.
All the elements of this program combine into a practice of healthy living that’s meant to be additive to your life. Honor that place, and remember all the people who are following the same path you are. Share with your friends and family what you’ve learned, so that you can work together toward a healthier lifestyle.
Lastly, allow yourself to know that success is in you. Perfection will take you away from this knowledge, but the experience of following the program to the best of your ability will bring you closer. Every day, you want to positively increase the things that are good for your body as well as the things that are going to slow down your brain’s aging. And then as you move forward, you want to keep those good habits going, because good habits beget more good habits. Before you know it, you will have achieved a perfect day.