Love Your Brain!

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary health is the condition of being of sound body, mind and spirit; or freedom from physical disease or pain.  While that may be true,  I much prefer the definition of optimal health by Dr Molly Maloof: Optimal Health is “the ability to adapt and self-manage in the face of adversity.” I would add ‘and create a vibrant and meaningful life you love.’

Optimal health is all about YOU managing (self-management) and adapting (changing) to your own adversities (life stressors.)  Optimal brain health would be included in that definition, more specifically toward your changing and managing your thinking/mindset and caring for the actual grey and white matter that comprise your brain.

MINDSET

Mindset is the buzz word of the decade.  In essence your mindset is a set of beliefs about what is possible in life.  In her book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success Dr Carol Dweck identifies two distinctly polarizing mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset, as the name suggests is unchanging.  You are what you are, that’s all there is.  A growth mindset is, in stark contrast, capable of growth and change.  You can grow and learn and with effort and persistence, effect transformative change.

To quote Henry Ford “If you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”  It’s all about your mindset.  You get to choose, and choice is a beautiful thing!

CARING FOR YOUR BRAIN

Yes you can care for your brain, just as you might care for your body.   There are loads of ‘things’ you can do to care for your brain, which will be discussed over ensuing blogs, but for now suffice it to say, what is good for your body is good for your brain.  Proper nutrition, avoiding toxins such as smoking or excessive alcohol, exercise for cardiovascular health, achieve and maintain ideal body weight, manage blood pressure, sleep hygiene, minimize stress etc.  All of it.

CONCLUSION

As with weight loss, there is no one size fits all approach for optimal brain health.    Structurally and functionally, all brains are similar – Einstein, Mother Teresa or just you. But our thoughts, our memories, our imagination, our mood – the ‘products’ of our brain make each and every one of us unique!

What will you do with yours?

Live life, love life, Always….
Dr Karen

Happiness – its more elusive than we think

Ask almost anyone what they want for their life, and more often than not the answer boils down to some version of “I just want to be happy.”  In fact, we do all the things we do because we believe it will ultimately make us happy.

HAPPINESS CONFUSION 

The word happiness is derived from the Greek “Hap” which means by chance or luck.  But somewhere through the generations, we have adopted as truth, the notion that happiness is our natural default state and quite incorrectly believe if we are not happy, there must be something wrong with us.

But consider this – what if it is our desire for happiness that is actually the cause of our own unhappiness?  It’s quite the paradox.

In his book, The Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris poses the paradox and explores three intriguing questions:

  1. What if everything you believe about finding happiness turned out to inaccurate, misleading and false?
  2. What if those beliefs were making you miserable?
  3. What if your efforts to find happiness were actually preventing you from achieving it?

It is well worth the read.

(These are great questions to ponder for yourself.)

ARE WE HAPPY?

In a recent blog I posted that in 2017 the World Health Organizations ranked depression as the 3rd leading cause of non-fatal health concerns world wide.  I’ve even heard that it has moved up to first place in the ranking over headache disorders and low back pain.

But even more concerning, the number of people suffering from clinical depression has surpassed the number of people with heart disease as well as the number of individuals diagnosed with cancer (podcast Impact Theory with Dr Susan David – July 2020).

Dr Harris sites some very sobering statistics as pertains to the US population:

  • at any given time 1/10th of the adult population is suffering from clinical depression;
  • 1 in 5 will have clinical depression at some point in their life;
  • 1 in 2 people will consider suicide at some point in their life;
  • and 1 in 10 people actually attempt it.

WHOA!  Happiness is more elusive than we think.

THE PROBLEM WITH HAPPINESS

Life is full of ‘stuff’ that creates suffering.  Without suffering there would be no joy, just as without dark there would be no light.  Without the contrasts in life, our existence would be mundane.

What if it is just as normal to feel unhappy as it is to feel happy?

In her book Emotional Agility, Dr Susan David argues that our emotions, neither good nor bad – are just emotions we experience.  She discusses the tyranny of positive thinking – “…trying to change them from negative to positive is an almost surefire way to feel worse.”  A surefire way to feel worse.  We cannot simply switch I love chocolate to I hate chocolate in our effort to minimize sweets.  We cannot trick our brain that way, it knows it’s a lie.

