It Isn’t Just About Fitness: How Fitness Goals Impact Your Entire Life

My latest article for Sports Nutrition Supplement Guide is on the impact that fitness goals can have on every aspect of your life. You can see the original post via the link below, or read the article here as well.

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http://sportsnutritionsupplementguide.com/inspiration-motivation/train-perform/item/1585-it-isn-t-just-about-fitness-how-fitness-goals-impact-your-entire-life

You may already be immersed in a fitness plan which enhances your physical strength and flexibility, improves performance, and keeps your physique in tip-top shape. But being physically fit confers a multitude of mental benefits which you might not be aware of. As a matter of fact, the link between physical health and mental health is so strong that people who brush off regular exercise as a time-consuming task are depriving themselves of optimal health and well-being.

Simply by engaging in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 3 to 4 days per week, you can help manage or even prevent mild depression and anxiety through the release of endorphins in the brain. In addition, regular exercise increases energy levels, enabling you to power through a busy day more efficiently. Individuals who exercise regularly also tend to enjoy more restful sleep.

Those of you who hit the gym or engage in other types of physical activity several days per week may also have noticed that simply by being in an exercise environment, your worries and negative thoughts have a tendency to melt away, lending a lot of validity to the phrase “iron therapy”. The sense of community which exists within gym settings or other events (such as 5K races, mud runs, rock climbing events, and other activities) can also be a very effective means of eradicating any feelings of loneliness or isolation.

People who struggle with depression are more likely to be sedentary, and levels of GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine tend to be much lower than in people who work out regularly. Conversely, levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, tend to be higher in sedentary individuals who suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. A study by the University of California San Francisco determined that women who exercised for 45 minutes over a 3-day period showed fewer signs of cellular aging compared to their inactive counterparts. Other studies have demonstrated that as little as three hours of regular exercise each week can reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Regular physical activity also benefits cognitive function. Researchers have discovered noticeable physical differences between the brains of people who engage in regular exercise when compared to inactive people. Several studies have found that the hippocampi in fit individuals is much larger. Why is this important? Because the hippocampus is largely responsible for spatial memory, and it is also one of the first regions in the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s related damage. Exercise also boosts levels of growth factors in the brain which are responsible for higher cognitive functions such as concentration, attention, memory and learning.

Lastly, regular exercise boosts self-esteem and improves body image, contributing to a greater sense of well-being and confidence. Think of how exciting it is when you reach a training goal, such as increased strength or flexibility, weight loss, or a positive change in body composition.

In summary, when you train your body through regular exercise, you also boost brain health and create a greater sense of overall well-being.

Online Cognitive Training – Helpful Or Not?

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I came across an interesting article which discussed online cognitive training, and I wanted to share excerpts from it. Following the shared post is my own opinion of online cognitive training, based on my personal experience with the most popular programs.

Does Online Cognitive Training Work? – By Pauline Anderson

Online cognitive training programs promise to boost memory and attention, and they’re popping up at a rapid pace. According to one dementia expert, the online cognitive training business has grown from about $200 million annually 6 or 7 years ago to an estimated $2 billion a year today.

But are these companies truly giving patients an edge when it comes to warding off dementia, or are they cashing in on the worried well and an often vulnerable aging population?

Cognitive training is loosely defined as regularly engaging in a cognitive task, for example, learning a list of words, a set of pictures, or a certain route to a particular target.

Online cognitive training programs typically involve buying a monthly or annual subscription that allows users access to various cognitive tasks. These users sit at a computer to do these tasks on a regular basis. They usually have to pay more to get upgraded applications.

“It’s a huge industry,” says Peter Snyder, PhD, professor, neurology, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, and chief research officer, Lifespan Hospital System, Providence, Rhode Island, and editor, Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, the Alzheimer’s Association’s online, open-access journal. Not surprisingly, many of these brain training companies target the aging baby boomer market. For the next 15 years, 10,000 people per day, every day, will turn age 65 in the United States, Dr Snyder said.

Many of them are worried about their memory. The issue of how to prevent dementia ”actually comes up almost every time I see a patient,” says David Knopman, MD, professor, neurology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and an investigator in the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer Research Center, Rochester, Minnesota. If they still have a job, Dr Knopman advises patients that they probably get enough stimulation in the work environment. ”Certainly the computer can’t be as good for mental stimulation as the challenges you face in the work environment, even if you’re not in an executive position.”

And if the patient is retired but reads newspapers, belongs to a book club, or does volunteer work, “what would the computer testing offer that this socially engaging and mentally stimulating activity doesn’t provide?” asks Dr Knopman.

