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Reproduced from original article:
- Muscle is lost far more easily and quicker than it’s built, so finding ways to continuously promote and maintain your muscle mass is really crucial, especially as you get older. Anytime you’re sick or hospitalized, having reserve muscle mass will also improve your chances of survival
- Research shows elderly subjects can add 2.9 pounds of muscle in six months by strength training and taking a twice-daily protein supplement (15 grams per serving for a total of 30 grams per day)
- However, even healthy young subjects in their 20s can lose 3.1 pounds of muscle mass in a single week of bedrest. You can lose 2.5% of your total muscle mass in the first two weeks of bedrest. By day 23, you can have lost up to 10% of your quadriceps’ muscle mass
- You break down and rebuild 1% to 2% of your muscle mass each day, so you completely rebuild yourself every two to three months. Dietary protein is an essential component to build and maintain muscle mass, and older individuals have higher protein requirements than younger people
- Exercising before you eat boosts your muscles’ sensitivity to protein signals, allowing you to optimize muscle building
While many tend to think about strength training as a form of vanity — developing a six-pack and a bulging “muscle-man” look and whatnot — building and maintaining muscle is actually a lifesaving strategy, and an imperative for a long and healthy life.
Anytime you’re sick or hospitalized, having reserve muscle mass will improve your chances of survival,1 and as I’ll discuss below, you can lose significant amounts of muscle in a single week of bedrest.
Muscle is lost far more easily and quicker than it’s built, so finding ways to continuously promote and maintain your muscle mass is really crucial, especially as you get older.
So, just how do you do that? This topic was addressed in a 2017 article2 by Alex Hutchinson in which he interviews Luc van Loon, a professor of exercise and nutrition at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Elderly Need More Protein to Build Muscle Mass
In 2012, van Loon published research3 showing elderly subjects (ranging in age from 77 to 79) could tack on 2.9 pounds of muscle in just six months by strength training and taking a twice-daily protein supplement (15 grams per serving for a total of 30 grams per day).
Participants that trained but didn’t take extra protein saw no improvement in lean body mass, even though they did get stronger. In conclusion, van Loon and colleagues noted that:4
“Prolonged resistance-type exercise training represents an effective strategy to improve strength and physical performance in frail elderly people. Dietary protein supplementation is required to allow muscle mass gain during exercise training in frail elderly people.”
You Lose Muscle MUCH Faster Than You Build It
Shortly thereafter, one of van Loon’s students completed a study5 showing otherwise healthy young subjects in their 20s lost 3.1 pounds of muscle mass in a single week of bedrest. As noted in this study:
“Short (<10 days) periods of muscle disuse, often necessary for recovery from illness or injury, lead to various negative health consequences … Ten healthy, young males (age: 23 ± 1 years …) were subjected to 1 week of strict bed rest …
Bed rest resulted in 1.4 ± 0.2 kg lean tissue loss and a 3.2 ± 0.9% decline in quadriceps CSA [cross-sectional area]. VO2peak and one-repetition maximum declined by 6.4 ± 2.3 and 6.9 ± 1.4% respectively.
Bed rest induced a 29 ± 5% decrease in whole-body insulin sensitivity. This was accompanied by a decline in muscle oxidative capacity, without alterations in skeletal muscle lipid content or saturation level, markers of oxidative stress, or capillary density. In conclusion, 1 week of bed rest substantially reduces skeletal muscle mass and lowers whole-body insulin sensitivity …”
Other studies have come to similar conclusions. For example, a 2015 review6 in Extreme Physiology & Medicine notes research showing you can lose 2.5% of your muscle mass in the first two weeks of bedrest. By day 23, you can have lost up to 10% of your quadriceps muscle mass. As explained in this review:7
“Skeletal muscle mass is regulated by a balance between MPS [muscle protein synthesis] and MPB [muscle protein breakdown]. In a 70-kg human, approximately 280 g of protein is synthesized and degraded each day. The two processes are linked … as facilitative or adaptive processes, whereby MPS facilitates (allows modulation of muscle mass) and MPB adapts (limiting said modulation).
When exposed to an anabolic stimulus, MPS rises. MPB rises too, but to a lesser amount, resulting in a net synthetic balance. In response to an anti-anabolic stimulus, MPS decreases and MPB decreases to a lesser degree, resulting in a net breakdown.
The interaction between critical illness and bed rest may result in greater muscle loss compared to bed rest alone. The musculoskeletal system is a highly plastic and adaptive system, responding quickly to changing demands. Relatively short periods of immobilization decrease MPS, with no effect on MPB.
Furthermore, this altered balance is relatively resistant to high dose amino acid delivery … Immobilization has significant effects on peripheral muscle aerobic capacity, contractility, insulin resistance and architecture.
Microvascular dysfunction occurring in severe sepsis is associated with immobilization and may have an additive effect on reducing MPS. In critically ill patients, MPS is reduced even with nutritional delivery, with increased MPB seen, leading to a net catabolic state and thus muscle wasting.”
