brain fitness Archives

Did you know that recent medical studies have shown that our brains begin showing signs of dementia related diseases up to 30 years before we actually can’t remember what our car keys are used for!? It’s true. We begin losing grey matter and growing amyloid plaques in our 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. That’s the bad news. The good news is, now that we know this, we can take steps to prevent getting dementia at all!

Bruce Miller, MD, director of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center states “We believe if people started taking preventive lifestyle measures, we could potentially decrease the incidence of Alzheimer's by about 30 percent,”  Okay, 30% is good!

Last week I wrote about how mindfulness based practices, like meditation and yoga, help to change our gene expression and also keep our memory intact. I’d like to continue that discussion today with more information about Alzheimer’s prevention. We all know that, presently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. There are many things, however, that we can do to help prevent, or at the very least, slow the progress of dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s. Here are a few that “new science” proves will do the trick:

Exercise! And you get even more benefit if you complete your aerobic exercise with others. The combination of social interaction and aerobic exercise can increase grey matter.

Eat The Right Foods

Martha Clare Morris, ScD, one of the researchers who developed the MIND diet, which is a combination of a Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, explains that our brains crave plants!

The MIND diet emphasizes vegetables and nuts, while putting limits on animal products, saturated fat, and sugar. This is based on research which examined which foods improve brain health. In a 2015 study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, people who were most faithful to the MIND diet enjoyed slower cognitive decline—the equivalent of gaining seven and a half healthy brain years. In a second study, that same group was also found to have a 53 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer's compared with those who were the least dedicated to the diet.

The MIND diet's ten brain-boosting foods:

Leafy green veggies (six servings per week)

Other vegetables (one serving per day)

Nuts (five servings per week)

Berries (two servings per week)

Beans (three servings per week)

Whole grains (three servings per day)

Fish (one serving per week)

Poultry (two servings per week)

Olive oil (your main cooking oil)

Wine, preferably red (one serving per day)

Kirtan Kriya Meditation (info here) – It’s not too late to take advantage of my special from my last newsletter.

Neuroplasticity Training:

In the last year or so, I have spent a great deal of time studying neuroplasticity, and have developed a course to help people accomplish goals that have been out of reach for years, like, weight loss, being on time, getting back to writing that book, or putting paint to canvas. This course was tested a few months back with great success and I’ll be offering it again in October.

Basically, we now know that making new pathways in our brains is key for keeping our brains healthy and active at any age. And, the even better news is, it’s not difficult, nor does it take a lot of time and money to build these new pathways. It does, however, take commitment. You must decide that this is important and that you are going to follow through with the steps you take because ritual making and repetition help to make these new connections stronger.

For instance, let’s take the goal of being on time. Let’s say you have attempted many different times and ways to change this bad habit in recent years and each time something comes up, something ALWAYS comes up... Your babysitter cancels due to illness, so you have to drop the kids to school on your way to work, or you get a return call from your doctor just as you’re leaving for your tee time at the golf course and you answer because it might be important, etc. And before you know it things have “come up” enough times that you’ve blown your lovely plan to smithereens! Well, thanks to the science of neuroplasticity, we now know that this has nothing to do with willpower, and you are not doomed to failure with this goal. Mostly, this is your brain following the same pathway it knows over and over again. So at this point, that pathway is strong as cement! If you truly want to be on time, you must make new pathways in your brain, rinse and repeat, until this new pathway is strong, and, voila, you have conquered a habit. It sounds simple, right? It is. Simple – not easy. As I said, you must be committed.

There are many tools which help us make these new brain pathways and I’ll be covering all that I have found and researched in my new course. Watch for more information in the next newsletter on this!

Meanwhile, take a look at the TED Talk below, from a scientist who studies the brain and how to help people recover from stroke, through neuroplasticity. I was delighted when one of the participants from my new course sent me the link, as what she talks about here supports my own work! How cool is that!?

