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Exercise: How It Can Make Your Brain Bigger, Smarter, & Healthier

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By now, you’ve heard of the many health benefits of exercise (here, here and here). You may even be exercising to prevent or help control chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. But did you know that exercise can boost your brain’s ability to think, remember, and stave off age-related cognitive decline?

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Literally, exercise can change your brain. Perhaps even prevent Alzheimer’s.

How Does Exercise Help Your Brain?

Exercise helps the brain both directly and indirectly. The indirect effect comes from its ability to reduce or prevent chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while improving mood and reducing anxiety. These diseases and conditions produce progressive brain dysfunction and mental deterioration over time.

The direct effect of exercise on brain health has to do with its impact on brain cells through what’s called neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. A study out of Princeton University showed how exercise induces neuroplasticity by increasing the number of cells in the ventral hippo-campus and increasing the levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter. Check out this video.

How does exercise do this?

Scientists believe that exercise increases the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that the body produces. This protein has been dubbed “Miracle-Gro for the brain” by Harvard psychiatrist John J. Ratey. It increases voltage in the brain by binding to receptors in the synapses that activate genes to produce brain-healthy neurotransmitters while sprouting new brain cells.

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For you, the benefit is better memory, heightened learning capacity, and better coping skills — not a bad payoff for your investment.

Benefits to the Brain through Exercise

Here is a list of some of the brain benefits you can expect from regular exercise:

  • Improved cognition, executive function (impulse inhibition, focus, goal management, etc.), and the ability to think clearly
  • Increased positive moods and a decrease in depression and anxiety
  • Changes in the physical structure (increase in the size of the hippo-campus) and chemical composition of the brain (higher levels of BDNF, GABA, endorphins, glutamate, etc.)
  • Reduced stress (augmented relaxation response) and enhanced capacity to cope with life’s challenges
  • Better sleep patterns.

brain-benefitsNot bad for something so simple as exercise.

What About Alzheimer’s?

The possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease strikes fear in all of us. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there will be an additional 10 million cases in the U.S. in the next few decades.

With no direct cure available at this time, emphasizing prevention may be the best route. Exercise, according to some research, may be a useful tool in your efforts to stave off this dreaded disease.

Researchers have found a link between exercise and brain health that may keep the brain young and able to resist degenerative changes. Research published in May 2­016 by Nathan Johnson, Ph.D. of the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences concluded that “being physically active improves blood flow to the brain and confers some protection from dementia, and conversely that people who live sedentary lifestyles, especially those who are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s, might be more susceptible.”

Exercise at any age can keep the brain young and reduce the chances of developing dementia, especially for those at high genetic risk.

My advice? Get off the couch and get moving.

What Type of Exercise Is Best for your Brain?

There is a wide variety of exercises available to you when getting in shape, but which type of exercise is specifically best for your brain and how much exercise is needed remains unclear.

Current research is beginning to piece together how various forms of exercise affect the brain and can potentially stave off age-related deterioration.

Let’s take a look at some of the current research.

Aerobics  

Study 1 – For the first time, in a study published earlier this year at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, scientists compared aerobics, resistance training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on a group of rats.

One group used running wheels (aerobics), one group climbed walls with small weights attached to their tails (resistance training), and another used small treadmills with intermittent slow and fast running (HIIT) for seven weeks.

Results

Aerobic activity – The rats performing steady aerobic exercise showed high levels of neurogenesis, more BDNF, and hippocampal tissue swollen with new neurons. The further they ran, the greater the number of new cells.

HIIT – Rats performing high intensity intervals showed fewer new cells than the aerobic group.

Resistance Training – The weightlifting rats, although much stronger, did not exhibit much neurogenesis.

Study 2 – Researchers from the University of Muenster, Germany assessed post-exercise learning performance of 27 volunteers who were assigned to do either 40 minutes of high-impact sprints, low-impact aerobic running, or a period of rest. BDNF levels for all participants were measured prior to exercise.