A negative feeling – such as feeling unhappy – is telling us something is up.  Feelings, positive or negative, provide us with information about something important in our lives.  Think about it, if you do not care about something, you do not get upset about it.  Though it may be tragic that the Rhino at the local zoo is having difficulty conceiving while living in captivity, you probably will not have many sleepless nights over it.  (Unless you are the zookeeper).

So, negative feelings give us loads of important information, often related to our underlying values, whether we have identified those values clearly or not.  Negative feeling let us know when we are out of alignment with our authentic selves.

Perhaps we should pay closer attention!

SKIP THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS… PURSUE FULFILLMENT INSTEAD

Since the pursuit of happiness seems to be an ineffective route to happiness, perhaps its time to shift focus.

Both Dr Harris and Dr David recommend the pursuit of fulfillment, meaning or purpose in our life (the subject of another blog).  And in that pursuit, perhaps – just perhaps, happiness will ‘hap’ along as a most welcome feeling.

Have a fantastic week!

Live Life, Love Life, Always
Dr Karen

 

A No Journal

I follow blogs and podcasts from Peter Attia, MD.  If you are interested in hearing a podcast that gets into the nitty gritty details of longevity – his podcast The Drive, is all about the Science and Art of Longevity.  Be forewarned though, his podcasts do not shy away from basic science/research/medical jargon and are heavy on the science. I love it.  It speaks the language of my training.

I mention him today because his most recent blog offered up an idea that I believe will be a game-changer idea for women who struggle to prioritize themselves – The No Journal.  So many of the women I coach have a really hard time saying No, even when they are already fully aware they are overwhelmed and sleep deprived.

The power of saying “No,” is not a new concept.  Nor is the idea that when you say yes to an activity you are also saying no to other activities.

Keep a No Journal for 30 – 60 days and track, as Dr Attia suggests, “all the asks I said no to… and how much time it opened up for the future.”

Keeping a journal, specific for when you say No, is such a great idea.  It helps you track reclaimed time in the future… time that would otherwise have been spent on the activity you said no to.  Brilliant.  That reclaimed No time, is in a way, free-time.  It has been prioritized, based on your values and goals. So instead of finding yourself at a charity dinner to help save the whales – something your best friends’ wifes’ first cousin is passionate about – you are sharing some quality time with your daughter.

Here’s what to do.  Whenever someone asks you to do something and you say No, write that request down – give it a date.  A simple one liner of the request, perhaps who made it, and the date you gracefully declined.  Just start a list – perhaps on your phone or a page in your calendar.  Then ‘ghost’ out the time you would have taken to keep the commitment if you had said yes.  This is time you have reclaimed for your future self.  This is also the activity that you would have been saying No to had you said yes to the request.

With time you may find that people are making fewer requests, as your priorities become clear to everyone as well as yourself and you may find you actually free up time for your future self to do the things you deem truly important.

A No Journal, what a great tool for uncovering the power of ‘No.’  Give it a try.  Don’t say no to this game changer idea.

Have a fantastic week,
Live Life, Love Life, Always
Dr Karen 

Sleep – mandatory, not a luxury

Sleep… it’s almost become a four letter word! 

Whenever life gets busy, the first casualty is sleep.  Just one more thing added to the day, just knock off 20 minutes in the morning… Just one more email to answer… skimp on the slumber.  Sleep deprivation is rampant in society – it’s getting to be our over-caffeinated new norm.

Yet according to Harvard Sleep expert and Psychiatrist, Dr Robert Stickgold “If you don’t sleep, you die.”

WHOOSH – that, is a sobering thought for sure!

HOW MUCH SLEEP IS ENOUGH SLEEP?

The million dollar question, and like all important questions, the answer is… It depends.  It depends on your age – babies and teens need more sleep than adults.  As we move into the later decades of life, we start to need less sleep.  Fitness levels will impact the quality and the quantity of our sleep.  Underlying medical conditions can impact the quality and the quantity of sleep.  Stress… well seriously what about life doesn’t excess stress impact?

Overall, most sleep specialists recommend between 7 – 9 hours of restorative sleep.  Bit of caveat that ‘restorative’ qualifier.   You may well get 7 hours of shut eye, but the restorative bit is somehow lacking.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE SLEEP?

