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Which foods are able to act as natural relaxants and anti-depressants is a question I’m often asked by clients.
To begin with, an overall balanced diet is always helpful. By that I mean a clean wholefood diet with the minimum possible amount of processed food intake. Macronutrient modulation varies and depends on factors such as your:
– activity level
– overall fitness level
– body composition
– body related goals
Probably the best healthy ratio is:
– up to 20% healthy fats
– 30-40% lean protein
– 40-50% carbohydrates.
We’ll talk about an ideal macronutrients’ modulation ratio in another article in more detail.
Returning to the main topic, the following is a (non-exhaustive) list of foods with calming and relaxing properties:
1) Almost all fruits and berries: They are full of natural sugar and antioxidants. Fructose is the quickest carb (source of energy) after refined sugar, and your body will automatically feel happier and more relaxed with more sugar in the bloodstream. However, do keep in mind that if you aim to become leaner you will have to pursue a diet with a low fructose content.
2) Oily fish. Fish oil is well-known nutrient that increases the brain’s metabolism. By combining fish oil with nootropics you can easily achieve a state of calm and have a clearer mind. Book aconsultation to get a list of over-the- counter nootropics.
3) Herbal tea. A blend of mint, chamomile, artichoke and lavender is one of the best relaxation options.
4) Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cacao are four spices that were historically used as natural mood lifters and relaxants. Adding a sprinkle of cinnamon in your coffee can help, or even simply inhaling their scent.
5) Chicken hearts and liver are perfect sources of essential amino acids, vitamin B, choline, inositol and Iron. This combination of nutrients is one of the most effective ‘cocktails’ for boosting the central nervous system.
6) Despite the negative publicity and misconceptions surrounding the consumption of egg yolks, the high concentration of cholesterol in them is designed by nature as a perfect source of nutrients. Rich in lecithin, vitamin B, amino acids, choline, inositol, vitamins A and E, phosphatidil serine and many more beneficial substances, egg yolks alone could provide your body with almost everything it needs. However, do not exceed the healthy allowance. Have 1-3 whole eggs a day, adding some separated egg whites if you need to increase your protein intake.
7) Now anyone with a sweet tooth can celebrate – Dark Chocolate!! Yes, having a piece or two of dark chocolate each day will definitely help your body to boost its ‘positive vibe’ hormones.
8) Have a glass of wine. Yes, and YES again!!! But only one, and make sure it’s a high quality wine. First of all, it’s an additional 75 kcal of quick energy that your body will be grateful for. Secondly, high quality wine contains a high concentration of bio-flavonoids and antioxidants.
Taken in a moderate quantities, wine can also act as a minor natural relaxant.
And remember; even if you eat healthily all the time and are a fitness fanatic, allowing your body a little bit of what you really love is always beneficial. By keeping your diet 95% clean, let’s say, you will have even better results than confining yourself to a strict regimen of traditional lean and mean boiled chicken breast, and rice and broccoli.
If you want to get brighter, only mix with the brightest, or suffer the consequences
That’s according to Professor James Flynn, who was once considered controversial because of his research which suggested that people were getting more intelligent each generation – the Flynn Effect.
In his new book “Does your family make you smarter” he proposes that intelligence, rather than plateauing at 18 years of age, can increase throughout adulthood, providing you have a stimulating lifestyle.
Households where people talk, challenge, joke and share cultural pastimes can boost the IQ of family members by several points. And workplaces that impose intellectual challenges on staff can over time raise their individual intelligence.
The opposite is also true. People who share a home or workplace with dullards for any length of time risk seeing their IQ enter a sharp decline because of lack of stimulation.
Flynn also says
Intelligence has always been thought to be static … the new evidence shows that this is wrong. The brain seems to be rather like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. That means you can upgrade your intelligence during your lifetime
He suggests the best way to improve your IQ is to marry someone smarter than you, find an intellectually stimulating job, and hang out with bright friends.
Up to now we’ve believed that intelligence is controlled by genes influenced by our nutrition and environment up to age 18 when it stabilises.
Flynn’s research took 65 years of IQ tests from the US and correlating the results with the age of the people creating IQ age tables. From these he draws two conclusions. The cognitive quality of a family alters the IQ of all members but especially children i.e. it can lift them or hold them back.
