Can’t find your keys? Can’t remember the name of that one actor? Struggling to come up with the right words to complete your sentences?
You’re not alone.
Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have reached epidemic proportions with 48 million people today suffering from Alzheimer’s disease alone. But according to some experts, we haven’t seen anything yet, as Alzheimer’s rates are expected to triple by the year 2050.
Our brain health is deteriorating at an alarming rate and current medical treatments are hopelessly underpowered (there is no drug or compound shown to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s or dementia).
Are You Losing Your Mind?
Glancing at the recent data on brain health, you get the impression that cognitive decline is simply a side-effect of modern living and there’s little you can do about it. But that’s not really the case. There’s more opportunity here than you think.
I don’t believe in bad luck. I believe in bad decisions.
Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be 60% genetic. Yet, even in carriers of the Alzheimer’s gene variant (ApoE4) specific lifestyle modifications have shown to alter gene expression and prevent mental decline.
If however, you consider Skittles food and have never seen a gym from the inside, I have news for you: You’re screwed.
Don’t expect a healthy body or brain if you’re doing what “everybody else” does. While you’re kicking back and waiting for stem cell treatment to save the day, the hourglass is running out.
But if you’re still able to read this, it’s not too late.
There are many ways to combat neurological decline, such as eating a nutrient-dense diet (there are more neurotransmitters in your gut than your brain), getting/ staying lean and building some damn muscle. Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the human body and has the capacity to prevent and even reverse age-related mental decline.
Smarter With Every Rep
Muscles communicate with the brain.
When your biceps contract against resistance they produce specific hormone-like substances called myokines. Myokines such as Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and irisin are critical to brain health.
BDNF is of particular interest as it regulates neuronal development and plasticity, promoting better working memory and learning ability (Alzheimer’s disease and depression are characterized by critically low BDNF levels).
Remember when your biology teacher told you that you were only given a limited amount of brain cells and when they’re gone, they’re gone? Turns out we have the ability to make new brain cells, even at an advanced age. This process, called neurogenesis, is upregulated through physical exercise by the actions of the aforementioned BDNF.
Physical exercise will literally grow your brain. That’s right, cardiovascular fitness is associated with a bigger hippocampal region in the brain. [The notion of the “meathead” athlete is thus fundamentally flawed. Although, admittedly, some of the dumbest people on earth are in the fitness and bodybuilding community.]
Irisin, yet another myokine, exhibits powerful anti-diabetic and anti-obesogenic effects while also promoting bone mineralization, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
As you can see, these chemicals have profound effects on your physiology. How do you amplify the expression of said myokines? Intense physical exercise (and periodic fasting/ undereating, but more on that later).
Never Skip Leg Day
Muscle mass has an intricate relationship with brain function. In this research study, leg strength was directly correlated with improved brain function in female twins. The stronger twins performed better on cognitive tests than their siblings.
As your muscles atrophy, so does your brain.
This is especially relevant for aging populations, as muscle tissue has shown to have powerful cardio- and neuroprotective properties. Problem is, the average person loses 0.5% of lean mass per year after the age of 40, making muscle maintenance a top priority.
“But I’m already stupid, why should I bother?”
According to researchers, even advanced cases of cognitive deterioration can be halted and, in some cases reversed with the right interventions. And no, you don’t have to spend hours at the gym to reap the brain-boosting benefits of physical exercise. Shorter but more intense workouts may actually potentiate your body’s response to training. So keep your workouts short, sweet and brutally intense.
Getting physical, more than anything will trigger adaptive biological responses, that will add years to your life and life to your years.
Not sure where to begin? Shoot me a message and we’ll set you up with the best program in the industry.
Thank you for reading
Brookmeyer, Ron et al. (2007). Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association , Volume 3 , Issue 3 , 186 – 191
Erickson KI, Prakash RS, Voss MW, et al. Aerobic Fitness is Associated With Hippocampal Volume in Elderly Humans. Hippocampus. 2009;19(10):1030-1039. doi:10.1002/hipo.20547.
Phillips H. S., Hains J. M., Armanini M., Laramee G. R., Johnson S. A., Winslow J. W. (1991). BDNF mRNA is decreased in the hippocampus of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuron 7, 695–702
Steves C, J, Mehta M, M, Jackson S, H, D, Spector T, D, Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing: Leg Power Predicts Cognitive Ageing after Ten Years in Older Female Twins. Gerontology 2016;62:138-149
Swain RA, Harris AB, Wiener EC, Dutka MV, Morris HD, Theien BE, Konda S, Engberg K, Lauterbur PC, Greenough WT: Prolonged exercise induces angiogenesis and increases cerebral blood volume in primary motor cortex of the rat. Neuroscience. 2003; 117(4):1037-46.
Szuhany KL, Bugatti M, Otto MW (2015). A meta-analytic review of the effects of exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 60: 56–64.