8 Reasons You’re Tired

Do you find yourself yawning, rubbing your eyes and dozing off around 2:00 p.m. every day? If so, you’re not alone. Excessive daytime sleepiness is a common complaint among Americans.

Fatigue is sometimes caused by a medical problem. But if a trip to the doctor reveals that you’re OK, certain behaviors may be to blame for your sleepiness. Making simple tweaks to your lifestyle may be all that you need to rev up energy levels.

Here are the top 8 sleep offenders:splashing coffee

1. Caffeine. It’s a vicious cycle: you need that cup of coffee to wake up, but the effects of caffeine make falling asleep difficult. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to eight hours, so only drink a cup or two of coffee during the a.m. hours.

2. Alcohol. That glass of wine or beer with dinner may seem like it helps you unwind. In reality, alcohol causes disrupted sleep. Alcohol increases the number of times you wake up during the night, making you feel unrested come morning. Finish up happy hour at least three hours before bed to get a better night’s sleep.

3. Dehydration. One of the symptoms of dehydration is fatigue. Not getting enough water can sap your energy levels and cause headaches, lightheadedness and nausea. Institute of Medicine recommends men drink about 13 cups of water each day, and women aim for 9 glasses of water per day.

But be careful not to drink too much too close to bedtime or else you’ll be making a midnight trip to the bathroom.

4. Poor nutrition. Eating unhealthy, processed foods – like chips, candy and soda – can cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket and then plummet, which can leave you feeling drained. Taking in nutritious foods – like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy — every few hours can keep blood sugar levels stable.

Avoid eating a lot of food right before bed. Lying down may slow the digestion process and make falling asleep more difficult.

5. Lack of exercise. The National Sleep Foundation says that people who exercise report better sleep at night. Plus, one of the easiest ways to get an energy boost is to exert energy. Physical activity improves blood flow and brings more oxygen to the cells. Getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week – that breaks up to 5, 30 minute workouts – can help you feel more alert during the day.

6. Exercising too close to bedtime. Working out late at night makes falling asleep challenging for some people. Wrap up your exercise session three hours before bed time and you’ll fall asleep more easily.

7. Your weight. People who are overweight are more likely to have sleep apnea – a condition marked by snoring and interrupted sleep. Losing weight and working with your doctor to get help for sleep apnea can help you feel better rested.

8. Sleep deprivation. The most common reason for daytime fatigue comes from not logging enough shut-eye during the night. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep overnight to function well during the day. Sleeping in a cool, dark room, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and removing distractions from the bedroom – like computers and TVs – can help you get a better night’s sleep.

What’s your bedtime routine? I wind down by reading a book for a few minutes.






Protein Powders: What They Do and Don’t Do

One of the most widely used sports supplements by far is protein powder. Generally consisting of either dehydrated whey or casein, protein powder is featured in the routines of bodybuilders, runners and everyone in between. And while the research bears out the usefulness of protein powder in certain situations, it has also been promoted as being an effective weight loss aid.

Since so many people use protein powders in their workout regimens, it makes sense to consider what it truly can and cannot do for the athlete. Do protein powders improve athletic performance? Can they help you gain muscle mass? Do they really help you lose weight? How much do you really need to feel its effects?

What It Does

Proteins are made of amino acids, which are commonly referred to as the building blocks of life. In various forms, these proteins are vital to the composition of every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies. Protein is also used in building and repairing muscle fibers.

This is especially useful after your workout, when muscle fibers are damaged and left in need of repair. That reparation process is what causes muscles to grow.

Most people satisfy their protein needs through their diet, but if you find that you have difficulty fulfilling those requirements, protein powders can come in handy.

What It Doesn’t Do

Even though protein has such a direct, logical link with muscle, there is no evidence to prove that protein supplementation can actually improve performance. In fact a 2007 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine showed that protein supplements did nothing to increase upper body strength, lean muscle mass or total anaerobic power in college athletes. There was a small improvement in lower body strength, but not enough to recommend protein powder for athletes.

The research is still inconclusive as to whether or not protein powders can actually increase lean muscle mass, though. It’s a difficult thing to prove or disprove, since everyone gains muscle differently.

One study did find that supplementation with whey protein, compared to soy protein, did encourage weight loss in obese individuals. The researchers give credit for this change to low levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin that was found in the whey group. It should be noted that the weight loss was only about two pounds over six months and that the entire mechanism at work here is not yet fully understood. More research is needed to really support the use of whey for weight loss.