When we sleep our brain progress through 4 stages – very creatively named, stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 and stage 4.  The first three are non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and the 4th and deepest stage, is REM.   Stage 1 is the transition from awake to sleep; Stage 2 the heart rate slows and we start to relax; Stage 3, the muscles are relaxed and our breathing slows down; and Stage 4, the brain is very active, we dream, and except for the eyes which are rapidly moving, the body is essentially paralyzed (presumably to prevent us from acting out our dreams).

Sleep is by no means a passive activity for the brain.  When we sleep, it resets itself. Sleep is a crucial factor in learning and forming long term memories – something psychologists call long term potentiation.  So those all-nighters cramming during college/university were counter-productive.  Just imagine how well you could have done with adequate sleep?

Not only does the sleeping brain consolidate memories, it sorts out and makes sense of the day, processing the vast amounts of sensory input encountered throughout our waking hours.  It’s likely you have experienced what I call The 3am Epiphany, where you have wrestled with a problem all day without resolution, and then, at 3am POOF! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Problem solved.  That is your brilliant brain, doing it’s thing.

The brain is made up of neurons, the work horse of our thinking but those neurons are supported by scaffolding-like cells, called glial cells. These cells are also believed to have immuno-protective and nutritive roles, maintaining healthy brain function.

But recently, it has been discovered that glial cells also have a brain cleansing function that occurs while we sleep.  When we doze off, those supporting scaffolding cells shrink and widen the space around neurons (imagine wider corridors within our brain).  This additional space, allows our cerebrospinal fluid  to wash and slosh around the neurons, removing toxins that may have accumulated throughout the day.  It’s like running the dishwasher overnight – rinse off the residue.

This has huge implications for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.  Imagine if we could increase the wash and slosh cycle while we sleep and remove the damaging toxic bits that wreak havoc with our neurons.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON’T SLEEP?

From the above discussion it’s obvious what happens when we don’t sleep.  We don’t sort through the days’ sensory input, so we don’t reset the brain, we interfere with long term potentiation (memory formation) and we will not effectively wash and slosh our neurons.

Further it is well known that sleep deprivations contributes to weight gain and makes weight loss virtually impossible.   When you are tired, are you more likely to reach for a hefty bowl of steamed broccoli or a Mars bar?  The latter I am sure and that is because sleep deprivation increases our cravings for sugary carbohydrates and it does so by messing up our appetite regulation hormones.

WHAT TO DO?

We live in a society that devalues sleep to our own peril.   Value your sleep and learn to manage your circadian rhythm – your internal sleep – wake cycle.  Pay attention to and respect your sleep cycles.

  1. Go to bed at the same time every night, and get up every morning at the same time, including weekends.
  2. Prioritize your sleep.  Commit to a minimum of 7 hours nightly and on the occasion when you fall short, implement a ‘never miss twice’ rule.
  3. Plan to get 10 – 20 minutes of early morning sunshine – sip your coffee in a sunny window, or get outside for a brisk walk.  Sunlight helps to regulate melatonin our sleep time hormone.
  4. Dim down the bright lights and blue lights for the 1.5 – 2 hours before bed.  Blue light disrupts our melatonin regulation.
  5. Cozy up your sleep environment – cool but not cold, dark but not pitch black, quiet or with soft white noise preferably of nature sounds, get yourself a comfortable mattress – you won’t regret it!

The bottom line… If you are sleepy, sleep!

Treat yourself to amazing sleep.  It is free – and mandatory not a luxury.

Live Life, Love Life, Always
Dr Karen

  1. (Science. 2013 Oct 18;342(6156):373-7. doi: 10.1126/science.1241224.)

Longevity – Intrigued and conflicted

I have been thinking a lot lately about longevity.  The deeper I delve into the various factors which contribute to longevity, the more intrigued, yet conflicted I become.

Intrigued because longevity is very much a doable goal.

Conflicted because generally speaking, as a society, we are living longer, but not healthier.

THE LONGER WE LIVE, THE LONGER WE ARE SICK

In 2017, the World Health Organization reported

“Across the global landscape, increased non-fatal health loss paradoxically reflects both success in terms of diminishing rates of premature death but also failure in terms of maintaining health care for diseased and injured individuals.” (study on the Global Burden of Diseases, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

(https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)32279-7/fulltext)

In non-medical jargon, that means – the longer we live, the longer we are sick.  We are extending life span better than we are extending health span.  This is truly disheartening news.

The goal of longevity – in my view anyway – is to extend the vibrance and energy of youth not extend the fragility of old age.

