Dean & Ayesha Sherzai, M.D.
The NEURO Plan for Brain and Body Health
by Dr. Dean Sherzai and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai from Team Sherzai
There is a troubling rise in diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s, stroke and Parkinson’s disease permeating our culture. We all have known at least one person suffering from these illnesses and in many cases have seen the fallout first-hand. There is no treatment for these conditions, and the emotional, financial and social burden is immense. They are like thieves, stealing time, money and ravaging the minds of our loved ones.
With most people still assuming these diseases are genetic luck of the draw, we have uncovered a lifestyle approach that will dramatically reduce the chances of developing a disease of the brain while helping you live a vibrant and healthy life. Each piece of the NEURO plan works together to create a powerful cocktail that heals your body and drastically increases your quality of life.
The first step in our NEURO plan is focused on what you put into your body. Nutrition is one of the easiest ways to add life and vitality to your years while simultaneously fighting off chronic illnesses.
A diet high in plant-based, whole foods that avoids sugar, animal fat, excess salt and dairy is not only important for avoiding Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases, but it dramatically lowers your risks for many other chronic illnesses. When you consume a whole food plant-based diet, you are consuming all the vitamins, minerals, and building blocks of life that your body needs, but in perfect synergy and ready to fight illness.
Time and time again we see that pills, which may be full of vitamins, do not come close to achieving the results that a plant-based diet accomplishes. It’s not all about consuming enough vitamins and nutrients, it’s about how whole food works together in a perfect symbiotic relationship to provide everything you need for a life free of chronic illness.
Over the last 50 years plus many large population-based studies have repeatedly demonstrated that a whole food plant-based lifestyle, which are naturally low in refined sugars and saturated fats were remarkably effective in avoiding chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia. A recent Harvard University study recently revealed that just a few lifestyle choices, with nutrition at its core, can prolong life for up to 14 years.
Exercise benefits more than just your muscles and physique. Exercise actually builds connections in the brain. When we talk about the most beneficial exercises that pertain to overall health, including brain health, there are three factors. The first is that we should be doing 25-30 minutes of vigorous exercise four to five times a week. Vigorous exercise is the type that gets your heart rate up and makes it difficult to carry on a conversation.
Secondly, aside from intentional exercise times, we should be conscious not to let ourselves get too sedentary. Don’t sit all day — make sure you get up every hour and move around. Third is the correlation between leg strength and brain strength.
Make sure you take time every day to strengthen your legs. Blood gets to the brain through the action of muscle and our legs are our strongest muscles. Doing squats every day, several times a day to keep your legs strong is going to have amazing long-term benefits.
Stress management is central to the idea of unwinding, and it is central to the entire NEURO plan. It might surprise most to know that all stress is not created equal and that there is such a thing as good stress. Being able to determine which is which takes some dedicated quiet time and practice.
Since visuals are so powerful, we always recommend writing down anything in your life that is stressful. Once you’ve done that, you can then make the determination if it is the cause of good stress or bad stress.
So, what’s the difference between good stress and bad stress? Good stress has a desired outcome. If you are stressed out over a vocational certification test, for example, then you are working toward something that is tangible, measurable and achievable. This is a good stress and is actually beneficial to the brain.
Bad stress, on the other hand, is not at all purpose driven and creates worry without an end goal. It doesn’t add to life’s meaning and joy and there is seemingly no end in sight.
Now, life circumstances may make it impossible to get rid of all bad stressors, however, we think you’ll find after really taking the time to identify what in your life is stressing you out, you can either eradicate some of the trouble areas or at the very least, learn to manage them better.
Last and definitely not least, you should anchor your stress management program with meditative practices. Any form of meditation or mindfulness, even for just a few minutes a day can create powerful islands of focus and calm.
Restorative sleep is a vital component for brain repair. It’s like taking your brain through a deep house cleaning every single night. Good sleep is not simply about being knocked out, it is about the brain going through its different phases several times per night. It is about each cycle doing its specialized job and not being altered by medication or external interference.
When the brain is going through its natural cycles you are experiencing the most profound restoration. Your brain is doing two things; 1) it puts all of the day’s information into the right files and folders and gets rid of the ones that are no longer needed or are inefficient, and 2) it is going through a deep deep cleaning, which includes getting rid of inflammatory products, bad connections and even the types of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
One recent study demonstrated that a night’s poor sleep altered brain janitor cells (microglia) to start eating away at good connections instead of the bad ones. So, spend time to create your own personal sleep spa at home.
Sleep is important for two reasons. During restorative sleep, your brain takes time to file and organize information, memories and thoughts. It essentially declutters the brain for optimal use. It gets rid of any memory that isn’t useful and files the ones that are. Restorative sleep also is when your brain detoxifies. Sleeping is a form of daily detox.
Optimizing brain activity is the final step in the NEURO plan and is what builds brain connections. Developing a cognitive reserve or a brain bank is your best protection against cognitive decline. There are many ways we can do this through education or anything that challenges the brain. There are three ways that we can optimize our brains through activities.
- Complex activities involving the brain– Playing the piano, for example, engages many different parts of our brain and body. When we read the notes, it utilizes our auditory and language centers as well as our frontal lobe. The act of using our fingers to play the keys engages the motor and visual cortex. Finally, when we hear the music we are playing, it stimulates our emotional centers and thus creating joy and motivation to continue with the brain building musical exercise.
- Challenging activities– Even the most complex behaviors can become redundant. The next step to complex activities is to make sure they remain challenging. Always look to achieve the next step so that your brain can continue to make necessary brain connections.
- Purpose. – Purpose speaks to complexity as well as to our very need as humans to do meaningful things. Purpose is foundational to everything we do, and we should always participate in activities that are important to us and feed our souls.
By adopting the NEURO plan as your lifestyle choice, you are empowering the most powerful weapon you have against devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s. We don’t have to accept the rising numbers of chronic illnesses and our genetics do not determine our long-term health. Prevention through lifestyle is more powerful than your genetic makeup and can change the trajectory of your health and add quality years to your life.
As Co-Directors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Dr. Dean and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai, through research and their extensive collective medical backgrounds, work to demystify the steps to achieving long-term brain health and the prevention of devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are also the authors of the much acclaimed book, The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age (October 2017). For more information, visit TeamSherzai.com