There are a variety of reasons someone may want to join a gym and/or work with a personal trainer. Each person may have several reasons why they walk into our doors. Most of these reasons while specific will fall into three categories:
- they want to look better
- they want to move without pain
- perform better for sport or daily activities
- (or they want to feel better)
Most people will not prioritize feeling better as a top priority. Many times in the fitness industry we focus on the aesthetic appeal of workouts and not enough emphasis is put on actually feeling better.
I recently read “The Better Brain Book” by David Perlmutter. As someone who has had a personal history of stroke and degenerative brain disease in his family this book was of particular interest to me. Here are a few bits of information I gathered from the book and from my own experience as a personal trainer.
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Nutrition in regards to brain health:
What you consistently put on your plate day after day is the most important tool for maintaining mental clarity and sharpness. Many of the foods in the standard American diet are highly processed, packed with chemicals, and loaded with sugar and poor quality fats. These foods can be very harmful to your brain as they promote inflammation and cause the production of free radicals in the body. One huge step you can take to promote brain health, and overall health for that matter, is to replace some of these low nutrient (and high calorie) foods with natural whole food sources.
Get the right fats in your diet & energize your brain
Our brains need a constant supply of energy. It is important to eat high nutrient foods to give our body what it needs to produce energy. The brain needs fat more than any other nutrient because the brain is made primarily of fat. Monounsaturated fats are found in cooking oils, nuts, and avocados. These fats are naturally high in antioxidants and help fight off inflammation in the body.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) that must be obtained through the foods we eat. These are found in fatty fish such as salmon, deep green veggies, and seeds such as pumpkin seeds. When we digest these foods our body breaks down the omega 3 fatty acids into EPA and DHA. Since our body doesn’t produce these fats on its own it can be a good idea to take a supplement such as fish oil containing DHA so the brain receives enough of these vital nutrients.
Saturated fats, found in fatty cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and whole dairy foods should be limited as these saturated fats can cause more inflammation in the body. When selecting meats try to buy lean, organic, grass-fed cuts as it will contain less saturated fat and will have less chemicals and pestisides. Your body still needs saturated fat but the chances are you are probably getting more than you need.
Trans-fatty acids are a fourth type of fat you have likely read about. These trans fats make our brain cell membranes rigid, tough, and slowwwww, therefore making it harder for our brain cells to make energy. These trans fats undergo a chemical procedure to make them last longer for use in mass produced foods. These fats are also linked to diabetes and heart disease. Avoid foods that are fried and look for food labels containing trans-fat or partially hydroginated oil.
These will wreck havoc on your body and brain.
We are all human and we eat food sometimes because it tastes good, not based on the nutrient content. If your diet is virtually free from bad fats we must still eat to protect our brain from free radical attack. The nutrients found in fruits and vegetables contain photochemicals that act as natural antioxidants to help protect us against free radicals. Eating a wide assortment of fruits and veggies will help keep our bodies and minds healthy and fit.
Berries contain powerful antioxidants that help protect blood vessels and may improve blood flow in the bran. Spinach contains lutein, another powerful antioxidant and is rich in folic acid, a B vitamin. Seeds and Walnuts contain high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids that promote brain health.
What supplements should I be consuming on a regular basis?
Supplementing your diet with vitamins and nutrients can help to recharge your brain and protect it against free radicals and inflammation. Supplements won’t make up for a bad diet but they do allow compensation for nutrient deficiencies.
Vitamin B: Vitamin B is critical for brain health. Low levels of vitamin B have been associated with depression and memory loss. Low levels of vitamin B can lead to poor nutrient
Vitamins C and E: These two supplements assist each other in stopping the damage of free radical attack in the brain as well as protecting it from inflammation. In fact men who took c and e supplements were 88% less likely to develop dementia.
Fish Oil containing DHA: This is critical for brain health. About 25% of your brain is composed of DHA. Low levels of DHA have been linked to violent behavior, learning disorders, depression, and visual problems. DHA is needed to repair and regenerate brain cells. If it is not present the brain will use bad fats which make brain cell membranes rigid and less functional when transferring energy. In turn memory and reaction time are compromised.
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Lifestyle Changes to promote brain health:
Give your brain more sleep
Get enough rest! Sleep is a chance for our body and mind to rest and refuel. Our cells repair themselves at this time. During sleep our body slows down and energy production slows down. This gives our brain cells a chance to clean out waste products. Chronically sleep deprived people often develop deficits in cognitive function such as a decline in reaction time and lower performance on standard mental function tests. If you are sleep deprived you will have a hard time multitasking and difficult to learn a new task all together.