The use of protein powders, whey or any other, really isn’t supported by science, despite this study. Most protein powders are high in calories, including calories from fat, so taking large amounts can actually lead to weight gain.

How Much You Need

As stated, most people get all the protein they need from a healthy diet. Still, teenagers who are growing rapidly, vegans, people recovering from sports injuries or those embarking on a new, more difficult workout plan, will all have increased protein requirements. Talk to your doctor to see if you could benefit from protein supplementation.

To calculate how much protein you need, you’ll first have to classify your activity level. Casual exercisers need about 0.5-0.7.5 grams of protein daily per pound of body weight. Competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 grams per pound.

Again, there are dangers associated with protein supplementation, so discuss it with your doctor. Too much protein in your diet can cause digestive problems, heart disease and gout. Soy protein supplements have even been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers in men by decreasing testosterone levels.

Have you taken protein supplements? Please share your experience with us in the comments.







How to Talk to a Friend Who’s Sick

Anyone who’s dealt with a serious illness knows how it goes….you’ll bump into a friend you haven’t seen in a while who has heard about your situation and they’ll ask “How are you?”  Even if you answer “Fine,” they’ll  then lower their voices an octave and say, “No, how are you really?” Or you tell them you have breast cancer and they blurt out, “I had an aunt who died from breast cancer.” Not very helpful or uplifting!

Most people know someone who has been sick or has a chronic disease. But most have no idea how to talk to them about it. Some people simply ignore the issue, even going so far as to drop the friendship because they don’t know how to deal with it. Others ask “What can I do for you?”  But this means that the ill person has to come up with a way for you to help them. Better is to offer a tangible way to help from offering to pick up their child from school to getting them milk the next time you go shopping.

It’s a natural human reaction to feel awkward in the face of illness, but what you don’t want to do is make the sick person feel worse or demoralized by an insensitive comment or even ignored by no comment at all. So what’s the best way to talk to someone who is dealing with an illness, surgery or even facing their mortality?

Author Letty Cottin Pogrebin helps us through these common situations with her new book out this month, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick. The book is chock full of great advice to help you be a good buddy. Here are some of HER tips:

·         The main three things you ought to be able to say to someone who’s sick:

o   Tell me what’s helpful and what’s not.

o   Tell me if you want to be alone and when you want company.

o   Tell me what to bring and when to leave.

·         Show you care. That’s the key even if you don’t know what to say or do, be there for the person.

·         If you’re going to visit a sick person, first make sure they really want you to visit. Sometimes just dropping off their favorite food or writing a note telling them you are thinking of them may be enough. Don’t overstay during a visit because you think your friend wants company; actually ask and get them to tell you the truth. And don’t expect to be entertained.

·         Ask if they want to talk about their illness, and if they do, really listen without judging, interrupting or offering your solutions. “Advice,” she writes “can be dangerous, usolicited advice infuriating.”

·         Don’t tell horror stories and avoid self-referential comments or anecdotes. You probably don’t know “what it’s like” so don’t claim to. Even success stories can fall flat because every situation is different.

·         Avoid hackneyed platitudes, empty eloquence, and feel-good clichés.  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Chin up.” Those don’t help. More helpful  is to express empathy and availability: “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” “I’m here if you want to talk.” “I’m bringing dinner.”

Think before you speak, she advises. “What pops into your head should not necessarily plop out of your mouth.” And remember, everyone wants to matter and know they are thought of and loved especially if they are going through a hard time. You can never go wrong telling someone what they mean to you.  “Your job is simply to be their friend.”

Let us know if you’ve found words that have helped or something someone said to you or did for you when you were sick that was spot on.


·         How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (PublicAffairs)

·         Help Me Live: 20 Things People With Cancer Want You to Know, by Lori Hope (Celestial Arts)

·         There are lots of free web-based care-giving coordination sites that allow family, friends, colleagues and neighbors  assist those in need by setting up a private community and calendar to organize visits, meals, rides and other tasks so life can run smoothly when someone is sick. Here are a few:

o   www.lotsahelpinghands.com

o   www.caringbridge.org

o   https://www.carepages.com/

Reasons to Watch Less TV

We all grew up hearing about how too much TV was bad for us. It was killing our braincells or destroying our eyesight or making us socially awkward. Despite all these warnings from our childhood, the average American still watches about 34 hours of TV every week,with another three to six spent watching recorded shows. And we’re still OK, right?

But new research is suggesting that watching all that TV really is bad for us after all.

