Keep your Brain Healthy. The Aging Brain

We are learning that there are substantial anatomical and physical differences between men’s and women’s brains and, therefore differences between men and women in brain health. 16 percent of women 71 and older have Alzheimer’s or other dementias compared to just 11 percent of men, and 70 percent of new Alzheimer’s cases will be women.

Science is now paying a lot more attention to women’s brain health. We also know some of the things that can contribute to cognitive difficulties in old age are many of the things we can control- such as smoking, diet, exercise, stress, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Vivien Brown, MD.

Dr. Vivien Brown is a family physician in Toronto, Canada. She is a noted national and international speaker, and author of two books on healthy aging, including The NEW Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging-Eight Proven Ways to Keep You Vital, Happy and Strong. Dr. Brown is a passionate advocate for women’s health and healthy aging and a member of numerous advisory boards. Dr. Brown’s speaking engagements focus on heathy aging, women’s brain health, reducing cancer risks and prevention, and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Thank You so much for joining us. Our readers would love to ‘get to know your a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career. Can you tell us what lessons or “take aways” you learned from that?

In medical school, we are trained to look for the pathology of the disease or illness. In the most clinical and academic terms, we look to understand what is causing the disease and then provide diagnostic information to clinicians and patients. Then we prescribe the appropriate treatment. However, after medical school and a while in my practice taking care of my patients, I began to understand that somebody’s pathology is somebody else’s tragedy. It was then that I started to focus on ways to keep people healthy so they could live an independent, healthy life. So, I started focusing on wellness and disease prevention. Helping my patients stay healthy rather than treating only the illness.

My takeaway? Look beyond the obvious in your work and focus on the human part of your profession. How can you impact your client’s lives for good. You might find you have found the truer meaning of your work and purpose and will have a more rewarding and satisfying career.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father. He was a feminist before it was fashionable. He always encouraged me and told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. In my day, a woman getting into medical school was no easy task. There were many barriers.

Yet every step of the way, my dad never stopped believing in me, encouraging me, and telling me I could do it. I am grateful that he never underestimated what a girl and then a young woman could do in life.

You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success. Can you please share a story of example for each?

# 1 Don’t be afraid of hard work. Follow Your Passion.

Doctors work long hours. There are many stresses in our profession. Throughout the pandemic and this past year, staff shortages and services have not always been readily available when my patients needed them. What keeps me going is my passion for the work I do and my focus on healthy aging. So don’t be afraid of hard work. Follow your passion. Success will follow.

#2 Learn how to deal with failure. After medical school, I applied for a residency in family medicine. I was turned down. So, I pivoted and instead went into internal medicine and adult health. When facing failure or rejection, learn to look for alternatives, and the proverbial silver lining will follow.

#3 Learn to Say NO. I have a very busy practice in Toronto. I have written two books, am on various health-related committees, and am frequently asked to speak. But recently, I had to say no to an invitation to sit on a committee I would have loved to join. But regretfully, I had to say no. I needed to spend my limited time with my family. Sometimes saying No to something is saying YES to yourself and setting boundaries.

Why are you an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity?

First and foremost, I am a family physician and have been practicing family medicine for 30 + years. I have first-hand experience about how lifestyle choices can affect your chances of developing physical diseases and dementia as you age.

When I started practicing medicine, the medical community undervalued women’s health issues. There was not much of an appreciation that health problems might present differently in women than men, especially in brain health and cardiac health. It’s for that reason I became a passionate advocate for healthy aging, wellness, and longevity in women.

My unique contribution? I have been on numerous committees and advisory boards affecting public health policy, from immunization and menopause to brain health in women in Canada and the US.

As a result, I am the author of two books on healthy aging for women including The New Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging, Eight Proven Ways to keep you Vibrant, Happy & Strong.

I am also a national and international public speaker on disease prevention, wellness, continuing medical education for women physicians, and women’s health issues.

Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir” of life. A mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys. We’d love to hear the story.

My story is one of being able to influence public policy in Canada by building awareness and sharing my expertise on a professional and policy level.

My journey to search for health, vitality, and longevity has enabled me to advocate for issues such as brain health in women. Through the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (www. we advocate and raise awareness for more research on how the differences between men’s and women’s brains directly affect women’s health.