Best of Health,

Kathi

Yoga Alters Your Gene Expression!

I'll bet that's a surprise, huh? I admit, when I first saw those headlines, I was skeptical. Even though I see firsthand every day how much Yoga helps our physical health, I didn’t understand the "why." Now that it makes so much sense, I wonder why someone hadn’t discovered this information long ago.

For years we‘ve known that practices like Yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi make us feel better, breathe better, remove stress, and even sleep well. “New science” has shown us that these mind/body practices leave, what science calls, a “molecular signature” in our cells; they actually cause our body to either raise or lower the protein production of our genes. Cool!

One recent study examined the effects of mindfulness practices on the immune system, with a specific focus on five outcomes: (1) circulating and stimulated inflammatory proteins, (2) cellular transcription factors and gene expression, (3) immune cell count, (4) immune cell aging, (5) antibody response. Their conclusion is that there is enough evidence to support a link between these mindfulness practices and gene expression to warrant further studies. YES! Let’s get more scientific evidence on board so that more docs will recommend Yoga, meditation, etc.

Another review seemed to point to what most of us already know – the majority of improvements and health benefits that people enjoy from these mindfulness practices are related to stress hormones and inflammation. While previous studies have focused on how these practices affect our brains (losing less of our grey matter as we age), this study also looked specifically at how our genes are affected. Certain genes are either upregulated or downregulated in our body throughout our day, based on many different circumstances. All of the studies measured what they call “gene expression,” (the way that genes activate to produce proteins which influence the biological make-up of the body, the brain, and the immune system.) They used blood samples to identify this gene expression both before and after each different mindfulness practice. Some studies were all about Yoga, some Tai Chi, others studied different forms of meditation, etc. In all the studies, the gene expressions of genes that control inflammation and stress were changed after the session.

The results of 18 studies that used gene expression analysis in research on mindfulness practices have, overall, found a significant downregulation of NF-κB (a key transcription factor that controls the expression of inflammation-related genes), which can reverse the molecular effects of chronic stress. I’ll take that!

Even though the study designs, the population, and the types of mindfulness practices used in the studies included in this review vary, it indicates that some of the psychological and physical benefits result from biological changes in NF-κB genes. More studies are currently being done to understand better how Yoga and other mindfulness practices affect our genes.

Another study, which was a follow up to a previous study done at UCLA, found that the Yogic meditation practice called Kirtan Kriya, reversed the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor. Translation: This meditation practice reversed the inflammatory process in stressed out caregivers! This particular study was done on caregivers who live with the daily stress of caring for family members with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

When that first UCLA study came out, I wrote an article about it and offered training in this particular meditation practice. I am offering a special on Kirtan Kriya meditation training again today. You can find out more, and sign up HERE.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, senior author of this study and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and her colleagues, found, in their work with 45 family dementia caregivers, that 68 of their genes responded differently after Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM), resulting in reduced inflammation. “The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression," said Lavretsky. "Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation. This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful tool."

Notice she used the word “brief”. This meditation takes only twelve minutes a day! Can you spare twelve minutes a day to alter your genes for reduced inflammation as well as increase your grey matter? Sign up now and learn this easy meditation practice!

Best of Health,

Kathi

Fitness For Your Brain

One of the most interesting bits of information that I have come across when researching for my program on Neuroplasticity is the finding that the combination of aerobic exercise (not Yoga, Tai Chi, or even strength training) and a strong social network gives us a MUCH better chance of retaining good health AND keeping dementia at bay as we age.

The advancements in computer technology in our lifetime are great, and have enabled us to watch instructive videos and repair our own cars or appliances, write emails which arrive instantly, and have live chats with family and friends all over the world!

While the socialization part of this is good for us, the sitting part is not.

In 1969, René Dubos published his Pulitzer Prize winning book, So Human an Animal: How We Are Shaped by Our Surroundings. After studying indigenous populations in remote locations, Dubos concluded that the secret to longevity was directly linked to social connectivity and physical activity. A handful of more recent studies have concluded the same.