As noted by van Loon in the interview, “you can mess up a lot more in one week than you can improve in six months of training.”8 He now believes that understanding how we lose muscle is just as important as understanding how to build it. In 2017, van Loon presented several “key lessons” learned for how to build and prevent the loss of muscle mass, which included the following:9
•“You are what you just ate” — Research10 looking at post-prandial protein handling and amino acid absorption shows 55.3% of the dietary protein of a given meal is in circulation within five hours after eating, which significantly increases muscle protein synthesis. In other words, “you are what you just ate.” As noted by the authors:
“Ingestion of a single meal-like amount of protein allows ~55% of the protein derived amino acids to become available in the circulation, thereby improving whole-body and leg protein balance.
About 20% of the dietary protein derived amino acids released in the circulation are taken up in skeletal muscle tissue following protein ingestion, thereby stimulating muscle protein synthesis rates and providing precursors for de novo muscle protein synthesis.”
In his article, Hutchinson writes, “Overall, van Loon points out, we break down and rebuild 1 to 2 percent of our muscle each day, meaning that you completely rebuild yourself every two to three months.” The take-home message here is that protein is an essential dietary component for building muscle.
•Exercise boosts sensitivity to protein signaling — While protein-derived amino acids are building blocks for muscle, they also act as signaling molecules that trigger muscle growth. Leucine is a particularly potent signaling agent, although all of the amino acids are required to actually build the muscle.
Research11 suggests healthy young adult men “max out the protein synthesis signal from a given meal” at a dose of 0.24 grams of protein per kilogram of total bodyweight, or 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, Hutchinson notes.
The current U.S.-Canadian recommended dietary protein allowance is 0.8 g/kg/d (0,36/grams/pound/day). Healthy older adults may require a greater dietary protein intake much higher than their younger peers or ~1.20 g/kg/d or .55 grams/pound/day. According to this study:
“Our data suggest that healthy older men are less sensitive to low protein intakes and require a greater relative protein intake, in a single meal, than young men to maximally stimulate postprandial rates of MPS [myofibrillar protein synthesis].
These results should be considered when developing nutritional solutions to maximize MPS for the maintenance or enhancement of muscle mass with advancing age.”
Importantly, additional research described in Hutchinson’s article12 demonstrated that exercising before you eat boosts your muscles’ sensitivity to protein signals so, in essence, “if you exercise first, you’re more of what you just ate.”
•Inactivity desensitizes protein signaling — On the flipside, your muscles lose their sensitivity to protein signaling from inactivity. It is not just about pushing more protein. That is a nearly worthless strategy for muscle building if you fail to integrate the exercise element.
I believe the best exercise strategy is one that activates the microvascular component of muscle stem cells that tends to become depleted with age. That is why I strongly recommend blood flow restriction training.
What’s more, you don’t lose muscle at a steady rate; rather, most of it is lost during short periods of significant inactivity, such as bedrest after an injury or illness. Hutchinson writes:13
“Van Loon advocates some simple fixes — like never, ever feed someone in a hospital bed unless it’s absolutely necessary. Make them get up, and ideally make them shuffle down the hallway to get food. Same for watching TV.
Even this tiny amount of muscle contraction, he says, will enhance muscle synthesis when the patient eats. Similarly, since you don’t eat as much when you’re in bed, the proportion of protein in the meal should be higher to ensure sufficient muscle synthesis signals.”
In cases where the patient is completely immobile, research14 shows the twice-daily application of neuromuscular electrical stimulation can reduce muscle loss by 3.5%. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation can also be used on comatose patients to limit muscle atrophy.15
•Properly chew your food to boost protein absorption — Research has also shown ground beef protein absorbs more rapidly and readily than steak, with 61% of the protein from ground beef going into circulation within six hours of ingestion, compared to 49% of the protein from steak. The take-home message seems to be that breaking up the meat by thoroughly chewing it before swallowing might be helpful.
Defy Aging by Improving Your Muscle Mass
In my February 2020 interview with Ben Greenfield, author of “Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defy Aging,” we discuss the importance of strength training and getting the appropriate amount of protein to build and maintain your muscle mass and optimize mitochondrial density and biogenesis.
In summary, Greenfield recommends a fitness program that includes the following types of exercise in order to target the main pathways involved in health and aging:
•High-intensity interval training once a week to boost mitochondrial density and biogenesis — Brief spurts of exercise followed by longer rest periods. Greenfield recommends a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 rest-to-work ratio.
•Muscle endurance training two to three times a week to improve lactic acid tolerance — An example is the classic Tabata set, which has a 2-to-1 work-to-rest ratio.
•Longer training sessions twice a week to improve your VO2 max — To target and improve your VO2 max, you’ll want your training sessions to be longer, about four to six minutes in duration with four to six minutes of recovery in between, for a 1-to-1 work-to-rest ratio.
Examples include The New York Times’ seven-minute workout16 and bodyweight training done in a fast explosive manner or with a very light medicine ball, sandbag or kettle bells.