For example a bright child of 10 with siblings of average intelligence will suffer on average a 5-10 point IQ disadvantage compared to a similar child with equally bright brothers and sisters. A child with a lower IQ can gain 6-8 points by having brighter siblings and educational support…
He also believes, based on this research, that although genetics and early life experience determine about 80% of intelligence the rest is strongly linked to our lifestyle as adults.
As you leave childhood behind the legacy of your family diminishes but the game is not over. A large proportion of your cognitive quality is now in your own hands. You can change it yourself and your IQ can vary through life according to your own efforts… Going through life feeling your childhood is holding you back is misunderstanding how much power you have to improve yourself
In 2011 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said that they found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
Research in Scotland found that people with mentally stimulating jobs suffered less cognitive decline as they got older.
And recently researchers at the University of Texas found that busy over-50s had higher cognitive scores than younger people.
Experts in emotional intelligence have long held that EI, unlike IQ, continues to develop into adulthood. Now it seems we have the capacity to develop both our cognitive and socio-emotional skills.
You arrive home exhausted with only one, overwhelming, desire – to quickly leap under the blankets. After hitting the bed, you begin to drift off, slowly being drawn into that wonderful, all-embracing stillness of sleep… and then you suddenly wake up. The sensation is horrible, as if you’ve just fallen from a tall building and smashed into a thousand pieces. Your eyes are wide open and that’s it, as far as your good night’s sleep is concerned.
Insomnia nervosa or sleep deprivation is another common, contemporary phenomenon. We are not discussing those occasional sleeping problems that happen to all of us from time to time, but rather the topic of chronic insomnia. It is a condition that often lasts for weeks, and in some cases even months, turning life into a nightmare.
Dr. Jessica Payne, head of the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at Notre Dame University, and advisory board member for the NeuroLeadership Institute believes that
The sleep situation in our society has become a terrifying problem.
Nowadays more attention is often paid to diet and fitness activities; however, sleep may turn out to be more important for one’s overall health. This lack of understanding and recognition is reflected in the fact that sleep deprivation is not considered an illness by employers. Anyone who has suffered from severe insomnia consequently knows the feeling of having to keep ploughing on, no matter what.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and research published in the Sleep Journal, in 2011
sleep deprivation cost the US economy $63.2 billion
The authors of the report in Sleep Journal were shocked by the enormous impact insomnia has on the average person’s life, stating that the scale of the problem was not sufficiently appreciated by society at large. The issue was not one of absenteeism, but rather of lost productivity in “an information based economy”.
This impact on productivity is directly attributable to the poor focus and lack of concentration stemming from sleep deprivation, and as Dr. Charles Czeisler at Harvard Medical School notes, a few days of sleeping for 4-5 hours causes massive brain function impairment.
Dr. Payne believes,
Simply adding an extra 20 minutes to your sleep cycle increases performance two-fold.
I once personally experienced severe sleep deprivation. It lasted for six months and caused clinically diagnosed depression. My metabolism, digestion and hormones were impaired as a consequence and it took about three months to regain my normal sleeping patterns, and over half a year to normalise other bodily processes.
In this article I am going to share some tips, based on my personal experience and data from various pieces of research, on how to overcome sleep deprivation.
It is vitally important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even during weekends or holidays. The idea of catching up with lost sleep during your time-off is a tempting prospect, but in reality can be harmful. When you are going through a sleep deprivation period it is crucial to stick to a routine. I recommend setting this schedule according to your work hours. If you have to wake up early in the morning, five days a week, then get out of bed at the same time during the weekend.
Always stick to the mantra that you MUST have a minimum of eight hours of solid sleep per night. Never sacrifice your sleep to have fun or socialize.
A couple of words at this point about early morning cardio.
It is undoubtedly one of the most beneficial practices for your health. However, if you feel that you can’t wake up one hour earlier, simply accept this and try to include more activities during your daily routine, or weave 10-15 minutes of highly intense cardio into your schedule before and after your evening workout.
If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
Take light herbal sedatives (or prescribed medication), grab a book and try to relax by reading.
DO NOT watch TV or log onto social media.
Using a Kindle is also not helpful. It has been scientifically proven that bright monitor light keeps us awake; it is perceived by the body as daylight, artificially inducing us to keep going. So, good old-fashioned ‘hardcopy’ books are your best friends in the fight against insomnia.
