Tag Archives: brain health

Paleolithic aging Exercise for brain, biceps, and longevity

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The ideal diet remains controversial in health circles, but the benefits of exercise are almost universally acknowledged. And while many associate exercise with weight loss or toning up, evidence is quietly accumulating that our brains and immune systems need it as much as our glutes, abs, and pectorals.

 November 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Societylooking at the longterm effects of diet and exercise on neurodegeneration showed how even modest exercise can help stave off dementia. It is just one of many examples that remind us how important exercise and movement are to overall brain health[1]

The study measured exercise- and diet-driven improvements in neurocognition (including executive functions, memory, language and fluency, and clinical dementia rating) over six months and in a one-year followup. The results have strong implications for older, sedentary adults. Progress recorded after six months was still clearly measurable at the one-year mark, even if exercise was abandoned.

The study also included a “heart healthy” dietary intervention called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)similar to the Mediterranean diet. This aspect of the study targeted cardiovascular disease (CVD) factors present in each participant.

Would an ancestral diet have shown competitive results? A September 2019 study published in CUREUSwhich looked at a carbohydrate-restricted diet and exercise on cognitive function also showed success (including improvement of the critical executive functions) using a low-carb Paleolithic Diet and exercise. [2]

Both studies conclude that the protective and cognition-enhancing effects of diet and exercise, taken together, exceed the benefit of either by itself.

 

The importance of “executive function 

The importance of executive function to overall cognition is critical. Adele Diamondprofessor of neuroscience at the University of British Columbia described them in her review article from the Annual Review of Psychology: “[EFs] make possible mentally playing with ideas; taking the time to think before acting; meeting novel, unanticipated challenges; resisting temptations; and staying focused.” EFs allow for many higherlevel functions such as inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Without them, mental decline is inevitable. [3]

She also states that lack of exercise, among other factors (including stress and lack of sleep), compromise EFs. [3]

EFs appear to underlie most of what we might consider “personality,” and keep us from defaulting to “autopilot” when selecting actions. EFs help us behave in context, allow us to combat bad habits or adopt good ones (like Paleo Diet), and make difficult but worthwhile choices. Sadly, EFs are often early casualties when Alzheimer’s or other dementias set in. [4]

 

Different methodologies, similar results 

Both of the 2019 studies exploring diet, exercise, and cognitive function demonstrated EF improvement through exercise and diet, even though the demographics and methodologies varied.

The 160 participants in the study exploring the DASH diet were middle-aged, sedentary, had at least one CVD risk factor, and all displayed “cognitive impairment with no dementia” or CIND. CIND is not a dementia diagnosis but is considered dementia-predictive. The exercise groups performed 35 minutes of low impact aerobic exercise (walking or biking) three times per week for six months.

The Paleolithic Diet study measured a smaller group (12 individuals ages 20-40 with metabolic syndrome) over a shorter period, with more intensive exercise. Each participant engaged in high intensity interval training (HIIT) on three days per week for four weeks, including 6 x 60second cycling intervals at 90 percent of maximum heart rate.

Both studies measured diet-only versus diet-and-exercise groups and showed the highest rate of cognitive improvement with the diet-and-exercise interventionThe DASH study, with its one-year follow-up, also showed that the improvements, while possibly attenuated if exercise stopped, were still measurable compared to the non-exercise baseline.

The improvement in executive function across a wide spectrum of age groups in both studies clearly shows the importance of regular exercise to build, improve, and preserve mental acuity—at any age.

 

Exercise and other diseases 

Regular exercise has been repeatedly shown to improve many other serious health conditions. Let’s take a closer look.

CANCER 

A 2019 Mayo Clinic article entitled Your secret weapon during cancer treatment? Exercise!, [5outlined how exercise offers a range of benefits, from improving well-being during treatment to decreasing tumor size. In 2018, The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia formally adopted treatment guidelines to include exercise as integral to cancer treatment [6] based in part on an extensive review exploring the efficacy of exercise on cancer treatment. [7]

DIABETES 

Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and combats common Type II diabetes co-morbidity factors (obesity, high blood pressure). [89] A position statement of the American Diabetes Association on exercise states: “The adoption and maintenance of physical activity are critical foci for blood glucose management and overall health in individuals with diabetes or prediabetes.” [10] The position statement cites 185 different studies and papers supporting these exercise recommendations.