The benefits of cognitive activity aren’t in question. It’s clear from the literature, says Dr Snyder, that engaging cognitively with challenging and varied tasks may help slow the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Rock Solid Evidence

The lifestyle factor that has the most credible evidence for protecting against dementia to date is not cognitive training but physical activity. “The evidence is absolutely rock solid; it’s incontrovertible,” says Dr Snyder.

He worries that patients will play online cognitive games three times a week in the hopes of protecting their brain instead of taking a brisk walk three times a week.

And Dr Knopman is concerned that those playing brain games may not be socially active. Online cognitive training is ‘the opposite of being socially engaged,” he notes. “They force people to bury themselves in the computer for a certain period of time.”

It’s not clear whether pursuing cognitive training online adds any further benefits to physical and cognitive pursuits offline. That’s because to date there’s scant literature on the subject.

One study published earlier this year in The Lancet looked at the effect of healthy eating and exercise in addition to brain training in 1260 people aged 60 to 77 years who were at risk for dementia. Researchers found that an intensive program incorporating all three approaches, plus management of metabolic and vascular risk factors, slowed cognitive decline over 2 years.

Overall scores on the Neuropsychological Test Battery in the intervention group were 25% higher than those in a control group that received only regular health advice. The results were particularly striking in the areas of executive function and processing speed.

But how much brain training contributes to the mix remains to be seen.

Literature a “Wreck”

The literature in this area leaves a lot to be desired, Dr Snyder said. Most of the published literature is a “wreck,” he says, partly because the outcome measures are confounded, the follow-up period isn’t long enough, or proper comparisons aren’t in place.

A randomized controlled trial of cognitive training would have to compare this training to an appropriate placebo, he points out. “In this case, what’s the placebo? Is it absolutely nothing at all, which in most cases is what has been done?”

The question, says Dr Snyder, should be whether the online tasks are more effective than freely accessible pursuits doctors might routinely recommend to older adults, which in addition to regular physical activity might be things like learning a new language or practicing the piano.

Learning a language or an instrument is a complex process that involves several cognitive functions. In contrast, many of the online cognitive games being marketed focus on very specific cognitive functions, for example, remembering word lists.

So after some practice, you may get good at remembering those word lists — the so-called training effect — but how that translates into everyday life is unclear. “Is learning word lists over and over again on a computer going to generalize to being able to find your car in a crowded parking lot at a shopping mall?” asks Dr Snyder.

But forgetting where you parked your car, or the name of your grandson, can be a scary experience. More and more patients are looking for ways to prevent their descent into mental fog.

And so they’re increasingly turning to online cognitive games. “This is an industry that I worry preys on the elderly, preys on a vulnerable population,” says Dr Snyder.

Sweet Spot

William Mansbach, PhD, from Mansbach Health Tools LLC, Simpsonville, Maryland, agrees that the “sweet spot” for the at-home brain training industry is the “worried well” and that in general the industry’s claims far exceed the evidence.

But this may not be the case for those already experiencing memory impairment. His company has developed programs that he says can improve global cognition in these patients in as little as 3 weeks if they practice for 20 minutes, three times a week.

One of his programs — Memory Match — is a cognitive training task that exercises working memory and attention using themed cards. A study discussed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference earlier this year found that those with mild cognitive impairment and mild dementia improved significantly on this test compared to a control group that didn’t receive it. Importantly, says Dr Mansbach, those with more severe dementia did not improve.

In structured interviews following this study, participants in the treatment group pointed to the intervention as a reason their memory improved, according to Dr Mansbach.

He’s proud of the “clear evidence” and “large effect sizes” from the study that suggest that this approach is legitimate.

Patients using his brain training tasks first do a self-assessment to determine at what level to start in order to get maximum benefit, he says. One of his criticisms of other programs is that there are no real assessment of the person doing the training and no concrete idea of what needs improving.

However, while he’s convinced his program works in the short run, long-term benefits are unclear. “We have no idea, and no one does.”

There could well be an important role for cognitive training outside industry, though. Jens Pruessner, PhD, professor, psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, thinks that using this training may help pinpoint patterns that might be clues to the onset of dementia.

In a research project, he and his colleagues are testing PONDER (Prevention of Neurodegenerative Disease in Everyone at Risk), a free online cognitive training program aimed at those aged 40 years and up. Using neuropsychological assessments, researchers are tracking the progress of users to see whether the frequency, intensity, and duration of cognitive training leads to observable changes over time.

“Let’s say that in general, the training effect is such that you improve by 20% over time when you have been doing this task every other week for 6 months,” said Dr Pruessner. “Are those people who only improve by 10% or 5% at risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and eventually dementia?”