Surely we can do better.

GENETICS VERSUS EPIGENETICS

Perhaps we cannot change much on a global level, but I absolutely believe that as individuals, it is possible to take ownership of our own health and narrow the gap between our health span and our life span significantly.

But how?

The length of our life, may well be predominantly determined by our genetics.  Statistically, there is a 7 in 10 chance that if your mother and grandmother lived to 100, then you just might too.  “Good genes.” But if they both also had early onset dementia, then you just might too.  “Not so genes.”

But what most people do not know is that there is a growing field of research called Epigenetics, which is the study of factors – like the environment, or our behaviours – that impact the expression of our genes.  So just because you got a copy of the ‘presenilin dementia gene’ from your mother doesn’t mean you have to make use of it.

Dr Danial Amen describes well – “Genes only load the gun, your behaviour pulls the trigger.”

This is fantastic news.  You may have a 7 in 10 chance of developing dementia, but you can choose lifestyle related behaviours to decrease those odds.

NARROW THE GAP BETWEEN HEALTH SPAN AND LIFE SPAN

So many of the chronic diseases that have us all terrified – obesity, diabetes, dementia – are amenable to lifestyle related changes .

Those behaviours include things like adequate sleep, diet and nutrition/weight management, routine moderately intense exercise, appropriate levels of stress, avoiding environmental toxins and maintaining meaningful social connection.

All behaviours we know we should do, and all behaviours many of us put off until later.

Often until much later.

I for one, waited until I was well over 200 pounds, prediabetic, hypertensive, perpetually sleep deprived and chronically stressed.  I was playing roulette with my loaded gun.  Fortunately for me, I pushed away from the game (hopefully not too late!) and changed my diet, lost weight, reversed my pre-diabetes and hypertension and I am correcting my sleep patterns (tricky business after decades of deprivation) and increasing my daily exercise (click here if you want to join a 21 day exercise challenge.)

Being over weight, sedentary, stressed and moody (depressed/anxious) significantly impacts our health span, as well as our life span.

Truthfully, I feel better now at 60y than I did at 50y and I intend to keep that particular trend going.

So can you.  Honest.

Have a fantastic week!
Dr Karen

Six reasons why we over eat

If like most human beings in this exceptional time of uncertainty, you are frequenting the fridge and the pantry and find yourself over eating and/or snacking incessantly, rest assured you are not alone. 

And guess what?  It’s NOT YOUR FAULT.

Here’s six reasons why we over eat.

  1. Well-intended But Wrong Advice

We over eat because we are following some well-intended but bad dietary advice.  Introduced in the late 1970’s, a low-fat diet was promoted by health advocates in an effort to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.  But when you restrict dietary fat, hunger increases because dietary fat makes us feel full and satisfied.  And by default, when you restrict dietary fat, carbohydrate consumption increases.  And the recommended carbohydrates were predominantly included bread and pasta, both of which are made from refined grains (flour) and highly processed.

We listened.  We got fat.

  1. Exercise

We believe exercise helps with weight loss.  Exercise has multiple benefits, but weight loss is NOT one of them.  Please do not misunderstand.  Exercise is important for our health and well-being, and daily exercise is great for longevity.  But most of all, exercise makes us hungry and more often than not, we believe we earn a treat after a workout.  We routinely over-estimate how many calories were burned and under-estimate how many calories we consume as a reward.

  1. Eat Less / Move More Weight Loss Gospel

To this day health advocates promote the Eat Less/Move More weight gospel as THE solution to our weight loss struggles.  Doctor, dieticians and fitness gurus alike, profess “fewer-calories-in-than-calories-out” is the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.  So… eat less (take in fewer calories) and move more (burn more calories) and you will lose weight.  Sounds so reasonable, so logical… But it fails, 99% of the time.  Sounds outrageous right?  Outrageous but true!  Ask any chronic dieter.

  1. Your Brilliant Brain

The primitive brain is the oldest part of the human brain and its job is to ensure survival in a hostile environment where food was scarce.  But in the 21st century, thankfully, we no longer live in a hostile environment and food is not scarce.  Your brain loves it and keeps asking for more… just in case famine is around the corner.