HEART DISEASE 

The first sentence in a NIH/U.S. National Library of Medicine post in “Medline Plus” on heart disease reads: “Getting regular exercise when you have heart disease is important. Physical activity can strengthen your heart muscle and help you manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels.” [11] The preventive benefits of exercise for heart disease are widely acknowledged. Sadly, one recent study in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine (September 2018) concluded that while exercise shows “unequivocal benefits” and “mortality risk reduction,” the vast majority of Americans simply don’t do it enough. [12]

IMMUNE SYSTEM 

Moderate exercise is widely acknowledged to boost the immune system and mitigate immunosenescence—the dysregulation of immune processes due to aging. [13] There is some debate about whether extended, intense exercise, elite endurance competitions and training, or active duty military deployments temporarily depress the immune system. A 2020 study published in the Exercise Immunology Review makes a strong case against this theory, noting that much of the evidence is epidemiological and that more randomized trials are needed. [14] Luckily, most moderate exercisers or sedentary older adults won’t reach this “elite” level of intensity 

A quick Google search will yield similar information for almost any health condition—especially chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or hypertension.

 

Exercise guidelines 

Many studies recommend working up to baseline goals of either 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes per week at “vigorous” levels as suggested by the Mayo Clinic. [5] Resistance training should be incorporated, ideally, at least twice a week.

Older adults should prioritize building, or at least maintaining, muscle mass through resistance or weight training to combat the silent enemy sarcopenia. This condition, the gradual loss of muscle as we age, predisposes us to disability, fall-related injuries, reduction in stature, and is linked to many chronic diseases—resulting in shorter lifespan. [15]

New exercise programs should be adopted gradually. Over four years, for example, the author (currently 62 and employed fulltimewent from two, 30-minute weightlifting sessions plus two to three days of walking 30 minutes each week, to four, 60-minute weight sessions (each followed by 30 minutes walking) plus two additional days of walking 60-90 minutes per week. Once or twice a month he and his wife take an extended hike of two hours or more.

The time investment per day can be challenging but should pay off in greatly reduced morbidity at advanced age. “Retirees” with more leisure hours available have a priceless opportunity to combat disease and extend the productive, assistance-free phase of their lives with moderate, consistent exercise.

Sedentary individuals, especially those with health issues, should always consult their physician before beginning an exercise program—but it’s never too late to start.

 

 

REFERENCES:  

  1. Blumenthal, James A., et al. “Longer Term Effects of Diet and Exercise on Neurocognition: 1-Year Follow-up of the ENLIGHTEN Trial.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, vol. 68, no. 3, 2020, pp. 559–68. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/jgs.16252. 
  2. Gyorkos, Amy, et al. “Carbohydrate-Restricted Diet and Exercise Increase Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Cognitive Function: A Randomized Crossover Trial.” Cureus, vol. 11, no. 9. PubMed Central, doi:10.7759/cureus.5604. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
  3. Diamond, Adele. “Executive Functions.” Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 64, 2013, pp. 135–68. PubMed Central, doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-113011-143750.
  4. Newport, Mary T. Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?: The Story of Ketones. Second edition, Basic Health Publications, Inc, 2013.
  5. “Your Secret Weapon during Cancer Treatment? Exercise!” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/secret-weapon-during-cancer-treatment-exercise/art-20457584. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
  6. MPH, Monique Tello, MD. “Exercise as Part of Cancer Treatment.” Harvard Health Blog, 13 June 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/exercise-as-part-of-cancer-treatment-2018061314035.
  7. Heywood, Reginald, et al. “Efficacy of Exercise Interventions in Patients With Advanced Cancer: A Systematic Review.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, vol. 99, no. 12, 2018, pp. 2595–620. PubMeddoi:10.1016/j.apmr.2018.04.008.
  8. “Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise.” EndocrineWeb, https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-2-diabetes/type-2-diabetes-exercise. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
  9. Whiteside, David. Active into Your 90’s: Exercise and Paleo —. 22 Jan. 2018, https://www.paleo55plus.com/post/active-into-your-90-s-exercise-and-paleo.
  10. Colberg, Sheri R., et al. “Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association.” Diabetes Care, vol. 39, no. 11, Nov. 2016, pp. 2065–79. care.diabetesjournals.org, doi:10.2337/dc16-1728.
  11. Being Active When You Have Heart Disease: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000094.htm. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
  12. Nystoriak, Matthew A., and Aruni Bhatnagar. “Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise.” Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, vol. 5, Sept. 2018. PubMed Central, doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135.
  13. Nieman, David C., and Laurel M. Wentz. “The Compelling Link between Physical Activity and the Body’s Defense System.” Journal of Sport and Health Science, vol. 8, no. 3, May 2019, pp. 201–17. ScienceDirectdoi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009.
  14. Simpson, Richard J., et al. “Can Exercise Affect Immune Function to Increase Susceptibility to Infection?” Exercise Immunology Review, vol. 26, 2020, pp. 8–22.
  15. Volpi, Elena, et al. “Muscle Tissue Changes with Aging.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, vol. 7, no. 4, July 2004, pp. 405–10.
Junk Food Light bulb

