Train Mentally and Physically to Improve Brain Function

28 03 2015

This post was intended to be published in February, however, other priorities trumped this one.

Scrabble and anagram type word puzzles are two games that I enjoy immensely. I would say that I look forward to the comic section of newspapers not for the comics, but for the game Jumble. This is where you have to rearrange letters of five different words and then using the encircled letters of the solved words, create a set of words to answer the question at hand. This pastime allows me to ward off early stages of dementia as research has indicated. However, newer studies also suggest that my time in the gym and on the streets pounding the pavement have similar affects on my neural pathways and can assist in reducing the likelihood of memory loss.

For decades, scientists had believed that our brains are at the mercy of time. As we aged, they believed that the neurons within the synapses of our minds would slowly deteriorate and those pathways that allowed us to carry simple tasks like memorizing the name of your best friend would be lost forever. We lived within the false pretense that our minds would slowly degenerate until we were on our death beds peering out through our tired eyes at strangers. No one in their right mind would wish this upon themselves and luckily there are ways to prevent it from happening.

Articles in the recent decades have acknowledged the use of games such as crossword puzzles, word searches, and Memory to improve the brain’s ability to stay focused and retain the pathways for information to flow. Attention and memory improving apps for tablets and smart phones have littered the search engines. Websites developed specifically for improving brain function such as Luminosity have also surfaced. These types of games all are great for keeping our minds flexible.

At first, neuroscientists had believed that each component of the brain was designed to carry out one function. In the unfortunate event of an accident such as a stroke, the damaged part would be permanent and the corresponding function associated with the part would no longer happen. The mentality was “use it and lose it” as we aged. Recent studies have now disproved this myth and through mental and physical activity, the brain has the ability to adapt and create new pathways to provide function to a damaged area. With this new insight to the neuroplasticity of our brains, the new rule is “use it or lose it,” (which I must say,  sounds awfully familiar.)

What’s surprising about our brain’s plasticity is how exercise positively impacts the brain. Regular “exercise triggers the release of ‘neurotrophic growth factors’—a kind of brain fertilizer, helping the brain to grow, maintain new connections and stay healthy” (Doidge, N., 2015). When we exert our bodies mentally or physically our brains must adapt to the new stimuli and create new pathways to keep the brain plastic for new information. This phenomenon in turn reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Exercise has also been linked to an improvement in the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients. With vigorous exercise, the patients recorded higher connectivity of the neurons which sent signals from the brain to the person’s limbs.

No matter how you exercise, remember one thing: your workouts today will provide you the memory to last your lifetime.

 

Reference:
Doidge, N. (2015) Our Amazingly Plastic Brains. The Wall Street Journal retrieved on March 27, 2015 from http://www.wsj.com/articles/our-amazingly-plastic-brains-1423262095





W.T.F. (What To Fear)

19 10 2014

When I decided to apply for a spot on American Ninja Warrior (click if you don’t know), I had watched the participants swing through the air, tiptoe across unstable objects, and scale high obstacles and felt comfortable knowing that I could do all of those stunts. Little did I know, when I started training for the show a month ago, memories of a traumatic event I had back in 2008 would resurface creating such an intense fear that it would  prevent me from completing one of the more critical obstacles on the show: the Warped Wall.

Warped Wall

Back in 2008 while living in the Adirondacks, my buddies and I set off to climb a side of a mountain that one of them had mentioned he’d climbed before. Since we trusted his knowledge of the area we were about to scale, we had no fear of scrambling up the rock face. For anyone unfamiliar with the term “scrambling,” it’s where one climbs a mountain side without any equipment.

We made it to the point where it was time to start climbing up the face of the mountain. About one hundred feet up, our friend who had said he knew where we were going mentioned to us that this wasn’t the face of the mountain he had climbed. We couldn’t climb down the way we climbed up, so we decided that the only way out was to get to the top; only an extra fifty to sixty feet up. While climbing, I grabbed a small ledge and my feet slipped. I hung on with only one hand while my feet did everything they could to stick to the rock face. An image of me plunging to my death on the rocks below came into my head and I yelled for help. One of the guys ran to my rescue like the rock face had magically provided him foot holds. He crouched down and extended his hand. My adrenaline rushed throughout my body and I literally climbed up his body and onto a small stable ledge. However he got to me, there was no way of retracing his path. All possible routes kept going up. He and I ended up on a ledge with no possible way of climbing any further. The others were able to find a way down while the two of us stayed up on the mountain. Sitting on the small ledge, accompanied by a shrub growing on the side of the mountain and a hawk circling above us, we waited for our friends to come to the rescue with equipment. During this time, vertigo started to kick in and my fear of heights increased to new levels.

