Brain Health: Move it or Lose it

brain33My brain works out several times a week. It seems to enjoy it—especially the surge of endorphins—and man, when it feels stressed, it can’t wait to get moving. I wish I’d taken a before and after picture so you could see how much my brain has bulked up since it started working out.

How does my brain work out? Easy. It tells my limbs to move: my legs to walk or dance, my arms to lift weights or push me up, and sometimes it gets all four limbs flailing in unison in the pool. The limbs get my heart pumping and the extra blood feeds and cleans my brain. My brain is getting more fit every day.

“(The brain) is an adaptable organ that can be molded by input in much the same way as a muscle can be sculpted by lifting barbells. The more you use it, the stronger and more flexible it becomes” (Spark). We usually think about exercise’s benefits to our muscles and lungs, but studies are proving over and over again that our brains benefit greatly from exercise as well.

move-it-or-lose-itLet’s take learning, for example. A few schools in Texas increased recess for their kindergarten and first grade students. With an hour of recess per day, those students’ grades and behavior improved. When Naperville Central High School near Chicago beefed up their physical education classes, their students not only became physically fit, but they finished first in the world on an international science exam.

How does this brain-exercise connection happen? Dr. Ratey explains it well and thoroughly in his book Spark, but I’m going to sum it up in three words: exercise births neurons. Your brain makes new neurons all the time, but when you exercise, your brain puts the neuron factory in overdrive. Your brain is then swimming in neurons looking to make a connection and you are primed to learn, process, and remember. Add to that the extra blood flow bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the brain and what you get is a cocktail of neurological growth serum.

Learning is not limited to school scenarios: exercise helps the brain battle depression and addiction because the brain is primed to learn a new reaction to old situations. Exercise also boosts the production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, three neurotransmitters that help regulate thoughts and emotions and keeps us flying level. Studies have shown exercise to be as effective as medication in treating depression and that exercise reduces the risk of depression. I’m not saying “cure” and I’m not telling you to dump your pills if you take them. I’m saying give your brain a workout because your brain is capable of amazing things and regular exercise is proven to help.

sparkWhen my brain works out, it’s even protecting itself against the natural effects of aging. As your brain ages, the production of new neurons slows down and the cells it has die more easily than when you’re young. The brain can actually shrivel and shrink over time. Exercise is one of the few ways to combat this trend because it boosts neuron production and makes your cells harder to kill. It’s like car maintenance: if you drive your car all the time, you’re going to maintain it. The older the car gets, the more prone it is to breaking down, but if you keep it well maintained, the car will last a long time. Exercise equals driving the car: the body is forced to maintain the cells because you’re using them. If you stop using your cells, they rust away and die. “If your brain isn’t actively growing, then it’s dying” (Spark).

Working out makes my brain work better, feel better, learn better and react better. We are ‘use it or lose it’ creatures, so get your body moving so you don’t lose your mind!

 

 

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6 (NIV)

 

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061219122200.htm Exercise Appears To Improve Brain Function Among Younger People

 http://www.today.com/parents/want-kids-listen-more-fidget-less-try-more-recess-school-t65536 Want Kids to Listen More and Fidget Less?

Spark, John J. Ratey, MD and Eric Hagerman. Little, Brown and Company, New York 2008

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1aNERoMndU Kim Bevill TED talk

Images courtesy of Dr. Odd (Brain), 

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MIND if I Get Healthy?

brain scientist magazineA healthy brain is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of weight loss. Our goal in losing weight is usually to make our body look better and feel better and a healthy brain is pink, plump, and wrinkly, kind of like a naked mole rat. Not exactly the sexy image we’re shooting for.

But let’s face it: our brain is very important and keeping it healthy is a good goal. Ready for the great news? The healthy habits of sex, soup, and two fisted eating are just as good for your brain as they are for your waistline.

captain obvious imgflipI’ve invited Captain Obvious here today to talk explain why.

Captain Obvious, why does our overall health affect our brain?

Are you axon me?

Yes, Captain. Yes, I am.