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When we hear the word addiction, many of us think of severe, negative outcomes: drug addiction, alcoholism, even workaholic tendenciesFood, by contrast, is rarely thought of in this same light. The truth isespecially when it is highly processed, highly sweetened food, it can be as addictive as many drugs 

Not surprisingly, researchers have found that Oreo cookies may be as addictive as cocaine when it comes to rewarding the brain’s pleasure circuits.[1] These neural networks handle the emotions of reward and pleasureThink of them as a set of lights: They can be turned on, but their default position is off. When you consume alcohol, take drugs, or consume a lot of sugar, for example, the response inside the brain is very similar. The “lights” get switched on. 

Drugs and alcohol have self-limiting mechanismstake too many drugs or drink too much alcoholand you will experience many adverse side effects. You will also suffer social problems, whether marital, familialor professionalThus, social norms prevent us from over-consuming these substances. Likewise, if we ignore the initial side-effects and continue over-consuming, our bodies have several unpleasant ways to tell us to stop.

Food has very few such self-limiting mechanisms. You can eat all day, every day, and there is nothing besides a weak satiety signal stopping you from doing so. In fact, since eating is required for survival, there are reward mechanisms for periodically over-consumingFurthermore, there is no social penaltyovereating is practically encouraged at family gatherings and parties, for exampleYet it is a very dangerous game to play, once you realize that food is addictive.

Foods might not be acutely toxic, but over time, constant over-eating can cause significant damage. There is an obvious reason why 40 percent of the country is now obese. Few people have stated the obvious: In simple terms, Americans are eating too much, and many people are addicted to food.

A new study presents a greater understanding of the mechanism behind food addiction, concluding for the first time that there are a specific set of brain cells that, once activated, make us more impulsive around food.[2]

Using a rat model, the researchers at the University of Georgia focused on a subset of brain cells that produce a type of transmitter called melanin concentrating hormone (MCH). While previous research has shown that elevating MCH levels in the brain can increase food intake, this study is the first to show that MCH also plays a role in impulsive behavior.

To test a rat’s impulsivity, researchers trained the animals to press a lever to receive what was described as a “delicious, high-fat, high-sugar” pellet. However, the rat had to wait 20 seconds between lever presses. If the rat was too impulsive and pressed the lever too soon, it had to wait an additional 20 seconds.

Researchers then activated a specific MCH neural pathway from the hypothalamus to the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with learning and memory function. The results, concluded the researchers, suggested MCH doesn’t affect how much the animals liked the food or how hard they were willing to work for the food. Rather, the circuit acted on the animals’ ability to stop themselves from trying to get the food.

The study provides further evidence of how poorly we regulate our cravings, particularly when the opportunity arises to consume junk food. And when you consider that many of us encounter these overly sweetened foods every day at convenience stores, grocery stores, and elsewhere, the ramifications are concerning.

The connection between food, particularly sugar, and addictive behavior also has been highlighted in popular media. The New York Times recently referenced a study on rats: “Princeton University and University of Florida researchers have found that sugar-binging rats show signs of opiatelike withdrawal when their sugar is taken away—including chattering teeth, tremoring forepaws, and the shakes. When the rats were allowed to resume eating sugar two weeks later, they pressed the food lever so frantically that they consumed 23 percent more than before.” This sentence should be disturbing to readers.

An area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens is largely responsible for the reward response to food. There has been much research into the possibility that by rewiring this portion of the brain, we can control our weightThe truth is, of course, that we already have control over our decisionsThrough personal responsibility and discipline, we have as much control as we need to make healthier choices. Unfortunately, many of us continue to make poor decisions when it comes to the foods we eat.

Why is that?

While pizza tastes good and can be responsibly consumed periodicallywhen eaten regularly, it can elicit more troubling outcomes. The more rewarding foods we consume, the more likely we are to consume other rewarding foods. This is similar to the phenomenon seen in drug usage, where one drug serves as a gateway drug to stronger substances. Thus, pizza or soda could be seen as gateway foods. Manufacturers are aware of this fact and, indeed, take advantage of that idea.