Create relaxing bedtime rituals.
These could include a night-time bath with aromatherapy oils, or a cup of your favourite herbal tea, meditation or simply listening to calming music. Try all of them and finally you will find a suitable option. My personal preferences are reading esoteric literature, burning aroma candles and sipping camomile vanilla tea.
Use your bed only for sleep and love.
Humans are very prone to conditional behaviours, so limiting the use of your bed to sex and sleep will generate subconscious patterns that will help you to fall asleep. Never work, eat or watch TV in your bedroom: Aside from the activities I’ve just mentioned, nothing else should be done in the bed.
Make your bedroom relaxing.
Keep your bedding clean and fresh, aerate the space properly, and don’t forget about curtains. Create a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere in the bedroom, eliminating all unpleasant distractions.
A new study suggests that quality of sleep is directly related to the type of food that you eat. If you are hungry at night, take a light, and healthy snack. Do not torture yourself by going to bed starving. Research has shown that the old maxim ‘do not eat after 6 pm’ has no scientific basis. However, heavy foods full of saturated fat like red meat or cheese should be avoided. Do not over-consume carbohydrates before sleep either. Be careful with fluids, alcohol, watery vegetables and fruits as waking up a few times during the night to visit the bathroom is not recommended. The ideal option is to consume leafy vegetables, reduced fat yogurt or cottage cheese with some nuts (optional), steamed white fish, sea food, and eggs.
Research shown that people who regularly exercise have fewer problems with sleep and other bodily functions. Regular smart physical activities regulate hormones, stimulate blood and liquid circulation and boost the immune system. In other words, fitness helps the body to purify itself and maintain all of our bodily processes.
Somewhere near the top of every single one of the the roughly forty-kajillion internet listicles dedicated to the “surprising,”“hidden,” and “unexpected”health benefits of sex is the not-all-that-surprising-sounding factoid that bumping fuzzies basically doubles as exercise. In reality, however, there has been very little research done to support this claim.
The few studies that have investigated the physicality of sex have typically looked at things like heart rate and blood pressure – important but arguably basic physiological measurements. They’ve also been conducted primarily in laboratory settings – which, sure, probably falls into some specific category of kink, but for most people is probably a less-than-ideal environment for sexy time. It’s not difficult to imagine, for example, how the wires from an echocardiogram, or the bulk of an oxygen-monitoring facemask, might interfere with one’s (doubtless considerable) sexual talents, thereby confounding any attempt at accurate physiological measurement.
The point being that these methodological limitations highlight a gap in the existing body of scientific knowledge raises an important question about how physically strenuous sex really is. How much energy does a young, healthy couple actually expend getting physical between the sheets? Are we talking a pastrami sandwich’s worth of calories, or a handful of kale’s? And to what extent does sex really count as exercise?
…Researchers led by Université du Québec à Montréal kinanthropologist Antony Karelis… The goal: measure the free-living energy expenditure (in calories) during sexual activity, in the absence of drugs, alcohol, or ED medications. (Study participants were also asked to forego any and all paraphilic sexual activities – i.e. nothing deemed too freaky by… well… society, we guess.) The final figures are as follows:
Mean energy expenditure during sexual activity (men)
101 kCal (the same as 101 dietary Calories), or 4.2 kCal/min
Mean energy expenditure during sexual activity (women)
69.1 kCal, or 3.1 kCal/min
So the overall average comes out to roughly 85 kCal (3.6 kCal/min) – about the same number of dietary calories in your standard chicken egg…
New research suggests that stress from fear of the unknown can be greater than the stress associated with knowledge of an outcome, even when the outcome is painful.
In the study conducted by University College London, the fear of getting a painful electric shock led to significantly more stress than knowing that you will definitely be shocked.
The research, published in Nature Communications, found that situations in which subjects had a 50 percent chance of receiving a shock were the most stressful while zero percent and 100 percent chances were the least stressful.
Our experiment allows us to draw conclusions about the effect of uncertainty on stress. It turns out that it’s much worse not knowing you are going to get a shock than knowing you definitely will or won’t. We saw exactly the same effects in our physiological measures — people sweat more and their pupils get bigger when they are more uncertain
This is the first time that the effect of uncertainty on stress has been quantified, but the concept is likely to be familiar to many people.