•Long walk once a week to improve your stamina — Greenfield recommends taking a 1.5- to three hour-long walk, bike ride or paddle session — anything where your body is engaged in chronic repetitive motion for a long period of time — preferably in a fasted state. Alternatively, do 20 to 30 minutes of fasted cardio followed by a cold shower.
•Super-slow weight training once or twice a week to improve muscle strength — Alternatives include elastic band training systems and blood flow restriction (BFR) training, which is my personal favorite. You can also combine BFR with super-slow training.
- 1 Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2012 Jan; 15(1): 7–11
- 2, 8, 9, 12, 13 Outsideonline.com November 9, 2017
- 3 J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012 Oct;13(8):713-9
- 4 J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012 Oct;13(8):713-9, Conclusion
- 5 Diabetes 2016 Oct;65(10):2862-75
- 6 Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2015; 4: 16
- 7 Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2015; 4: 16, The pathophysiological effect of immobilization on skeletal muscle in critical illness
- 10 PLOS ONE November 10, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141582
- 11 J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2015 Jan;70(1):57-62
- 14 Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2014 Mar;210(3):628-41
- 15 Clin Sci (Lond). 2015 Mar;128(6):357-65
- 16 The New York Times 7-minute workout
Reproduced from original article:
January 31, 2020
- A study sought to ascertain whether randomizing exercises and repetitions produces better results than a traditional weight training program composed of a fixed set of exercises and repetitions
- Many believe “confusing” your muscles by varying your exercises from one session to the next forces adaptation to constantly changing demands, thus improving growth and strength and allowing you to avoid training plateaus
- There was virtually no difference in strength and muscle size between the two groups. The only difference between the two groups was their motivation to work out. Those whose workouts varied from one session to the next reported greater levels of motivation, which can improve adherence
- There are instances in which you might want to limit the variety of your exercises. To maximize muscle building, a conventional, fixed training program may actually be a better bet, as too-frequent rotation of exercises can compromise muscle growth and strength
- To improve motivation when doing a fixed strength training program, consider varying your weekly cardio session and/or adding or changing some of your isolated muscle exercises. Other suggestions for improving your motivation are also reviewed
I’ve often stated that, for optimal health and fitness, you need diversity in your fitness routine — something that challenges your body in different ways. A study1 in the December 2019 issue of PLOS ONE sought to ascertain whether randomizing exercises and repetitions produces better results than a traditional weight training program comprised of a fixed set of exercises and repetitions.
The idea is that by “confusing” your muscles by varying your exercises from one session to the next, they’re forced to adapt to constantly changing demands, thus improving growth and strength, and allowing you to avoid training plateaus. As noted by the authors:2
“The term “muscle confusion” has been coined to describe the effects of constantly varying exercise selection as a means to provide a novel stimulus that enhances muscular adaptations. However, research on the topic is limited.
Fonseca et al. showed that changing lower body exercises every two weeks may elicit greater regional-specific hypertrophy of the quadriceps muscle compared to just performing the squat.
More recently, Rauch et al. demonstrated that varying exercise selection via autoregulation produced modestly greater increases in lean mass and strength compared to a fixed exercise protocol.
However, to our knowledge, no study to date has endeavored to investigate the effects of randomly undulating exercise selection as some programs advocate. It is conceivable that such frequent rotation of exercises may enhance results by continually providing a novel stimulus to muscles and/or bolstering motivation to train.”
Does ‘Muscle Confusion’ Improve Strength and Muscle Growth?
To test the hypothesis that muscle confusion will improve strength and muscle growth by forcing adaptation to a wider set of demands, the researchers recruited 19 healthy men aged 18 to 35 with at least two years of strength training experience.
None used anabolic steroids or other substances that might affect muscle growth. They also agreed to avoid supplements that might affect muscle size, such as creatine and whey protein, for the duration of the trial.
Muscle strength and leg muscle size were measured at the outset and after the completion of the trial. They were also asked about their motivation levels before and after the intervention, and meals were tracked to avoid dietary confounding. Participants were randomly divided into two groups:
1.The first group performed a conventional strength training routine composed of three sets of six fixed upper- and lower-body exercises, four times a week for eight weeks. Upper and lower exercises were done on alternate sessions. The exercises were done in the same order each week, but weights were increased at regular intervals as strength improved.
2.The second group performed randomized workouts generated by a cellphone app from a database of 80 possible exercises. While the overall number of upper- and lower-body exercises and the weight used matched that of the conventional group, their routines varied from one session to the next.
After eight weeks, strength, muscle size and workout motivation levels were reassessed. Surprisingly, there was virtually no difference in strength and muscle size between the two groups. As reported by The New York Times,3 “it is not easy to confuse a muscle” after all.
Variety Can Improve Exercise Motivation
The only thing that really differed between the two groups was their motivation to work out. Here, those whose workouts varied from one session to the next reported feeling more motivated to head to the gym, and the difference in motivation between the two groups was significant.