I have also been active in raising awareness for cervical cancer prevention in women by advocating for HPV vaccinations in both boys and girls and raising awareness.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share “5 Things You Need to Live a Long & Healthy Life? Please share a story or example of each.

Number # 1 Diet & Nutrition

For many of us, diet is just another four-letter word. Have you ever wondered why the first three letters of diet are DIE?

That could be what we feel like in the middle of a weight-loss program. But whether you trim or tip the scales, good nutrition is essential to living a long and healthy life. There has been an alarming increase in the rate of obesity in North America over the past several generations. Based on the increasing obesity rates, life expectancy may be declining for the first time in 100 years! If you need more facts or convincing about an obesity epidemic — The New England Journal of Medicine found that obesity rates increased by 50 percent through the 1980s & 1990s after having been relatively stable in the 1960s and 1970s.

I am a proponent of the Non-Diet approach, a more balanced, realistic way to lose weight and maintain good health by eating nourishing foods. This means a varied diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, berries, nuts, legumes, fish, poultry, red wine, or grape juice.

To avoid portion distortion, fill one-half of your plate with vegetables that are loaded with fiber and low in starch, one-quarter of your plate with starch — a cup of whole grain pasta or brown rice, a small baked potato, and the other quarter four to five ounces of meat, fish, or poultry.

Make fiber your friend, which keeps your digestive system running smoothly and keeps us feeling full — choose whole grains instead of highly processed white grains, like white rice and pasta.

Eat your fruits, veggies, and leafy greens -they contain essential nutrients for optimal growth. Stay away from processed foods — that are high in fat, and sodium and often lack fiber.

Start cooking. Reduce your fat intake and watch your cholesterol –the bad type that puts your heart at risk because it contributes to the buildup of plaque that can clog your arteries. Get your daily calcium that helps build our bones and helps our blood clot and prevents osteoporosis. Eat calcium foods, milk, yogurt, and soy milk. For coffee drinkers, I advise being cautious with caffeine, and that includes cans of cokes. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most adults’ four cups of brewed coffee-but some people are more sensitive, and too much can cause insomnia, heart palpitations, and nervousness.

Our earth is bountiful, and so are our food factories. It’s up to each of us to figure out the best way to take advantage of that bounty. Too much of a good thing is not good for us. Overeating leads to obesity, with negative consequences for long-term health. We want to aim for collaborative comfort with food, neither overindulging in comfort foods nor feeling uncomfortable about eating well to satisfy our normal healthy appetites.

# 2 Exercise — Keep Moving

We’ve talked about diet, one of the important factors we can control when it comes to enhancing our health. Another is exercise. And you probably think of the gym. Right? But when I talk about exercise, we are talking at its most basic. We are simply talking about building regular activity in your life. And I mean daily. It doesn’t have to mean going to the gym with endless hours running on the treadmill, strenuous aerobics, and lifting weights. All these are good, but it does not mean going to the gym to maintain a basic fitness level. It means being active every day, walking to the bus stop further from your home, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking the stairs to the next level. Exercise can be going outside to play with your kids, going to your local park, or for a walk after dinner. I tell my patients to think of exercise in a positive way and making it voluntary. When patients tell me they are chronically tired, one of the areas that often has been neglected is activity. Our muscles have memory, and there is a correlation between exercise regularly and energy. We no longer keep people in bed for days after surgery. Get up, get moving and keep moving. Science shows conclusively that physically active people live longer, healthier lives, are more energetic, more productive. They are less likely to have chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, report having better sex lives and are more likely to enjoy prolonged independence as they age. That’s not all. Newer research links aerobic exercise with decreased risk of dementia, increases aerobic capacity and muscle strength, and lowers cholesterol. How much is enough? The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says that ideally, we should all get 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Moderate exercise to me, means you need to be a little sweaty and a little short of breath. Finally, make health your priority. Women often put themselves last on the priority list, and by putting yourself last, you are saying my health is not a priority.

