- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 12 hours and 1 minute
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: February 14, 2012
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0078XQY4S
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel, and Think Younger Every Day Audiobook – Unabridged
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Dr. Amen uses a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography (CAT)) scan to assess the health of the brain. The healthier the brain, the less holes seem to be present; actually, indentations are indications of places where blood flow is impaired. As common sense portends, impaired blood flow equals problems from minor to terminal. At his clinics (in California), he administers the scans and give advice along the lines detailed in his book. His book is likely what we need, more than his SPECT scans, because, if we follow his detailed advice, we will optimize our brain's performance and our health - no matter what our scan tells us. (Those fearing Alzheimer's is imminent may warrant a trip to California for a $3,000 SPECT scan.) Unfortunately, Dr. Amen takes far too long (400 pages) to tell us what could have been covered in fifty pages. In the next three paragraphs is a summary of his key points.
He begins with a few basic facts about the brain: It contains some 100 billion cells, is 80% water (making hydration essential), is 60% fat, and constitutes only 2% of our body weight but consumes 25% of our calories. The brain never rests, not even in sleep. The brain is comprised of a soft substance akin to tofu, which can be easily injured; however, it is encased in hard shell, the skull; regardless, injuries to the brain DO matter, a lot. (Alert to the NFL.) Only about 30% of longevity is determined by genetics; the other 70% is dictated by how we think, act and live; in sum, 70% of our life span is fundamentally within our control. The more obese we become, the smaller our brains become; many diseases (e.g., diabetes, cancer) cause brain damage, as does depression. Alzheimer's is one form of dementia, and there is no known cure. Maximizing your "brain health" will defer or eliminate high blood pressure, high sugar levels, thyroid issues, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Brain health can be summarized in four words: "Avoid bad; do good."
What should we avoid? (1) Inconsistent, thoughtless behavior; (2) Unhealthy friends, as "people are contagious"; (3) Brain injuries, big and little at all ages; (4) Toxins (drugs, alcohol, smoking, pesticides, organic solvents, mold, etc., and take care to wash toxic chemicals off all produce) (5) Cancer chemotherapy, as it kills normal cells as well; (6) Inflammation, which is promoted by lower levels of Vitamin D and high omega-6's (fish), and by too much meat, sugar and stress; (7) Exposure to free radicals: cigarettes, trans fats, excessive sun (20 minutes/day is best); excessive exercise, overactive thyroid; (8) Excess weight; (9) Sugar exceeding 100-150 calories per day; (10) Lack of new learning; (11) Negative thinking, anxiety; (12) Lack of purpose in your life.
What should we "do good"? (1) Make good, consistent, thoughtful decisions every day; (2) Surround yourself with a positive, healthy support system (environment and people); (3) Protect your brain from physical injuries; (4) Avoid toxins; (5) Seek healthy "repair mechanisms" (fish, oil, vitamins, green tea); (6) Maintain physical health: minimize inflation; avoid gum disease and intestinal problems; maintain healthy levels of hormones, vitamin D, omega-3's; do strength and aerobic exercises; control your weight (your waist tape-measured size should not exceed half of your height, e.g., a 36 inch waist works for a 72 inch height); drink 8 glasses of water/day; eat lean meat; eat natural foods of many colors to boost antioxidants; avoid sugar; test your vitamin, testosterone, estrogen and hormone levels and SPECT-scan your brain periodically; fight pernicious inflation (by minimizing sugar, low fiber, high calorie diets and lack of exercise); snack: eat every 2-3 hours but eat a palm-sized serving of chopped veggies with hummus or apples or celery, turkey, salmon, seamed edamame, etc.; avoid high-mercury fish (tuna, mackerel and swordfish); (7) Continue life-long learning; work on your memory via practice, games (Sudoku); (8) Practice stress management and memory (via meditation and/or self-hypnosis); (9) Maintain an optimistic mood (via same methods); (10) Sleep is critically important, no less than six hours and seven to eight hours is preferred daily.
Dr. Amen also asserts at length that healthy sex keeps us young. Even our skin, he notes, is significantly erotic and its youthfulness is enhanced by sex, adding that one session of intercourse provides the equivalent of thirty minutes of jogging, as it releases endorphins which act as painkillers and reduce anxiety, even better than do antidepressant drugs. Such sex releases hormones which strengthen bones and muscles. Semen injected into a woman reduces depression. Intercourse, he advises, also fights cancer, and causes participants to exercise more and eat better, all contributing to a lowering of heart attack risks. The author further maintains that healthy sex (defined here as non-anal sex) between those in love is much more beneficial than interludes of illicit, sex-for-sex sake, with those whom we do not love.
