The Mind Body Connection

Exercise is good for the brain. Why is this important? Because as your body ages and muscles shrink, so too does your brain.

The mind-body connectionScientists are now studying intra-cellular activity in the brain under the effect of exercise and are making some surprising discoveries.

An inactive brain, much like an inactive body, withers and loses its ability to function properly. Under the influence of exercise, new branches of cellular development grow in the brain, keeping it elastic and fully functional. Exercise to your brain (and body) is like water to a plant – it needs it to grow and flourish.

Exercising the body creates proteins that travel through the bloodstream to the brain, where they take turns in maintaining and creating cognitive behavior. You may have heard of these proteins – insulin-like growth hormone or IGF-1 and vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF. These factors embody the mind-body connection and make it happen.

The absence of these proteins affects cognitive behaviour and productivity. They also affect memory and the amount of data you are able to store and remember throughout the day. These processes involve binding neurons together to make the connection to the brain and then to the body. How efficiently these processes are executed rely on the delicate balance of neuro-chemicals and the growth factors mentioned earlier.

“Exercise has a documented, dramatic effect on these essential ingredients. It sets the stage and when you sit down to learn something new that stimulation strengthens the relevant connections. With practice, the circuit develops definition as if you’re wearing down a path through a forest.

The importance of making these connections carries over to all the issues I deal with in this program. In order to deal with anxiousness, for instance, you need to let certain well-worn paths grow over while you place alternate trails. By understanding certain reactions between your body and your brain, you can manage the process, handle problems and get your mind humming along smoothly.” – John J. Ratey, MD: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

All you need is 30 minutes of exercise a day to trigger these growth factors and stimulate brain activity and a high-protein diet, supplemented with whey protein that helps stimulate IGF-1. If you started your day with exercise today, then your brain is better prepared to handle the stresses of the day and absorb information. The result: you’ll be more productive and less fatigued.

There is a catch, however, you have to be in the right frame of mind in order to reap the benefits of exercise. This also has a lot to do with motivation and sticking with an exercise program. You can’t trick your brain. If you hate working out, your brain knows and those paths in the forest will remain restricted.

So, the more important question is why do you hate exercise? Probably because you haven’t found an activity that suits your personality. Exercise should be enjoyable, invigorating and social. Focus on finding something you enjoy. Check with your friends and see how they stay active and join in. Above all, change your attitude towards exercise and your brain will flourish.

Improving Brain Function with Exercise

Exercise is good for the heart and research shows that it can reduce the risk of dementia and slow the condition’s progression once it starts.

brain benefits of exerciseA study out of Mayo Clinic published this month in Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows how important aerobic exercise is in preserving cognitive abilities. Researchers concluded that it should not be overlooked as an important therapy against dementia.

Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that raises the heart rate and increases the body’s need for oxygen, such as:

  • Walking
  • Gym Workouts
  • Shoveling Snow
  • Raking Leaves

“We culled through all the scientific literature we could find on the subject of exercise and cognition, including animal studies and observational studies, reviewing over 1,600 papers, with 130 bearing directly on this issue. We attempted to put together a balanced view of the subject,” says J. Eric Ahlskog, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “We concluded that you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment, and for favorably modifying these processes once they have developed.”

Extensive research has been done using brain imaging to show objective evidence proving the positive effects of exercise on human brain integrity. And animal studies have conclusively shown that exercise generates trophic factors that improve brain functioning. Further research has shown how exercise increases neuroplasticity in the brain, increasing the rate of regeneration of cells and how fast the brain fires.

The researchers recommend exercise to anyone but especially those with a history of cognitive disease in their family.

“Whether addressing our patients in primary care or neurology clinics, we should continue to encourage exercise for not only general health, but also cognitive health,” Dr. Ahlskog says.

Diet plays a large role in brain health and one supplement that has been clinically proven to improve cognitive function is Omega-3. With a host of other benefits, Omega-3 is one supplement no diet should be without.


Mayo Clinic. “Aerobic exercise may reduce the risk of dementia, researchers say.” ScienceDaily, 7 Sep. 2011. Web. 8 Sep. 2011.

Too much Salt can Dull the Brain

We don’t give much thought to our aging brains until we start forgetting things.

Too much salt can dull the brain New research is now saying that a diet high in salt can affect the healthy cognitive function of the brain and lead to more diseases besides heart disease.

These findings were discovered in sedentary, older adults who had consumed a high-salt diet for a lifetime. Led by researchers at Baycrest in Toronto — in collaboration with colleagues at the Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal, McGill University and the Université de Sherbrooke, this study was published in the online journal Neurobiology of Aging and uncovers new evidence in the search for increasing cognitive health in older adults.

