First off I wish anyone reading this a very happy and healthy New Year. For 2017 I have decided to simplify things a bit and to work more with kids and adults alike to develop quality health and fitness routines that translate into better daily performance. In 2016 I applied these simple routines to children I worked with and with my own son and saw great results in everything from physical and mental performance to better mood and ability to focus on one thing at a time. Since kids now have so many distractions with all the technology on hand I believe it is imperative to teach them how to focus on the task at hand and not to always be scattered with constant multitasking which takes away from building the skill of quality deep work . Smart phones,tablets,and getting lost in social media and television programing has become the norm. We all often see kids and adults alike walking through a parking lot or sitting at a dinner table with family,texting or posting to social media without really paying attention to the world unfolding around them. This is not only developing poor habits but down right dangerous. Their is a time and a place for everything but when focus is needed on lets say skill development or study of a subject,we as adults and our kids alike need to hold on to and redevelop the simple skill of attention.
WHAT TO ADD AND WHAT TO TAKE AWAY
In my experience playing with these concepts has proven to me that simplicity is key at first and as attention and routines develop then you can push for more development. I think just by adding simple book ends to the day and subtracting a bit of time from the distractions is a good start. By book ends I mean a good start and good end to the day with quality routines. We now have conclusive evidence that adults and children alike benefit greatly from a simple morning routine and a light sweat first thing in the morning to get the brain and body jumpstarted for the day to come. Add a good end to the day with some unwind time and unplugging from electronics a couple hours before bed and you get much more quality sleep to keep you rested and recovered day after day. A couple of great books that take a deep dive into the physical,neurological,and emotional benefit of a quality morning routine are Spark by John Ratey,MD and Boost Your Brain by Majid Fotuhi,MD. Both these books have research backed evidence on the life changing benefits that fitness and a focus on neurological health can give you and your children.
Dr. Ratey in his book SPARK highlites how some underperforming kids in inner city schools have completely turned around there physical health and mental performance in school and started to perform at a very high level by just taking a PE class first thing in the morning before diving into academics. He also dives deep into the what happens neurologically and physiologically with quality exercise in the morning. You can read about the great non profit that has been trying to implement this to as many schools as possible at PE4LIFE. Dr. Fotuhi lays out a plan from diet and exercise to memory practice and other mind strengthening strategies which I have filtered through and added the most useful tools to my program.
Both of these authors make it clear that there are some very interesting things going on by just getting a good sweat first thing in the morning and constantly learning and applying something new. Below are some videos to understand these concepts better and the main components to understand what is going on and why we should all implement these concepts into our lives and our children lives.
THE CORE FOUR
Synapse-a junction between two nerve cells, consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass by diffusion of a neurotransmitter.
When you learn something new you create new synapses-a process called synaptogenesis and when you continue to use those synapses you strengthen them. So learning a new skill and working at it regularly(brain training) leads to measurable structural changes in the brain.
The brains neighborhoods communicate with each other through a network of fiber bundles,which carry signals back and forth. How well they function depends on two main things:how many synapses there are between the neurons that make up these fiber bundles and how well myelinated those neurons are. Adding synapses helps strengthen the connection,while preserving a strong myelin coat on the axons through myelination helps to ensure fast messaging between.
3.Adding(and aiding) Blood Vessels
The brain is a very vascular organ,fed by an intricate system of blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen to every cell. A third of the brain is made up of blood vessels and 20% of the hearts output goes to the brain. With good healthy blood flow to the brain neurons can thrive. But growing the brain isn't just a matter of keeping existing blood vessels in good health. We need to increase the network by developing new blood vessel branches through angiogenesis(the development of new blood vessels). Exercise has been shown to promote angiogenesis,which in turn brings more blood and oxygen to the 100 billion cells in the brain.
4.Neurogenesis-the growth and development of nervous tissue.
Neuroscience has proven that the human brain can create new cells in adulthood not just in a developing brain like was previously thought. It has been proven that constantly learning and putting to practice new things throughout life can promote neurogenesis. Some changes have been shown to occur in as little as 2 hours and to such a large degree that they can be seen on MRI(magnetic resonance imaging).
THE THREE CRUCIAL MECHANISMS FOR BRAIN GROWTH
Unlike the cells in the rest of the body,neurons are constantly buzzing with activity,firing thousands of times a second,even when you are sleeping-a level of demand that requires tremendous oxygen flow. Oxygen keeps these neurons firing and is critical in synaptogenesis and neurogenesis.
2.BDNF(brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
BDNF is kind of the emerging rock star in neurology and in SPARK it is made clear that exercise is a big component in BDNF activation and neurogenesis. Think of it as a very effective fertilizer(miracle grow) for the brain.
3.Healthy Brain Activity(alternating brain wave states)
The brain functions by way of electrical signals. Those signals in groups of neurons,in turn,produce waves that oscillate at varying frequencies. And just as an orchestra is made up of varying instruments,each playing its own part,groups of neurons with a similar firing frequency produce a recognizable "song" or pattern. That song can be detected by sensors placed on the skull,using a technique called electro-encephalography(EEG)
Brain Wave Frequencies
THETA:4-7 herts(relatively slow-brain trauma or disease)
ALPHA:8-12 hertz(middle range-associated with focus,calmness,alertness,and creativity)
BETA:greater than 12 hertz(fastest-occurs during heightened alertness and critical problem solving,but excessive amounts of beta are associated with anxiety,insomnia,and other problems).
WHAT TO EXPECT
-Better cognition and focus
-All day energy
-Quality work and more productivity
-Ideal weight and body fat due to lower inflammation and daily activity
-Being happier day to day with a more optimistic outlook on life
SO WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO?
On your part it can be as easy as getting some mindful breath work and a nice quick sweat when you get up in the morning. This gets the oxygen and BDNF activation components taken care of and when your mindful of it the brain wave states get taken care of as well. Then you add nutrition that maximizes neurological health and proper sleep/recovery habits that compliment a healthy neurogenesis lifestyle. I have developed a simple program that anyone can implement into their life. Simple daily bookend routines that have trigger sessions for exercise laid out and I have added my own spin for breath work,nutrient timing,rest/recovery,and some cold adaptation for an anti-inflammatory effect and healthy immune response. It can all be done with as little as an hour a day. If you or your children need a boost in energy and physical/cognitive performance daily,do yourselves a favor and start putting these simple tools to use for the healthiest year ever. If you'd like some help getting started please click here for more information.