  1. Really Tasty Food

The food supply in the 21st century is hyperpalatable – it’s really tasty!  Food manufacturers know our brain loves refined carbs (sugar and flour).  They also know that the more refined carbs we eat, the more our brain craves them.  Furthermore, they know refined carbs give the brain a massively wonderful feeling.  In response, your brain, doing its jobs most efficiently, is like “whoa! this is great stuff, get more soon.”  And you can, very easily… so you do… again and again and again.

  1. Your Brilliant Body

Our body is designed to survive through periods famine with occasional feasts.  Our body exquisitely manages our energy supply with insulin, our fat storage hormone.  During times of feasting, insulin levels increase and our body stores excess energy as body fat.  During times of famine, insulin levels drop and we burn our body fat stores for energy.  It’s a beautifully fine-tuned energy conserving machine!

Fortunately, nowadays, famine is rare.  In fact we are almost always feasting. And insulin, doing its job, stores all the excess energy as body fat.  And in our food-aplenty-feasting world, insulin is very efficiently making us fatter and fatter.

Losing weight is one if the hardest things you will ever do.  It is also one of the most worthwhile things you will ever do.  Believe in yourself.  Believe in your potential.

Get your free How to Stop Over Eating Guide – click the button below.

Live life, love life, always
Dr Karen

Covid-19 pound-emic

In just under three weeks the world turned upside down.  Unprecedented everythings.  Market crashes.  Travel restrictions.  Provincial emergencies.  School closures.  Business shutdowns.

The only certainty in the world right now is uncertainty, and uncertainty is most certainly anxiety provoking.  And when anxiety runs high, our emotions run amuck.  And when our emotions run amuck, many of us (myself included) seek solace from our favorite comfort foods.

Fortunately for me, I am in self-isolation having recently returned from a trip to Florida. Which means, my groceries are being purchased for me by family members who follows the list and skip impromptu buys.  Thus, my favorite comfort foods are not in the house.

There is nothing like being told you must stay home to make one feel restless.  I know I am restless, because even though I know there are no comfort foods in the house, I still find myself rummaging about the kitchen.  The fridge is almost bare, but I check it anyway.  And guess what?  It’s still almost bare every time I look.

Despite all the uncertainly in the world right now, I believe one thing is certain – it’s easier to not gain weight than to have to lose it later when this is all over.  It’s never over – there will always be some excuse.   Right now it happens to be Covid-19 that has us isolated and raiding the refrigerator.  Next it will be celebrations when social distancing is lifted.  Then it will be Thanksgiving.  Then it will Christmas.  Then New Years…

Let’s avoid the Covid-19 pound-emic.  You can emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic a better version of yourself.

But how?

  1. Recognize that heightened anxiety is normal when uncertainly is rampant in the world. Eating is not the solution.  Remember – eat to nourish, not console.  Now is the perfect time to learn how to feel emotions, not eat to avoid emotions.  If you can learn that during these troubled times, then stress eating will be a thing of the past.
  2. Put up a “the Kitchen is Closed” sign. Don’t be poking around in the fridge and pantry – banish yourself from the kitchen except for specific mealtime hours.
  3. If you are new to working at home, if at all possible, do not work in the kitchen.
  4. Get up and get dressed – don’t laze around in your jammies.
  5. Design a routine for your day. If your routine doesn’t work, change it up until you find what works well for your work, your sanity and your waistline.
  6. Drink tea or coffee, they are known to have appetite suppressant effects. (Caution – not too late at night!)
  7. Drink water since we often confuse thirst with hunger.
  8. Remember hunger comes and goes in waves, and hunger is never an emergency.
  9. Don’t snack. When you catch yourself reaching for the abandoned Halloween candy the kids don’t like, remember you really don’t like that stuff either.
  10. Find a way to de-stress. Even when social distancing or self-isolating, you are permitted to take a brisk walk – just keep 6 feet away from others.  Start a deep breathing practice.  Start journaling your thoughts.  Start a gratitude journal.  Skip the news updates every few minutes.  (Covid-19 is not going anywhere in the next 24 hours.)  Insist on quiet time for yourself.
  11. Find a way to stay connected virtually with friends and family. Try using your cell phone as a phone not a camera for a change.
  12. Sleep hygiene is crucial. Get up at the same time every morning.  Go to bed at the same time every night.  Insist on 7 – 9 hours nightly – it allows your brain to reboot.

Covid-19 has toppled and is reordering our values and priorities.  Believe you can emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic a stronger and healthier you!