One Australian study calculated that every hour of TV watching has the potential to chop 22 minutes off of your life. If you were to combine these findings with the amount of TV watched in America, you could reasonably estimate that each week Americans are losing 12 and a half hours off their lives.

Along with that, TV watching has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine even linked 20 hours spent in front of the TV with a sperm count that was decreased by half.

But let’s be honest. It’s not the TV doing these things to us. It’s what we do while spending all that time watching TV: Nothing.

The Problem

The real cause of all this trouble is the simple fact that when you’re watching TV, you’re sitting and doing nothing else. This sedentary lifestyle is really to blame for increased chronic health problems and shortened lifespan. These periods of inactivity mean that your muscles aren’t moving so they aren’t burning calories, therefore you have plenty of used calories that need to be stored. These calories get stored as fat.

Prolonged, habitual inactivity can actually program your metabolism to operate at a slower rate. This means that your body could get stuck in a fat-collecting rut, rather than using those calories more efficiently.

TV is also solidly linked with an increase in snacking, especially on calorie-rich junk food. Since your metabolism is already slowed down when you’re watching TV, chowing down on snack foods isn’t going to help the situation any.

The fact is that long periods of TV watching contribute to bad habits and break good ones. Physically and mentally, you’re better off doing chores around the house.

Breaking the Habit

Butthis is easier said than done. There’s a good reason TV watching is so prevalent: people need to relax. Just like everything else, though, this mode of relaxation is best enjoyed in moderation.

Instead of sitting down and flipping through the channels aimlessly, try having a plan for what show you want to watch. If your purpose is to watch that one program, you’re much less likely to spend hours on the couch.

If that’s still asking too much, try taking breaks during your TV marathons to get up and move around. Commercials are a built-in excuse for you to get moving, even for just a few minutes every so often. The point is to break up these long bouts of sitting and inject some activity throughout your day.

Or do something radical and consider NOT watching TV for an evening. What will you do instead? Cook a meal with your family or friends. Dance to music. Read a book. Have a conversation. Take a walk after dinner. You might find yourself energized and more upbeat, since you’ve been active and social instead of not. You might be surprised to find that the hours between getting home from work and going to bed seem longer once you cut TV out of the evening.

If you’re really feeling hardcore, consider getting rid of your TV altogether. What else could you do with that money you used to spend on the cable bill? Buy a bike? A gym membership? New running shoes?

Your waistline — and your wallet — would both thank you.

Do you have any tips for watching less TV? Please share them in the comments.






Coconut Oil: Miracle or myth?

Celebrity doctors and health food enthusiasts alike are touting coconut oil as the new miracle food. From preventing Alzheimer’s disease to promoting weight loss to giving you silky-smooth skin and even soothing diaper rash, it seems like there’s nothing that coconut oil can’t do. Or is there?

Health or hype?

Coconut oil isn’t a new food, but it’s gained popularity in recent years. This is partly thanks to vegans. People who eat a vegan diet don’t consume any animal products. Coconut oil isn’t an animal fat and it’s solid at room temperature, making it an excellent vegan alternative to butter.

Scientists have also been taking a closer look at coconut oil lately. Coconut and coconut oils have long been on the nutrition naughty list since they’re high in saturated fat. One teaspoon of coconut oil contains 12 grams of saturated fat (compare this to 2 grams of saturated fat found in olive oil) — more than half the saturated fat most people should eat per day.

This type of fat is unhealthy because it clogs arteries, raises your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and ups your risk for heart disease. Plus, most processed coconut oils contain partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. This type of fat is considered to be the most harmful fat because it not only raises LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.

However, some experts say that not all saturated fats are created equally. The main type of saturated fat found in coconut oil is lauric acid. Preliminary studies show that lauric acid increases the levels of HDL in the body and lowers LDL. What’s more, virgin coconut oil doesn’t contain hydrogenated oils or harmful trans fats so it’s a healthier option.

But even if you use virgin coconut oil, the jury is still out on whether or not coconut oil is good for you. There are no scientific studies to date that back up any of the health claims of coconut oil. While the nutty, vanilla flavor may taste great in a batch of cupcakes, coconut oil probably won’t rev up your metabolism, enhance your memory or clear up your acne.

Should you use coconut oil?

Like all foods and beverages, consuming coconut oil is fine in moderation. Experts are hesitant to label coconut oil as “nutritious,” but they agree that in small amounts, it probably isn’t harmful. Try substituting it for butter in baked goods, sautéeing vegetables in it or using it as a base for salad dressings. Keep in mind that coconut oil is high in fat, so use it sparingly.

