Sunday, September 30, 2018

Bigger Muscles Build A Bigger Brain!

Most people know that aerobic exercise is good for you and good for your brain, but what about strength training for improved brain function?   A recent study looked at preventing cognitive decline and dementia in people aged 50 – 86.     

The study followed 100 people who did resistance training using 80% of the one repetition maximum resistance level.  They study measured the effects on their brains through tests and MRI’s.    After 6 months, participants showed improved cognitive function along with growth of key areas of their brain.

The key conclusion of the researchers was that everyone should do at least two strength training sessions per week to keep their mental function strong as they age, and that the strength training needs to be intense – using 80% of their maximum one repetition maximum or more.

As always maintain perfect form and move smoothly throughout each repetition of each exercise to keep the target muscles loaded throughout the entire exercise until you can not perform another repetition in good form. 

Instead of having to measure your one repetition maximum strength in each exercise (which can be dangerous unless you are working with a trainer) remember the 8 – 12 repetition rule.      If you cannot perform 8 repetitions in good form with smooth controlled movement and no momentum – lower your resistance.      Once you can complete 12 repetitions in good form increase your resistance slightly.    Do 1 – 3 sets of each exercise and each workout should consist of 8 – 12 exercises done at least 2 times per week.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

How Much Alcohol is Beneficial for Health?

One of the most controversial topics in wellness is the topic of alcoholic beverages and whether or not they can be helpful or harmful.     As with many things – the devil is in the details.    One thing is for sure – alcoholic beverages can be very harmful to your health if consumed in excess.      In fact, some researchers contend there is no safe level of alcohol intake.  So the big question is how much is too much? 

To answer that question let’s review what the research shows for alcohol intake and cardiovascular health.   

There is a considerable body of evidence showing that light to moderate drinking may help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.     Now light to moderate means 1 – 2 drinks per day (1 – 2 beers, 1 – 2 glasses of wine, and best to stay completely clear of hard liquor!).       By the way a glass of wine means 5 ounces of wine and for stronger wines maybe more like 3 – 5 ounces.     Same deal with beer – it is all about alcohol content so for really high alcohol beers one is better than two!

According to a recent review light drinking as described above is associated with reduced risk of:

Coronary Artery Disease
Stroke caused by a reduction in blood supply
Heart Failure

Heavier drinking is associated with increased risk of:

High Blood Pressure
Coronary Artery Disease
Heart Rhythm Abnormalities
Brain bleeding type stroke

In this review authors speculated on several mechanisms that may be responsible for the benefits of light drinking:

Alcohol is known to raise HDL – good cholesterol

Low levels of alcohol reduce platelet aggravation meaning thinning the blood slightly.    This can help with coronary artery disease and stroke from loss of blood supply, but this can be very problematic if you are taking any medication to thin your blood like warfarin or coumarin.   Also, be aware that many dietary supplements also thin your blood slightly including, but not limited to, omega-3 fatty acids, many herbs and even vegetables like celery with higher intake.

The Authors also point out that low levels of alcohol intake are associated with decreased psychosocial stress.   This is all well and good, but we all need to keep in mind that it is very easy to develop a substance abuse problem with alcohol, so it is very important that certain people NOT drink at all.

Alcohol and the Brain

There have been several recent and very extensive reviews on this important subject.    One of these studies did a comprehensive review of alcohol and brain health and disease risk.     The review shows that there is clearly a very distinct dose response to alcohol separating health benefits from increased health risks as pointed out above.   This is specifically true for alcohol and Alzheimer’s disease.    To quote the authors “Moderate drinking of 3 – 4 glases per day of red wine was associated with a fourfold lower risk of Alzheimer’s".    Despite this they made it clear that this is NOT a suggestion for people to start drinking wine!

Red wine is a unique beverage in that it contains many plant chemicals that are clearly beneficial to health including polyphenols which work to reduce free radicals and inflammation and also chelate excess iron from the body.

Negative impacts of Alcohol and Mental Health

Unfortunately, excess alcohol intake is very bad for the brain.   For anyone who is depressed or has a mental health disorder like being Bipolar – alcohol can literally kill them by exacerbating symptoms and mood swings.

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and clouds judgement which can dramatically increase risk taking behavior with all the associated consequences.

Heavier drinking shrinks the brain.

Excess alcohol intake depletes key vitamins and minerals including:

Folic Acid – this dramatiacally increase breast cancer risk in females and any woman who drinks regularly (even lightly) should consider supplementing with an active form of folic acid such as L-methylfolate (5-MTHF).   In fact alcohol depletes all b-vitamins which are crucial for mental and physical health!

Vitamin C



Iron - this depletion can be very problematic for woman who are mentruating and drink regularly and are also vegetarians since there iron intake from foods is almost non-existent in many cases.

Potassium - as with magensium depletion of this vital mineral helps drive the blood pressure increasing effects of excess alcohol intake.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

How Much Exercise Do you need to Improve Mental Health?

Everyone knows that exercise improves your physical health, but what is less well known is how powerful exercise can be to prevent and treat mental health issues.   Exercise can prevent depression and has been proven to be more effective than many leading anti-depressant medications in head to head studies comparing the two.    

But just how much exercise do you need to do?  A recent large study looked at 1.2 million people in the US and had participants report their activity levels for one month along with rating their mental health.    On average participants said they had 3.5 days of poor mental health during the month, but for exercisers it was only 2 days.