In fact, the conventional group’s motivation levels had “slightly declined” by the end of the eight weeks. So, by supporting motivation, varying your exercise routine can go a long way toward improving adherence which, of course, is an important component if you want to enhance or maintain your fitness. The New York Times writes:4
“What these findings suggest is that muscles are not deterred or bored by unvarying routines, says Brad Schoenfeld, an associate professor of exercise science at Lehman College in New York and a co-author of the study.
‘They adapt to load,’ he says, whether that load arrives through the same exercise or a different one each time. But minds are not muscles and could be influenced by novelty, he says. ‘The differences in motivation scores at the end were substantial,’ he says, suggesting that ‘from a purely motivational standpoint, variety matters.'”
When to Limit Exercise Variety
The authors do point out, however, that there are instances in which you might want to limit the variety of your exercises. If your goal is to maximize muscle building, then a conventional, fixed training program may actually be a better bet:
“There may be a trade-off whereby too frequent rotation of exercises somewhat compromises muscle growth and strength; thus, those who wish to maximize these outcomes may wish to limit exercise variety,” the authors note.5
“A possible solution is to keep more complex, free weight exercises (e.g. squats, deadlifts, rows, etc.) in a regular rotation throughout a training cycle and vary movements that have limited degrees of freedom and thus do not require a high degree of motor learning (e.g. leg extensions, machine press, arm curls, etc.).”
That said, it’s important to remember that building muscle requires constant challenge, so even if you adhere to a set workout plan, you still need to continue to raise the challenge level by gradually increasing the amount of weight you use, as well as the reps and intensity.
Karl Smith, who holds a master’s degree in exercise science and a Ph.D. in health education, told Men’s Journal6 he recommends switching up your reps, sets, recovery time and workout volume every six to eight weeks to avoid hitting a plateau.
Maintaining Motivation During a Fixed Weight Training Program
If the idea of doing the same strength training routine for weeks on end fills you with boredom, consider following ReInvention Fitness owner Doug Barsanti’s advice. Barsanti is a certified strength and fitness coach with a master’s in kinesiology. Men’s Journal writes:7
“Barsanti suggests switching up lower-skill exercises, such as cardio, or smaller muscle-isolation exercises. Functionally, this means following the same general-strength-training program for a full six weeks, but changing up your weekly cardio, hitting the rowing machine one day and the stair climber the next, or, while following your routine, adding or changing isolation exercises here and there.
This means continuing to work your plan for squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench press, pull-ups, and the like, but maybe you isolate your biceps, calves, or triceps a little differently each routine.”
What You Need to Know About Blood Flow Restriction Training
In my opinion, BFR is the most incredible innovation to improve your health that I have learned about in quite some time. It has the most significant potential to increase your healthful life span and help you maintain full range of your mental and physical capacities than anything that I know of.
To help you get started, I have put together a comprehensive article that outlines the benefits of this amazing technique. Click the button below to access it — absolutely FREE!
As I have discussed in many previous articles and interviews that you can see by following the link in the above graphic, I am a major fan of KAATSU and blood flow restriction training. The same principles apply here. You can certainly mix it up for muscle confusion, or use the same exercises routinely.
I personally use KAATSU every day in the cycling mode for walking and stretching exercises. I use it five days a week in training mode with no pulsed mode, just continuous compression. I only use it on my upper body and alternate between there different workouts. The other two days a week I do conventional high-resistance strength training with my personal trainer.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
You can also limit boredom and enhance adherence by making sure your fitness routine suits your personality.
A Live Science article8 published in 2010 listed recommended fitness routines based on personality traits established by psychological research, which has boiled down various psychological traits to five main components: Conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism (sensitivity) and openness to experience.
While you can’t fit the entirety of an individual into a neat little box, each person contains these five traits in various amounts, and psychologists look at these basic dimensions when ascertaining personality. As described by Live Science, taking these core traits into account when setting up a new fitness regimen can be very helpful. For example, if you are:
|Highly conscientious — Take advantage of your innate stick-to-itiveness and drive to follow the rules. Solo activities tend to work well since you don’t have to coordinate your schedule with others.|
|Noncommittal — More impulsive people who tend to avoid planning and don’t like making promises may improve their chances of success by writing down their exercise plan in detail, including the when and where. Focusing on activities that give you “a buzz or high,” can also help to make you stick to your regimen. Examples include sprinting and contact sports.
Breaking down a large goal into smaller, more manageable chunks with deadlines in the near future will also be helpful, especially if your attention span is short.
|Extroverted — So-called “people persons” can feel bereft when having to exercise all by their lonesome, so if you’re very outgoing, consider joining a fitness class or taking up a team sport such as ultimate Frisbee to keep you going.|
|Introverted and/or highly agreeable — These personality types may be uncomfortable with highly competitive and aggressive activities. Better alternatives include yoga or tai chi, either at home by yourself or in a class setting, and golf.|
|Worried or anxious — Those who find it hard to relax can find a great friend in exercise, as exercising is a fantastic tool for releasing anxiety and providing stress relief and emotional stability.
