I must confess that when I completed my five-year study of the daily habits of the rich and poor, I found the following health-related data particularly interesting:
- 76% of the wealthy engaged in 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity four days a week. 77% of the poor did not.
- 70% of the wealthy ate less than 300 junk food calories a day vs. 3% for poor people.
- Only 13% of the wealthy got drunk in the past 30 days vs. 60% for poor people.
- 89% of the wealthy slept on average 7 hours a night. 53% of the poor people did not get 7 hours of sleep a night.
- 75% of the wealthy avoided fast food restaurants while 69% of the poor ate 3 or more times a week at fast food restaurants.
So I decided to do additional research to see if the health habits of the wealthy somehow increased cognitive ability, contributing to their success in life. What I discovered was that many of these daily habits actually increased brain mass and brain function. In short, these good daily health habits were what made the wealthy smarter, which enabled them to realize financial success in life. The good habits came first and financial success eventually followed. Before I share these habits with you, first some basic background on the brain.
A brain cell is also known as a neuron. The average adult has 23 billion neurons. Each neuron is made up of one axon and multiple dendrites. Each axon and dendrite have multiple branches, just like trees. When neurons talk to each other, this is known as a synapse. Axons receive communications from another neuron through each one of its branches and dendrites send communications to other axons on other neurons through each one of its branches. The synaptic gap is an indentation on each dendrite that an axon branch sends its signals through. Think of each axon branch as a plug and each dendrite indentation as an outlet. The axon branch plugs into each dendrite outlet and viola, we have a connection.
Now to the habits. Specifically, I found four good daily health habits that improve brain function.
#1 Daily Aerobic Activity
20 – 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day has been proven to stimulate the growth of axon branches on each neuron. The number of axon branches you have is directly related to how intelligent you are. So aerobic exercise makes you more intelligent. Aerobic exercise becomes more important as we age because, as we age, we lose neurons if we do not use them. Aerobic exercise helps keep existing neurons firing with other neurons and keeps them alive and healthy. Thus, the more we activate our neurons, the higher the performance level of neurons and the greater the number of synaptic activity. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow and the oxygen content in each blood cell increases. Oxygen is like a sponge. It soaks up free radicals (cancer causing elements) and converts these free radicals to carbon dioxide. The blood carries this carbon dioxide to the lungs, which then removes the carbon dioxide from our bodies by exhaling it into the environment. The more we exercise, the more oxygen we take in and the more free radicals are soaked up by this oxygen sponge process. Since the brain uses 20% of our oxygen reserves, increased oxygen flow into the brain soaks up more free radicals inside the brain, making it cleaner and healthier. By making aerobic exercise a daily habit, you are keeping your brain alive and healthy.
#2 A Good Night’s Sleep
The average adult sleeps 7 1/2 hours a night in five 90 minute sleep cycles. Each of these five sleep cycles is composed of five separate levels of sleep: Alpha, theta, delta, rapid eye movement (REM) and then back to theta. The first three sleep levels last 65 minutes. REM lasts 20 minutes and the final level of sleep lasts 5 minutes. The number of hours you sleep is less important than the number of complete sleep cycles you have when you sleep. Five complete sleep cycles a night is optimal. Completing less than four sleep cycles a night negatively affects our health. REM sleep is particularly important as it’s primary function appears to be long-term memory storage. During REM sleep what we’ve learned the day before is transported to the hippocampus. If we do not complete at least four 90 minute sleep cycles a night, long-term memory storage becomes impaired. Completing at least four sleep cycles the night after learning a new skill or the night after studying for a test locks in the new skill or study material. If we get less than four complete 90 minute sleep cycles the night after learning a new skill or the night after studying for a test, it is as if we did not practice the skill or did not study at all because it never fully gets transferred to long-term memory.
#3 Avoid Junk Food
Junk food and processed food increase the amount of free radicals in our bodies. Too many free radicals in our blood will damage brain cells (neurons). As mentioned above, aerobic exercise can help reduce the amount of free radicals in our blood, but if you are not engaging in daily aerobic exercise and eating too much junk food and processed food you are damaging your brain.
#4 Moderate Consumption of Alcohol
Alcohol is filtered through the liver. The liver can only filter about two ounces of alcohol an hour. When alcohol consumption exceeds this amount, it seeps into our blood which then flows to our brain, damaging the dendrites that are part of each brain cell. When dendrites are damaged, it stops neurons (brain cells) from firing and communicating with other neurons. This can and does lead to memory loss and may contribute to depression and other mental health problems.