Results  

Post-exercise, those who performed high-impact activity showed a 20% faster rate of learning vocabulary than the other two groups. The high-impact group also demonstrated higher levels of BDNF and other cerebral markers of brain health such as dopamine and epinephrine.

Yoga

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers studied yoga’s effect on cognition (executive function) of 30 female college-age participants who performed three different testing sessions consisting of yoga (stretches, breathing exercises, and meditation), aerobics (20-minute session on a treadmill at 60% – 70% incline), and a baseline assessment.

Results

Results showed that cognitive performance after the yoga session was superior to both the aerobic group and the baseline assessment in regards to shorter reaction times, increased accuracy, and working memory tasks. The performance of the aerobic and baseline groups was not significantly different from one another.

Resistance Training

A study out of the University of British Columbia took a large group of women between the ages of 65 and 75 who were already enrolled in a brain health study and had already received a brain scan. The study focused on women whose brain scans had indicated the presence of white matter lesions (age-related holes in the brain associated with memory loss).

The women were assigned to one of three groups for one year, one performing resistance training once per week, the second twice per week, and the third doing stretching and balance training.

Results

The women who performed only balance and stretching and those who weight trained once per week showed disturbing increases in white matter lesions. However, the women who worked out twice per week had much less deterioration in white matter and less brain shrinkage.

Conclusion

Current research is unclear and even contradictory as to which exercise is best for your brain, its long term effects, and the amount of time one must commit in order to reap positive results.

However, research does support the notion that exercise sustains proper brain function and emotional health, and may even prevent or slow neurological and psychiatric disease. Exercise has been associated with reduced risk of age-related Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases.

Prescription: For the time being, it seems best to commit to an exercise regimen that incorporates a variety of exercise formats (resistance training, aerobics, stretching, and balance), is moderately intense, and conducted at least three times per week.

Whatever you decide, make sure it gets your body moving. Good luck.

Always consult with your physician before embarking on an exercise program.

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

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Awareness

Boy or Girl – Baby Gender Selection Issues

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Some parents have the possibility to opt for gender selection; however, being able to decide whether to have a baby boy or girl is a controversial issue.

Many couples expecting a baby do not think it’s a big issue whether they have a boy or a girl; however there are several medical, social, and personal reasons that could influence parents to recur to some form of gender selection.

Like many other controversial practices, the legality of gender selection, also known as sex selection, varies from country to country.

The Legality of Baby Gender Selection

The United States has perhaps some of the most relaxed laws regarding baby gender selection in the world. Most European countries and Australia, on the other hand, have bans on sex selection and only allow it for medical reasons. For example, if a parent is a carrier of a mutation or gene with more chances of manifesting itself in a certain gender, baby gender selection is valid. However, if parents simply wish to balance the ratio of boys and girls in their family, they are not allowed to recur to sex selection.

This has generated a form of medical tourism in which couples from countries where gender selection is illegal, like the UK, travel to the US in order to be able to choose whether to have a baby boy or girl.

On the other hand, sex selection is illegal in the two most populated countries on Earth, China and India. In these countries, baby gender selection has been performed clandestinely for many years and for reasons other than family balancing or avoiding genetic diseases. In these societies, having a baby boy is preferred mainly for cultural and economic reasons. Parents believe that boys have better chances of earning income and eventually support them when they reach an old age.

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Methods of Baby Gender Selection

There are two major types of gender selection methods: the first one is called sperm sorting, and involves separating X-chromosome sperm from Y-chromosome sperm by flow cytometry, a purification technique in which chromosomes are suspended in a stream of sperm and identified by an electronic detector before being separated. Intra-uterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization can then be performed with the enriched sperm. The success rates for this method vary from 80% to 93%.

The other method, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, consists in generating several embryos through in-vitro fertilization, which are then genetically tested to determine a baby’s gender. The chosen embryos can then be implanted. This method has a success rate of almost 100%; however, it can be quite expensive, costing up to $15,000.