# 3 Be Social- Stay Connected

We are less likely to suffer from dementia and more likely to stay healthy and independent when we are part of a community. When we continue to learn new things, try out different things and connect with others, we keep our brain growing with new wires and increasing neural connections. When we are emotionally involved with a project, a goal, a team, or a vision, we demand more of ourselves and others. Our confidence, self-esteem, and overall well-being are impacted positively. Studies have shown that older people who have close connections and relationships not only live longer but also cope better with health conditions and experience less depression. Life transitions can impact the number and quality of people’s social and community networks. You may choose volunteer work, working with schools, hospitals, or political causes. The what is not important. It is the how and why that matters. Working on something that matters to you allows you to avoid stagnation and isolation, which are the enemies of growth and development. New findings reported in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences suggest that socialization could benefit older adults in warding off dementia, much the way physical activity helps prevent diabetes or heart disease. So be Social. Stay Connected. Live a long and Healthy Life.

#4 Sleep

Although scientists have done extensive research to understand sleep and have discovered many important things about it, there is a great deal about how sleep works that remains a mystery. But there are some things we do know about this mysterious one-third of our lives: the research shows conclusively that adequate sleep is absolutely necessary to keep us healthy. We know that sleep is necessary for our nervous system to work properly. And we know that a sleeping body does not mean an inactive brain. We also know that too little sleep not only results in next-day sleepiness but negatively affects concentration, memory, and the ability to perform physical tasks. Yet not sleeping has become a societal norm. There seems to be a societal backlash, with new importance and focus being placed on getting adequate sleep. One powerful force is Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post. Her book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, is based on extensive current research on what exactly is going on when we sleep and dream. Among the strategies she recommends includes turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Create a bedroom environment that’s dark, quiet, and cool. Stop drinking caffeine after 2 pm. If you have sleep problems, it is usually helpful to look at them to discover the actual reason. Too often, the first solution to this problem is to take sleep medications. Depending on the individual situation, these medications can have their place in treating sleep problems. Still, most medications that help you sleep have an addiction potential in the long run. Sleeping pills must be used cautiously and, ideally, for a very limited period. When we don’t get enough sleep, our neurons begin to malfunctions-they pollute normal cellular activity and become depleted of energy. So, make sleep a priority- feel refreshed and healthier in the morning.

#5 Keep your Brain Healthy. The Aging Brain

We are learning that there are substantial anatomical and physical differences between men’s and women’s brains and, therefore differences between men and women in brain health. 16 percent of women 71 and older have Alzheimer’s or other dementias compared to just 11 percent of men, and 70 percent of new Alzheimer’s cases will be women.

Science is now paying a lot more attention to women’s brain health. We also know some of the things that can contribute to cognitive difficulties in old age are many of the things we can control- such as smoking, diet, exercise, stress, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

While there are no guarantees a healthy lifestyle will absolutely prevent Alzheimer’s or other dementias, we know that a healthy lifestyle will improve blood flow to the brain and is a key component of maintaining a healthy brain.

Here are the top ways to contribute to a healthy brain

Exercise: The objective is to get the blood circulating through the brain regularly. Thirty minutes a day of sustained aerobic exercise will increase brain health, neural plasticity, brain function, and cognition

Mediation: Used to reduce and manage stress and depression that, if left unchecked, are risk factors that increase the susceptibility to Alzheimer’s. And people who meditate experience changes to the brain structure that people who do not meditate do not experience.

Diet: Eat Well for your brain to age well. Your brain is the most active part of your body. It receives about 15–20 percent of your body’s oxygen supply. Whatever you eat or fail to eat nourishes your brain and other parts of your body. For example, the rate of cognitive decline is the lowest in women who eat the most cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens.

Smoking: An obvious no-no. Smoking alters the diameter of blood vessels, causing construction that limits the flow of blood and, therefore, oxygen to the brain. There is no safe amount.

Alcohol: Excessive long-term alcohol consumption can result in neurologic damage and impaired mental processing, so obviously, excessive drinking is another thing to avoid. Research shows that moderate drinking can have beneficial health effects — for instance, the protective effects of red wine due to the presence of resveratrol. This antioxidant helps reduce the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries. For women — one serving of alcohol daily –five ounces not eight. Men up to two a day.