So far, the mean age of users is 57 years, which is exactly when age-related cognitive decline begins in those destined to develop dementia. Dr Pruessner notes that dementia begins some 20 years before clinical symptoms become significant.

Perhaps the most well-known of these companies is Lumos Labs in San Francisco, California, whose brain training site, Lumosity, is used by more than 70 million “brain trainers” in 182 countries, the company’s website notes.

The company has a collaborative research initiative, called the Human Cognition Project (HCP), that it says partners with more than 90 collaborators from 40 universities. “Through the HCP, we grant qualified researchers free access to Lumosity’s cognitive training tasks, assessments, research tools, and in some cases, limited access to data on cognitive task performance — helping them conduct larger, faster, and more efficient studies,” the website notes.

Lumosity also has in-house researchers to develop new cognitive training tasks and assessments, provide administration of controlled studies, and study Lumosity gameplay information to enhance the experience, the site notes.

Several publications in peer-reviewed journals have used Lumosity data. Earlier this year, researchers published a paper in Alzheimer’s & Dementia using data from Lumosity’s Memory Match game, which requires visual working memory, to look at individual differences in age-related changes in working memory. They found significant effects of age on baseline scores and lower learning rates. “Online memory games have the potential to identify age-related decline in cognition and to identify subjects at risk for cognitive decline with smaller sample sizes and lower cost than traditional recruitment methods,” the authors concluded.

A randomized trial of nonaction video games from the Lumosity site reported in 2014 in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed improvements with training in processing speed, attention, and immediate and delayed visual recognition memory in the trained group, but no variation in the control group. Neither group improved in visuospatial working memory or executive control, the researchers report.

“Overall, the current results support the idea that training healthy older adults with non-action video games will enhance some cognitive abilities but not others,” the researchers, with first author Soledad Ballesteros, PhD, Studies on Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Group, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain, concluded.

Multiple emails and telephone messages to Lumosity requesting an interview for this article, sent over several weeks, were not returned.

Personal Trainer for the Brain?

So, at the end of the day, should that 57-year-old patient who is worried about his forgetfulness fork out subscription fees every month to play cognitive games? If it keeps someone mentally active, “why not?” says Dr Belleville.

She points out that people pay a lot of money to join a gym when they could jog for free in the park. “If you have to pay a gym to continue to do your exercises, then pay; it’s worth the money.”

However, she acknowledges that while there’s a good deal of evidence that a certain amount and intensity of physical activity is good for the brain, “when you look at cognitive training, it’s all over the place.”

And she agrees that it’s not clear whether the training effect goes beyond the task being practiced — or whether it has the same impact as informal training, such as doing crossword puzzles several times a week.

On the other hand, “it’s probably better than doing nothing at all and looking at silly programs on television,” she says. “I think there’s something there, but we need to understand better what the active ingredient is so we can provide good advice to people.”

Now here’s my take on online training:

I believe that the practice and the HABIT of performing cognitive training serves a beneficial purpose for people who engage in it. I also strongly agree that such training programs are a much better alternative to watching television. While I agree with Dr Knopman that computer cognitive training doesn’t provide an individual with any benefits over reading, learning a foreign language, or engaging in a complex mental activity which would protect brain function, I strongly believe that the current pace of society has made it extremely difficult for people to find time to engage in such activities. On a personal note, I never have time to leisurely read a book like I used to in the past. For me, a ten minute visit to a brain training website keeps my skills sharp and is a nice break from the hectic lifestyle which I deal with all the time. In addition, my regular cognitive games do not interfere in any way with my four to six day per week exercise regimen. I also maintain social engagement through work and my personal life. I am thankful for the brief visits to training websites, because they make me feel less guilty about not having an hour or two to carve out of the day to dive into a book.

Dancing For Brain Health

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Please check out my original post at:

http://xactmind.com/xc/articles/dancing-for-brain-health/

By: Dr. Stacey Naito – Physician and IFBB Pro

Perhaps you have always had two left feet when it came to dancing, and have considered taking a dance class to improve physical coordination and rhythm. However, the benefits of dancing extend far beyond the physical benefits. The health benefits of dancing include stress reduction and an increase in serotonin levels, which gives us a sense of well-being. Another extraordinary benefit of engaging in regular dancing is that it helps to prevent the cognitive decline which is associated with aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and it increases cognitive acuity in people of all ages.