When applying for a job, you’ll probably feel more relaxed if you think it’s a long shot or if you’re confident that it’s in the bag,
said co-author Dr. Robb Rutledge.
The most stressful scenario is when you really don’t know. It’s the uncertainty that makes us anxious. The same is likely to apply in many familiar situations, whether it’s waiting for medical results or information on train delays.
Nevertheless, stress is not always negative and counterproductive. The study also found a potential benefit. People whose stress responses spiked the most at periods of greatest uncertainty were better at judging whether or not individual rocks would have snakes under them.
From an evolutionary perspective, our finding that stress responses are tuned to environmental uncertainty suggests that it may have offered some survival benefits
I’m sure you know your brain works better following exercise?
A team of researchers in Ireland made this discovery through a relatively simple experiment. They asked a group of students to watch a rapid lineup of photos.
Each photo included a name and face of a stranger. Then, after a brief break, the students tried to recall the names of the faces that had moved across the computer screen. After this initial test, half of the students were asked to ride a stationary bicycle at a strenuous pace until they reached exhaustion. The other half of the students sat quietly for 30 minutes. Then both groups took the test again to see how many names they could recall.
The group of students who exercised performed much better on the memory test than they had on their first attempt. The group who simply sat in another room did not improve. As part of this experiment, the scientists also collected blood samples, through which they discovered a biological explanation for the increase in recall among the students who exercised. Immediately after the strenuous activity, students in the exercise group had much higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which promotes the health of nerve cells.
So make some time daily, weekly for that walk, work-out, run, hike etc.
Neuroscientists believe that the net effect of spending eight hours a day in the office performing repetitive tasks, a further two hours commuting, and the rest of the day scrolling through social media or watching TV, is an impairment of our normal brain functions. In short, we are being transformed into easily manipulated, apathetic zombies.
A daily routine, similar to the one above, has been scientifically proven to kill creativity. This occurs as a result of a rapid drop in our level of consciousness in such conditions. Read: Levels of consciousness vs happiness. Lacking the opportunity to really focus on a new task and the possibility of stretching itself to solve problems, the brain slips into so-called ‘down time’ or ‘sleep walker’ mode. The brain’s capacity to be proactive disappears quickly in such conditions, and it simply becomes lazy.
This is comparable to the process which occurs when we stop doing physical exercise, and the body consequently swiftly enters a more sedentary mode. Similarly, the brain loses focus and slumps into a semi-awake state.
An alternative scenario sees the brain engaging in 12 hours of extreme activity, permanently focusing on a variety of new tasks, learning on the go, and engaging in intensive decision making. It is constantly working at its peak. While this situation appears preferable, our brain is not designed for such extremes either. After a while it will simply stop functioning properly, due to information overload – another common feature of modern life. Read How to cope with information overload.
What happens next? The overly-active brain loses its ability to process new information, and again automatically switches to down-time mode. The recharging period could be long. Chronic information overload also causes fatigue, lack of creativity and depression.
According to David Rock, director of the Neuroleadership Institute and the author of bestseller Your Brain at Work, the human brain needs to experience 7 types of activities in order to function properly and we must have all of these every day.
If you want a plant to grow, it needs the right amount of water and nutrients,” says Rock. “It’s obvious when you leave one of those out. With the brain, it’s a less obvious. The right dietary elements are only one part of this.… The basic balanced diet that you probably already know is a foundation, but there are other types of inputs that your brain needs that people tend to ignore. And these are essentially exercising different types of circuits in the brain, allowing other circuits to rest and recover.
The ideal ratio of each of the 7 types varies from person to person, but it is important to have them all and separate them from one another. For example, don’t try to catch-up with friends or work during your down-time or time-in. In order to be more productive, creative and to feel happy and satisfied, we have to differentiate and clearly understand what kind of activity we are engaging in at a particular moment, allowing our brain to benefit from it. Likewise, don’t check your social media during your focus time.
This is our productive time when we get things done. Our brain is highly active and exercised by problem-solving and intellectual challenges.
It’s helpful for creating deep circuits,” says Rock “and it’s a healthful and helpful process.