Issues Regarding Baby Gender Selection

While there are few objections against baby gender selection when it is performed for medical reasons, it has become a highly controversial issue when it is used for balancing the number of boys or girls in families. Some people raise the obvious ethical question of whether people who opt for gender selection are “playing God” by manipulating whether to have a baby boy or girl. Others believe that new parents will raise a baby more appropriately if he or she belongs to their preferred gender.

Gender Imbalance Caused by Baby Gender Selection

Gender selection has caused demographic concern in China and India since it has contributed to generate a gender imbalance in the populations of those countries. In some regions of China, for example, the sex ratio for newborns is 118:100, boys to girls. This phenomenon has in turn been associated with social problems such as an increase in violence and prostitution.

It seems like a logical solution for governments around the globe to legalize baby gender selection but to analyze the personal reasons why each couple intends to select a baby boy or girl. Gender selection for medical reasons should even be encouraged, since it could prevent serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and Haemophilia A. Balancing the gender ratio of a family should be accepted if by doing this, a healthy family environment is created. On the other hand, China and India have shown that baby gender selection as a result of a bias towards a particular gender can not only create a gender imbalance in the population, but contribute to social problems as well.

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We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

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Organic Certification: What the USDA Organic Label Means

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Organic and natural labels mean different things, and various types of labels tells you what percentage of ingredients are actually organic. We'll explore what to look for.

  • Reflect On:

    Do you sometimes buy products thinking they are organic or fully natural based on their wording? Have you later found out that those products aren't natural or organic at all? Read labels more closely at grocery stores to be aware.

Don’t get conned by fraudulent claims of “natural” or “organic.” Learn what to look for, and why it’s important, to ensure you’re getting the quality you are paying for.

The industrial age of the 20th century brought about changing agricultural practices that have generated increasing alarm about the effects of these practices on the environment and health. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, irradiated and genetically altered food and fiber products has created a groundswell of rightful concern. It has led to the growing demand for non-toxic, organic products that many are willing to pay a higher price for to ensure the healthful purity of food and clothing provided for their families.

With such profit opportunities, it’s little wonder that the lucrative organic product market has suffered abuse with so-called “organic” labels being fraudulently placed on products that have not earned the right. As a result of pressure from farming and consumer groups, legislation for the standardization of organic certification was introduced in the 1980s. It has been updated to include more vigorous enforcement and control methods since, with the current standards established in 2002 by the USDA.

The Standards of USDA Organic Certification

Specific standards must be met in order to legally claim a product as USDA certified organic. Organic producers must utilize methods that conserve water, maximize soil health, and reduce air pollution. The specific standards to earn USDA organic certification include:

Free of synthetic chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and additives

Free from irradiation and genetically modified organisms

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Agricultural products grown on land that has been free of prohibited substances for a period of three years

Animals used for meat, eggs, milk or other animal products must be exclusively fed foods that are organically grown, may not be given antibiotics or hormones, and must have access to outdoors.

Clean and sanitized harvesting and processing equipment throughout the process from harvest to finished, packaged product

Detailed chain-of-handling records from the field through final sales

Physical separation of certified organic products from non-organic products throughout the process of production

Regular on-site inspections from USDA-approved inspectors to ensure compliance

Understanding the Certified Organic Label

Once the rigorous process of certification has been completed, organic producers may place the USDA certified organic seal on their products. Currently, there are four levels of certified organic products, with a specific definition of the percentage of organic ingredients the final products contains. They are as follows:

• 100% organic: all production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic.

• Organic: at least 95% of the production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.

• Made With Organic Ingredients: at least 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.

• No organic wording or seal: less than 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic and no claims may be made on the front or back of the product.

Manufacturers or producers who knowingly label a product “organic” when it does not meet the USDA standards are subject to fines up to $11,000 per violation.