The author also addresses the problem of depression that is caused by the loss of loved ones, an increasingly difficult part of the aging process. He sagely urges us to "grieve every day for thirty minutes, even crying as needed," but, then, he urges us to "let go and attack your day, working and helping others".
At last, Dr. Amen concludes that the way we perceive ourselves directly impacts our physical age. As an example, he uses "Satchel" Paige (1906-1982), a legend in his own time, who was a black man who played baseball in the black (then called "Negro") leagues, until Jackie Robinson became the first black to play in the previously all-white Major League Baseball. "Satch" was brought up to baseball's Major Leagues at age 42, as a pitcher, and played there (for Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City) until age 47, and was later inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame. He was so good in his forties that he sometimes asked his infielders to sit down while he proceeded to strike out the side. Being 20 years older than most Major League Baseball players, "Satch" was often questioned about his age. One of his responses remains a classic to instruct all of us:
"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?"
An interesting and instructive question, Dr. Amen notes. Can you do it? Erase your knowledge of your age? If you didn't know your age, really didn't know it, how old would you think that you are? I, for one, would have no idea. If, indeed, I held to that fact, and if I didn't dwell on unflattering photographs, I know that I would perceive myself considerably younger than I know myself to be. If we stop whipping our minds into negative thinking, our lives can be so much more than they are. Life is perception, in my view, and, according to Dr. Amen, so is a good part of the aging process. We need to stop fretting about age (and the other negatives that incessantly plague our minds) and start smiling about the many things we enjoy.
After reading Use Your Brain, I went on line and read many reviews by Dr. Amen's patients. Sadly, 80% of them were negative, disturbingly negative. They complained that, in practice, the Amen Clinics do SPECT scans, prescribe "mood drugs" (some made by the Clinic) and refer the patient to one of the Clinics expensive psychiatrists for ongoing treatments. Very few of the reviewing-patients were pleased; in fact, most bordered on profane assaults and violent threats. Regardless, Dr. Amen's Use Your Brain is an extremely helpful book. Most of us NEED the advice in this book. I can only give it four stars, because it is repetitive to an unbearable degree and includes banal case histories that seem like filler, mandating scanning in self-defense.
Amen's book is fairly straight-forward, but much of the content could have been reduced to fewer pages. In the first two chapters, for example, he repeatedly gives the reader 'teasers' of what they will learn by reading the book, rather than just getting to the point. I found this to be a bit tedious, as it had the feel of sitting through a time-share lecture.
Most of what Amen recommends falls into the category of common sense. For anyone who has read books on how to avoid heart disease, manage diabetes, or deal with any other health issue, the content here isn't that new. Rather, it's the usual drumbeat---much of which we need to be reminded of---to eat right, exercise, keep our minds challenged/engaged, reduce stress, and don't do stupid things as we go through life.
In contrast to what other authors have stated, however, Amen encourages caution with respect to some aspects of diet, opining, for example, that consumption of certain foods (peaches, kale, apples, berries ... ) can have negative effects on brain function. I'm not sure I buy that.
Amen is a huge proponent of supplements (fish oil, CoQ10, ginkgo, alpha-lipoic acid, etc.) something I agree with, but also remain ambivalent about. While I support the use of supplements--and take several each day--the research on their impact and effectiveness on the human body is inconsistent and sometimes vague. Still, it appears the bigger issue is whether they actually work, rather than if they will harm you, so what the heck. As someone with diabetes, the only (!!!) thing that has helped me control my numbers is 1) diet (high protein, low carb) and 2) exercise.
This book doesn't necessarily fall into the category of pop-medicine, but at times, it does come close. Amen, for example, minimizes the role of genetics on brain function and behavior. If my work with adopted children has taught me anything, it is that genetics plays a much bigger part in our lives that we appreciate. I can see where some readers might also mistakenly believe that the approaches Amen recommends will neutralize or reverse true neurological conditions, such as ADHD and Alzheimers.
For those who have a decent command of why it's important to eat right, exercise, and maintain balance in life, this book won't provide much information that's new or novel, though the brain imaging pictures and results are intriguing. The book is an easy read, however, and if you or someone you know could be prodded toward better health by reading it, then click the 'buy' button.
Interesting, but not sure it's all that helpful.