Without focus-time the brain becomes idle, resulting in mental sluggishness. It is very important to force it to focus, even if there’s no immediate need for it to do so. Let’s say you are on a two week holiday, and plan to spend your time doing nothing. That sounds great, but not for your brain. Give it the chance to focus for at least a few hours a day just to “keep it fit”. Learning a new language, reading a challenging book or doing any problem-solving tasks is very beneficial.
We are all social animals to some extent. We need to be connected and belong to a group, and our brain has the same need.
Being isolated socially is twice as dangerous to yourself as smoking. If you’re just working and not maintaining a social life, you’re probably impacting your health and well-being, not just your mental performance…
I moved to different countries at various times in my life, starting again from scratch. Each time I experienced a terrible lack of connection to people at the beginning. I didn’t have friends in these new locations, and sometimes could not even call the places I lived in ‘home’. What did I do? I visited local gyms or dance classes. Even without deeper interpersonal interactions, our brain can be satisfied through merely talking to other people… So give it a chance to be connected: Go out, help someone, start doing something with other people, and it will bring plenty of positive things into your life.
Down time is unrelated to problem-solving or to achieving your goals. It could be achieved by reading an interesting novel (don’t confuse this with reading professional literature – this is something to be done in your focus time), cleaning your home, cooking, or just sitting on a park bench, enjoying nature. Down time allows the brain to rest and recover.
You’re allowing space for your unconscious connections to come to the surface, to solve complex problems,
Down time is vital for healthy brain functioning. However, it should be limited. It is always very tempting to dwell in such a mode all the time. As I mentioned earlier, when adopted for prolonged periods, down-time makes our brain lazy and impairs its functioning. Instead, take a 15-30 minute break every 2-4 hours of your active time. It will be refresh you and help you to unwind, but do not regress into this mode for hours or days.
Time in allows your brain to, in a sense, reorganize itself through reflection,
It’s different from down time, which is very inactive. With time in, you’re thinking about your thinking, you’re mindful and connecting your brain in deeper ways. It’s the kind of practice that allows you to reflect on your thoughts.
Yoga, meditation, psychoanalysis sessions, various spiritual practices such as tantric breathing, and many other techniques could help you to reach this mode. It is a state of being which enables you to capture your true feelings, analyse your experiences, and stimulate new ideas. Time in is one of the healthiest things you can do. Balancing yourself as a person will also improve you from a professional point of view as well. People lacking time for internal deep reflecting finally reach a state in which they are disconnected from what they want, what they need, and what really makes them happy.
Speaking about real time-in Rock noticed:
The number (of such hours) continues to decrease as I ask people. It’s not 20 or 10 or even 5 hours. For a lot of people, it’s a couple of hours a week, if that.
The culprit, he thinks, is our extremely fast lifestyle, overloaded as it is with tasks and information. The solution:
Find the ideal window in your week when you can carve out focus time — to do what I call level three thinking, deeper problem solving and writing and creative work.
It is a time slot which differs from person to person, but Rock says that the best time is generally early in the day, and early in the week — Monday, Tuesday, maybe Wednesday morning.
This is all about novelty, the unexpected and fun, allowing new novel connections to form,
This could be absolutely anything that makes you laugh or experience relaxed and positive emotions. Comedy shows, shopping with friends, drinks or dinner out, playing games and any number of other options can be included in this category. Doing something “just for fun” at least once a day, enormously increases productivity and creativity.
“When we exercise, we’re oxygenating the brain and helping to flush out toxins, but we’re also activating regions of the brain intensely that don’t otherwise get activated, and this allows other functions to rest and helps with the overall coherence of the brain. There’s increasing evidence that thinking is very closely connected to movement, and it seems you can improve the quality of thinking by improving your effectiveness at physical activities, and it’s not just an aerobic benefit.”
So make a habit of having physical time every day. If you have no chance to get to the gym, just walk home.
This is the time when our brain activates its special recovery mode to put all the things it has absorbed over the course of the day together.
The sleep situation in our society has become a terrifying problem,
explained Dr. Jessica Payne, head of the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at Notre Dame, and advisory board member for the Neuroleadership Institute.
If you’re not getting enough sleep before work, research shows you might as well be working drunk,
This is not just a metaphor. According to Dr. Charles Czeisler from Harvard Medical School, a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.
The advice? Get enough rest and try to enjoy all 7 types of mental activities every single day!