Sitting on the ledge (top right) as the others come with rope.

Sitting on the ledge (top right) as the others worked on getting rope to us.

Fear is a emotional response triggered by the amygdala in the brain (Menting, 2014). Within a tenth of a second, the amygdala can heighten the senses of the body, leading to the fight, flight, or freeze response. Even though we don’t like to have fear in our lives, and we sometimes associate fear with being weak, fear is an important part of being human. We need fear to know where our boundaries are.  The effects of fear can be very different for each person and situation. It can allow a mother to lift extraordinary weight off her trapped child or make an individual cower to the floor. Fear can stop a runner from reaching his fastest time; an Olympic lifter from obtaining her maximum weight; or an overweight individual from losing those few extra pounds. For some, fear limits a person from doing something normal like going into an elevator or being in the mix of a large crowd. It’s time to take action and refocus our efforts when fear becomes debilitating and prevents us from trying to get close to our limits. Due to my traumatic event, I was bound to the ground.

That brings me back to the Warped Wall. At first, every time I would run up the wall, a flashback of the event on the rock face would prevent me from jumping up to grab the ledge. Having my legs hang and my fingers grip only a small lip at the top of the wall was too close to home for me. That fear of falling from such a height, even if it was only fourteen feet and not a hundred, terrified me. Fear hinders all forward progress and with it, we are never able to reach our goal. Working those fears out in small increments and with a support system can make all the difference in the world. After a few weeks of having my fellow teammates encourage me and working on reassuring myself that falling from the wall would not kill me, I was able to break that fear and move forward.

Conquering fear is not an easy task, but with some work it can be done. Dependent upon the situation and magnitude of fear affecting the person, the individual may find a way to reduce the fear to a level where it is manageable. Reaching this level allows the person to participate in the activity without any negative reaction. Some psychologists help their patients create a new response to a stimuli that is safe rather than the fearful response that was associated with the stimuli  (Menting, 2014). Over time, the patient was able to engage in the activity without fear. In my case, by experiencing a safe return to the ground each time I went up the wall, the fear that caused me to freeze was reduced, and eventually I was able to conquer the wall. This accomplishment allowed me to build up my confidence and in turn set my goals to new heights.

 

Reference:

Menting, A.M. (2014) The Chill of Fear. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved on October 15, 2014 from http://hms.harvard.edu/news/harvard-medicine/chill-fear





Argentinean Cuisine

12 10 2014

My wife and I headed down to Miami to visit some friends and I tried to find a good place to do some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the tides were rough and I never made it out to Jose Cuervo Reef down in South Beach. I did get to swim and catch some rays while watching the paddle boarders and surfers catch some waves.

On the way home, we decided to venture to a new restaurant in Doral, FL named Olivos Restaurant. When finding placed to dine out, there’re a lot choices, but sometimes finding the ones with healthy options are hard to come by. We were happy we found this location. The food there was delicious and when I asked to speak with the chef about the ingredients he used, I was very pleased to know that everything was natural and fresh. I had the Seafood Saffron Risotto with Asparagus (Chef Mariano Araya provided me with the ingredients which are below) and my wife had the Breaded veal scaloppini “Milanesa.”

IMG_1966

When going out for meals, ask your server if they can get you the recipe or the ingredient list for the food you want to order. This will help you better plan if you’re training or stay on track if you’re trying to work on weight management. If they don’t have a written list, ask to speak with the chef. Many places are fine with the chef coming to your table to speak with you about their dishes. Make sure you ask them about food allergies, measurements, artificial additives, and calories. Asking the questions will not only give you more insight on what you’re consuming, but also give you a better understanding of how the meals you’re ordering can affect your future workouts and goals.

