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May 30

Here is a short video of an example of new neurons in adult mammals found on youtube.

And you will find here an article on a new technique that allowed scientist to visualize new neurons in humans – impressive.

What are you going to do today to promote neurogenesis and brain health?

May 29

Image via Wikipedia

Now you might ask what good does all this exercise and enriched environment (novelty) really do for my brain health and fitness? One thing that these two brain hacks increases is the birth of new neurons. Yes, new neurons.

The old dogma back when I started my undergraduate degree was that in adult mammals no new neurons were born. And all you had to look forward to was a constant death of neurons – and hence ‘depreciation’ of your brain. Fortunately scientific research is constantly finding new results that can shake up dogma (Elizabeth Gould is largely responsible for challenging this dogma, covered here).

Both enriched environment and exercise (running being the most widely studied) increases the number of new neurons born in adult mammals. Now, it still appears with age we might have a decrease of total number of neurons as death of neurons is still at a higher rate than the birth of new ones (though this is still an open argument). However, you might as well do your best to keep your neuron count as high as possible by exercise and exposing yourself to an enriched environment (I will talk about the importance of cognitive reserve another time)

And what are the benefits of keeping more neurons – besides keeping you sharp and wise – well one is it appears that antidepressant treatments increase neurogenesis – and if your block the birth of new neurons you also block the effect of antidepressant treatment. Therefore, it appears that the birth of new neurons is essential to reducing depression. And we can all live with being happier.

And guess what exercise, which I have pointed out increases neurogenesis, is also an effective treatment for depression.

So what are you going to do today to increase your E and E. (exercise and enriched environment)?

Here are some other blogs that cover similar info



May 29

Dynamic brain (neuron) video

Could not directly embed the video so you will have to click the link.

Well this is only brain plasticity in a dish – but at least you get the idea of how dynamic neurons can act.

May 29

What are some of the baby steps we can all take to increase our brain health? I have told you that simple exercise and exposing yourself to new things (enriched environment) will improve your brain health in numerous ways. However, too many of us balk at implanting either of these because we do not think we have the time and energy to make the big commitment required to get results.

We get stuck into the thinking that big changes both in size and volume are required to produce meaningful changes. But you need to consider that anything is better than nothing. The research out there supports this idea that small steps can make a difference.

Sure it is most likely that 45 minutes of day of aerobic exercise might be the optimum level of exercise (at least most bang for the buck) but other research shows benefits with just 12 minutes a day of exercise. 12 measly minutes – we all have that to spare. Take a slightly longer walk to the bus, from the bus, go up and down several flights of stairs. I have personally found that stair walking is a very simple and efficient way of building fitness. Don’t take the elevator – walk the stairs.A Calgary Stampeders player climbing the stairs at McMahon Stadium during 2007 training camp.

Image via Wikipedia

The next trick is to put in a few extra trip up a set of stairs that are not required in your day to day life – do it for the sheer fun of it (plus the health benefits). I have seen so many people at university where I work punch the elevator button to go up one floor – yes one floor. All ages including 18-22 year old undergraduates. It takes them longer to get where they are going by the time the slow elevators transport them than if they just went up the stairs which are ten steps away from the elevator. Therefore, don’t worry about going to the optimal level just start with something.

Here are a few links regarding stair climbing workout and benefits.







May 27

Many of us have to travel as part of our job, and the rest of us travel for holidays, but all of us would rather not suffer from jet lag. It takes up to a week for a body to adjust to the new time zone (if it is enough hours different to induce jet lag) since our body can only adjust a bit each day. By that time many of us our flying back home – more jet lag.

Published in the prestigious Science journal researchers (Fuller, Lu and Saper,2008) from Harvard University findings in animals suggest that the simple act of fasting (no calories consumed) 16 hours before your flight may reduce jet lag. The reason the scientist think this might work is because normally the body’s clock is set (and adjusted) by exposure to light however, food can also be used to set the clock.

When you have normal amounts of food intake our circadian rhythms are governed by the light-dark cycle. But if food access is restricted to when we normally sleep there will be a shift in our circadian rhythms so we are alert during our new feeding times (your past night time). Hence, the researchers found that fasting can override your normal light-dark controlled clock as a survival feature to keep us alert to seek and hunt out food.

Now this research has so far only been tested in animals and not in humans, but what do you have to lose by trying this brain hack? Additionally, not all the details have been worked out of what should you do depending on how many time zones you are jumping. But here is my practical advice (with all appropriate warnings about self experimenting) set up your schedule so you fast for a prolonged period prior to your flight and eat in your new location during daylight time, which should correspond to your normal sleep time (darkness) back home.

Try it out on your next jump to Asia or Europe and drop me a message of how it worked out. I know I will be trying it out on my next long flight.

Additional coverage: Reuters

May 26

After driving many miles through America and paying high gas prices I arrived at my new location. An entire new environment for me. A hotter, drier climate is the opposite of my previous location. Additionally, now I live at roughly a mile (1610 meters) above sea level, which is fairly high when you compare it to living at sea level all your life. It will be interesting to see how my running adjusts to this new elevation. I am starting out with nice slow runs.

Interestingly, there is a theory that people living at high altitudes (but not too high) live longer – hence better brain and body health. The reason behind this revolves around the concept of hormesis. Hormesis as defined by wiki; “(from Greek hormæin, meaning “to excite”) is the term for generally-favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors. A pollutant or toxin showing hormesis thus has the opposite effect in small doses than in large doses.”