Losing sleep can also weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infection. Your body will release higher volume of stress hormones, which can raise blood sugar levels and increase insulin resistance leading to diabetes and other diseases that can increases the rate of brain aging.
In regard to sleep it is important to know how your body handles caffeine. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. One many people are addicted too. Some of us are able to metabolize the stimulant quickly. Which make it beneficial to have a cup of coffee in the am because our enzymes can metabolize it quickly and reap the nutrient benefits from the coffee without the side effects of the caffeine. However some people do not possess the enzymes necessary to metabolize the caffeine quickly. Therefore even one cup of coffee early in the morning can leave sensitive people suffering from insomnia at night. If you are having trouble sleeping monitor your caffeine intake and find out if this is keeping you awake at night. I won’t hurt to cut back or eliminate this all together.
Control your stress levels for you, and your brain
Chronic, unrelenting stress can be toxic to your brain and cause physiological changes that can profoundly affect mental performance and accelerate brain aging. When we are under stress our body produces corticosteroids that trigger a fight or flight response. Which is good if we are being mugged or trying to outrun a rabid dog.
Under normal circumstances our body shuts off production of these hormones and systematically eliminates them. As we get older our body has a harder time disposing of these chemicals. If you are under a great amount of stress these chemicals can damage your brain and cause inflammation.
The over production of these chemicals can disrupt the production of other hormones designed to improve mood such as serotonin and dopamine. It is important to find ways to regulate stress and take action. If you find it unable to manage stress it may be advised to seek professional help.
Read: The Universal Diet Guidelines for Success, & Get Ready For a Lifestyle Change
Exercise your body, your brain will join in
Exercise, particularly strength and or resistance training can be a great way to relieve stress. I often say after a bad day "take it out on the iron." Exercise is more than just burning calories. Exercise burns up unwanted stress hormones and releases hormones like serotonin and dopamine to boost your mood. A proper exercise program not only reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity it can put you in the right frame of mind.
Taking care of yourself through exercise means you are better equipped to handle what life throws at you as well as be a better person to friends and loved ones. In addition to making you a more fun person to be around regular exercise has been shown to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease ( a severe brain disease) by 30%.
Brain Games: Activities to stay sharp
Just as you would exercise to keep your waistline small and your chest big, or work longer on a project for work so that it will turn out better and you will make more money, we must also take time to develop our mental skills.
Every time we learn something new or take on a difficult task it creates the opportunity for neuron development in our brains. Skills like learning a new language or solving a Sodoku puzzle are great methods for exercising the brain. One skill to improve reaction time that is very easy to do involves only a deck of playing cards and a timer. simply start with the deck face up. hit the button on the timer and arrange the cards in four piles 1. even cards 2. odd 3. face cards 4. aces. as quickly as possible. This can help improve reaction time. Perform this 3 times each day and try to improve your time. When you are able to do this in 25 seconds its probably time to move on to a new activity.
Tips to boost brain power:
- Increase omega 3 and 6 fatty acid intake: Buy fresh fish. Take a fish oil supplement. Snack on nuts (walnuts) and seeds (pumpkin). Buy omega 3 enhanced eggs
- Avoid bad fats: Limit fried food. Read labels for hydrogenated oils and trans fat. Reduce saturated fat. buy lean cuts of meat
- Increase the amount of vegetables and fruits you eat: Eat a salad every day. Eat a handful of veggies with each meal. Snack on berries, organic.
- Buy organic whole foods when possible
- Focus on getting enough sleep: Make it a priority. Have a bedtime routine.
- Exercise regularly: Have a plan. Seek the advice of a trainer if you are unfamiliar.
- Manage stress: Seek the advice of a professional if you are unable to deal with stress.
- Sharpen the Saw: Learn new skills to keep your brain functioning at a high level.
The information in this blog was taken in large part from “The Better Brain Book” by David Perlmutter. If you would like more info on the subject please check out his book to learn more.
What are your thoughts on conditioning our brains to perform better? Please leave a comment on this blog post for discussion..
Take a look at these additional resources to help you along your fitness journey:
Universal Diet Guidelines For Success: http://goo.gl/rZKnSm
The Ultimate Guide to HIIT Training: http://goo.gl/K0ncbn
Run Stronger, Not Longer: http://goo.gl/zzedtW
Total Body Workouts for the Busy Professional: http://goo.gl/pdou4n
Kettlebell Workouts, Back to the Basics: http://goo.gl/QY23vo
Get Rid of Belly Fat & Bust Belly Flab Myths: http://goo.gl/BKHyWG
The Atkins website listed below is a great guide for meal planning and has a convenient meal planning application