Why Organic Certification is Important

When you see the official USDA organic certification seal on food, clothing, and bedding products, you can be assured that these products have met the meticulous standards required and are free of chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, and hormones. When you see the USDA certified organic label, you will understand the value of the higher priced organic products as compared to non-organically produced products.

With the current stringent organic certification requirements enforced by regular inspections from USDA accredited agents, the USDA certified organic label has great meaning and importance to the consumer. Look for the label to know that you are getting the quality you are paying for.

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

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WHO Finds Global Lack Of Inactivity Rising Especially In Wealthier Countries — What You Can Do

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Inactivity is on the rise and it's the cause of a wide range of health concerns. Our population is only becoming more inactive, not less, and it's time to change that.

  • Reflect On:

    There are many factors of our modern world that make us less active. Our jobs, driving rather than walking/biking, too much screen time. What can you do differently to bring more activity into your life? What story stops you from starting?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than a quarter of the entire population on this planet are not getting enough physical exercise, this number has barely improved since 2001. There are many factors that contribute to this, but just how much damage are we doing by failing to be active?

The lack of physical exercise raises the risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and various types of cancers.

Interestingly, according to their study published in The Lancet Global Health, higher income countries, such as the UK, were among the least active population. Women were also found to be more sedentary throughout the world, excluding two regions in Asia.

The study looked at self-reported data on activity levels from 358 population based surveys covering 168 countries and included 1.9 million people.

The populations of higher income countries, which include the UK and USA showed an increase in the proportion of inactive people and had actually risen from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016, in the lower income countries it remained at 16%.

Those who were classified as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise and around 75 minutes of intense activity per week.

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It was found that women were less active than men overall, except for in South and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and higher-income Western countries. The authors believe that this was caused by a few different factors including extra childcare duties and cultural perspectives that may have made it more difficult for them to exercise.

Why More Inactivity In Wealthier Countries?

According to the researchers, in the wealthier countries, many of the jobs have transitioned to more office or desk jobs, meaning a more sedentary type of lifestyle. On top of that much of the population of these countries drive automobiles or take public transit to and from work which in many cases accounts for a lot of their time.

In the lower income countries, many of the jobs require the people to be more active, are physically demanding and people often have to walk to and from their jobs.

The WHO has had a goal to reduce the global levels of inactivity by 10% by 2025, the authors of the study feel that at the rate we are currently going, this target will be missed.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Regina Guthold said, “Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health.”

Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.”

Co-author, Dr. Fiona Bull added, “Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable.”

According to the WHO,

Exercise guidelines for 19- to 64-year-olds

How much?

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
  • break up long periods of sitting with light activity

What is moderate aerobic activity?

  • Walking fast, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground or with a few hills, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, volleyball, basketball

What counts as vigorous activity?

  • Jogging or running, swimming fast, riding a bike fast or on hills, singles tennis, football, rugby, skipping rope, hockey, aerobics, gymnastics, martial arts

What activities strengthen muscles?

  • lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, yoga

What activities are both aerobic and muscle-strengthening?

  • circuit training, aerobics, running, football, rugby, netball, hockey

Final Thoughts

I was surprised to see that the WHO didn’t touch on inactivity due to too much screen time — watching television, Netflix, Facebook scrolling, messaging, texting, browsing etc. Certainly, the increase in screen time plays a roll with the amount of inactivity, especially in the higher income countries. If you are someone who spends too much time staring at a screen, then it is important to consider the above information. Can you limit your screen time and replace it with something active? Or would you consider jumping rope, or rebounding while watching the television? Our health is our greatest wealth and having awareness about an issue is the first way to create change and take responsibility for our lives.

Could you walk or bike to work instead of drive? What about trying a new sport? Could you commit to adding a few hours each week of physical activity? These small decisions could have a profound impact on your health, longevity and overall well-being.

Much Love

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

Watch the interview here.
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