Exercise and Your Brain

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Exercise and Your Brain

It turns out that exercise is good for more than just looking good in a bathing suit and fighting off heart disease. Research shows it is significantly important for our brain health. In an era where Alzheimer’s is growing at an alarming rate any thing that we can do to help our brain health is not only advisable but also essential.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association findings for 2017 more than 5.5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and that number is growing rapidly. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and 1in 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Since 2000 deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14 % while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 89%! In addition it kills more than breast cancer and prostrate cancer combined.

So how does exercise help your brain? Initially we believed that our brains were static with little ability to change but now we know that the brain has neuroplasticity, which means that the brain has the ability to create new neurological patterns. It creates these new neurons and patterns through a process called neurogenesis. Dr. Gage at the Salk institute for Biological Studies along with a multitude of other studies has shown that through increased blood flow to the brain through exercise triggers biomechanical changes that spur neuroplasticity and generates new brain cells even in the aging brain.

The significance of this is that we have the ability to consciously and purposely have an effect on our brains ability to create these new neurons. Thus far the research has primarily been proven with aerobic exercises and to date it has been unclear whether anaerobic resistance training has the same effect. It turns out that as little as three hours of brisk walking a week has been shown to halt and even reverse the brain atrophy that starts somewhere in our forties. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and higher cognition.

We all know that exercise is helpful in many other ways aside from creating neurogenesis in our brain. Exercise lowers blood pressure, maintains cardiovascular health, increases muscle mass and has been helpful in addressing depression as well as many other issues. My hope for each of us is to age gracefully and enjoy all of life we can. To that end I encourage you to get up, get moving and stay smart.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Take A Mini-Vacation Every Day

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Take A Mini-Vacation Every Day

Despite the continued warm temperatures the summer is beginning to wind down, students are slowly making their way back to the classrooms and others will be heading back to college soon. There is a different kind of energy in the summer that lends itself to a more relaxed atmosphere. Traffic is lighter, schedules are a little freer, kids stay up later but underlying that the continual stresses of life remain the same.

With any luck you have had an opportunity to take a break from work and go away on a vacation somewhere or have had some time off to have a “staycation” at home. Typically vacations involve a lot of time and energy to plan, sometimes we create expectations, the day finally comes, we get there, have a great time, come back relaxed and rejuvenated and then its effects vanish by the second or third day back at work.

We all have some kind of stress but how we manage the stress is the critical difference that determines whether stress is in control of us or we are in control of it. Vacations are wonderful but whatever positive effects we receive rarely lasts long so developing a way to incorporate consistent daily down time is critical. To help with this I often recommend that people intentionally create time to take a mini-vacation everyday. Developing a pattern of taking a daily mini-vacation is a choice we make and a gift we give ourselves and essential to creating balance in our life.

So what does a daily vacation look like? Consider the following:

  • Take a walk at lunch
  • Shut your door, shut your eyes and just breath for five minutes
  • Take a bath
  • Take an hour break from all electronics
  • Read or listen to a book
  • Download a meditation app and plug your headphones in an meditate for 10 or 15 minutes
  • Sit on a bench or at a coffee shop and people watch
  • Spend ten minutes actively relaxing you body starting with your feet and working up. (Don’t forget to relax your eyes)

It doesn’t matter what activity you choose and I encourage you to mix it up and be creative in finding ways that work best for you. This can sometimes be difficult especially for those who feel guilty “wasting time”. The only requirement is that it works as a time out for you. Taking time out for your self every day is critical. Not just a week or two out of the year but everyday. It has been shown to be a significant factor in increasing creativity, deeper sleep, increased immunity, lower blood pressure and increased presence and clarity just to name a few.

I encourage you to give it a try in whatever way works for you. I am confident you won’t be disappointed.

With Gratitude,
Pat

A Breath of Fresh Air

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A Breath of Fresh Air

There is nothing more relaxing than a good deep breath. It is one of the most highly utilized techniques employed in any setting to assist you to calm down, relax and get focused. So why write a newsletter about your breath? I am sure you have been successfully breathing for as long as you can remember. Interestingly, however, you may be surprised to find that a large number of people don’t breath correctly and this can actually create more stress than relaxation. Justifiably most people rarely pay attention to their breath but with a slight modification you can optimize your breathing to significantly produce increased relaxation for your mind and body.

Take a second and take a good deep breath. Did you find that as you inhaled deeply your chest and shoulders lifted filling your lungs with air? This actually creates what I refer to as an “anxiety breath”. It makes sense if you think about it. When you get startled or taken by surprise you breath in the same way by inhaling a large amount of air as your chest rises.

Creating a calming breath still involves inhaling through your nose and mouth, however instead of filling your lungs by lifting your shoulders and ribcage as you breath in push out your lower abdomen with as little movement in the upper body as possible. Try practicing this by placing a hand on your stomach and as you inhale attempt to push on your hand as you fill the lower abdomen. As you exhale passively allow your belly to relax. Although it may feel awkward at first with just a few practice breaths it becomes more natural.

Breath is one of the only conscious connections between the mind and the body and can be valuable not only to relieve stress but also to calm and center you before a test, a big meeting, working on a project or to be in the moment and enjoy the day. If you have children I encourage you to share this techniques with them. We often overlook the stress they are under and teaching them techniques such as this at an early age will serve them for years to come.

Practicing proper breaths will assist you to stay calm especially in more stressful moments. When you are calm you think better and make clearer decisions. As trivial as it may sound consider evaluating your breathing and measure how effectively it is working for you. You won’t be disappointed.

With Gratitude,
Pat