Don’t mind if I do! The brain is an organ and is connected to your body via blood vessels, nerves and hormones. There’s no filter between the brain and the rest of your body so any healthiness or unhealthiness in your body passes to the brain. I’m glad you had the nerve to ask me that.

Wow, Captain, you’re really into bad puns.

Obviously.

Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. I hope you join us again in the future.

brain connectOver the next few weeks we will study the connection between the brain and sleep, exercise, water, vegetables, and portion control. And tell brain jokes. Lots of brain jokes. And I’ll probably use a losing your marbles metaphor. It’s obviously the best way to proceed.

 

Where are neurons put in jail when they commit a crime?

A nerve cell.

 

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” Acts 26:24

 

Images courtesy of: brain (scientist magazine), Captain Obvious (imgflip), connected brain (Daily Mail)

 

 

Warning: May Cause Movement

When I walked into a training session for working with disabled students last week, I didn’t expect it to inspire a blog post. What do wheel chairs have to do with weight loss? But here I am, inspired and blogging.

MOVEWe were trained to get students up and moving, no matter how disabled they are. The training covered techniques, equipment, and research projects that have been done with students who need help to sit, to stand, and/or to take steps. What blew me away was what happened when students who are used to being sedentary all day every day began to get up and move.

It didn’t surprise me that the students gained muscle strength and stamina.

It didn’t surprise me that their caregivers found it easier to care for their physical needs because they could stand with assistance instead of being lifted, and so forth.

What surprised me were the side effects:

Students began to interact more socially.

Their behavior improved.

They were less anxious.

Their bowel movements became more regular and they were able to successfully use a toilet. (I admit my own particular job does not involve diapers, but I was excited for my fellow trainees who spend part of each day toileting students.)

move chairWe know exercise benefits our health but we often think of exercise as something we do at a gym or at least with prolonged effort while wearing sneakers. Let’s not overlook the benefits of movement, even if it’s standing or stretching for a while instead of sitting.

Perhaps sitting less can give us beneficial side effects too. Improve our behavior. Reduce our anxiety. And yes, even regulate our colon.

 

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then … I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel. Philippians 1:27

 

Images courtesy of: moveinternational.org (girl), Maximized Living (chair)

Salmon Salad Recipe

20171118_120854.jpg

As warm weather lingers and dill grows tall, sometimes you want a fast, easy, cold meal. This salmon salad is heart healthy (if you don’t use the egg yolks) and delicious.

Ingredients:

1 can salmon

2 Tb onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

3 hardboiled eggs (or whites only)

2 Tb mayonnaise

2-3 Tb lemon juice

2 Tb fresh dill, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Drain salmon and remove backbone. Mash hardboiled eggs.

Mix all ingredients.

Spread on a roll or top a bed of spinach.

Batman Fights Cancer (Exercise and Cancer Prevention)

You know Batman fights the Joker, Penguin, and Cat Woman, but did you know Batman fights Cancer as well?

A major study confirmed a link between exercise and cancer risk: namely, that the more you exercise, the lower your risk of cancer. The three cancers with the clearest connection (perhaps because they were the most studied) were breast, colon, and endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancers. This major study was an analyzed conglomerate of smaller studies. To be fair, one of the smaller studies did not find that exercise lowers your risk of getting cancer. It did, however, find that exercise lowers your risk of dying if you get cancer. Holy statistics, Batman, that’s still a good reason to take a walk.

batman cancer 1How does Batman the Exerciser lower cancer risk? There are three theories:

