Making Resolutions with Chasing Life – Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


‘Hey, everybody. It’s December. And you know what that means… The holidays, yes. But also, it’s perhaps that time when we start thinking about the future, the new year and the new starts, what we want and who we want to be in 2024. You know, I think we should personally be constantly evaluating ourselves in this way, taking stock and figuring out what we want to tweak about ourselvesm– big, small. For nearly everyone, there’s always some sort of room for improvement. And if you take time to reflect this time of year, honestly, it goes a long way toward making next year even better. It’s what Chasing Life is all about. And in that spirit, I wanted to share some of our favorite advice and tips from some pretty fascinating guests we’ve had over the year. Think of it like this: How can you optimize yourself, body and brain? I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And this is Chasing Life. You know, we covered a pretty wide variety of topics in 2023. From teens and cell phones…

When I have kids of my own, if, I don’t think I want to let them be on social media as early as I was.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


To online dating…

We do see patterns. There’s patterns to personality. And yes, I do think that I can at least introduce somebody to somebody who’s a better possibility.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


The best way to work out as we age…

It’s my belief that endurance training does more harm than good when it comes to aging.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And the best ways to feed your brain.

If you want your brain to really be optimized, lean into the foods you like, but healthy versions of them.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


With all that, it’s almost hard to know where to start. So let’s wind the clock back to the beginning of the year when I was talking to my three daughters about screen time in social media. Do you feel like if you needed to stop, could you do it?

Yeah, I think I could quit Tik Tok and Instagram.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


‘That’s my oldest daughter, Sage. She’s 18 years old now and off to college. Still hard to believe. Got to tell you, getting so personal with my family on the podcast was incredibly daunting and incredibly special. As a dad having Sage and my two younger daughters as well, Sky and Soleil, join me in my little podcast studio? That was a highlight. They’re so wise, they’re so thoughtful about what has become a central issue in their lives. What I encourage all of you to do is just sit down and have the conversation about the things that are important to you. You might be amazed at what comes out. Now as it turns out, listening to your kids, really listening to them, even being their student when it comes to things like digital media, social media, cell phones — it’s one of the best ways to gain their trust. Just have the conversation. It’s something that self-described “mediatrition” doctor Michael Rich told me.

Dr. Michael Rich


Number one is, instead of saying, I hate that, get rid of it, it’s bad for you, you’re saying, I love you, I care about you. I want to understand what engages you. I want to understand what you’re doing here.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I would say Dr. Rich is a big advocate of approaching technology, not out of fear, but quote, out of a sense of mastery.

Dr. Michael Rich


I think that we just have to treat these tools as tools and with more respect and also help these kids learn to use them, not in fear, not in stay safe, because we don’t teach driving a car by saying, don’t hit that tree, don’t run over pedestrians. We teach them to drive a car and in the process they learn to be safe. I think that we need to approach it not out of fear, but out of a sense of mastery of this powerful tool.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And by the way, that goes not just for teens but younger kids as well.

Dr. Dmitri Christakis


I think for early children, the risks are greater for sure because of the fact that the brain is is conditioning itself for a lifetime. Right. There’s this critical window early in brain development. And so there’s something special about early childhood, and I do worry that there are lingering effects there.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Dr. Dimitri Christakis is a pediatrician and he’s also the director of the Center for Child Health Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. In the early 2000s, he found that if toddlers are frequently overstimulated by lights and color and sound from the television, for example, they could have shorter attention spans later in life. Now, technology has exploded since that study, and the bottom line remains the same. You have to control the screen time, otherwise it will control you. Some of the best overall tips to do that came from science journalist Catherine Price. She wrote a book about breaking up and making up with our phones. These are her top tips. Step one.

‘Actually have a moment of self-reflection and ask yourself what’s important to you in life? And then how are you actually living your life and how is your phone getting in the way of those priorities. If you say that your family and your kids are the most important thing to you and then you ask yourself, when I’m with my family and with my kids, am I actually present with them or am I actually just scrolling through my work email?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Step two.