Seafood Saffron Risotto with Asparagus
IMG_1961

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serving Size: 4
Ingredients:
2 Tbs Butter
4 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic
1/2 Onion
12 Shrimp
12 Scallops
8 Clams
8 Mussels
1/2 lb Calamari
Pinch of Saffron
1 Bunch Asparagus
2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Cups White Wine
2 Cups Arborio Rice

 

**Note: Any reviews posted here were not in favor of the business nor were there any compensation for the post. All opinions conveyed within this article were honest and written with the sole discretion of the author.





Pushing Through Your Workouts: Overloading vs. Overtraining

21 09 2014

A couple weeks ago, I woke up with a bad headache, felt lousy, and my energy was very low. My wife wasn’t able to sleep all night so I was up a lot trying to help her fall back to sleep. I got through my day at work and the time came for my workout. I wasn’t looking forward to it since my energy level was still sluggish at that point. However, I felt that if I didn’t do something, I would start off my week down a day. So I warmed up the best I could and went to the weight stack to tackle my first set of squats. My muscles felt like they were fighting  against each other rather than working together on the first set. My body didn’t communicate with each muscle group making 20 pounds feel like 100 pounds. I struggled though the first set and re-racked the weights and sat down. I started to think what my game plan should be for the rest of the workout. “Suck it up, get pumped, and push through the fatigue,” I thought “or take the day off and reset so I can come back to it fresh tomorrow?” This choice doesn’t seem to be a hard decision to make, however, some gym goers and athletes feel that if they push harder, they will break though that fatigue.

To make improvements in your body, you must work your muscles just beyond the normal demands of your body. The stress of the work must be challenging for the body resulting in adaptation to the difficult task and thereby allowing the body to endure and eventually overcome the same stress the next time it is encountered.  This concept is referred to as the principle of overload. A couple reasons many gym goers don’t see results after two to three months of beginning a new exercise routine, which ultimately leads to quitting, is because they don’t want to push their bodies to this state of exertion, or are afraid because they don’t know how hard to push themselves.

Those afraid of pushing themselves too hard are smart and should not proceed without proper guidance from a certified personal trainer. There is always an outcomes spectrum of benefits and consequences with everything we do related to health and fitness. Too little done and the benefits diminish but too much of the stimulus can also lead to diminished results.Results

When the spectrum is applied to our workouts, as mentioned before, too little stress on our muscles results in our bodies staying stagnant and improvement stops. Too much stress on the body will also lead to diminished results which could have fatal consequences such as injury. This principle is known as overtraining. If our bodies are subjected to constant stress and breakdown of our muscles, more time is needed to repair that muscle. If the time needed for repair is not present and the exerciser continues to add more stress to the damaged site, the stress becomes too great and injury may occur. Consistent balance between workload stress and repair time must be provided to generate safe and timely improvements.

So coming back to my workout a couple weeks ago. I knew that my body needed more time to rest and even if I pushed through my workout, the demands imposed on my body might have been too great which would have left me with an injury and caused me to miss more than just that one day. I could have gone easy on the weighs but the improvements would have been minimal in my state. Knowing all this information gave me the answer I needed. I cleaned off the bench and went home.





Tone Up By Making Waves

11 09 2014

Once in a while it’s nice to get off the fitness floor and jump into a new workout environment; literally. Even though the beach season is coming to a close, do this workout to give you another reason to be by the water and show off your results.

Warm-up:
5 minutes of easy swimming any stroke.

Workout: Perform each exercise for 45 seconds quickly but controlled. Move directly to the next exercise until you complete all exercises. Rest  1 minute  and repeat 3 more rounds. (click pictures to enlarge)

1. High Knees – Start with one knee up and the other one on the floor. Switch knees by driving the knee on the floor up to your chest as you thrust the raised knee back down to the bottom.
High Knee End High Knee Start

 

 

 

 

2. Punches – Get into a depth where your shoulders can be submerged when you stand with your legs wider than shoulder width and the knees are bent. Perform open palm punches by pushing your hand through the water and pulling the other hand back to the side of your chest. Rotate your hips slightly as you punch so you’re also incorporating your oblique abdominals.
Punches StartPunches End

 

 

 

 

3. Squat Jumps – Start with your feet shoulder width apart and squat down till your shoulders become submerged in the water. Explode upwards by thrusting your arms upwards and jumping out of the water as high as you can. Land with your knees bent.
Jump StartJump End

 

 

 

 
4. Reverse Abdominal Crunches – Hold yourself in place on a step so your body floats to the top of the water. Contract your abdominals as you pull your knees in towards your chest. Hold for a second and then extend your legs back out.
Crunch StartCrunch End

 

 

 

 

Cool Down:
5 minutes of easy swimming any stroke





Black Bean and Quinoa Burger

6 09 2014

Black Bean and Quinoa Burger A tasty meal for anyone looking for a vegetarian option. I found this recipe from my “Allrecipes” app and made a little modification by using red lettuce instead of a bun and adding salsa for a different flavor.

