How Exercise Supports Your Mental Fitness

May 18th, 2020 by Debbie Martilotta

A healthy body is home to a healthy mind. However, there are numerous different types of sports and a wide range of exercise and training. Which type and how much exercise will keep your mind in top shape?

This is the question that has been explored by researchers at the University of Basel and their colleagues at the University of Tsukuba in Japan through large-scale analysis of the scientific literature. They have used this analysis to derive recommendations that they recently published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Coordinated sports are particularly effective

The research group evaluated 80 individual studies to identify a few key characteristics. Endurance training, strength training, or a mix of these components seem to improve cognitive performance.

Heavy lifting during strength training also strengthens bone density, which can reduce the risk of breaks and fractures as you age. If you lift heavy, you test your mental strength as well.

Lifting heavy increases production of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor, the neurotransmitter related to producing new brain cells and improves cognitive function.

However, coordinated and challenging sports that require complex movement patterns and interaction with fellow players are significantly more effective. “To coordinate during a sport seems to be even more important than the total volume of sporting activity,” explains Ludyga.

A higher total extent of activity does not necessarily lead to a correspondingly higher level of effectiveness for mental fitness. Longer duration per exercise unit promises a greater improvement in cognitive performance only over a longer period of time.

All age groups benefit

Just like our physical condition, cognitive performance changes over the course of our lives. It is great for the potential for improvement during childhood (cognitive development phase) and during old age (cognitive degradation phase). However, the research group of the Department of Sport, Exercise, and Health (DSBG) at the University of Basel was unable to find an indicator of different levels of effectiveness of sporting activities within the varying age groups.

Furthermore, sporting activities from primary school age to later age do not have to be fundamentally different in order to improve cognitive performance. Different age groups can thus be combined for a common goal during sports. “This is already being implemented selectively with joint exercise programs for children and their grandparents,” says Pühse. Such programs could thus be further expanded.

Intense sports sessions for boys and men

The same volume of sports activity has a different effect on physical fitness for men and women, as we are already aware. However, the research group has now been able to verify this for mental fitness. Men accordingly benefit more from sporting activity.

Differences between the sexes are particularly evident in the intensity of movement, but not in the type of sport. A hard workout seems to be particularly worthwhile for boys and men. Paired with a gradual increase in intensity, this leads to a significantly greater improvement in cognitive performance over a longer period of time.

In contrast, the positive effect on women and girls disappears if the intensity is increased too quickly. The results of the research suggest that they should choose low to medium intensity sporting activities if they want to increase their cognitive fitness.

Science Daily


Cast Iron Whole Chicken

January 27th, 2020 by Debbie Martilotta

A simple and easy whole roasted chicken that is full of flavor, perfectly moist, and tender! This recipe is gluten-free, allergy-free, and paleo using a no-fail method for success. We think it’s just a fabulous way to up your protein and enjoy a home-cooked meal.

Ingredients:
•1 whole free-range, organic chicken, 4-5 lbs
•2 small Gala apples, chopped
•1 large shallot, chopped
•2 t oil (I use sunflower oil)
•1 1/2 t dried thyme
•1 t dried basil
•1/2 t garlic powder
•1/2 t onion powder
•1/2 t ground ginger
•1/4 t ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375oF
2. Rinse and pat dry the chicken, inside and outside
3. Place chicken in a large seasoned cast iron skillet and stuff with chopped apples and shallot in the cavity of the chicken, place any extra pieces around the chicken in the cast iron skillet
4. Rub the outside with the oil, herbs, and spices
5. Roast in the oven for about 1 hour and 40minutes (about 20 minutes per pound) or until the chicken reaches a safe 180F
6. Remove from oven, cover with foil, let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving

Recipe from Strength & Sunshine


This Is What Sugar Does To Your Brain

October 21st, 2019 by Debbie Martilotta

We know that too much sugar is bad for our waistlines and our heart health, but now there’s mounting evidence that high levels of sugar consumption can also have a negative effect on brain health — from cognitive function to psychological wellbeing.

While sugar is nothing to be too concerned about in small quantities, most of us are simply eating too much of it. The sweet stuff — which also goes by names like glucose, fructose, honey, and corn syrup — is found in 74 percent of packaged foods in our supermarkets. And while the Word Health Organization recommends that only 5 percent of daily caloric intake come from sugar, the typical American diet is comprised of 13 percent calories from sugar.

It’s easy to see how we can get hooked on sugar. However, we should be aware of the risks that a high-sugar diet poses for brain function and mental well-being.

Here’s what you need to know about how overconsumption of sugar could wreak havoc on your brain.

It creates a vicious cycle of intense cravings.