Aside from relieving stress, people in this category also tend to be motivated by the idea of improving their physical appearance, so reminding yourself of the physical benefits you can reap can help keep you going.
|Adventurous — Those who are open to new experiences tend to be happiest when their fitness routine takes them outdoors. Running, cycling or walking are all great options, and taking different routes can quench your need for variety, keeping each workout fresh.|
Other Motivation Factors
Active people, and women in particular, tend to focus on the intrinsic value of exercise — things like feeling successful, relaxed and happy during or after each session, rather than having a goal of losing a certain amount of weight by a certain time, or the even more nebulous goal of living longer.
So, keep in mind that your ability to adhere to a regular fitness routine may have a great deal to do with the way you frame your goals. How you think about exercise, or how you frame the idea of it, may help you change your perspective and enjoy your chosen activities.
The process of reframing an idea is an active and dynamic process occurring every day in your brain. In fact, advertisers use it to persuade you to purchase products, and you use it to construct the meaning behind your decisions. Presenting information in a different light allows you to frame the information in such a way that you may justify the decisions you make.
So, rather than thinking of exercise as an alternative or threat to enjoying your free time, socializing with friends or achieving educational or professional goals, change your perspective so that exercise becomes a way of making your desires happen instead.
- 1 PLOS ONE December 27, 2019, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226989
- 2 PLOS ONE December 27, 2019, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226989, Introduction
- 3, 4 New York Times January 8, 2020 (Archived)
- 5 PLOS ONE December 27, 2019, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226989, Practical applications
- 6, 7 Men’s Journal, What, Exactly, Is Muscle Confusion?
- 8 Live Science December 26, 2010
Reproduced from original article:
Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola
January 09, 2020
- Increasing research shows that maintaining healthy levels of body fat and greater muscle mass has an effect on your brain health and may slow your rate of cognitive aging
- People with higher amounts of abdominal fat had worse fluid intelligence with age, while those with greater muscle mass were more protected against such declines
- Women who had greater muscle mass tended to have better scores in fluid intelligence during the study period
- Past research has linked midlife obesity with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment, changes in short-term memory and executive functioning and dementia
- In addition to regular exercise to increase muscle mass, eating a ketogenic diet to maintain a healthy body weight and avoid obesity may support your brain health as you age
Staying fit as you age is about far more than aesthetics. Increasing research shows that maintaining healthy levels of body fat and greater muscle mass has an effect on your brain health and even your rate of cognitive aging. It’s known, for instance, that being obese in midlife and early late-life is associated with worse cognitive aging.1
What’s more, the amount of muscle and fat you have may be a more important factor in how your level of fluid intelligence decreases over time than your chronological age. Your chronological age, i.e., your age in years, is just a numerical measurement, but your real age is your biological age as dictated by your choices and habits, as well as your modifiable risk factors like levels of muscle and fat.
While many people tend to gain fat and lose muscle mass as they age, this can be largely combated by staying active and eating right — lifestyle choices that will influence your cognitive function significantly.
More Muscle, Less Fat Protects Your Brain
In a study by Iowa State researchers, data from 4,431 adults were examined to compare levels of lean muscle mass, abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat with changes in fluid intelligence — the ability to solve problems in new situations — over a six-year period.2,3
Those with higher amounts of abdominal fat had worse fluid intelligence with age, while those with greater muscle mass were more protected against such declines. In fact, women who had greater muscle mass tended to have better scores in fluid intelligence during the study period.
Study co-author Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, said in a news release, “Chronological age doesn’t seem to be a factor in fluid intelligence decreasing over time. It appears to be biological age, which here is the amount of fat and muscle.”4
What’s more, the study revealed a link between the immune system and how changes in fat levels affect cognition. Previous research suggests a higher body mass index (BMI) leads to greater immune system activity in the blood, which in turn activates the immune system in the brain, with a negative outcome on cognitive function.5
The featured study also found that changes in white blood cells called lymphocytes and eosinophils explained the link between abdominal fat and worsening fluid intelligence in women. In men, basophils, another type of white blood cell, were linked to about half of the link between fat levels and fluid intelligence, the study found.6
“Lymphocytes, eosinophils, and basophils may link adiposity to cognitive outcomes,” the researchers explained.7 Similar research has revealed that overweight and obese individual have greater brain atrophy in middle-age, corresponding with an increase in brain age of 10 years.8
How Obesity Affects Your Brain
Obesity has multiple effects on the brain, including anatomically speaking. Obese individuals may have reduced gray matter in brain regions such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and other subcortical regions. Atrophy in the hippocampus, in turn, has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.9
Gray matter is the outer layer of the brain associated with high-level brain functions such as problem-solving, language, memory, personality, planning and judgment. Even in elderly people who are otherwise cognitively normal, obesity is associated with measureable deficits in brain volume in the frontal lobes, anterior cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, and thalamus compared to individuals with a normal weight.10
Further research published in Radiology found that obesity may lead to alterations in brain structure, shrinking certain regions.11 Among men, higher total body fat percentage was linked to lower brain gray matter volume. Specifically, 5.5% greater total body fat percentage was associated with 3,162 mm3 lower gray matter volume.