If the brain could brag that’s pretty much all it would do. It’s easily the most complicated organ in your body, and, more than that, the nimblest computer that has ever existed. But the brain has a bug and everyone knows is: memory. No matter how powerful its operating system becomes, its storage system stinks.
Even in childhood, when the brain is as clear and uncluttered as it will ever be, memory is still imperfect, given to random failures, depending on how rested we are, how attentive we’re being and a range of other things. Now, a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests an unusual strategy for improving it: drawing.
As long ago as 1973, investigators were studying the memory-boosting advantage of so-called dual-coding—the way that a combination of both thinking about an object or activity and drawing a picture of it can make us remember it better. Research did show that the strategy worked, but the studies were both sparse and flawed, failing to account for the mere fact that it takes longer to draw a picture than, say, write a word, and whether writing the word in a more time-consuming way—using elaborate calligraphy, for example—would thus boost recall too.
In order to tease out those and other variables, a group led by psychologist Jeffrey D. Wammes recruited sample groups of students and ran seven different trials of essentially the same experiment on them. In all of the trials, the scientists started with a list of 80 simple words—all nouns and all easy to draw, such as balloon, fork, kite, pear, peanut and shoe. A random series of 30 of those words were flashed on a screen along with instructions either to draw the object or write down its name. After the 30 words, they would perform a filler task—listening to a series of tones and identifying whether each was low-, high-, or medium-pitched. That task had nothing to do with the study, except to get the subjects’ minds off of what they had just done, so that the memories could either consolidate or, just as often, vanish. Finally, they would write down a list of as many of the objects from the first test as they could.
In most of the trials, the subjects got 40 seconds to draw their picture, but in one they got just four seconds. In another variation, they would draw the object or write the word or, as a third option, list its descriptive characteristics. In another, the third option would be to visualize the object. In yet another, they would write the word as elaborately and decoratively as possible.
But no matter how many variations of the test the researchers ran, one result was consistent: Drawing the object beat every other option, every single time.
We observed a significant recall advantage for words that were drawn as compared to those that were written. Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn words.
said Wammes in a prepared statement.
Just why this is so is not clear. One past theory had been that drawing requires what the researchers call a deeper LoP—or level of processing. But the trial in which the subjects were required to list the characteristics of an object went pretty deep too, and it didn’t make a difference. Another theory had been that drawing simply takes longer, but the four-second trial appeared to debunk that.
For now, Wammes and his group are speaking only generally, concluding that drawing encourages
a seamless integration of semantic, visual and motor aspects of a memory trace,
as they wrote in their paper. It will take more work to put flesh on those theoretical bones. For now, however, they only know that the technique works—providing a long-awaited software patch for the computer inside your head.
Half of your brain may be staying awake to keep watch when you sleep in someone else’s bed…
Whether you’re staying in a hotel or having a sleepover, you never sleep quite as well on a bed that’s not your own.
That’s an observable fact. When scientists have people sleep in a lab for an experiment, they often toss out the first night of data because people sleep so poorly. But before now, they haven’t known why.
In a small new study published in Current Biology, researchers from Brown University found out what goes on in the brain when a person sleeps in an unfamiliar place. They measured brain activity during the deep sleep of 35 young, healthy people.
The researchers found evidence that something unique indeed goes on in the brain during the first night: one hemisphere of the brain, the left, shows wakefulness while the other shows sleep.
This alertness during sleep in half of the brain has been observed in other animals—including whales, dolphins and birds—and is thought to act as a kind of night watch.
“The environment is so new to us, we might need a surveillance system so we can monitor the surroundings and we can detect anything unusual,”
says Masako Tamaki, one of the authors of the study and research associate at the Laboratory for Cognitive and Perceptual Learning at Brown University.
We’re most vulnerable when we’re asleep, in other words, and by staying partially awake, our brains might be trying to protect us.
Our brain remain active when we sleep. researchers also found that when they outfitted the people in the study with earphones, the left side showed a larger brain response to high-pitched sounds than the right—suggesting more vigilance in that hemisphere.
The study raises a lot of unanswered questions; researchers don’t yet know why they saw this effect in the left hemisphere and not the right. But interestingly, both of these asymmetries only occurred on the first night—something to keep in mind the next time you can’t fall asleep in a strange place.