Servings per Recipe: 5-6
Serving Size: 1
Calories: 245
Fat: 10.6 g
Carbs: 28.9 g
    Protein: 9.3 g

Ingredients:
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup minced yellow bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
1 egg
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 head red lettuce, washed and trimmed
5 table spoons salsa

Directions:
1. Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Roughly mash the black beans with a masher leaving some whole black beans in a paste-like mixture.

3. Mix the quinoa, bread crumbs, bell peppers, onion, garlic, cumin, salt, hot sauce, and egg into the black beans using your hands.

4. Form the black bean mixture into 1 1/2 inch thick patties.

5. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.

6. Cook the patties in the hot oil until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

7. Place two leaves of lettuce on a plate and place a patty on top of the lettuce.

8. Top burger with a tablespoon of salsa and serve.





I’ve Got DOMS and I’m Feeling Good

23 08 2014

 

I love waking up in the morning and feeling the rewards of my labor. In this case, I’m feeling soreness in my legs from a run I did in the pouring rain two days ago. I felt the soreness in my legs while walking down the stairs to retrieve my newspaper; I felt it squatting down to pick up the newspaper; and I felt it walking back up the stairs with my newspaper.  And although it sounds like I’m whining, I’m actually loving every moment of it. I know that I have overloaded my muscles (topic for next blog) and thus my legs will become stronger and I have DOMS to thank for it.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a condition where soreness in the muscles is felt twenty-four to forty-eight hours post exercise and can last up to seven days. This is a neurological response to notify the body that the muscles have been stressed to their limit and any further stress could lead to serious injury. The American College of Sports Medicine refers to DOMS as the first sign of muscle damage “where the individual has done too much too soon” (Bushman, p.366). However, soreness and muscle fatigue are common and are precursors for the muscle adaptation response, therefore, casting a grey area when referring to DOMS as an indicator of the muscles getting just enough or too much workload.

Many of my clients are very timid when it comes to feeling sore after a workout. Many do not like feeling pain after exercising and I can’t blame them. The once popular mentality for building muscle, “no pain, no gain” has long been abandoned. Therefore, as a trainer, I need to progress individuals at a safe rate and allow their muscles to adapt at the right pace. For those who are trying to gain muscular advantages, whether it be strength, power, or endurance, I must heed the warning signs of overtraining. Delayed onset muscle soreness can be a good way to track your workout intensities. Rate your post soreness on a zero to six Likert-type scale, where 1 = minor soreness, 3 = moderate soreness, 5 = extreme soreness. You should try to stay below a rating of three. This will allow you to elicit the adaptation response and promote physiological gains without overly damaging your muscles, leading to injury and setback.

Even with minor soreness from DOMS, the body has encountered micro-trauma within the muscle. It’s important to allow those muscles to repair and rebuild before tackling another intense bout of exercise using those same muscles. Ample rest time is recommended and hydration with proper nutrition is beneficial in healing the damaged tissue. Static stretching does not aid in the repair or reduction of DOMS, but should be done after exercise to return the muscle to it’s lengthened state. Deep tissue massage is controversial for relieving DOMS, as they may cause more pain within the musculature and extend the length of time needed to heal. Be aware of your intensity and remember, if you can’t walk the next day, you’ve probably gone to far.

References:
Bushman, B. (2014) ACSM’S Resource for the Personal Trainer (4th Ed.) Philadelphia , PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

McGrath, R., Whitehead, J., & Caine, D. (2014) The Effects of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Post-Exercise Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Young Adults. International Journal of Exercise Science. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijes/vol7/iss1/3/

Herbert, RD., de Noronha, M., Kamper, SJ. (2011) Stretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Retreieve on August 23, 2014 from http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/15/1249.short

Jernigan, K. (2013) Problems of Deep Tissue Massage. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/92924-problems-deep-tissue-massage/








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