Among men, 5.5% greater total body fat was also associated with 27 mm3 smaller globus pallidus volume, an association also seen in women. In women, 6.6% greater total body fat percentage was associated with 11.2 mm3 smaller globus pallidus volume.
The globus pallidus is a brain region that plays a role in supporting a range of functions, including motivation, cognition and action.12 Obesity was also associated with changes in white matter microstructure, which may be related to cognitive function.13
Cognitively speaking, there’s also a strong link between obesity and deterioration in cognitive function, as well as to other brain disorders such as dementia, anxiety and depression. Further, past research has linked midlife obesity with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment, changes in short-term memory and executive functioning and dementia.14
Obesity-Associated Health Problems Also Harm Your Brain
Obesity’s effects on brain health are also due to its associated health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and atherosclerosis, each of which can have its own deleterious effects on your brain. For instance, as noted in Frontiers in Neuroscience:15
“Obesity-derived vascular problems, such as atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis, which are systemic diseases, are known to affect the steady blood flow of vessels that feed the brain, thus contributing to cognitive impairment or even stroke, where large areas of the brain die due to the stop in the blood flow of a major brain artery caused by a blood clot.”
In terms of diabetes, of which obesity is a key risk factor, having this condition in midlife is associated with a 19% greater cognitive decline over 20 years compared with not having the condition.16 Even those with prediabetes had significantly greater cognitive decline than those without.
Indeed, “Epidemiological studies have linked type-2 diabetes mellitus with cognitive impairment and dementia, with insulin resistance and hyperglycemia as the probable mechanistic links,” researchers noted.17
Coming full circle, eating a highly processed, junk food diet not only increases obesity risk but also can lead to normal but elevated blood sugar levels that, in turn, can lead to impaired glucose metabolism and Type 2 diabetes. Both diabetes and higher fasting glucose levels are linked with lower total brain volume.18
Impaired glucose metabolism is then associated with neurodegeneration that impairs cognitive function. This connection begins not in old age but much earlier, such that following a healthy lifestyle in young adulthood may be protective against cognitive decline later.19
The Inflammation Connection
Obesity can trigger chronic inflammation in your body, and chronic inflammation in your brain (neuroinflammation) is known to impair neurogenesis, your brain’s ability to adapt and grow new brain cells. It’s also linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and it’s been suggested that “Obesity may serve as an amplifier or initiator of the chronic inflammation observed in AD patients.”20
Further, higher levels of inflammatory markers have also been associated with lower brain volume, including “greater atrophy than expected for age.”21 Excess body fat, particularly visceral fat, is also related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats.
According to a study in the Annals of Neurology, “[A]dipose-tissue derived hormones, such as adiponectin, leptin, resistin or ghrelin, could also play a role in the relation between adipose tissue and brain atrophy.”22 Further, obesity may also be associated with lower volume in brain regions that regulate food-reward circuitry,23 possibly influencing overeating.
Strength Training Is Good for Your Brain
While obesity takes a toll on your brain, increased muscle mass protects it, which is likely one reason why strength training has been found to be beneficial for your brain. In other words, your body’s physical strength may serve as a marker of your brain power.
In fact, strength training is known to trigger beneficial neurobiological processes,24 leading to positive functional brain changes, including in the frontal lobe, with corresponding improvements in executive functions. One systematic review even found that strength training led to less white matter atrophy in the brain, with researchers noting:25
“Taken together, during aging processes, a substantial decline in muscular strength, especially in lower limb muscles, occurs, and accumulating evidence suggests that lower muscular strengths are linked to poorer cognitive performance.
Hence, resistance (strength) exercises (a single bout of resistance exercise, also referred to as acute exercise) and resistance (strength) training (more than one resistance exercise session, also referred to as chronic exercise … ) seem to be promising activities to ensure the preservation of physical functioning and cognitive functions with aging.”
Regular strength training, in addition to other forms of exercise and daily activity, is an important strategy for keeping your brain sharp and may help to offset some of the cognitive decline that occurs with age.
Avoid Obesity and Protect Your Brain With a Ketogenic Diet
While obesity may accelerate neurodegeneration, regular exercise to increase your muscle mass will be protective. Further, eating a ketogenic diet will help protect your brain from free radical damage and will supply the cells with preferred fuel while also helping you to lose weight and avoid obesity.
A ketogenic diet is high in healthy fats and low in net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber), prompting your body to start burning fat as its primary fuel, rather than sugar. This produces ketones, which not only burn efficiently but are also a superior fuel for your brain. Ketones also generate fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) and less free-radical damage.