It is your choice!  And choice is a beautiful thing.

Have a safe week!  Stay home.
Live life, Love life… Always
Dr Karen

Longevity Rainbow

This past week I have been reading I’ve Decided to Live to 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality and Life Transformation by Ilchi Lee.  Interesting concept – to ‘decide’ to live to 120y.  Of course we cannot simply decide to live to 120y, but what if we decide to live our life AS IF WE WILL live to 120y.  Would that change the way you approach your day? Your retirement? Your life?

Interesting thought experiment.

I will confess my initial response was disheartening – why would anyone want to live to 120y?  For me that would mean another 60 years.  Longevity.  Hmm.  Is that such a bad thing?  My thoughts then turned to another 60 years of what?  That is really the thought experiment.  What would you DO – what is your purpose – if you were going to live for another 60 years?

According to Webster’s Dictionary longevity is defined as a long duration of an individual life, but I much prefer the definition given the book The Longevity Solution coauthored by Dr James Dinicolantonio and Dr Jason Fung “Longevity means extending youth not extending old age.”

Such a better perspective!  I’m totally cool with living until I am 120y, so long as I can do so with energy and enthusiasm for my day, independently and with mental clarity.  I know… sounds impossible if not crazy.

Longstanding mental clarity and independence fill the pot at the end of my longevity rainbow, as I suspect is does for most everyone closer to 100 than 1.  And for me, mental clarity is readily attainable but slippery to hang on to.  When I cut the carbs (sugar and flour), my mental clarity soars. I first discovered this toward the end of 2018, when I initially experimented with intermittent fasting and a five day extended fast.  WHOOSH.  Energy and creative inspiration galore, accompanied by a silencing of my inner critic.  Vroom, vroom, vroom – slick thinking.

How can we fill our longevity pot today and every day for a brighter, livelier, and interesting future?

Here is my short list of strategies.

  • Read about and do new stuff. The ‘do new stuff’ part is crucial here.  I read a lot of non-fiction, believing that reading would keep my brain alive.  As it turns out, reading is not sufficient.  My brain already knows how to read so simply reading new material is not helpful – my brain is not forging new neural connections.  But if I actually DO something I have not done before with that information, then I can make new neural connections.  Unfortunately, simply making new connections is not enough – those connections must be reinforced.

In neuroscience this making and reinforcing new connections is called neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity occurs when the brain changes in response to experience.  Simply reading about how to knit, won’t create new neural connections but actually doing the knitting – however cumbersome or awkward it seems, will forge new connections.

Most memory-promoting sites recommend learning and practicing a new language or a musical instrument.  Hence my impossible goal to be able to play Bach cello suites.

  • Watch what you eat. There is so much misinformation on the web these days, it seems impossible to sift out what to eat or not eat.  Plant protein versus animal protein, coffee versus tea, keto versus vegan, intermittent fasting versus multiple meals and snacks.  It’s so confusing. Drs. Dinicolantonio and Fung recommend a predominantly plant protein based Mediterranean diet with nightly 12 – 14h intermittent fasts, adequate healthy fats and salt with inclusion of coffee/tea and red wine.  Check out their book for specifics.
  • Intermittent fasting. Routine nightly fasting of 16 – 18h has been shown to increase the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neuro-peptide important in neurogenesis (new neuron growth) in the brain’s memory center (the hippocampus) improving overall memory.  Intermittent fasting has also been shown to improve sleep, boost immune function and decrease inflammation – all of which can have a beneficial impact on the quality of life with increasing age.
  • Exercise your muscles. As discussed in a recent blog – Twilight Zone Revisited – as little as 20 minutes of moderate cardio exercise daily significantly increases the expression of BDNF in the hippocampus.  Resistance train to counteract age-related muscle loss that occurs each decade after age 30y.
  • Promote flexibility in your joints. Stretch regularly or start a Yoga practice.  Personally, I find Yoga poses too challenging and complicated for my injury-related muscle imbalances. Instead I practice something called Active Isolated Stretching.
  • Enhance/improve your balance. Most people visualize careful execution of various yoga poses for improving one’s balance.  And it’s true, yoga works.  But simply standing on one foot while you prep veggies for dinner is a good place to start.  I alternate from right foot to left foot every 10 – 20 seconds while standing on a flat – side- up Bosu Balance Trainer while I read.  A quick google search on how to improve your balance will yield more than enough suggestions.
  • Exercise your cognitive powers – use it or lose it. Our memory improves the more we challenge it.  The converse is equally true – poor memory is the result of disuse.  As a society we have out-sourced our memory.  The widespread use of smart phones and iphones has been detrimental to our memory capacity. Gone are the days when you could easily recall a 7-10 digit number.  Give your phone a rest – use your memory!
  • Increase mindfulness. We are a distracted society.  Our attention span is shrinking at an alarming rate.  Think about it, it’s impossible to remember anything if you did not notice it in the first place.  Learn to pay attention.  Notice what is happening around you.  Simply by becoming more mindful – to intentionally notice – you will improve your memory.
  • Do something you love and that brings you joy. For those of us closer to 100 than 1, chances are our careers are drawing to a close.  But if you have another 60 years to live, what would you absolutely LOVE to do with your time?  For me it’s to play cello sufficiently well to consider myself a contributing member in our community orchestra.
  • Spends time in nature every day. The impact of solitude in nature cannot be understated.  Appreciate quiet solitude, birdsongs, the magical Northern lights on a cold, clear starry winter night, sunrise/sunset, the wind in the leaves.

