How would you like to build new neural connections so that you can align your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors with what you ultimately want to achieve? You're in luck. You are innately endowed with the ability to train your brain to become an elite performer (if that's what you desire to do).
Your Mental World
For a moment, imagine your brain as if it is it's own planet. Your "neural planet" has a population of some 85 billion neurons. Just as people in close proximity interact with one another, neurons communicate to each other via synapses and neurotransmitters. A synapse is an electrochemical junction between two nerve cells, in which impulses pass by diffusion of chemicals, also referred to as neurotransmitters.
If you took a consensus of your mental world, neurons of different sizes would be visible all over. Neurons that fire together look somewhat like a social gathering occurring. From a bird's-eye view, you would be able to see "remote villages" variably exchanging conversation, "towns" making more connections, and "large metropolitan areas" continuously in contact.
Synapses vary in size because the frequency of neural communication dictates the size and efficiency of their pathway. Infrequently used trails can become freeways and vice versa.
This connection between neurons, and clusters of neurons, is the essential function of the brain. Every time you think, feel, act, emotionalize, or remember, you reinforce existing brain neural connections or create new ones. There are neural patterns for everything, from standing to reading this page. The innumerable patterns in which your brain cells connect and share information reflects your brain's capacity to perform.
Neuroplasticity: The Brain's Ability to Change Itself
The old scientific paradigm held that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Fortunately, the old paradigm has evolved and incorporated the science of neuroplasticity, which suggests the brain can change and it can happen at any time. Like plastic, neurons can mold into new forms, creating new connections. Any time you learn a new skill, the brain is changing by making new neural connections. Whether it is learning to play an instrument, speaking a new language, discovering a new route home, eating whole foods, and so much more, your brain begins to change itself.
Learning is forging new connections. Remembering is maintaining and sustaining those connections. And just like a relationship, the more communication that occurs, the more bondage that takes place. Neurons are the same way.
What is really fascinating, is that you can change your brain, not only by doing, but also by thinking. Researchers have demonstrated that the act of focusing and being present through meditation changes the brain in many ways.
Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change itself, and it's the innate ability that you can harness to help you attain your goals.
Continental Shift: Three Ways Neuroplasticity Works
You are able to reshape your brain using the same principles that your brain was built - neurons firing and wiring, syncing and linking together.
There are three ways that neuroplasticity can change your mind:
More neurons, more connections, and more efficient connections. These are the three ways to exponentially transform your life. But, there is a caveat. As an adult, some of your neuroplasticity is turned off. But once again, you're in luck, you can turn it back on.
Teaching Old Dogs New TRicks: Turning On Neuroplasticity
As an infant, the brain is a sponge, absorbing what it can in an effort increase the chances of survival. As you age, your neuroplasticity slows down as new memories and skills are created; habitual patterns begin to direct most of your daily activities, and novel ideas get pushed to the back burner.
As an adult, learning processes, beliefs, and behaviors become, more or less "fixed" within the neural pathways of the brain. This means the plasticity switch is predominately in the "off" position, to varying degrees in each individual. One person may be so set in their ways that to try to get them to see things from a new perspective is like talking to a brick wall. Whereas another person may be more flexible and is able to take all sides into consideration. In either case, neuroplasticity can work at any age, so in the case of that brick wall, the only thing holding them back is themselves. They're not old dogs who can't learn new tricks, they're just uninformed, or perhaps unwilling.
Here are six time-tested principles to turn on neuroplasticity:
Here are some more ways to activity neuroplasticity:
Clearly more is better. Neuroplasticity is a ongoing process, and if you are committed to being the best version of yourself, then it is a lifelong process.
Assaraf, J. (2018). Innercise. Cardiff, CA: Waterside Press.
Functional Range Conditioning
Developed by world-renowned musculoskeletal expert Dr. Andreo Spina, Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) is a comprehensive joint training system based in scientific principals and research.
There are 3 main goals when training using FRC system and all are closely interrelated, and acquired simultaneously:
The Fastest Way to Health
What is the fastest way to health? It's simply honesty being honest with yourself. We each have four doctors within ourselves: Dr. Happiness, which is what is our concept of what makes us happy (what am you living for?); Dr. Quiet which is how do you create adequate rest to regenerate yourself to have a clear mind and to let my body recover from any stress; Dr. Diet (how do you tune into your body's particular nutritional needs?); and Dr. Movement, which is the difference between Working Out and Working In and putting those movement types to use in your life.
Is Sitting the New Smoking?
How much time do you spend sitting each day? Considering that excessive sedentary time is ubiquitous in Western societies, for most people, the total amount of time spent sitting could be cut in half, or even in quarters.