  1. Catwoman: Exercise regulates hormones, especially estrogen and insulin, which have been linked to certain types of cancers. When the hormones are out of whack, they allow cancer to thrive. Holy hormones, Batman, your iconic deep voice tells me your estrogen levels are very low.
  2. The Joker (Because colon jokes are always funny): Exercise keeps food—and any carcinogens you ingest— moving through the colon. That’s right, Batman, the more often you poop, the less likely you are to get colon cancer. The more you move your body, the more you move your bowels. Holy porcelain, Batman, we’re going to need more toilet paper!
  3. The Penguin: Exercise decreases body fat. Body fat is “an active organ” that produces hormones which lead back to Catwoman. Body fat also makes it harder for your organs to function and for blood to flow. For example, your liver’s main job is to remove toxins; fat slows down that process and creates the kind of toxic environment The Penguin loves. If blood doesn’t flow well, strong, and often, cells don’t get as much oxygen as they need and cellular trash isn’t removed efficiently which leads to less healthy cells. Holy waddling bird themed bad guy, Batman, let’s go swim to slim!

batman cancer 2So what came first? The Fat or the out of whack Hormones? The sluggish colon or the sluggish human? We’ll leave that to the chickens and the eggs because we know the solution: Batman the Exerciser!

Do you have to spend hours a day doing pull ups in a bat cave in order to decrease your cancer risk? Nope. One study showed you can shuffle along like the Penguin and still reap the benefits. Holy sneakers, Batman, just going for a walk can save my life! The study defined their “most active” subjects as exercising 7 hours a week and their “least active” subjects as exercising just 20 minutes a week. That’s a range as wide as Joker’s smile, but the study showed that all exercise helps reduce cancer risk: the more active the person, the lower the risk. Holy cancer prevention, Batman, let’s get moving!

 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

 

Resources:

National Cancer Institute, Physical Activity and Cancer, 2017

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet

American Institute for Cancer Research, More Evidence of Exercise for Cancer Prevention, 2016

http://www.aicr.org/cancer-research-update/2016/05_18/cru-More-Evidence-of-Exercise-for-Cancer-Prevention.html

Eating for Cancer Prevention (part 4 of 5): Curcumin

Kirk, coom in, it’s Scotty in Engineering!”

“Kirk here. What’s the matter, Scotty?”

“Captain, it’s Security! They’ve been brainwashed!”

“Brainwashed!”

“Aye, Captain. Security deployed to arrest an invading alien, but now they won’t stop! They’re arresting the crew.”

“Just fix it, Scotty. And curry!”

“Curry, Captain?”

Simon-pegg-star-trek-3“I said hurry, Scotty, hurry!”

Inflammation, like the Starship Enterprise’s Security force, is essential for keeping your body safe from invading microorganisms; inflammation helps to kill the invaders and start the healing process. But chronic inflammation, when the body ends up attacking itself, can lead to a galaxy of problems. Inflammation has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome (which can lead to stroke and diabetes).

So what’s a Scotsman in outer space to do? Hit the intercom and say “Curcumin!”

(Not laughing? Re-read the first line of this post. Still not laughing? I blame your Scottish accent.)

curcuminCurcumin is a compound found in turmeric, a root that gives curry and mustard it’s yellow color. Curcumin is both a very strong anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. (A green tea toast to that!) The bad news is that turmeric (and therefore curry) doesn’t contain a whole lot of curcumin; most medical benefits are seen from taking curcumin extracts, not from eating Indian food 24/7. That’s a bummer, because I was hoping that hitting our local Indian buffet could be considered “fighting cancer”. Sigh.

A bottle of curcumin extract will run your anywhere from $15-30. I’m not usually one to take extracts; I barely remember to take my daily multivitamin. But I also like the idea of giving my body a Star Trek spring cleaning.

kirk fightFirst there’s Kirk. He seeks out new life and new civilizations and, if they’re evil, he squashes them. He prevents evil empires from spreading to other planets, fights the enemy in hand to hand combat, and roots out injustice all over the galaxy. Curcumin stops cancer tumors from spreading, stops tumors from growing, and even reduces pre-cancerous lesions. Best to let Kirk coom in.