While using pharmaceuticals to alter our brain activity and reduce cravings has some appeal, there are very serious ethical and moral considerations. For example, is it appropriate to use psychoactive drugs so that some people are less likely to overeat? Do we so deeply lack the self-control needed to reduce obesity rates from that 40percent mark?

Instead, can we simply choose better foods with enormous benefits and virtually no side effects? Some of the best strategies to stay away from addictive foods include using wholesome Paleo recipeschoosing healthier cookbooks, and avoiding processed foods and sugars. If something comes in a can, in a bottle, or in a shrink-wrapped packageodds are you would be better off not eating it. Cooking for yourself is also far cheaper, so doing so will make you healthier and save you money. That’s a true win-win.

By having a planwhether it be diet, exercise, or bothit’s far easier to stay away from addictive foods.

 

 

References 

  1. Lenoir, M., et al., Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PLoS One, 2007. 2(8): p. e698.
  2. Noble, E.E., et al., Hypothalamus-hippocampus circuitry regulates impulsivity via melanin-concentrating hormone. Nat Commun, 2019. 10(1): p. 4923.
  3. Giuliani NR, Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Berkman ET. Neural systems underlying the reappraisal of personally-craved foods. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 2014;26(7):1390–1402.    
  4. Hamilton J, Fawson S, May J, Andrade J, Kavanagh D. Brief guided imagery and body scanning interventions reduce food cravings. Appetite. 2013;71:158–162.   
  5. Hardman CA, Rogers PJ, Etchells KA, Houstoun KV, Munafo MR. The effects of food-related attentional bias training on appetite and food intake. Appetite. 2013;71:295–300.    
  6. Papies EK, Stroebe W, Aarts H. The allure of forbidden food: On the role of attention in self-regulation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2008;44(5):1283–1292.
  7. Polivy J. The effects of behavioral inhibition: Integrating internal cues, cognition, behavior, and affect. Psychological Inquiry. 1998;9:181–204.  
  8. Rodriguez ML, Mischel W. Cognitive strategies and delay behavior in impulsive older children. Paper presented at the Annual convention of the American Psychological Association; New York, NY. 1987.
  9. Herbert BM, Muth ER, Pollatos O, Herbert C. Interoception across modalities: On the relationship between cardiac awareness and the sensitivity for gastric functions. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36646.
  10. Hill AJ. The psychology of food craving. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2007;66(2):277–285.
  11. Hollmann M, Hellrung L, Pleger B, Schlogl H, Kabisch S, Stumvoll M, Horstmann A. Neural correlates of the volitional regulation of the desire for food. International Journal of Obesity. 2011
  12. Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Augustin LSA, Franceschi S, Hamidi M, Marchie A, Axelsen M. Glycemic index: Overview of implications in health and disease. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 2002;76(1):2665–2735.
  13. Alberts HJEM, Mulkens S, Smeets M, Thewissen R. Coping with food cravings: Investigating the potential of a mindfulness-based intervention. Appetite. 2010;55(1):160–163.
  14. Sayette MA, Shiffman S, Tiffany ST, Niaura RS, Martin CS, Shadel WG. The measurement of drug craving. Addiction. 2000;95(Suppl 2):S189–210.
  15. Sheppes G, Scheibe S, Suri G, Gross JJ. Emotion-regulation choice. Psychological Science. 2011;22(11):1391–1396.
  16. Barrett LF, Gross JJ, Conner T, Benvenuto M. Knowing what you’re feeling and knowing what to do about it: Mapping the relation between emotion differentiation and emotion regulation. Cognition and Emotion. 2001;15:713–724.
  17. Berkman ET, Dickenson J, Falk EB, Lieberman MD. Using SMS text messaging to assess moderators of smoking reduction: Validating a new tool for ecological momentary measurement of health behaviors. Health Psychology. 2011;30(2):186–194.
  18. Blum K, Liu Y, Shriner R, Gold MS. Reward circuitry copaminergic activation regulates food and drug craving behavior. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2011;17(12):1158–1167.
  19. Siep N, Roefs A, Roebroeck A, Havermans R, Bonte M, Jansen A. Fighting food temptations: The modulating effects of short-term cognitive reappraisal, suppression, and up-regulation on mesocorticolimbic activity related to appetitive motivation. Neuroimage. 2012;60:213–220.
  20. Volkow ND, Wang GJ, Fowler JS, Tomasi D, Baler R. Food and drug reward: Overlapping circuits in human obesity and addiction. Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2012;11:1–24.
  21. Weingarten HP, Elston D. The phenomenology of food cravings. Appetite. 1990;15:231–246.
  22. Werthmann J, Field M, Roefs A, Nederkoorn C, Jansen A. Attention bias for chocolate increases chocolate consumption – an attention bias modification study. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 2014;45(1):136–143.
  23. Yokum S, Stice E. Cognitive regulation of food craving: effects of three cognitive reappraisal strategies on neural response to palatable foods. International Journal of Obesity. 2013
  24. Alberts HJEM, Thewissen R, Raes L. Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite. 2012;58(3):847–851.   
  25. Boutelle KN, Kuckertz JM, Carlson J, Amir N. A pilot study evaluating a one-session attention modification training to decrease overeating in obese children. Appetite. 2014;76:180–185.
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Meditation's Positive Change to Your Brain | The Paleo Diet