Actually go down to the level of looking at the apps in your phone and asking yourself, Well, which one of these are necessary or useful or truly enjoyable? And then which ones are actual waste of time that I know that I just feel bad after I use them that I don’t want to spend as much time on. If you’re trying to quit smoking, it would be really dumb to keep cigarettes in your pocket. So if you know an app is a problem for you and it’s not actually benefiting you, then get it off your phone.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Step three.

‘And then I also created this exercise called What for? Why now? What else? WWW for short. And once you notice your phone’s in your hand, you just ask yourself those questions. What for? Why did I what did I pick it up to do? Did I actually have a purpose? Then you ask yourself why now? What was the time sensitive reason you picked it up? Most of the time is going to be an emotional reason. It’s going to be like, I was anxious, I had- and I want it to be soothed. I was bored waiting on this line. I wanted a distraction. I felt lonely. I wanted to feel connected. So identify what your brain is actually after and then you can move to the third step, the what else, which is to ask yourself, what else could you do in that moment to achieve the same result? Could you actually use your phone to call a friend instead of going to social media? If you’re having a moment of loneliness you know, could you go for a quick walk around the block if you need a break from work, instead of going over to the news.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And finally.

Trying to change a habit through willpower is a guaranteed way to fail. It’s much better if you can give yourself a positive alternative. So I really encourage people to ask, What do you want to be doing with your time? What’s something you say you want to do but you supposedly don’t have time for?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy also compared devices to smoking. I interviewed him last spring after he issued a warning saying that there’s not enough evidence to determine if social media is safe for children and adolescents.

Dr. Vivek Murthy


It’s more complicated because with smoking that was more clear cut in some ways. Social media is more complicated because we know that some kids do actually get benefit from their experience of social media. Some are able to connect more easily with friends and family, to express themselves more creatively and more openly than they otherwise would, and to find community, which, especially for kids who have been historically marginalized or discriminated against like LGBTQ youth and others, that community can be a real lifeline that they find online. So, so there are benefits and they’re mixed in with some potential harms, like just take LGBTQ youth who I just mentioned a moment ago. They are also more likely to experience cyberbullying on social media than than other kids. And so how we weigh the risks and benefits becomes important.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Murthy, like me, is also a dad, and he struggles to navigate this topic with his kids.

Dr. Vivek Murthy


I just want all parents out there to know that this is an incredibly difficult issue to manage for your kids. And if you’re struggling, if you’re having a hard time, if you have days where you feel like you made the wrong decision for your kid, please don’t beat yourself up over that and know that a lot of other parents are in the same boat.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So that was pretty comforting to hear. We’re all in this together. The episodes we did on technology and social media were so eye opening and they were so scary as well to me as a parent, but I think really, for anyone. Collectively, our society has gone through some of the biggest behavioral shifts ever recorded in human history. And so it’s no surprise that our experts universally cautioned against unlimited, unmonitored use of devices and social media. That makes sense. But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that many of us, including my three teen daughters, have become increasingly dependent on these devices to just get through our day. And without them, we may feel isolated and anxious. Even I get FOMO sometimes. But look, as with most things, you have to consider the tradeoff. The risk versus the reward. Risks being disrupted, sleep patterns, headaches, worsening anxiety. So here’s the bottom line advice. Take some time to reflect on how we use our phones. Maybe even look at your screen time measurement and be real honest about your usage. Here’s what we did in our household. We now share our screen time with each other. How much time we’re on the screen on the various apps. It’s not to shame each other, but rather to inspire. The metric of success for us now is how can we demonstrate less screen time on certain apps week to week? Another season of the podcast focused on aging better. Getting older is usually seen as a negative thing, which is kind of weird, right? Because we all do it and yet we are still trying to slow it down or avoid it altogether. But my guests reminded me that aging is in fact a gift not everyone gets to experience.

The day you’re born, you start aging from that day.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


That’s true.

