Health and Wellness

Ping pong, walks and mind exercises: Brain-boosting habits of a renowned brain doctor during self-quarantine

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, brain doctor Daniel Amen says "mental hygiene" is just as important as washing your hands.

As a psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist for more than 30 years, Amen says being on lockdown and dealing with the spread of coronavirus can lead to "unhealthy thinking patterns," which could have detrimental long-term effects.

So Amen, the author of books including "Change Your Brain Change Your Life," says the absolute worst thing people can do during this time is "to believe every stupid thing they think."

"We call it killing 'ANTs,'" Amen tells CNBC Make It.

ANTs are "automatic negative thoughts" that come into your mind and try to ruin your day and throw you off balance, Amen says.

"[I]f you watch the news too much, you're loaded with an automatic negative file," he says.

To combat such thinking, Amen created some daily, simple techniques to help decrease negative thought patterns and improve brain health.

In fact, he uses them himself. 

Dr. Daniel Amen
Courtesy: Dr. Daniel G. Amen

Here's a look at Amen's daily routine to boost mental health while self-quarantining.

Morning positivity

Like most doctors, Amen believes in making sleep a priority, especially during a pandemic. So he sticks to the same sleep schedule, going to bed at 10 p.m. every night and waking up at 6:30 a.m.

But he says the most crucial part of his morning routine, is what he does as soon as he opens his eyes in the morning.

"I say to myself, 'Today is going to be a great day.'"

It sets up his mind to look for what's going right in his day rather than what's going wrong, he says.

10,000 steps

As the founder of a chain of national brain health clinics called Amen Clinics, the doctor's day consists of multiple conference calls. 

But Amen makes it a point to never sit down during calls. Instead, he walks and talks.

Each day, Amen says he makes an effort to get in at least 10,000 steps. It's not only for exercise; it's also good for brain health, he says. 

When a person is standing or walking, the brain showers itself with a growth factor called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, essentially a protein for the brain), which helps the brain thrive, neuroscientist Rahul Jandial told Make It in July.

Ping pong

During the pandemic, Amen says he has been playing a lot of ping pong with his 16-year-old daughter, which he considers to be one of the "world's best brain games," saying it can help your mind stay sharp. 

Amen cites a recent small study published in the American Academy of Neurology with "promising" results — it found that people with Parkinson's who played ping pong once a week for six months showed "improvement in their Parkinson's symptoms."

Ping pong has been shown "in the general population to improve hand-eye coordination, sharpen reflexes and stimulate the brain," said study author and doctor Ken-ichi Inoue of Fukuoka University in Fukuoka, Japan, in a statement.

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