After we reach 30 we generally get more clarity about ourselves, other people and the world around us. We start leading a fuller life, and have deeper, more stable and enduring feelings… For many people, life assumes a different hue, and experiences are more colourful, and in a sense, more vivid – even more ‘real’. This concentration of the sense of being alive can be equated with a deliciously thick hot-chocolate or, if you prefer, sipping a wine of the finest vintage. Everything enters a new, more advanced stage. Everything, that is, aside from our physical selves.
It has been proven that thirty is the age at which all bodily processes begin to change. Before that time we can easily gain muscle, and be extremely lean without too much effort. After thirty, we gradually become aware of having to buy larger clothes sizes, and our first wrinkles and grey hairs begin to appear. Unfortunately our beach holidays can also become far less fun as a result. As we approach middle age we increasingly become what we ‘eat, do, and read’.
Sarcopenia (skeletal muscle degradation with age) is an inevitable process. Our body become limited in its protein synthesis and utilization abilities as soon as we cross the thirty-year threshold. According to Runners World research, once people reach thirty they lose, on average, about 15% of muscle mass every 10 years. Our metabolism naturally slows as well. Another important point is that the human body never really loses anything without some sort of compensation. Lost muscle tissue is replaced by fat. It is exactly for this reason that we become chubbier with age.
Fat gain and metabolic slowdown are the natural consequences of age, which brings us to a point where we have to run ‘twice as fast as we can’. Don’t panic though. Awareness is the first step toward success. “A healthy and active 60 year old can have the muscle mass of a 30-year old, while a sedentary middle-aged person who eats a primarily processed food diet and struggles with insulin resistance or diabetes may have the muscle quality of a 70-year old”, sais Dr. Mercola, a physician and blog contributor to Fitness Peak.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid age-related muscle degradation, and keep yourself energised, fit and healthy after the age of thirty, and for the rest of your natural life.
Hormones determine harmony
“Other factors, such as age-related changes in circulating levels of muscle anabolic hormones and growth factors, must also be considered as contributing mechanisms underlying the sarcopenic phenotype” – Alex Hatchinson, nutritionist and physician, and contributor to Runners World.
We primarily age as a result of hormonal and biochemical changes. Some endocrinologists believe that production of the human growth hormone (the hormone responsible for cell formation, regeneration, and general recovery) already starts to decline after the age of 25. Muscle loss and excessive fat formation could be the first symptoms of GH (somatotropin) deficiency. Somatotropin is a prescribed drug and available in any pharmacy. However, its use as a supplement requires extensive research, and should only be taken under medical guidance and supervision. But there is some good news. When taken together, widely available amino acids such as l-Arginine, l-Lysine, and l-Ornithine, act as GH’s precursors and theoretically increase natural somatotropin production. The right supplements in the correct dosages, taken with other requisite healthy nutrients, vitamins and minerals, could postpone aging and have a tremendously positive effect.
Estrogen and testosterone are two other important youth hormones. As long as the body can produce them in adequate quantities to support the reproductive process, youth and beauty will be maintained. When estrogen and testosterone production is suppressed by certain factors such as incorrect contraceptive methods, stress, overload, lack of sleep or irregular sex, malnutrition, and so on, the body’s aging processes accelerates. I am not going to cover this highly complex topic within this particular article as it worth looking at separately, and in more depth, another time. Perhaps only one tip can be given: be attentive to your wellbeing and private life. Sufficient rest, inner peace, regular physical activities, sex, and balanced nutrition are the key factors to maintain hormonal health and youth. Consult your physician and nutritionist if you have any pressing questions on the subject.
Build the body in advance of ageing
Anabolism (muscular development and maintenance) gets more complicated after thirty, reinforcing aging and resulting in metabolic slowdown and fat gain. However, a recent study by the National Center of Biotechnology Information showed that “(even) mobility-limited subjects between 70 and 85 managed to add an average of 1.3% to their lean mass after six months of high-intensity resistance training and protein supplementation”.
So, don’t miss the opportunity to start building your muscles as early as possible while your hormones are working at their peak and supporting high anabolic muscle response. Remember, the earlier you start the longer you last. Include 3-4 sessions of resistance training such as weights lifting, Pilates, TRX, pole dance, or body pump classes into your fitness routine. Don’t forget about taking supporting supplements to quicken your recovery, and to help create precious muscle tissue to overcompensate for inevitable aging muscle loss.