So you are aging all the time.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Is that is that a I mean are you saying it as a as a good thing?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


That’s my mom, Damyanti Gupta. She’s 81 years old and has this amazing approach to getting older. She was making a little joke there, right? Aging sure beats the alternative. My parents have lived these incredible lives. They faced a lot of challenges in their younger years, for sure. In fact, my mom lived much of her childhood as a refugee. She then immigrated to the United States and became the first woman to ever work as an engineer at Ford Motor Company. And through all of this, she remained optimistic and grateful and highly, highly energetic.

I just turned 81. I probably feel younger than my age because I’m pretty active. I don’t like to just sit around, you know, and do nothing. I just do, you know, get up and do my routine every day. I go to bed early and I get up early and we walk. We do water aerobics, we go to a gym, having friends over. So life is good.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


My parents have been huge inspirations to me my whole life. And the truth is, there have been other people as well. For example, I’ve also been inspired by my friend Diana Nyad. You may know her story. It was back in 2013 when she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without using a shark cage. She was 64 years old. That swim is 110 miles. She’s 74 years old now. And she still does a thousand burpees twice a week. Why? Just for herself.

I personally think that the the the human condition is to seek your potential. So you may be older, and running a marathon is not your thing. But what if you took a look and said, you know, the Chicago marathons in October, I’ve been walking almost ten miles a day. Could I walk 26.2 miles? Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So can we be more like Diana and my parents? Maybe. Let’s start with some advice from certified strength and conditioning coach Paul Holbrook.

‘We’re born with the ability to move quickly at an early age and in grade school, middle school, high school we probably are doing a lot of fast, quick movements. It’s just that when we hit college and we start to go into the workforce, we stop doing fast movements. But it’s I truly believe that if we keep those fast- fast movements up, we won’t lose the ability to do them. For example, going to some stairs and just running a step at a time, like just four of them, like one, two, three, four, and then walk back down, rest for 20 seconds, 30 and do that again. But as fast as you can safely, just doing four quick steps. One, two, three, four back and then walk back down to rest for a little bit to recover enough to make the next set really effective, really qu- real quality work and just do three or four of them. That’s it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Then there’s my friend, National Geographic fellow and author Dan Buettner. He studies longevity and he coined the term Blue Zones to help describe places where people live the healthiest and longest lives. One of those places is the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. And here’s how he says the residents there actually do it.

‘Well, first of all, they’re eating a meso American staple diet, or they have for most of their life, which is is consists of three foods. I argue it’s the best diets humans have ever invented. Corn, beans and squash. You bring those three foods together. Anybody can afford them. Lot of tropical fruits. Everybody had a had a garden around their homes for papaya and mango and papaya and and year round. They were eating, eating tropical fruits. None of these centenarians have driven. They’ve walked their whole lives. Outsized sense of family, outsize sense of religion. Most of them are very religious, which gives them a sense of purpose, but also a healthy community to to rally around. And I think increasingly we’re realizing that we need to look at preventing- looking upstream for preventing disease in the first place. And that’s what, you know, people in blue zones are living a long time because they’re not getting the diseases that foreshorten our lives like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancers of the GI tract. And now we’re even finding much lower rates of dementia. So we ought to be paying attention to these places who manifestly are doing it better than America at a fraction of the cost that we spend trying to stay healthy.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Whole Foods. Exercise. Community. Gratitude. Figuring out what to do is actually not that hard. Makes sense. It’s actually doing it. These particular ingredients kept coming up over and over again. In all my conversations about staying as healthy and as engaged as possible while getting older. We also had an episode that got a lot of attention. It was focused on one unexpected solution for managing a few of aging’s, annoying side effects: sleep, pain, mood disorders, existential dread. The solution? Possibly for some people, cannabis.