Many of us meditate everyday (or at least try to). Even if we don’t, we know the general benefits associated with the practice. Decreased stress, more focus, and better sleep – all the things endless yoga advertisements love to tout.1, 2 However, research by a Harvard University neuroscientist has shown that meditation actually changes your brain – a truly remarkable find.3, 4, 5 Though it may take some time for the changes to take effect, long-term meditators have been shown to have a larger amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions of the brain, as well as the auditory and sensory cortex.

Since people have different sensory responses to just about every scenario, this find is quite interesting. Previously, researchers found that chocolate – the mere sight of it – impacts our brains uniquely.6, 7, 8 It is interesting to see that as neuroscience advances more and more, we are beginning to see large scientific trends. Healthy foods and habits tend to elicit good neurological responses, and poor habits and choices tend to impact our brain very negatively. This is in a quite literal sense.

Meditation’s Positive Change to Your Brain | The Paleo Diet

Asmaro, Deyar, and Mario Liotti. “High-Caloric and Chocolate Stimuli Processing in Healthy Humans: An Integration of Functional Imaging and Electrophysiological Findings.” Nutrients 6.1 (2014): 319–341. PMC. Web. 8 June 2015.

An interesting new study also found that obese teenager’s brains are much more susceptible to food commercials.9 This is another possible reason why some of us have a hard time resisting foods that may be satisfying in the short term, but deleterious in the long term. This just goes to show (once again) that establishing healthier habits – like limiting or eliminating television time – can improve your quality of life.

Meditation's Positive Change to Your Brain | The Paleo Diet

Dartmouth College. “Obese teens’ brains unusually susceptible to food commercials, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150521144100.htm.

Much of the success of the Paleo diet concept stems from the fact that it actually works. There are no known risks, and it works in the groups of people that often need dietary intervention the most – those with serious health problems. Similarly, meditation also has no known risks. So if you haven’t already considered adding meditation to your routine, I would encourage you to do so. The research conducted also found long term meditating resulted in more gray matter in the frontal cortex of the brain. This is important, because this specific area of the brain is most commonly associated with the working memory and executive decision making.10, 11 These two functions are important for weight loss, better self-control, and our long term health. While those who are very science minded may have initially been skeptical of meditation as a legitimate technique, the research is beginning to be unavoidably clear – meditation has clear and obvious scientific benefits.12 13, 14

Meditation’s Positive Change to Your Brain  | The Paleo Diet

Baccarelli, A, and V. Bollati. “Epigenetics and Environmental Chemicals.” Current opinion in pediatrics 21.2 (2009): 243–251. Print.

Daily choices like meditation and diet also affect a myriad of other physiological and neurological facets.15 Though we are born with certain genetic material, our daily choices and habits – our epigenetics – have much more of an impact on our health than we previously thought.16, 17, 18 While epigenetics helps to control whether certain genes are active or not, we still do not know what the long term impact of epigenetics may be.19, 20 This is all the more reason to continue to practice daily healthy habits. In all likelihood, the science will prove that those who mediate, eat healthy, get lots of sleep, limit stress and exercise daily – will live longer, healthier, better lives. Since we all want better lives, this research should be taken into serious consideration. No matter where you are currently at health-wise, you can turn things around and improve your situation.

So, in an effort to effectively distill all this research into simple, actionable practice, avoid indulging in bad habits (like countless hours watching television), spend some time meditating on a daily basis, and keep eating a Paleo diet. Your body (and brain) will thank you for it!

 

REFERENCES

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