There’s also probably no harm in applying coconut oil to your body. Some people say that using it as a lotion can help clear up sunburn, eczema and psoriasis. Others claim that it softens hair better than any conditioner on the market. Even if coconut oil doesn’t live up to the hype, at least you’ll smell good!

Have you tried coconut oil? I drizzle it over sweet potatoes before roasting them, and it tastes delicious!







Image suggestion: http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-15123102-coconut.php

The Link Between Emotional and Physical Endurance

“Visualize the win” is one of those phrases that all athletes have encountered at one time or another. Affirmations and visualizations are by no means a new addition to training tactics of athletes. It’s well recognized that a positive mindset during training and competition will help you push yourself even further and perform your best.

For good reason, these methods continue to be used and promoted. But new research has emerged that really gives weight to the whole practice. What does this study show? How can you use the information to improve your performance?

The Research

A significant body of evidence already exists that links personality traits, such as stress management, with cardiovascular health. Researchers at Florida State University College of Medicine, however, wanted to understand this connection more fully. While previous studies had explored the effects of personality on overall cardiovascular health in respect to lifespan and predisposition to illness, this new study hoped to reveal the connection between cardiovascular fitness and certain personality traits.

During the course of the study, 642 participant were assessed on neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. These five measurements were then used to create a profile to determine how resilient their personality was.

Each subject then had their resting and walking energy expenditures measured. The study found, when all the numbers had been compared, that subjects with more resilient personalities were more physically fit. These people walked more quickly, had a greater aerobic capacity and used less energy.

Because the ability to maintain healthy energy levels is directly associated with longevity and the prevention of age-related diseases, the study shows that a positive, resilient personality can actively lead to a longer, healthier life.

What You Can Do

It’s all well and good that being positive can help in so many different ways, but what if that’s just not who you are?

As frustratingly simple as it sounds, try to think more positively. Many studies have indicated that people who practice positive self-talk experience less stress and all of the negative side-effects that it brings with it.

For example, instead of just thinking “I’ve never done that before,” focus on the fact that it’s an opportunity to learn something new. Practice putting these positive spins on things that you deal with in your daily life and you’ll quickly notice that you feel less anxious and more energetic.

In relation to your fitness routine, those age-old affirmations are just as good now as they ever were.  Continue to encourage yourself and focus on what you’re capable of accomplishing. A major step toward building self-confidence is setting achievable goals.

Each time you set, and reach, a progressive goal you will see that you are capable of doing more and more challenging things. Measure your progress, as well, whether it be in your mile time or weight, to have tangible proof of how far you’ve come.

But it’s worth noting that the researchers in the above-mentioned study discussed the importance of having a resilient personality. This means more than just positive thinking. It means that even when you face a hardship, maybe even taking a few steps backwards, you have the ability to recover.

Even if you do fail to reach a goal you set for yourself, try to turn that experience into something positive. Use the frustration you felt as a motivation to improve.

Have you experienced the power of keeping a positive view? Please share your experiences in the comments.




Skin Cancer: One of the Biggest Threats to Outdoor Athletes

In general, exercise is a good thing. However, if you’re an outdoor athlete, take note: being active outdoors puts you at a high risk for skin cancer — which could be deadly.

Outdoor Athletes and Skin Cancer

If you run, bike, golf or play other sports outside, you have an increased risk for skin cancer (including both nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancers), and not only because you spend so much time in the sun. Sweating makes your body more sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays. This makes the risk is twofold: spending time outdoors ups your risk of skin cancer and sweating makes your skin even more vulnerable to damage. Plus, with heavy sweating, some sunscreens come off and stop being as effective.

The risk is even greater for athletes who participate in certain sports. If you’re a rower or surfer, you’re even more susceptible to skin cancer since the sun’s rays reflect off water. Skiers, snowboarders and other alpine sport athletes have an especially high risk, too, because ultraviolet (UV) radiation increases at high altitudes and the sun reflects more off snow- and ice-covered surfaces.

Avoiding the Burn

Thankfully, you don’t have to stop exercising and give up your healthy habit in the name of cancer prevention. Skin cancer can be prevented.

