We're all aware of the more common benefits of exercise: weight loss, decreased stress, and improved cardiovascular conditioning. However, new and exciting research is increasingly demonstrating that exercise is good for more than just our brawn; exercise is really good for our brain. Here are 5 little-known benefits of exercise on the brain:
1. Increases GABA: Research shows that certain exercise boosts GABA, a neurotransmitter involved in inhibiting nervous system activity and therefore decreasing anxiety and inducing feelings of calm. A 2010 study found that three sessions of yoga per week boosted participants’ levels of GABA as well as improved mood and decreased anxiety.
2. Improves our Attention: Exercise that involves coordination or following along with more complex routines, such as dance or step aerobics, also improves our capacity to learn by enhancing attention and concentration. All forms of exercise help increase growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the number of new brain cells—but complicated activities provide the biggest brain boost. German researchers found that high school students scored better on high-attention tasks after completing 10-minutes of a complex fitness routine as opposed to 10 minutes of regular activity. People who are physically fit as well as those who are currently involved in aerobic training also have increased control over their ability to focus their attention.
3. Preserves Cognitive Function and Decreases Cognitive Decline: A 2011 study looking at the cognitive function of elderly adults over 2 to 5 years found that the most active participants scored significantly better on tests of cognitive function and also showed the least amount of cognitive decline. Ninety percent of the study’s participants showed no decline in their cognitive abilities throughout the course of the study.
4. May Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Aerobic exercise has been shown to protect the hippocampus, one of the first regions of the brain to succumb to Alzheimer’s-related damage. A 2000 study showed that inactive men who were genetically prone to Alzheimer’s were four times more likely to develop the disease than those who carried the trait but worked out regularly. Furthermore, UCLA researchers have shown a relationship between low physical activity and a higher risk of dementia.
5. Bigger Brains: Your biceps aren’t the only thing that get bigger with exercise. Multiple studies suggest that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercises versus people who do not. Bigger brains equate to better cognitive function, memory, and less risk of age-related decline.
So how much exercise is needed to harness these brain benefits? While the verdict is still out, it seems that 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week is sufficient. It seems not to matter whether this exercise is in one or two longer sessions or shorter sessions throughout the week. Only have 20 minutes? That’s ok. Take a brisk walk, get your heart pumping, and feel the brain-boosting benefits!
The holidays have come and gone and if you're anything like me, you are ready to leave indulgences behind and move into the new year with renewed vitality and purpose. While rigorous or involved cleanses are particularly popular this time of year, it's important to remember that small changes can have a big impact on our health. If you don't feel you have the time, energy or desire to do a "hardcore" detox, that's ok. Incorporate the five following changes into your daily routine and reap the benefit of mental clarity, better sleep, and a positive mood to boot.
1. Drink Lemon Water (and Lots of It): Most of us walk around dehydrated on a daily basis. Increasing your intake of water and incorporating lemon, known for aiding digestion and helping with detoxification in the liver, is an easy way to reduce fatigue and improve the quality of your skin. Citric acid—contained within lemon—stimulates our body's own natural production of digestive juices and bile. Furthermore, lemon is high in antioxidants and vitamin C, an essential building block for collagen, the protein makes our skin both smooth and firm.
2. Eliminate or Reduce Coffee and Alcohol: Coffee and alcohol dehydrate us and also cause our adrenal glands—the part of our endocrine system tasked with regulating our sleep/wake cycle and coping with stress—to work harder. "Adrenal fatigue" or the overworking of the adrenal glands to keep up with the pace of modern life, is rampant. Putting further stress on these glands can lead to a myriad of health consequences. Swap out your coffee for green tea and cocktail for a mocktail and reap the benefits of increased energy without a the jitters or a caffeine crash.
3. Eat the Rainbow: The vibrant colors present in fruits and vegetables are not only there to entice us. The color of our produce is a result of the vitamins, nutrients and polyphenols (plant antioxidants) found within it. The color red indicates lycopene or anthocyanins are present while yellow and orange is a sign that beta carotene can be found within. Because each of these nutrients has its own health promoting properties, eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables each day ensures our body is getting the building blocks it needs for optimal health.
4. Move Your Body: Our lymphatic system is responsible for moving proteins, cellular debris, bacteria and viruses, immune cells and certain toxins around our bodies for elimination. However, unlike our circulatory system which has it's own musculature, things only move through our lymphatic system if we move. Perform some moderate cardiovascular exercise as a way to boost your immune system and eliminate toxins. Furthermore, sweating helps us to release certain toxic chemicals and excess hormones and since many environmental toxins are stored in fat, even a small decrease in weight can help to reduce your overall toxic load.
5. Clean Up Your Personal Care Products: You may be well aware that the majority of personal care products available on the market contain harmful chemicals. These chemicals have been linked to hormonal disruption, developmental delays in children, improper functioning of the nervous system, and even cancer. While it can be daunting to replace all your personal care products at once, use this opportunity to replace one or two items with chemical-free counterparts. For ideas of which shampoo, lotion, and make-up is truly safe, visit the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database.
For more information on detoxes and cleanses or to sign-up for a medically supervised detox program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
IV nutrient therapy—the process of administering vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and other compounds through the venous system—has become one of my favorite treatment modalities—and with good reason. IV therapy can be used to prevent and treat common illnesses such as respiratory and gastrointestinal infections; can treat a wide variety of ailments such as migraines, insomnia and musculoskeletal pain; and can be used as adjunctive treatment for more pathologic conditions such as autoimmune disease, chronic infections, and cancer. Through bypassing the intestines, maximal absorption of nutrients is ensured. Furthermore, quantities of nutrients that cannot be absorbed through digestive tract can be delivered to the cells that need them most.
Some conditions that are successfully treated with nutritional IVs include:
Many people ask me if IV therapy hurts. For almost all of us, the answer is no! When IV therapy is performed by an experienced physician, you should feel no more than a slight pinprick. People are also curious as to how long receiving an IV takes. For most, the answer is 30 minutes to 1 hour, though certain IVs may take longer. Finally, people want to know how they will feel after. Most individuals feel very relaxed after their IV and experience an increase in energy 90 minutes to 2 hours later and sleep very soundly that night.
If you have specific questions about IVs or would like to know if you could benefit from IV therapy, feel free to get in touch. Through January 30th, all nutritional IVs are $35 off making it a great opportunity to try this amazing modality!
Dr. Elizabeth Winter practices integrative and functional medicine in San Diego, CA and sees patients from a distance via Skype. For more information about her and her practice philosophy visit About Dr. Winter.