All types of exercise improved mental health including housework and formal exercise.  However three forms of exercise stood above the others:

Team Sports


Aerobic and Gym Activities

The social aspects of team sports may well be why they showed up at the top of the list.   For people in the study with known mental health issues exercise also helped.      Those who did not exercise had 11 days of poor mental health each month compared with just 7 for exercisers.

Too much exercise actually seems to worsen mental health problems.   In this study people who exercised more than 23 times a month or exercised for longer than 90 minutes per session tended to have worse mental health.     The sweet spot in this study was exercising for 45 minutes three to five days per week.

High Intensity vs Lower Intensity Exercise

ALL types of exercise have the ability to improve mental health and it is quite likely that whether high or lower intensity will benefit you most has to do with different types of mental health challenges.    It is clear that high intensity exercise can be a major mental health booster for many people because it radically and quickly changes your brain chemistry.

In a study, a group of researchers from the University of Texas investigated the effects of high-intensity exercise on a protein called BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF is involved in brain-cell survival and repair, mood regulation, and cognitive functions such as learning and memory; low levels of BDNF have been associated with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. In the study subjects, all healthy young adults, a session of high-intensity exercise was linked to both higher BDNF levels and improvements in cognitive functioning.

In a similar study done in 2014, a group of middle-aged volunteers ran through a battery of mental tests before and after a high-intensity exercise session — and these subjects, too, saw their cognitive function improve. Notably, there was no such improvement after a session of low-intensity active stretching.

High Intensity Exercise and Anxiety

For those with anxiety disorders be careful with high intensity exercise because during a high intensity workout the sympathetic nervous system is highly activated. The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” mechanism and includes a major increase in norepinephrine and epinephrine (excitatory neurotransmitter and hormone respectively).   

These effects mimic the the physical experience of panic.  So high intensity exercise can provoke a panic attack.   On the other hand.  Easing into higher intensity exercise can help people desensitize to the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic.  In fact, the nervous system will “learn” how to become better at returning to normal and slowing itself down to balance out the excitatory burst of neurotransmitters.

The key as always is balance, and remember ALL exercise can and does help with mental health so get moving!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Can You Turn Fat into Muscle?

The short answer is no – fat does not get transformed into muscle.     Fat and muscle are two different tissues.    You can increase muscle mass while you decrease fat mass, but fat is not converted into muscle.  In the same way muscle cannot be converted into fat.    Fat is created whenever we take in excess calories from fat, protein, carbohydrate (or alcohol).    In this case the calories ultimately end up being converted to triglyceride and stored in fat cells.

Each molecule of triglyceride (fat) consists of a carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.  To get rid of a single molecule of triglyceride takes many enzymes and biochemical steps to completely oxidize fat.    The complete oxidation of 10 kg (22lbs) of fat requires 29kg of oxygen consumption and the production of 28 kg of carbon dioxide and 11 kg of water (H2O).   The carbon dioxide is excreted by the lungs while the water is excreted as urine, sweat, breath, tears or other bodily fluids.  

Building muscle is a whole different process.     Three key mechanisms are responsible for initiating muscle growth:

Muscle Tension – all forms of resistance training force muscles to create tension to support and move the load.    When enough tension is created causes changes in the chemistry of the muscle allowing for growth factors to be secreted such as mTOR and satellite cell activation.   Tension can come from active tension where muscles actively contract and also from passive tension which is stretching which tends to occur during the lengthening (eccentric) phase of a resistance training exercise.    

Active tension tends to result in muscle fibers becoming wider while passive tension can make them longer.

Muscle Damage – damage to muscle cells causes a release of inflammatory chemicals and immune cells that activate satellite cells to come into action.     This also initiates muscle growth.

Metabolic Stress – When you feel the “burn” or the “pump” when lifting weights, you are feeling the effects of metabolic stress.     Metabolic stress from high levels of anaerobic energy production helps contribute to muscle growth without necessarily increasing the size of the muscle.   This is from the addition of glycogen (multiple glucose units linked together in the muscle), which helps to swell the muscle.     This type of growth is often referred to as “Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy” and can increase the appearance of larger muscles without increasing muscle strength or the size of muscle fibers.    Increased fiber growth is referred to Myofibrillar Hypertrophy referring to the fact that myofibrils (muscle fibers) and growing.

In summary, for muscle building to occur you must force your muscles to adapt by creating stressors including increase tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress and then eating properly and resting to allow the muscles to recover and grow.  

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Kitchen Hand Towels – A Major Source of Bacteria

Many people may not realize it but kitchens are chock full of bacteria – particularly if you do not use proper food handling techniques.      In a recent study testing kitchen towels used by families.    49% had significant bacterial growth with the highest levels of bacteria on towels used by larger numbers of family members.

When families used towels for multiple reasons such as wiping utensils, drying hands and wiping surface there was also a significantly higher level of bacterial growth compared to families who used towels for a single purpose.   The following specific bacteria was found:

Amount Found
36.7 percent
Enterococcus spp
36.7 percent
Pseudomonas spp
30.6 percent
Bacillus spp
28.6 percent
Staphylococcus aureus
14.3 percent
Proteus spp
4.1 percent
Coagulase-negative staphylococci
2 percent

Using Paper Towels

Although using paper towels may result in cleaner hands, the amount being used can contribute to rising amounts of toxic chemicals and reduction in natural resources.   To reduce the number of paper towels you need to use shake your hands 10 – 15 times to throw off as much water as possible then fold the paper towel in half which increased it absorbency dramatically.