One of the simple strategies you can implement is to take ketone precursors like refined MCT oils of caprylic acid (C-8). The eight-chain carbon fats are readily converted to ketones. I personally use up to 5 ounces of our Ketone Energy when I have maxed out my protein and carb intake and need a source of healthy clean fat. This keeps my ketone level around 1 to 2.0 mmol/l. Just recognize that you have to build up to a high dose of MCT oil slowly or you will have problems with loose stools.
Recent studies have also demonstrated the benefits of nutritional ketosis for brain health. In one, researchers found a ketogenic diet improved neurovascular function, in part by improving your gut microbiome.26
In a second study, the researchers concluded a ketogenic diet acted as a veritable “fountain of youth” in their animal study by significantly improving neurovascular and metabolic functions, compared to the animals eating an unrestricted diet.27 Releasing ketones into your bloodstream helps preserve brain function and protects against cognitive impairment and other neurodegenerative diseases.28
KetoFasting, the program I developed and detail in my book, “KetoFast: A Step-By-Step Guide to Timing Your Ketogenic Meals,” combines a cyclical ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting with cyclical partial fasting to optimize health and longevity.
Not only can KetoFasting help you to lose weight, but your cognition typically improves thanks to the biological cleansing and regeneration that occurs throughout your body, including your brain.
- 1, 7 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity November 2019, Volume 82, Pages 396-405
- 2, 5, 6 Science Daily December 17, 2019
- 3 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Volume 82, November 2019, Pages 396-405
- 4 Newsweek December 20, 2019
- 8 Neurobiol Aging. 2016 Nov; 47: 63–70.
- 9, 14, 15, 17, 20 Front Neurosci. 2019; 13: 513.
- 10 Hum Brain Mapp. 2010 Mar; 31(3): 353–364.
- 11, 23 Radiology. 2019 Apr 23:181012.
- 12 Front. Neuroanat., 10 April 2017
- 13 Neuroscientist. 2013 Feb; 19(1): 8–15.
- 16 Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(11):785-793
- 18 Diabetes Care. 2011 Aug;34(8):1766-70.
- 19 Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology June 6, 2019
- 21 Neurology. 2007 Mar 27;68(13):1032-8.
- 22 Ann Neurol. 2010 Aug; 68(2): 136–144.
- 24, 25 European Review of Aging and Physical Activity volume 16, Article number: 10 (2019)
- 26 Scientific Reports, 2018; 8(6670)
- 27 Front. Aging Neurosci., 26 July 2018
- 28 Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Feb; 33(2): 425.e19–425.e27
Written by Brenton Wight – LeanMachine
What is restless legs syndrome (RLS)?
This is a nervous disorder, affecting around 10% of the population, but more prevalent among middle aged or older people.
Up to 40% of women experience at least some mild symptoms during pregnancy, which usually passes at end of term.
Significantly affects more women than men, even allowing for the pregnancy factor.
Often interrupts sleep, so is also considered a sleep disorder.
Stress, pregnancy, heredity, hormonal changes, diabetes, Parkinsons disease, heart, lung, circulatory problems, arthritis and kidney failure are among the many trigger factors.
Smoking, caffeine and alcohol tend to increase symptoms.
Deficiency in iron, magnesium, folate, B-group vitamins can cause or aggravate RLS.
Problems mainly occur at night, but some patients can have symptoms at any time.
Sitting, relaxing, resting, or lying down tends to bring on symptoms, and moving, stretching, or massaging the legs tends to diminish symptoms.
Some people with RLS also have PLMD – Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. This is a sleep disorder where repetitive cramping or jerking of the legs occurs during sleep.
If the condition does not improve, most patients eventually start suffering from other chronic health issues due to lack of sleep. People with sleep disorders have a 65% greater risk to develop cancer.
Symptoms vary between patients, which is why it is often difficult to diagnose, but can include:
- Itchy feeling
- Pins and needles sensation
- Creepy crawly feeling, as if something is crawling on or under the skin
- Prickling, tingling, tugging, burning or aching sensations
- Uncontrollable need to move legs
- Legs jumping, jerking or twitching uncontrollably
- Uncomfortable sensations deep within the legs
- Feeling like a fizzy soda is bubbling through the veins
- Feeling an itch deep within the bones
- Some symptoms occur in the arms as well as the legs
- Some patients only have symptoms after stressful events, some have it every night
Causes of RLS
Officially, the cause is unknown and there is no cure.
Possibly an imbalance of dopamine, which transmits signals between nerve cells in the brain.
Some say that abnormal iron uptake by the brain may cause or aggravate RLS.
Around 60% of sufferers have other family members with the same condition.
Those consuming diet soft drinks have greater risk of RLS because these drinks leach potassium from the body. Potassium is imperative for correct nerve function, as well as all of the other electrolytes. Food sources of potassium include bananas, avocados, spinach, sweet potato, yogurt and more.
As well as helping with restless legs, potassium will help lower blood pressure and build strong bones.
There is no official cure, but doctors often prescribe Ropinirole, which can make symptoms better or worse, and side effects such as dizziness, fainting, severe nausea, narcolepsy, hallucinations and addictive behaviors can be very serious.