Magic youth bullets
First and foremost, I would like to say couple of words about whey protein (WP). I’m asked every day by my clients and friends if it is worth taking whey supplements. The answer is an unequivocal YES. I add 1 scoop of high-quality, vanilla-flavoured, whey protein into my morning oats and take two more after my evening workout, mixed with simple carbs such as fruit or maltodextrin and BCAA into my traditional post-workout shake. According to research conducted by the National Center of Biotechnology Information, “whey protein supplementation may augment resistance levels and boost exercise-induced increases in muscle strength and mass”. So don’t miss your shake. It will help you to recover more quickly and to retain your muscle mass.
Now, let me shed some light on whey manufacturing processes, as this question is very sensitive to a majority of health-conscious people. According to research conducted by the Imperial College MBA Group Consulting project for GST Nutrition, certified whey protein available on the US and the UK markets is made of the same best and cleanest MPC-80 (milk protein concentrate) and MPI-80 (milk protein isolate) as various high quality baby formulas (I personally took part in this research at the end of my MBA program). Also, the majority of premium WP’s are suitable for people with lactose intolerance and vegetarians.
Another beneficial substance massively helping to postpone aging muscle degradation is BCAA complex. Branch Chain Amino Acids is a combination of three naturally occurring essential amino acids Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine, that make up over 35% of overall amino acids concentration in muscle tissues. Research shown that under conditions of stress, injuries, intense exercise and after the age of thirty, the human body requires up to a four times higher consumption of BCAA to maintain positive nitrogen balance. For more detail, read: How much protein should be eaten.
The International Sport and Science Association recommends an intake of BCAA of up to 6 grams a day depending on a range of factors including the physical condition, age, body weight and composition, and gender, of the subject. The type and level of their physical activity is also important, as are their general lifestyle choices. It is also recommended that BCAA is taken 30 minutes before and directly after meals, and throughout the day together with meals, to maximize its value for the body.
One more important group of substances helping to postpone aging muscle sarcopenia and related derogative processes, are antioxidants. Vitamin E, Omega3, Selenium and Choline are just at the top of a long ‘must take’ list of antioxidants. Read about antioxidants in another upcoming article How to keep your fleeting youth (magic pills and herbal rhapsody) and consult your nutritionist to calculate best dosages for your needs.
Glucosamine Chondroitine is one more necessary ingredient in the process. Read How to keep the fleeting youth (magic pills and herbal rhapsody) for more details.
Another suggestion in this topic of discussion is, surprisingly, don’t run! Stop crushing your joints and back bone, and torturing your veins. Moreover, long steady state cardio sessions exacerbate muscle degradation turning your body’s green light to sarcopenia even more. Everyday Health noted that “aside from the toll it (running) can take on your knees and joints, recent reports of things such as “runner’s face” and ‘dead butt syndrome’ could send some running devotees sprinting in the other direction”. Great alternatives to running could be light jogging, hiking, spinning, horse riding, skiing, water skiing or sprints (my personal second-favourite year-round activity, after the delights of seasonal skiing). If you are a gym lover, the rowing machine, curve, climbing ladder or lively aerobics/dance/body combat classes are all super solutions.
Do not forget to hydrate the body taking at least a glass of water 30 minutes before, during and after a session. Keep it sweaty, and have as much fun as you can.
The statement “You are what you eat” is even more valid after you hit thirty. If before that your body was able to metabolize almost all the rubbish you consumed, after your thirtieth birthday the picture really changes. Now five minutes of food indulgence can stay permanently lodged in your tummy or thighs. So take care of your body, and do yourself a favour by hiring a competent nutrition advisor.
Flexibility is another area to focus on. Allocate 10-15 minutes for stretching after any fitness activity. It will increase the blood flow to your muscles and will help to reduce joint and ligament load.
Stress, overload and constant tissues hypoxia (lack of fresh air) are few other important factors that quicken the aging process. A good eight hours of sleep, regular holidays, meditation, 15 –minutes of active rest every 2-3 hours during the day, and decent fresh air exposure (at least 1 hour daily) will help tremendously in the tough fight to retain your youth. Read Dream and Walk the youth back.