Spock

 

Then there’s Spock. Logical to a fault and owner of the coolest ears this side of Vulcan, Spock increases the knowledge of everyone around him. Curcumin raises the level of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) in our brains. BDNF is what allows your brain to keep learning and growing throughout your life, and decreased levels of BDNF have been linked to depression and Alzheimer’s. So, curcumin makes you Spockier.

mccoyLast of our Star Trek spring cleaners is Doctor Bones McCoy. McCoy has a big heart and curcumin improves the function of the lining of the blood vessels, which affects blood pressure, clotting, and other important stuff that you need McCoy’s medical tricorder to observe properly. In short, curcumin helps prevent heart disease because “Darn it, Jim, McCoy’s a doctor, not a chef”.

If you do try curcumin supplements, please talk to your doctor or at least google the side effects first. They don’t sound bad unless you’re taking certain kinds of chemotherapy or trying to get pregnant.

“Scotty, is Security under control? The Ambassador from the Planet of Beautiful Bipedal Females is due to arrive any minute.”

“Aye, Captain, we’re all set. I’ve got the curry.”

“I said hurry, Scotty.”

“I did, Captain. The Ambassador has just beamed aboard.”

“I’ll come greet her in person. Kirk coomin’ down.”

 

Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23:26

 

Images courtesy of: www.comicvine.com (security officers), www.worldtechtoday.com (Scotty), dejareviewer.com (Kirk), bigbangtheory.wikia.com (Spock), www.thezone.fm (McCoy), www.precisionnutrition.com (curcumin)

Eating for Cancer Prevention: Green Tea (Part 4 of 5)

teaI propose we answer two questions today: What is Green Tea? and Why do we care? The answers are: Tea and Molecular weeding.

All tea (Black, Green, Oolong, Ooshort) comes from the same plant; the way you harvest the leaves gives you different kinds of tea. Green Tea leaves get a steam bath instead of a sunburn, so they’re thought to have more cancer-fighting antioxidants, although a few researchers believe that all teas are created equal.

Green Tea is loaded with antioxidants which have been shown to help fight cancer. Antioxidants are just what they sound like if we all spoke Greek: “anti” means against and “oxidant” means oxygen, so antioxidants are against oxygen. That sounds kind of evil, doesn’t it? But oxygen can be evil if you’re a wrench in the rain.

antioxidants_benefitsWhen oxygen reacts with chemicals in the body, it creates useful chain reactions. Your body needs some of these oxygen chain reactions in order to, you know, live, but too many chain reactions lead to free radicals and cell damage.

Oxygen chain reactions are like mint plants in a garden. One mint plant is great; delicious leaves, lovely flowers. But mint plants spread aggressively by the root and can take over your garden in weeks. Antioxidants are the hands that pull extra mint plants out of the soil so you can make Mojitos, but still grow beans.

I’m not a tea drinker. I’ve tried. I have about twenty pounds of tea in my cabinet to prove how determined I was to become a tea addict. But I can’t help loving coffee, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Green-TeaGreen Tea has up to 10 times the antioxidants compared to fruits and vegetables, but coffee has 3 times more antioxidants per cup than Green Tea. If I’m not thirsty enough to drink 9 cups of Green Tea per day, then 2 cups of coffee gives me more microscopic meds for my mug.

Of course, tea, coffee, fruits, and veggies all provide us with different antioxidants, so perhaps eating the full spectrum of antioxidants is wise. The best advice I found was actually in a comment on a medical website; the woman said that she consumes coffee with breakfast, tea in the afternoon, and red wine and dark chocolate after dinner. Does she have all of her oxidants covered or what?

antioxidantsGreen Tea is worth including in your diet, but if you’re not a fan of drinking it, try hiding some in foods you do enjoy. Mix Green Tea with Black Tea, add a cup to your smoothie or soup, or sprinkle the leaves into pasta sauce like you might with dried parsley flakes.

With the variety of things that can go wrong in our bodies, it makes sense to dose ourselves with a variety of antioxidants to clean up microscopically. Raise your glass of a plant-based beverage, be it bean, leaf, or grape, and let’s toast to our health!

 

“Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Proverbs 11:28

Images courtesy of fitnessandhealthadvisor.com (tea), greenteaforweightlosstips.com (tea plant), www.lookgreatnaked.com (antioxidant chart), bloomfieldbathblog.com (awesome antioxidants)