“We have generated important evidence that sodium intake not only impacts heart health, but brain health as well,” said Dr. Alexandra Fiocco, a scientist with Baycrest’s Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied and Evaluative Research Unit (KLAERU) and the study’s lead investigator.

The study itself lasted three years and followed the diets of 1,262 healthy men and women aged between 67 and 84 in Quebec, Canada. These subjects were selected from a larger group of participants in the Quebec Longitudinal Study on Nutrition and Successful Aging (NuAge).

The participants were divided into three groups defined by their daily sodium intake:

  • Low = a maximum of 2,263 mg per day
  • Mid = a maximum of 3,091 mg per day
  • High = in excess of 3,091 mg per day (this reached as high as 8,098 in some individuals)

In addition, participants were tested for cognitive function of the brain with markers at each yearly interval. Their fitness level was also measured using the Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly.

“The results of our study showed that a diet high in sodium, combined with little exercise, was especially detrimental to the cognitive performance of older adults,” said Dr. Fiocco.

“But the good news is that sedentary older adults showed no cognitive decline over the three years that we followed them if they had low sodium intake.”

“These data are especially relevant as we know that munching on high-salt processed snacks when engaged in sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing in front of the computer, is a frequent pastime for many adults,” said Dr. Carol Greenwood, a senior author on the study and internationally-renowned scientist in the field of nutrition and cognitive function in late life.

“This study addresses an additional risk associated with lifestyles that are highly apparent in North American populations.”

This research is revolutionary as until now high sodium intake has only been associated with high blood pressure and heart disease.

Strategies to reduce salt intake have been put place in Canada and indeed many states in the US as well. Health Canada recommends a daily dose of no more than 2,300 mg of sodium for people aged 14 and older.


Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. “Older adults with too much salt in diet and too little exercise at greater risk of cognitive decline, study finds.” ScienceDaily, 22 Aug. 2011. Web. 22 Aug. 2011.

Weight Loss Can Improve Memory and Concentration

We’re always trying to find reasons to help you stay motivated and keep you on your weight loss journey. Well, now science is telling us that losing weight can actually improve your memory.

Weight loss can improve memory and concentrationA study out of Kent State University has found a link between weight loss and improved memory and concentration.  The study was conducted on bariatric patients three months following their surgery.

Published in Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, Head Researcher John Gunstad says, “The initial idea came from our clinical work. I was working at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island at the time and had the chance to work with a large number of people who were looking to lose weight through either behavioral means or weight loss surgery.”

A group of 150 obese subjects were involved in the study, 109 of them scheduled for bariatric surgery, who were then tested again three months after surgery. The control group consisted of 41 obese individuals. Gunstad saw repeated cognitive behaviors in these individuals, who tested poorly on memory tests.

When the subjects were tested again 12 weeks after surgery, researchers found that their cognitive function improved significantly.

“The primary motivation for looking at surgery patients is that we know they lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, so it was a good group to study,” Gunstad said. “This is the first evidence to show that by going through this surgery, individuals might improve their memory, concentration and problem solving.”

The upside of obesity as a disease, unlike many other diseases, is that it is curable and that is something to be happy about.

“One of the things about obesity, relative to other medical conditions, is that something can be done to fix it,” Gunstad said. “Our thought was, if some of these effects are reversible, then we’re really on to something — that it might be an opportunity for individuals who have memory or concentration problems to make those things better in a short amount of time. And that’s what we found.”

This study is still underway and by the end of the second year will have four sets of results:

  • Pre-Surgery Results
  • 12 Weeks Post-Surgery Results
  • 1 year Post-Surgery Results
  • 2 years Post Surgery Results

Researchers expected improved mental function, together with biological functions of these post-operative patients, as “a lot of the factors that come with obesity — things such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea — that might damage the brain are somewhat reversible. As those problems go away, memory function gets better.”

Gunstad is now studying weight loss patients who are losing weight through diet and exercise, instead of surgery, to see if these results are uniform across the board. With individuals who lose weight through diet and exercise, improvements in cardiovascular health results are a given and with these improved fitness levels comes added benefits:

“One of the things we know is that as individuals become more cardiovascular fit and their heart health gets better, their brain health also improves,” Gunstad added. “Even if we take young adults and put them through an exercise program, their memory and their concentration get better by the end of the program.”

Now there’s another reason to get fit and stay in shape.


Kent State University. “Weight loss improves memory, according to researchers.” ScienceDaily, 13 Apr. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

Originally published @ FITLODE.COM