Posts in Health
Exercise and Brain Health

Exercise benefits are well documented. They include improvements in cardiovascular and musculoskeletal capacity, mental health and cognitive function.

Exercise and mental health has received more attention recently. Investigators have documented the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, which is a brain region related to memory and learning. In this study, these adaptations were found to be most closely associated with aerobic exercise rather than high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or resistance training and were seen after 6-8 weeks of training. The aerobic exercise group demonstrated 2-3 times more hippocampal neurons at the end of the study.

Exercise induces growth factors stimulating a cascade of positive increased brain activity.  Image and content from @rehabscience

Exercise induces growth factors stimulating a cascade of positive increased brain activity.

Image and content from @rehabscience

Such findings not only have implications for younger individuals looking for strategies to enhance cognitive function, but also older individuals hoping to prevent or reduce the risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease where cognitive decline is a hallmark sign.

Nokia MS et al. Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained. J Physiol. 2016.

Fast Twitch Fountain of Youth

It’s no secret that muscle size and strength decline rapidly after the age of 50. What does this mean and what can we do about it?

First we must look at the different muscle types.  Slow-twitch muscle fibers are small, and fast-twitch fibers are large. The slow-twitch fibers are the endurance fibers, which predominate in marathon runners and other endurance athletes. Like the Energizer Bunny, they don’t give out; however, they don’t generate much force. Fast-twitch fibers are the strength fibers, which predominate in sprinters, weight lifters, and other strength athletes. They are strong, but fatigue rapidly. Most of us are born with roughly equal balance of slow/small and fast/large fibers.

As we age, the motor units that we lose are mainly the fast-twitch variety (called sarcopenia). The slow-twitch fibers show practically no change as we age.

In short, the decay of muscle size with age is virtually all due to loss of fast-twitch fibers. This means the untrained person becomes slower and weaker with age and results in loss of independence over time.

It’s a dismal picture, but all is not lost.

Reduced physical activity is the main culprit of fast twitch muscle fiber degeneration. Resistance training is the best antidote.  We can keep our fast-twitch fibers alive and well with resistance training. Resistance training has been shown to positively affect neurological, hormonal, and mechanical factors associated with muscle maintenance and growth. You could fill up a small warehouse with research touting the benefits of resistance exercise in reducing sarcopenia and its impact on independence, falls, and mobility. The bottom line is that resistance training can have a positive effect on all aspects of the neuromuscular and biochemical decline that accompanies aging.

As in the case of resistance training, variation is the key to long term success. Change keeps you motivated and gives your body and your mind an opportunity to adapt and grow stronger and fitter.

Reference: Human aging, muscle mass, and fiber type composition. Lexell, J. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1995 Nov;50 Spec No:11-6.

What is your Psoas Muscle and does it have anything to do with your back pain?

The Psoas Muscle (pronounced SO-as) may be the most important muscle in your body. Without this essential muscle group also known as the hip flexors you wouldn’t even be able to get out of the bed in the morning!

In fact, whether you run, bike, dance, practice yoga, or just hang out on your couch, your psoas muscles are involved.

The psoas muscles are the primary connectors between your torso and your legs. The psoas muscle is also vital in providing good posture and stabilizes your spine. They are located deep in the abdomen behind the intestines and rest along the front of the lumbar spine.

Because they are major flexors, a weak psoas muscle can cause many of the surrounding muscles to compensate and become overused.

A tight or restricted psoas muscle could be the cause of many aches and pains, including low back and pelvic pain. A tight Psoas muscle will also keep your body constantly triggered in fight or flight mode. Psoas muscles often get tight from prolonged sitting. Active Release Technique, chiropractic care and proper stretching can help alleviate this often overlooked cause of lower back pain.

Changes in the Cross-Sectional Area of Multifidus and Psoas in Patients With Unilateral Back Pain: The Relationship to Pain and Disability. Barker, Karen L., et al. Spine 2004.