Dr. Aaron Greenstein


I noticed that a lot of the veterans who were seeking mental health care were cannabis users, and they swear by cannabis. They swear by its positive impact on their day to day life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Dr. Aaron Greenstein is a geriatric psychiatrist, which means he helps older patients manage their mental health. Now, I’ll give you some context here. This country’s senior population is about 55.7 million and growing. But according to a 2018 study from the University of Michigan, we have a mere 1200 geriatric psychiatrists. Bottom line, it’s not nearly enough. Dr. Greenstein is one of relatively few people working with the elderly and even fewer who is cautiously evaluating how cannabis might help them.

Dr. Aaron Greenstein


‘When you say that that guy in Florida had these incredible benefits, you know, it helped him sleep, it helped him deal existential distress. Okay. We can assume that, you know, it’s THC and maybe some CBD that’s doing that. But the reality is there’s 150- over a 150 cannabinoids in this stuff and there’s another 500 compounds that we don’t know anything about. And it’s possible that it’s one of those compounds that’s actually, you know, modulating the part of his brain that’s driving this existential distress and alleviating that. So, you know, it’s hard for me to make any recommendations without us actually understanding what this stuff is and what it’s made of and what the different chemicals are actually doing. We just don’t know at this point.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


‘There were so many more great revelations in all of our episodes about aging. For example, I talked to filmmaker and author Justine Bateman about beauty standards for women and forgoing plastic surgery. I also talk to my younger brother, Suneel. I have a younger brother. He’s ten years younger than I am. And what do we talk about? Midlife crisis. It was fascinating to hear his perspective. So go check out those episodes if you haven’t already. And we’ll be back right after a short break. We’re back with the best of this year of Chasing Life. Our most recent episodes have focused on my personal favorite topic, the brain. The brain is arguably the most enigmatic three and a half pounds of tissue in the known universe. It is why I have dedicated my life to caring for it. But aside from surgery operating on the brain, we know there are all sorts of ways we can care for our brains, starting with simply being more attentive to the basics — how we eat, how we sleep.

Victoria Garfield


We found a very clear effect of habitual daytime napping, so having a regular daytime nap, on the total size of the brain, so what we call total brain volume, as captured with a brain scan.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


That’s Victoria Garfield, a senior research fellow at the Medical Research Council Unit for Lifelong Health and Aging. She’s also a professor at University College London. Our brains shrink as we age, but I was surprised to learn that napping could actually slow down that process. Garfield’s work shows that people who napped regularly had, on average, larger brain volume, meaning people who napped sort of in many ways had younger brains than those who didn’t.

Victoria Garfield


The things that we always say to people are, you know, the standard things like you, you want to be sleeping for 7 to 9 hours a night on average, that’s half the battle won. And that really comes from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and they’ve been saying this for a long time now. The other thing is quality of sleep. So it might be that you you don’t sleep for quite, say, 7 to 8 hours. You sleep for, say, six and a half. But the quality of sleep you’re getting is good. So that is good and that will help your your brain replenish. And then the other thing to think about that we that a lot of us don’t do that helps your brain cells kind of recoup is to go to bed and go to sleep and wake up at the same time seven days a week.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Her top tips were to stick to a regular sleep schedule and to find ways to give your brain a break during the day. That could be by napping, but it could also be simply getting outside for a walk, calling a friend, doing some gardening. You can also turn to certain foods for a brain boost. It’s not exactly as specific as eat ten blueberries before a math test, but diet definitely has an impact on our cognitive function and it can happen quickly. Dr. Uma Naidoo is a nutritional psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. Such a fascinating field, nutritional psychiatrist. And she is the perfect person to really define brain food.

‘So one of the groups I’ll start with, because people are actually familiar with this are the foods rich in Omega threes. So things like fatty fish, the mnemonic for the fish that are top of that list is SMASH. So salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, because they contain forms of EHA and DHA that are actually helpful for the brain and will actually make a difference. They will make a difference and they have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Personally, Dr. Naidoo, a vegetarian, likes avocado toast or chia pudding for breakfast, a salad with lots of protein for lunch and maybe a cauliflower steak for dinner. As for sugar, Dr. Naidoo really focused on this, wants us to carefully consider the source. A cupcake obviously, is going to have a very different impact on the brain than, say, a bowl of strawberries or a sweet potato. But those with a sweet tooth might enjoy the benefits of extra dark chocolate. That made her list. Perhaps her most interesting, but least understood point is that foods can have a big impact on our mood, quickly. Probiotics, like yogurt and the omega threes in foods like salmon can increase the serotonin in your gut. She even compared the ability of certain foods to improve our mood to prescription medications for anxiety or depression.