The best way to reduce your risk of skin cancer is to use sunscreen whenever you’re outside, even on cloudy days, since 80 percent of the sun’s dangerous UV rays can pass through clouds. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher that guards from both UVA and UVB rays. These tips can also help protect you from the sun:

·         Be generous with sunscreen. You’ll need approximately one ounce of sunscreen to properly cover your entire body. It works best when it’s lathered on thickly. Apply sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips and ears. Choose a sport variety or one that’s sweat or water resistant.

·         Put it on before you head out. The sun can harm your skin in as few as 15 minutes. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours and after swimming.

·         Cover up. Some fitness apparel companies make clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number or on the label. This material absorbs UV rays and stops them from hitting your skin. Always wear a hat and sunglasses that block UV rays, too. Invest in a pair of sunglasses with wraparound lenses to shield the sides of your eyes from the sun.

·         Seek shade during midday. Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is when the sun is at its highest and UV rays are at their peak. This is also the hottest time of day, so working out in the morning or evening hours will also feel more comfortable.

·         Be mindful of the UV index. The UV index measures the amount of UV light reaching the ground on a particular day. The UV index ranges from one to 11. The higher the UV index, the stronger the sun’s rays. Be extra careful outside when the UV index is high.

How do you protect yourself from the sun? I run on tree-covered trails. The shade keeps me cool and helps hide me from the sun.






Why Do We Need Water?

Everybody knows that they need to drink water, especially while exercising or competing, but few understand the science behind exactly why.

Water makes up most of the human body, including 80 percent of our blood, 90 percent of our lungs and 70 percent of our brain. All told, about 60 percent of our bodies are made out of water. But what is the active role of water in our bodies? Why are doctors, trainers and fitness magazines always telling us to drink more water? How much do we really need?

What it Does

Water is necessary to our every bodily system. In addition to being a major building block of organs and tissues, it keeps things running smoothly.

The liver and kidneys, which both produce large amounts of waste during their filtration work, rely on water to carry that waste away.

Water lubricates your joints, as well as moisturizes your inner ear, eyes, nose and throat.

Because of its major role in the composition of blood, water is responsible for the transportation of nutrients to your cells and muscles. Blood also carries waste away from these areas.

Your internal temperature is also regulated by water. Even when you aren’t aware of it, your body is producing small amounts of sweat through the glands on your skin to control your temperature. This sweat is comprised mostly of water.

Where Does it All Go?

Even when you aren’t working out, or moving much at all, your body loses a surprising amount of water. The average person exhales one cup’s worth of water vapors every day, plus another six cups lost to urine and bowel movements.

Then, of course, there is the water you sweat out. The average person excretes about four cups of water per hour during high-intensity exercise, according to researchers at the University of New Mexico. This number could change, however, based on fitness level, health conditions, age and surrounding weather.

How Much is Enough?

If you lose, on average, seven cups of water per day before you even start to sweat, you need to replenish at least that much. Remember the old adage to drink at least eight cups of water a day? It’s solid advice.

Depending on your diet, this could even give you slightly more water than you need. Most people receive about 20 percent of their daily hydration needs from their food, according to the Mayo Clinic. But a little bit of extra water won’t do any harm.

If you’re exercising, you will need to compensate for the water lost from sweat. For a typical workout, lasting about 30 minutes, about two cups of extra water should be enough. During longer, more intense workouts, you’ll need to adjust your water intake and possibly use sports drinks to replenish electrolytes.

It is possible, however, to drink too much water. Athletes are particularly at risk since they tend to drink large amounts of water or sports drinks to ward off dehydration. The excess fluid in your body can create dangerously low sodium levels. This condition, called hyponatremia, can cause seizures, confusion or even coma.

Again, there are certain health conditions that will require you to drink more water. If you frequently feel thirsty, despite drinking what should be an adequate amount of water, consult your doctor.

Do you have tips on staying hydrated? Please share them in the comments.






Tricks For Sticking With That Resolution

Some people like to joke about giving up their New Year Resolutions for Lent. It’s good for a laugh, but also illustrates how many people give up on their goals as quarter one draws to a close. For some, it’s harder than they thought it would be. For others, a long-term grind makes the whole thing too tedious to carry out to fruition.

If you’re having trouble sticking to your resolution as the weather grows warmer, try one of these tricks from productivity experts to push through and keep that promise you made to yourself.

1. Insert Time Limits

Resolutions with no clear beginning or end are destined for failure. Human beings are motivated by success and benchmarks. Try putting your resolution into a time frame and see how much better you feel about it.

Bad Example: “I will never eat ice cream again.”

Good Example: “I won’t eat ice cream until I reach my goal weight.”