I seriously doubt I will live to be 120y, even though longevity runs in my family.  I may well live to 90y though.  Why not choose to spend the next 30 or so years doing something I love and that brings me joy while keeping my brain and body running as smoothly as possible?

What would you do?

Live life, Love Life, Always
Dr Karen

Annoying Brain Paradoxes

 

It’s the strangest thing.

I have been at my goal weight plus or minus 5 pounds for well over a year.   The other day a friend asked, “When are you going to believe you have lost weight?”  Hmm…

“Odd question, why do you ask?”

“You still haven’t bought new clothes.”

Guilty as charged.  I have not bought new clothes.  I am still wearing the same jeans I wore 50 or so pounds ago, granted they were tight then and are loose now.  Since she pointed out the obvious, I have been wondering why not.  Why haven’t I bought myself some new clothes, if not an entirely new wardrobe?

Sometimes our brains present us with such annoying paradoxes.  Well, mine does anyway.  I am done losing weight, yet my brain still thinks I need to lose more.  “Oh just 5 more pounds – you gained 5 pounds when you re-introduced exercise.  Just lose that, then all will be well.”  It goes on…  “Maybe you should stop exercising, get that off and maybe 10 more.”

But then, every time I catch a reflection of my upper arm flab jiggling like semi-set jello, my brain cringes “You need to build some muscle in that flabby jello!”

The next excuse my brain gave was “You hate shopping for clothes.”  “It’s winter and you don’t have appropriate boots to wear with dressy clothes,” and “Seriously, you need to lose 10, maybe 15 more pounds.”

Seriously brain give it a rest, will you?  

Then it moved on… “Maybe you should hire a fashion consultant.  You don’t know anything about fashion.”  As a pediatrican I used to spend considerable time on the floor playing with 2 – 3 year old kids while trying to figure things out.  So I rarely, if ever, wore a dress – too hard to crawl around in.  I didn’t need to concern myself with fashion.

“You don’t need new clothes, you never go out anyway.”  “And remember your New Year’s resolution to stay within your budget this year.  New clothes will blow that out of the water!”

Trickster brain continued… “And who can afford a fashion consultant anyway?  No need for new clothes.  You know your weight will come back as soon as you get new clothes.  That’s how these thing work.”

If these are the thoughts percolating around in the deep and dark crevices of my brain, it’s not in the least bit surprising I have yet to buy new clothes.

Such nonsense.  Seriously brain, enough already!

But my brain is just doing what brains do.  Brains love ‘the familiar’ and want to keep ‘the familiar’ familiar.  For forty years, I believed I needed to lose weight.  So, my brain thinks it’s normal to believe I need to lose weight, so it keeps telling me I need to lose weight, even though I no longer need to lose weight.  In fact, for forty years I did need to lose weight and the more I thought “I need to lose weight,” the more I gained weight.  It’s a crazy paradox.

Like I said, my brain is full of annoying paradoxes.  Really annoying paradoxes.

I will admit this makes me angry at my brain.  And I think thoughts like – “Seriously brain, give it a rest.” or “Seriously brain, enough already.”  This is also not in the least bit helpful.  Being angry at your brain for behaving like a brain is well, simply ridiculous – yet another paradox!