You know, we can use these interventions around the gut microbiome and the use of things like probiotics, which, you know, I think most of my patients would rather reach for yogurt than, you know, an antidepressant.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Dr. Naidoo also touted the benefits of a reasonable amount of caffeine, which I also discussed in great detail with science writer Michael Pollan.

Caffeine containing drinks such as coffee and tea have a lot of very positive health effects there. They help with cardiovascular disease. They are correlated with lower rates of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You know, one thing Pollan reminded me of is that caffeine is in many ways the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. We often forget that. It means we also probably forget about the drawbacks. Caffeine can help us wake up and keep us focused. But it also blocks the chemical adenosine from building up over the course of the day, which means you could have trouble sleeping. Pollan called it, quote, borrowing against the future. But he says overall, the effects of caffeine are positive. His top tip was to pay attention to how much caffeine you consume and really close attention to what it does to you. In fact, to find out for himself, Pollan quit cold turkey for three whole months.

‘There’s something transparent about consciousness on caffeine. Things seem- they don’t seem like they’re distorted in any way, but they’re sure different. And and the way you can tell is by giving up caffeine for a period of time.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I’d like to end with a lesson from one of our most moving episodes. It was on forgiveness. My guest was Professor Robert Enright, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He’s been studying forgiveness science for nearly four decades. He’s even helped some global heads of state develop more forgiving personalities. One thing that he told me right off the bat is that it’s a process and it takes a lot of practice.

Oftentimes, I suggest that you don’t start with the huge issues, the huge atrocities, start with the smaller ones and get to know the pathway of forgiveness. As you do that, then you grow in it. Then you can go to the big ones.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


The benefits of forgiveness are huge. It can reduce anxiety and depression. It can lower your blood pressure, can help you sleep better. There are even huge benefits when you truly learn to forgive yourself.

‘I find the way the world works, when people are beaten down by others, they believe the lie and they start not liking themselves. Oh, I wish the world didn’t work this way, but it does. And you know what? They are able to reconstitute a full human being in themselves, as they do so for the other. They humanize themselves, their self-esteem goes up and they can go on now, well, far better than they have in anything they’ve ever tried prior to forgiveness.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


‘I find that to be a very hopeful message for the end of 2023, a time of reflection, as well as a time to set up intentions for the New Year. We can all use a reminder to have empathy for and to have patience with each other and ourselves. It’s good for our brains. That’s it for this year of Chasing Life. We’ll be back in January with a whole new season of the podcast. I know a lot of you might be thinking about setting new goals, especially around weight in the new year, but let’s face it, there’s a lot of conflicting information about what even makes for a healthy weight, as well as a lot of confusing news when it comes to the wildly popular new medications: Ozempic, Wegovy. If you have thoughts on this, or just getting healthy in 2024, I want to hear from you. Leave me a voicemail. 4703960832. Or record a voice memo on your phone and email it to ask Sanjay at CNN Dot-Com. Thanks so much to all of our guests. And as always, thank you for listening. Chasing Life is a production of CNN Audio. Our podcast is produced by Eryn Mathewson, Madeleine Thompson, David Rind and Grace Walker, our senior producer and showrunner is Felicia Patinkin. Andrea Kane is our medical writer and Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan Dzula is our technical director and the executive producer of CNN Audio is Steve Lickteig with support from Haley Thomas, Alex Manissary, Robert Mathers, John Dianora, Lainey Steinhart, Jamus Andrest, Nicole Pesaru and Lisa Namerow. Special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealy and Nadia Kunang of CNN Health and Katie Hinman.

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