"Sit less, move more" is the maxim worth repeating, especially with the growing body of evidence suggesting how detrimental prolonged sitting is for your body. A multitude of chronic metabolic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, even premature death, have been directly associated with prolonged sitting time. According to several long-term studies, no matter how much you exercise, sitting for extended periods of time significantly increases your risk of disease and death, by any cause.
The Relationship Between Sitting and Mortality
Due to its prevalence, researchers set out to examine the association between daily, sedentary behavior (its total volume and accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts) and all-cause mortality.
Researchers shadowed nearly 8000 participants, age 45 or older, for an average of four years and observed that that sedentary behavior, on average, accounted for about 12.3 hours of an average 16-hour waking day. After analyzing the compiled data, the results of this observational experiment postulate a direct relationship; as total sedentary time increases, so does your risk of dying early than expected. Researchers have observed the participants' risk of metabolic morbidity and all-cause mortality grew in tandem with total sitting time and sitting stretch duration - no matter their age, sex, race, body mass index or exercise habits. In other words, prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of overall levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Furthermore, those who sat for more than 13 hours per day had a 2-fold (or 200%) greater risk of death compared to those who sat for less than about 11 hours per day (Diaz et al., 2017).
The current exercise guidelines, established by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend adults perform moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for two hours and 30 minutes every week, plus resistance training exercises on two or more days a week. Even this recommendation, however, doesn’t address the importance of reducing sitting time in addition to increasing physical activity levels (Van der Ploeg, Chey, Korda, Banks & Bauman, 2012).
Fortunately enough, the recommendations established by the researchers are, perhaps, more clear; take a movement break every 30 minutes. The researchers also determined that people who sit for less than 30 minutes at a time have the lowest risk of early death. According to the researchers, those who frequently sat in stretches less than 30 minutes had a 55% lower risk of death compared to people who usually sat for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. In addition, people who frequently sat for more than 90 minutes at a stretch had a nearly two-fold greater risk of death than those who almost always sat for less than 90 minutes at a stretch.
If you have a job, obligation, or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods, the findings of this research recommend one behavior change could reduce your risk of death: take a movement break every 30 minutes
While a standing desk might be helpful for those who work desk jobs, there is limited evidence to suggest that standing is a healthier alternative to sitting. Just taking a look at the anatomy of the human body, it is clear that it is designed for dynamic movement, not remain static.
Each Hour Spent Sitting Decreases Your Life Expectancy by 2 hours
In 2016, Dr. Mercola interviewed Kelly Starrett, who has a Ph.D. in physical therapy and is the author of "Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World." In "Deskbound," Starrett quoted research from Dr. James Levine estimating for every hour you sit down, your life expectancy decreases by two hours.
For comparison, every cigarette smoked reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes, which explains why some are now calling sitting the new smoking. For all intents and purposes, prolonged sitting may actually be far worse for your health than smoking.
Starrett even mentioned a study that found office workers who smoked to be healthier than non-smokers simply because they got up every 30 minutes or so and walked outside to have a cigarette.
In the end, it is clear that the human body is designed to move, and is not designed to stay in any fixed position.
Take Away: Sitting and Standing are Tools
The body is designed to move. Standing is not inherently better than sitting, and sitting is not inherently worse than standing - they are both tools. However from a metabolic perspective, standing is perhaps better, due to the relative rate of energy expenditure. Given this, it is not recommended to stand all day, or vice versa.
What is most important, is how, or the way in which, you are sitting or standing. How is the quality of your sitting or standing position? How are utilizing your chair or the floor? If you are standing in an array of compromised positions, such as, for example, with an inwards collapsed knee or foot, or disengaged glutes, you are exacerbating the same patterns that result in physical discomfort. Sitting and standing are both tools, so it is important to ask yourself, "How am I using this tool?"
To ensure proper posture, if you are going to be sitting, sit on the front edge of your seat, or the ischial tuberosity (the "sit bones" or bony protrusions located on your rear), with your hips located higher than your knees and your core activated. This position activates the spinal chain setting the sacrum and lumbar spine with a normal curve. If you are going to be standing, equally distribute the weight between your feet, stacking your spine while activating your glutes and core, with your shoulders back and down (not hunched forward), and your head neutral (not forward or looking down).
Diaz, K., Howard, V., Hutto, B., Colabianchi, N., Vena, J., Safford, M., Blair, S. and Hooker, S. (2017). Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults. Annals of Internal Medicine, 167(7), p.465. https://doi.org/10.7326/M17-0212
Scutti, S. (2018). Yes, sitting too long can kill you, even if you exercise. [online] CNN. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/11/health/sitting-increases-risk-of-death-study/ [Accessed 31 May 2018].