2. Get Back on the Horse

If you’ve already quit on your resolution, call a Mulligan and start again. Forgive yourself for your earlier mistake and start fresh tomorrow morning. If you mess up again in three weeks, get back on the horse at the beginning of week four. A little progress beats no progress at all.

Bad Example: “I give up. I’ll never run a 10-minute mile.”

Good Example: “A 10:30 mile is better than no mile at all, and we’ll see if we can’t hit 10:15 by Spring Break.”

3. Write it Down

You’re always excited about your resolution on January 1, but it slides into the back of your attention as the weeks roll by. Write your goal down someplace you’ll see it often, like a post-it on your monitor, a note on your steering wheel, or in dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror.

Bad Example: Leaving the bar napkin you wrote the resolution on in your junk drawer.

Good Example: Setting a calendar alarm on your phone to call you every morning and remind you. 

4. Bribe Yourself

Bribery gets a bad rap. Your boss bribes you to come to work. You teachers bribed you with good grades. There is absolutely nothing wrong with bribing yourself for small successes with your resolution. Just be sensible with the reward.

Bad Example: “If I make it through the morning without smoking, I get a cigarette at my lunch break.” 

Good Example: “I’ll put the money I would spend on cigarettes in a jar, then splurge on a shopping spree whenever it hits $200.”

5. Find a Buddy

Few things improve your accountability like having to share your progress with somebody you care about. Find a workout partner for exercise resolutions, a weigh-in buddy for weight loss resolutions, or just a mutual coach to demand progress reports.

Bad Example: Complaining to friends about how you never achieve your resolutions.

Good Example: Meeting weekly with a friend to discuss results and strategies. 

6. Narrow the Focus

Some resolutions are simply too broad, or too sweeping, to be reasonably accomplished. If you find you’re frustrated with your resolution because you feel you never make headway, this could be why. Reassess the goal and then rephrase it in a more manageable format.

Bad Example: “This year I resolve to lose weight.”

Good Example: “I’ll lose 12 pounds this year, at a rate of one pound a month.”

Readers, what resolutions have you dropped in your life? What do you think would have happened if you’d applied one of these strategies?



“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey



Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

Anybody who has kept up with an exercise routine for even just a few weeks has felt the restorative effects of a good workout. How many times has a run helped you clear your head or how often have you felt relieved of stress after hitting the gym?

Research is emerging that helps to fully explain this connection, and is suggesting that these  benefits may be longer lasting than previously thought. It’s possible that having an active lifestyle can not only strengthen your mind today, but also help protect your brain further down the line.

The Research

As we age, a number of detrimental changes occur in our brains. First, the levels of various vital chemicals and specialized cells decrease. This undermines the brain’s ability to repair itself and retain new information. Eventually the brain actually begins to shrink, which results in memory loss and dementia.

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology explored the neurological effects of treadmill running on middle-aged mice. Like humans, the brains of mice begin to shrink in their middle years. The researchers found that the cardiovascular exercise not only increased the number of neural stem cells but that it also sped up their maturation into neural cells and increased the lifespan of those adult cells.

These findings were built on by a later study in the journal Neurology, which examined the connection between walking and the volume of grey matter in the human brain. The study showed that adults, with a mean age of 78, who walked between six and nine miles per week had more grey matter later in life than those who hadn’t been physically active. This finding suggests that that those older adults who were more physically active greatly reduced their risk of cognitive impairment.

Similar studies continue to be released, strengthening the case for exercise as a powerful preventative agent against age-related mental impairment.

Put It Into Practice

So with this in mind, what can you do to keep your brain functioning at full-speed?

The studies discussed above all used mild cardiovascular exercises, like walking, to produce the promising results and there is no evidence to suggest that more intense activity is more beneficial. In fact, physically exhausting yourself could also deplete your body’s fuel sources, including those used by the brain, and increase your risk of injury.

Select activities you enjoy, can do regularly and can sustain for more than 30 minutes at a time. This can include walking, participating in fun runs, or even working in your garden.

Investing in quality cardiovascular equipment will allow you to do this sort of brain-building exercise at home. Take time to research the best home elliptical machines since these will give you a highly effective workout with minimal risk of injury.

Activities that require complex motor movements such as golf, bowling and dancing are particularly useful. Not only do they get you up and moving but they build your fine motor skills and stimulate larger portions of the brain.

Have you experienced the mental benefits of physical exercise? Please share with us in the comments.