Living at high altitude causes an increased exposure to radiation. Now of course high level of radiation is deadly, but low doses of radiation actually extends lifespan in many different organisms.

So the general take home message is various forms of stress – in small doses, strengthen the biological system to enhance survival in the future. A new environment is a form of stress, so is exercise, learning something new, and a whole bunch of other things in life in which we have control over. Now too much uncontrolled stress is bad for you, as is well documented in life and the media. However, do not think that all stress is bad, as I briefly outlined above. We need to be able to differentiate between small ‘good stress’ (hormesis) and chronic uncontrolled stress which is detrimental to your health.

I have mentioned how low level of appropriate stress can increase lifespan, well it also increase brain health, as you would have guessed. What is usually good for the body is also good for the brain.

What is going to be your new ‘good stress’ today?

May 19

Previously I talked about taking baby steps to your goals of better brain health by the first two examples I have briefly discussed; exercise and/or enriched environment.

I came across a recent piece in the NY times that discusses using small steps to form new habits (assuming good habits for this argument). In the article they talk about a particular Japanese technique called kaizen, ‘which call for tiny, continuous improvements.” This sound like appropriate baby steps to me. Check it out, hopefully it helps.

So try a tiny baby step to a new health habit today to improve your brain health.

I managed a nice run last night as a near full moon rose after a long day of soaking up new environments, the best I could, as they passed by at 60 mph outside the van window.

May 17

There are so many ways one can enrich their environment, which I have outlined earlier, can increase brain health. So keeping on this theme, the choice I made to start this blog is enriching my brain. I had to set it up – okay it was not that hard but I had a few glitches because I could not find the easy install button for wordpress at my host (who would have guessed it was Fantastico deluxe among all the others 30-40 icons like Remote MySQL, Webalizer, etc).

Beginner mistake # 1: yesterday I published my first two posts, despite the fact of reading to never start a blog with less than 5 posts so the reader has something substantial to digest. This is an example of knowing better but failing to follow good advice (another good example is we all know we should exercise for the health of our bodies and mind).

Other beginner mistakes I have made are mentioning that I am going to provide a link then give the full web address instead of the more elegant solution. As an example to show that I am learning; Darren Rowse at problogger offers valuable tips and insight to assist and empower anyone starting a blog (or trying to take their blog to the next level). I am learning. Sure I had read blogs that did it this way but because I had not personally done it I fell into the older less elegant look of the long internet address. What is this doing to my brain? Since I am learning new things (though dead simple) my brain is literally making connections, new memories, maybe even new cognitive solutions (very broad term).

You do not necessarily have to go out and learn a whole new language in a day (or even a month), nor run a marathon on your first day of running. It is okay to take baby steps; learn how to provide nice links, jog around the block, go for a walk. The real trick is doing something – a bit of exercise, a bit of learning. Far better than sitting on the couch and staying in the prison of long formed habits.

What are you going to do new or physical today?

May 17

I previously mentioned that various forms of exercise are beneficial to the brain and I will go into greater details on the many ways it is good for the brain in a later post, but I also want to introduce another way to improve brain health – enriched environment.

Numerous animal studies have demonstrated the positive effects on the brain if animals are offered an enriched environment compared to a normal environment for an experimental animal. For animals an enriched environment usually consists of multi-level cages and many toys to interact with. Additionally, in some of these studies new toys are introduced on a regular basis. The actual positive effects observed include these injury/diseases: traumatic brain injury, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, Fragile X syndrome, and Down Syndrome. Pretty impressive list. For a good review if you have access: https://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v7/n9/abs/nrn1970.html). Don’t worry if you don’t have access I will be going into detail in later posts.

While it might be hard to compare animals living in cages compared to how us modern humans live. But on the other hand how many of us are locked into self imposed prisons? Prisons in which we are not exposed to new experiences. We get stuck into a routine and do the same thing over and over again – does this sound familiar?

Break out of prison.

Learn something new. Take up a new game – chess, poker, a new computer game (and change genres – not just first person shooters), learn to play a musical instrument, learn a new language. All of these would be good examples of an enriched environment – be good to your brain.

One more suggestion on how to enrich your environment – travel. In the spirit of the doctor (okay PhD) taking his own advice I am off tomorrow morning on an extended trip. Quit my job and off to explore the world (well a very small part of it, but it will be new to me and my neurons).

You will soon hear more from my Prison Break.

What are you going to do today to enrich your environment?

May 17

I hope to offer you practical tips and tools that will lead to a healthier brain, which should result in a happier, better, and longer life in general. When I talk about a healthier brain I mean reducing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and stroke as a few examples. Just reducing these tragic diseases will lead to less suffering and hence greater happiness, and by default a longer, healthier life.

On the other end of the spectrum I will offer suggestions to increase energy, improve memory, increase alertness, and how to make better decisions. Additionally, this healthier brain, be it from the actual tasks you perform to improve your brain health, or from the development of good choices, will lead to you making even better choices (positive feedback loop). I will at some later time suggest that a good life is largely due to us making good choices in a consistent manner.

Now for a first tip – time tested and true according to all the latest scientific results – a healthy body, a healthy mind (Roman poet Juvenal; men should pray for a “sound mind in a sound body” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juvenal).

Exercise in its many and various forms is not only good for your body, but also for your mind. I will be going into full details (for those that cannot wait and want the scientific data check out this review https://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v9/n1/abs/nrn2298.html) – but if you want to really jump ahead – get out there and move. Walk, dance, jog, run, jump, lift – just get out there and move your body – your brain will thank you. Make that choice.