Our grey matter matters. We need to make our own health a priority and make lifestyle adjustments to ensure we are functioning at our best.

Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life with happiness, joy and meaning?

For me, it’s all about relationships. Being connected with family and friends and sharing their joys and life’s ups and downs. It’s about reaching out to others and giving back. Research has shown giving back to others is an excellent form of stress relief.

There is also some evidence that giving back activates an area of the brain linked with contentment and the reward cycle.

Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on nature vs. nurture debate?

Longevity and health problems can occur due to non-modifiable risks -things we can’t change, such as genetics and family history, environmental factors, age, ethnicity, and gender. A recent study on twins and aging who lived over the age of 85, found that only 20–25% of their longevity was due to genetics. This means almost 80% of how we age is determined by nurture or our lifestyle and environments.

In my book, The New Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging, 8 Proven ways to keep you vibrant, happy and strong, I outline the 8 essential ways that by making sound lifestyle choices, you can exert control over modifiable risks such as your blood pressure, your cholesterol levels, your weight and the level of stress in your life. So, good nutrition, regular physical exercise, effective sleep hygiene, social engagement, avoidance of smoking, and moderate alcohol consumption — things you can control will help you to nurture a longer, independent life as you age.

Can you please give us your favorite “ Life Lesson Quote” Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“It is never too early or too late to start moving toward a vital and independent lifestyle as we age.

This comes from first-hand experience as a physician and seeing how lifestyle choices affect my patient’s physical and mental health. It guides my practice and why I focus on healthy aging for women. There are things you can control…nutrition, exercise, sleep, keeping connected, and ways that lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on cognitive health. You can affect positive change. In this way, I hope to continue motivating people to enjoy the journey as well as the destination and to live a life filled with happiness, joy and meaning.

Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental and emotional health?

We all face setbacks or stresses that present a challenge. It’s how you frame it. There was a time when I was in partnership with two other physicians, my mother had just passed away and my father was not doing well. I was taking care of him. My partners informed me, they wanted to dissolve our partnership and gave me two weeks to find a new office. Here I was, grieving for my mother, having young children, and facing many difficult and stressful decisions. Fortunately, my brother was in commercial real estate and found a new location. I then decided to set up a practice on my own. It turned out to be the best decision. I am still in the same general location today, and my practice is booming. I choose to frame it as a challenge rather than a stress that could have paralyzed me. It made me emotionally strong, mentally tough, and confident that I can face any challenge and find a path to success.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most about of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have been working and advocating for the elimination of cervical cancer in women. In the Province of Ontario, there has been an alarming drop in vaccination rates for HPV, the human papillomavirus. Vaccines against HPV — and the cancers that can follow — are a miracle of preventative medicine. The facts are compelling. According to the World Health Organization, if we achieve an HPV vaccination rate of over 90 percent by 2025, together with screening and treatment, we could eliminate cervical cancer diagnoses by 2040. Currently, Grade 7 students in Ontario can receive the HPV9 vaccine through the school-based immunization program. About 60 percent of 12-year-olds were immunized in 2018–19. Alarmingly, this rate dropped to 0.8 per cent in 2020–21. This drop will have a long-lasting impact. One American study predicts that missed vaccinations in 2020 could lead to thousands of additional cases of cervical cancer over the next 100 years, with incidence continuing to increase until the 2050s. The decline comes as no mystery. From March 2020 to January 2022, Ontario schools were closed for more than 27 weeks — along with school-based immunization programs. Public health and school boards were forced to concentrate on COVID-19, leaving HPV vaccination campaigns behind. By writing editorials, creating awareness, and lobbying the Provincial government, and working with public interest groups, we are working to re-establish HPV vaccines as a priority and ensure prompt vaccination against HPV for half a million 12-to-15-year-olds.

What is the best way for our readers to follow your work online?

@drvivienbrown (twitter)


This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio Clemente

    Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Media Journalist, #1 Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor

    The Human Resolve LLC

    Savio P. Clemente is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), media journalist, #1 best-selling author, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLCHe coaches cancer survivors and ambitious industry leaders to amplify their impact, attract media attention, and make their voice heard. He inspires them to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit and to cultivate resilience in their mindset.

    Savio has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.