When a person consumes sugar, just like any food, it activates the tongue’s taste receptors. Then, signals are sent to the brain, lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released. Sugar “hijacks the brain’s reward pathway,” neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explained. And while stimulating the brain’s reward system with a piece of chocolate now and then is pleasurable and probably harmless, when the reward system is activated too much and too frequently, we start to run into problems.

“Over-activating this reward system kickstarts a series of unfortunate events — loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar,” neuroscientist Nicole Avena explained in a TED-Ed video.

In fact, research has shown that the brains of obese children actually light up differently when they taste sugar, reflecting an elevated “food reward” response. This suggests that their brain circuitry may predispose these children to a lifetime of intense sugar cravings.

It impairs memory and learning skills.

2012 study on rats, conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that a diet high in fructose (that’s just another word for sugar) hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain. The researchers found that rats who over-consumed fructose had damaged synaptic activity in the brain, meaning that communication among brain cells was impaired.

Heavy sugar intake caused the rats to develop a resistance to insulin — a hormone that controls blood sugar levels and also regulates the function of brain cells. Insulin strengthens the synaptic connections between brain cells, helping them to communicate better and thereby form stronger memories. So when insulin levels in the brain are lowered as the result of excess sugar consumption, cognition can be impaired.

“Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain,” Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.”

It may cause or contribute to depression and anxiety.

If you’ve ever experienced a sugar crash, then you know that sudden peaks and drops in blood sugar levels can cause you to experience symptoms like irritability, mood swings, brain fog, and fatigue. That’s because eating a sugar-laden donut or drinking a soda causes blood sugar levels to spike upon consumption and then plummet. When your blood sugar inevitably dips back down (hence the “crash”), you may find yourself feeling anxious, moody or depressed.

Sugar-rich and carb-laden foods can also mess with the neurotransmitters that help keep our moods stable. Consuming sugar stimulates the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Constantly over-activating these serotonin pathways can deplete our limited supplies of the neurotransmitter, which can contribute to symptoms of depression.

Chronically high blood sugar levels have also been linked to inflammation in the brain. And as some research has suggested, neuroinflammation may be one possible cause of depression. Teenagers may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of sugar on mood.

Research has also found that people who eat a standard American diet that’s high in processed foods — which typically contain high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and salt — are at an increased risk for developing depression, compared to those who eat a whole foods diet that’s lower in sugar.

It’s a risk factor for age-related cognitive decline and dementia.

A growing body of research suggests that a sugar-heavy diet could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A 2013 study found that insulin resistance and blood glucose levels — which are hallmarks of diabetes — are linked with a greater risk for developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. The research “offers more evidence that the brain is a target organ for damage by high blood sugar,” endocrinologist Dr. Medha Munshi told the New York Times.


Best Diet For Your Brain And Body

January 3rd, 2019 by Debbie Martilotta
  • A diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats is increasingly being recognized as the healthiest for your brain and body.
  • This diet is known by many different names – from “plant-based” to “Mediterranean” – and can come in a range of variations. But at its core, it is focused on veggies, protein, and healthy fats.
  • US News and World Report recently ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best to follow in the year ahead.

In a world dominated by celebrity fad diets, many people don’t believe there’s a single best diet for your health.

But a growing body of research suggests that a meal plan focusing on vegetables, protein, and healthy fats has key benefits for losing weight, keeping your mind sharp, and protecting your heart and brain as you age.

This type of eating regimen is called by many names and comes in different iterations, from “plant-based” to “Mediterranean.” Some people on the diet eat eggs and dairy, meat and fish, or all of the above; others are vegetarian and abstain from meat and animal products altogether.

At its core, however, most of these meal plans are very similar and have two main characteristics: they are rich in vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats and low in heavily processed foods and refined carbohydrates like white bread.

In its annual diet ranking, US News and World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best one to follow in 2019. (The plan was ranked at the top last year, too.)

Evidence supporting that recommendation can be found in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of Gerontology, in which scientists analyzed six recent studies on the Mediterranean diet and found that the eating regimen is closely linked with a variety of beneficial outcomes. Positive impacts include healthy aging, better mobility, a lower risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, and improved cognitive functioning.

Eating as you live on the coast of Naples or Athens sounds intuitively appealing. Meals could include fresh fish, vegetables drizzled in olive oil, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

Recent research suggests that diets like these, which are also low in processed foods and red meat, are great for your brain and body – both in the near-term and into older age.

To keep your energy levels up and help you feel healthy in the long term, your diet needs to feed more than your stomach. It has to satiate your muscles, which crave protein; your digestive system, which runs best with fiber; and your tissues and bones, which work optimally when they’re getting vitamins from food.

A plant-based diet’s combination of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and fats accomplishes that goal. But plant-based diets aren’t just good for the body – they have key benefits for the mind as well.

So if your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier or lose weight, the Mediterranean plan is worth a try. It may not even feel like you’re dieting at all.

Read complete Business Insider article here