We have the most amazing gift – self awareness.  And it is our self-awareness that creates crazy paradoxes.  We should chuckle at our crazy paradoxes, at least we know they are there.  And when we know they are there, we can change them.

Seems it’s time to go shopping!

Have a fantastic week,
Dr Karen

Solving Snack Attacks Part 3 – How to get fat adapted

In part I explained how our physiology works against us when we are sugar burners.  In part 2, I reviewed some of the physiology of fat metabolism and why it calms carb cravings.

In this part, you are going to learn how to make the switch from sugar burner to fat burner. As I said at the end of part 2, it’s simple, but not easy.

Recently while listening to one of my favourite podcasts, The LowCarbMD, one of the hosts asked a guest presenter, “What do I need to do to live to 120y if not forever?”  The answer might surprise you. It was not to manage stress, get proper and sufficient sleep, eat fish three times a week, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, eat unprocessed organic foods, free range chicken, eggs and beef, stay active with lots of friends and sufficient money.  None of that.  It was keep your insulin as low as possible and avoid insulin resistance.

Banting and Best, (the researchers who discovered insulin back in the early 1900s) would be so pleased.  They unknowingly discovered the fountain of youth!

What a powerful hormone insulin.

To make the switch from sugar burner to fat burner, we must keep our insulin levels as low as possible for as long as possible.

“Okay, yeah, sure I will get right on that.”

I know, I know – it sounds impossible.

It’s not impossible, it’s just not easy.  But like all good things in life, it is well worth the effort.

First off, you need to understand insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance occurs when the cells of your body no longer respond to readily insulin.  Like a key that opens a door, Insulin is the key that unlocks the door that allows glucose to enter into cells.  When the key slips into the lock easily and the door swings wide open, the cells are said to be insulin sensitive.  But when the key gets worn and beat up a bit, it doesn’t fit the lock well and the door doesn’t open easily, the cells are said to be insulin resistant.

But remember high blood sugar is toxic to our cells and organ systems.  So our body, in order to protect itself, will increase insulin levels, in hopes that more keys will open more doors and let the glucose into the cells to be used a fuel.  As we become more and more insulin resistant, our insulin levels get higher and higher, a state that is called hyperinsulinemia (which literally means too much insulin in the blood.)  Eventually when we have high insulin levels and high glucose and insulin resistant cells, we are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Let’s avoid that scenario!

As outline in part 1, when you snack, you spike your blood glucose, which in turn spikes your insulin, which can in turn cause a sugar low, triggering a snack attack.  It’s a vicious cycle.

To break the cycle, you need to follow the Fab Four.

1.) eliminate sugar;

2.) eliminate all refined grains (flour);

3.) eat 3 meals a day 5 – 6 hours apart with no snacking; and

4.) fast 12 – 14 hours nightly.

All of these dietary changes will significantly lower your insulin levels.  After 2 – 4 weeks, you will be well on your way to fat adapted and a fat burner.  No more cravings, remarkably little hunger and you lose weight.

Both sugar and flour spike blood glucose levels significantly.  Remove them from your diet, then there is no spike in your glucose and thus no spike in insulin, no spike in insulin means no rebound sugar low and thus, no snack attack.  When you do not snack throughout the day, your insulin levels are able to drop for several hours between meals, and will drop significantly when you fast overnight for 12 – 14 hours.

With a little discipline, do these consistently for 3 – 4 weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less and you will have made the switch from sugar burner to fat burner.

When you have successfully switched to a fat burner several things happen i) you get yourself out of fat storage mode, into fat burner mode; ii) all the cells of your body easily make the enzymes necessary to burn body for fuel; iii) you burn body fat for fuel; iv) your cells have a steady supply of energy without demanding a snack; and v) you don’t get cravings… so no snack attack.

You know you are fat adapted when you can easily go for hours without eating and not feel in the least bit hungry.   When you are fat adapted your energy levels are steady throughout the day.  There are no carb crashes, no carb cravings and surprisingly little hunger.

Can you imagine?  No hunger and no cravings?  No snack attacks.

Make the switch from sugar burner to fat burner.  Train yourself to be fat adapted.  It is how we not only survived but thrived for centuries.

It is possible!

Have a fantastic week,
Dr Karen