Van der Ploeg, H., Chey, T., Korda, R., Banks, E. and Bauman, A. (2012). Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(6), p.494. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2174
Have you ever wondered what the health impact of a stressful day was? Will you perform well during your long run or training session tomorrow morning? Is there anything you can do today that would improve your ability to have a better day tomorrow? HRV may be a piece of data that could help you answer these questions.
What is HRV?
HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, also known as the RR interval. This variation is controlled by a primitive part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS works regardless of our desire and regulates, among other things, our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. The ANS is subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response.
The brain is constantly processing information in a region called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, through the ANS, sends signals to the rest of the body either to stimulate or to relax different functions. It responds not only to a poor night of sleep, or that sour interaction with your boss, but also to the exciting news that you got engaged, or to that delicious healthy meal you had for lunch. Our body handles all kinds of stimuli and life goes on. However, if we have persistent instigators such as stress, poor sleep, unhealthy diet, dysfunctional relationships, isolation or solitude, and lack of exercise, this balance may be disrupted, and your fight-or-flight response can shift into overdrive.
Why Monitor HRV?
HRV is a noninvasive way to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease (Buccelletti et al., 2009; Tsuji et al., 1994).
People who have a high HRV may have greater cardiovascular fitness and be more resilient to stress. HRV may also provide personal feedback about your lifestyle and help motivate those who are considering taking steps toward a healthier life. It is fascinating to see how HRV changes as you incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, sleep, and especially physical activity into your life. For those who love data and numbers, this can be a convenient way to track how your nervous system is reacting not only to the environment, but also to your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
The gold standard to measure HRV is to analyze a long strip of an electrocardiogram, the test that occurs frequently in medical offices where wires are attached to the chest. But over the past few years, several companies have created heart rate monitors that sync with apps that do something similar. The accuracy of these methods is still under scrutiny, but the technology is improving substantially. A word of caution is that there are no agencies regulating these devices, thus they may not be as accurate as claimed to be. With that said, the easiest and cheapest way to check HRV is to buy a chest strap heart monitor (e.g., Polar H10) and download a free app (e.g., Elite HRV) to analyze the data. The chest strap monitor tends to be more accurate than wrist or finger devices. Check your HRV in the mornings after you wake up, a few times a week, and track for changes as you incorporate healthier interventions.
Tracking HRV may be a great tool to motivate behavioral change for some. HRV measurements can help create more awareness of how you live and think, and how your behavior affects your nervous system and bodily functions. While it obviously can’t help you avoid stress, it could help you understand how to respond to stress in a healthier way. While there are questions about measurement accuracy and reliability, if you decide to use HRV as another piece of data, do not get too confident if you have a high HRV, or too scared if your HRV is low. Think of HRV as a preventive tool, a visual insight into the most primitive part of your brain.
Far from the metronome we might assume it to be, the healthiest heart beat follows a fractal pattern, with varying lengths of time separating each pulse (Tapanainen et al., 2002; Yaniv, Y., Lyashkov, A. E., Lakatta, E. G., 2013). A higher HRV suggests a relaxed, low-stress physiological milieu, while a lower HRV indicates a need for recovery, rest, and sleep. Therefore, in order to increase HRV, generally speaking, a more relaxed, low-stress environment is desirable. While there are a number of ways to reduce stress and increase relaxation, here are some examples that have been observed to increase HRV:
A growing body of evidence suggests that exercise is one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.
A recent study, conducted over the course of 11 years, was designed to address whether exercise provides protection against new-onset depression and anxiety and if so, the intensity and amount of exercise required to gain protection and, lastly, the mechanisms that underlie any association.
Researchers evaluated and followed 33,908 adults, which were selected on the basis of having no symptoms of common mental disorder or limiting physical health conditions.
The researchers observed that regular leisure-time exercise was associated with reduced incidence of future depression but not anxiety. The majority of this protective effect occurred at low levels of exercise and was observed regardless of intensity. After adjusting for confounding variables, the results suggests that 12% of future cases of depression could have been prevented if all participants had engaged in at least 1 hour of physical activity each week. The social and physical health benefits of exercise explained a small proportion of the protective effect.
Harvey, S., Øverland, S., Hatch, S., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A. and Hotopf, M. (2017). Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, pp.appi.ajp.2017.1. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223
The Awareness domain contains research, news, information, observations, and ideas at the level of self in an effort to intellectualize health concepts.
The Lifestyle domain builds off intellectual concepts and offers practical applications.
Taking care of yourself is at the core of the other domains because the others depend on your health and wellness.