New Neural Pathways

The process of dance, especially forms such as ballroom dancing which require cooperation between two partners, involves lightning fast decision making, which forms new neural pathways. However, only the types of dancing which force the dancer to improvise while on the dance floor will cause these neural connections to form. A monumental 21-year study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that the participants who showed the most resistance to dementia were involved in freestyle social dancing such as ballroom dancing, tango, salsa, waltz, and swing. The cognitive benefits were more significant in participants who danced regularly versus those who only danced occasionally, and those who changed dance partners also benefitted more, since they had to adjust to new partners and make more split-second decisions.

Protection Against Dementia

How significant were the benefits of dancing in this study? Seniors who danced several times each week had a 75% lower risk of dementia versus people who did not dance at all. The cognitive benefits of dance far exceeded the benefits seen with subjects who participated in other activities such as reading books, doing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, tennis, golf, bicycling, walking and swimming. In fact, the only physical activity which protected subjects against dementia was frequent dancing.

The Power Of Leucine

Original post can be found at:

http://www.sportsnutritionsupplementguide.com/supplementation/item/1528-the-power-of-leucine

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Leucine could be considered the most important supplement you should add to your regimen as you age, especially if you are a competitor. Leucine breaks down much faster during exercise than the other two branched-chain amino acids (isoleucine and valine), and is also unique in that it plays a critical role in intramuscular protein production through anabolic signaling and mediation of insulin secretion, so it certainly makes sense to ensure that you are getting sufficient amounts of leucine in your diet.

If you are over the age of 35 or 40, leucine is depleted even more rapidly, so replenishing this amino acid through leucine rich food or through leucine supplements can be an insurance policy to guard against age-related muscle loss.

Leucine crosses the blood-brain barrier, and once in the brain, it sends satiety signals to the hypothalamus, thus guarding against overeating.1 It also promotes glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity by optimizing glucose metabolism. Another important function which leucine has in the brain is the stimulation of glutamate production and release. Since glutamate is an important neurotransmitter in the brain which is involved in memory and learning, the presence of leucine exerts protective effects on cognitive function.

One study by Donato et al discovered that leucine supplementation while on a calorie restricted diet resulted in more fat loss overall, as well as increased protein synthesis in muscle tissue and the liver. 2 The human requirement for leucine is the highest of all the essential amino acids, at approximately 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight in sedentary adults. However, this requirement does not take into account the muscle preserving needs of individuals who are engaged in intense resistance training. Such individuals benefit greatly from supplementing with up to 200 milligrams of leucine per kilogram of body weight. 3

If you are considering adding leucine to your regimen, be sure to time it so that you ingest it when you take in a protein-rich meal. If you prefer actual food sources of leucine, you can consume turkey breast (over 2 grams of leucine in a 3 ounce serving), fish, dairy products, seeds, soy or nuts. Leucine powder is VERY bitter, so make sure to mix it with a tasty protein powder, or take it in capsule form with your whole food meals. This will optimize protein synthesis in muscle tissue and enhance the anabolic effect.

REFERENCES

1. Potier M, Darcel N, Tome (2009) Protein, amino acids and the control of food intake. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 12(1):54-58.

2. Donato J Jr, Pedrosa RG, Cruzat VF, Pires IS, Tirapegui J (2006) Effects of leucine supplementation on the body composition and protein status of rats submitted to food restriction. Nutrition 22 : 520 –527,2006

3. WHO/FAO/UNU (2007) Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition. Report of a joint WHO/FAO/UNU expert consultation. World Health Organ Tech Rep Ser. 1–265.

The Other Carnitine Molecule – Brain Booster

Since yesterday’s post discussed the energy and fat loss benefits of L-carnitine tartrate, I thought it might be best to discuss the brain boosting benefits of the other carnitine molecule which is used commonly as a supplement. Acetyl-L-carnitine helps to reverse some of the functional impairment which occurs in the energy powerhouses of cells known as the mitochondria, thereby improving cellular function. The natural oxidative process which occurs in cells has a cumulative and damaging effect on mitochondria which compromises cellular function throughout the body, but most notably in the brain. Numerous studies have confirmed that cognitive function is enhanced when subjects are given acetyl-l-carnitine. The most powerful safeguard against oxidative damage and free radical formation is to supplement with BOTH acetyl-l-carnitine and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA).

General recommended daily doses are the following:

Acetyl-l-carnitine: 500 to 1,500 milligrams per day

ALA: 150 to 450 milligrams per day

Source Naturals is a good brand to take and it offers a supplement which combines both acetyl-l-carnitine and ALA in one tablet. Each tablet has 500 mg of acetyl-l-carnitine and 150 mg of ALA, so you could safely take this supplement one to three times daily.

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