Where do you fall in this category? Are you an avid walker, but work at home alone all day and have a limited social network? Or, maybe you have an active social circle who gathers for concerts, dinners, and/or travelling, but are mostly a couch potato?

Here are some examples of how we can integrate this new information into daily life:

Join, or start, a group exercise program. Walking clubs are nice. I am starting one in Otis soon. A group of women who walk together at least once a week, chatting, laughing together, solving all the problems of the world… You can bike or hike or swim together as well. Do what gives you joy, but do it with others as much as possible.

If you only need to add aerobic exercise, once again, it’s important to use what you have available and what fits into your schedule. If you try to make time to get to a gym, for instance, when you already have a busy schedule, then you might find it too difficult to continue going after a week or two. Perhaps a 30 minute walk at lunchtime would fit into your schedule better, or 20 minutes on your mini trampoline a few times a week, or walking to that selectman meeting, or library board meeting. Sometimes, I incorporate HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) training into my program by listening to an interesting program on my iPod while switching off between walking around the yard and running up the stairs to my studio; the time goes by quickly as I’m concentrating on what I’m learning while getting the exercise in. I have a brother-in-law who reads the paper while riding his stationary bike every day. Use that creative brain of yours to fit something in that doesn’t feel like another task you have to complete. And make it fun!

Whatever you chose to do – schedule it into your calendar! You Are Important! Your own health and well being is the most important job you have in life. If you are not healthy, you cannot care for others, nor participate in life as you wish. Make this appointment with yourself a regular habit by scheduling it in just as you would a dental appointment. You will be glad later in life if you start to take better care of yourself now. It’s never too late to start working out, especially working out with others, which is more fun and even healthier!

Best of Health,

Kathi

Is Your Brain Plastic!?

The progress that medical science has made in recent years is truly amazing to me. From using 3D medical technology to replace lost limbs and heart valves, to the deeper understanding of brain plasticity (neuroplasticity) and how we can repair brain damage that was previously thought permanent... This is definitely the stuff that sci-fi movies were made of when I was a kid!

While I have been studying neuroplasticity of the brain on my own, I am also taking a course where I'm learning how to use it to change some of the pathways that years of habit have made in my own brain. All I can say is - WOW!

What I am finding is, that in addition to the changes I am working on in the course, other changes (new pathways) are automatically forming for other habits I have wanted to change, but have only thought about so far. “Wow” just isn't a strong enough word! Check out Homer's tracks, or pathways; looks like he may need to change a few of those to remain healthy! 🙂

Through the discovery of neuroplasticity, we now know that we are literally reforming our brains with each passing day. Our brains enjoy the remarkable ability to reorganize pathways, create new connections and, in some cases, even create new neurons throughout our entire lifetime. Isn’t that a kick?!

So, in other words, our brains can change and adapt in response to new experiences. This type of brain plasticity is called Structural Plasticity, and it refers to our amazing brain's ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning. This is what the course I am taking is all about and it is just cooler than cool!

Just think about the possibilities this opens up for us Baby Boomers! Many of us watched our parents or other close family members suffer with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and we sure don’t want to go down that path ourselves!!

Well, we can start right away by making new pathways, or tracks, in our brains, learning new skills, improving on our personal habits, and keep our brains as plastic as possible. There are new courses being developed daily now to help us do exactly that. In fact, I am developing a 30 day course myself based upon what I’ve learned recently, and adding a few tools that have been successful in helping my coaching clients make positive changes, like EFT.

The good news is that I will be offering it free of charge during the planning stages, to a small group of people, in exchange for your feedback and testimonials. I am very excited about this course and the possibilities it brings! When completed, the course will sell for $99.

If you are interested in being part of the test group, please drop me an email (info@HealthyBoomerBody.com) and include your telephone number so that we can chat for a few minutes about the course.

Best of Health,

Kathi