A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that patients with restless leg syndrome have a 40% percent higher risk of death in the next eight years.
Some prescription drugs may mask symptoms, but side-effects may make the condition worse in the long run.
Speak to the doctor about medication.
If snoring or breathing is a problem, the doctor can organise a “sleep study” as a CPAP machine may improve health, lower blood pressure, and supply oxygen that the patient may be missing.
The doctor may simply refer patients to a sleep disorder clinic, as these specialists deal with RLS regularly.
Some doctors recommend dopaminergics, benzodiazepines, or opioids.
Medical conditions such as iron deficiency, diabetes, or nerve damage may be aggravating RLS, so treatment of the underlying problem may reduce symptoms.
If there is no underlying condition and all else fails, some prescription medication may help to reduce symptoms.
Medication works for some people, aggravates it for others, and several types may have to be tried for best results.
Prescription medications which initially work may become less effective over time.
Some side effects include nausea, headache, daytime sleepiness, and may increase risk of compulsive disorders like gambling, binge eating, shopping, etc.
Parkinsons medication may help with RLS – pramipexole (Mirapex), ropinirole (Requip), rotigotine transdermal system (Neupro), Sinemet (carbidopa/levodopa), cabergoline and pergolide.
Side effects of Parkinsons medications include nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue, and an increased risk of heart disease.
Prescription painkillers like Codeine, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet, etc can provide relief in severe, unrelenting cases of RLS, but these can be addictive.
Side effects include nausea, dizziness, constipation, and can cause other problems, and the effect wears off over time, often leading the patient to over-dose.
Sleep medications and muscle relaxants such as Ambien, Sonata, Klonopin may help those whose RLS keeps them awake all night, but do not help the leg twitching, and can cause daytime drowsiness.
Anti-seizure medications such as Neurontin, Tegretol, Epitol may help painful daytime symptoms, but side effects include dizziness and drowsiness.
Obviously, pregnant women should always avoid prescription medication where possible.
Medications that can make RLS worse
The doctor should review all medications you are taking. Some prescription and over the counter drugs can aggravate RLS. Some known medications to watch out for are:
- Over-the-counter sleeping pills
- Antihistamines – found in allergy and many cold meds like Benadryl, NyQuil, Dimetapp
- Anti-nausea medications – like Antivert, Compazine, Dramamine
- Calcium channel blockers (drugs for heart and high blood pressure)
- Antidepressants such as Prozac, Effexor, Lexapro
- Antipsychotics – used for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
The Leg Wrap Cure
This natural treatment is more effective than any drug, according to the Lake Erie Research Institute in Pennsylvania.
Researchers created a leg/foot wrap which places pressure on two foot muscles: The abductor hallucis and the flexor hallucis brevis. The wrap was used in an eight-week clinical trial of 30 moderate RLS patients, with great results. 90% of the participants using the leg wrap experienced improvement in their symptoms, while only 63% of those taking Ropinirol found improvement. Those using the leg wrap reduced sleepless nights by 82%.
The wrap is believed to be more effective in the way it targets the two muscles known to ease RLS symptoms, and because this causes the brain to release dopamine. RLS sufferers are thought to have a dopamine deficiency.
Conventional leg wraps, physiotherapy, acupuncture or massage directed at these muscles, all appear to have the same benefits.
- Exercise every day – walk, swim, aerobic, yoga, pilates, tai chi, but avoid very strenuous exercise
- Calf stretch – with hands against a wall, bend the right knee, step the left leg back with foot flat on the floor to stretch the calf muscle, hold for 20 seconds, switch legs and repeat
- Front thigh stretch: grab an ankle and pull toward the buttock, keeping the other leg straight, hold for 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat
- Hip stretch: place the left foot on a chair with the knee bent, keeping the back straight, press the pelvis forward to stretch the top of the right thigh, hold for 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat
- Cut back or give up caffeine, smoking and alcohol
- Wear warm socks to bed
- Wearing compression stockings to bed
- Get sunlight during the day and sleep in a pitch-black room or wear a mask – helps the circadian rhythm required for a good sleep
- Leg massage, any time through the day, but most important before bed
- Acupuncture (do not be afraid of needles – it might just work!)
- Avoid intense exercise before bedtime
- Losing excess weight will reduce symptoms – cut back on carbohydrates, processed foods and trans fats
- Change ergonomics, changes such as working from a high stool allowing legs to dangle
- Let co-workers, friends and family know why you must keep moving so they can help create a healthy environment at work and home
- Sit in an aisle seat during movies, meetings, aircraft etc, allowing periodic walking around
- Get adequate sleep – always a problem when sleep is interrupted
- Improve sleep patterns: try a consistent bed time, or sleep later in the morning
- Aromatherapy: Lavender, eucalyptus or other oils in the bedroom can help sleep
- Drink plenty of water, sipped slowly throughout the day and evenings to prevent dehydration of muscles
- Take a hot (hot as you can stand it) shower just before bed, scrubbing legs vigorously
- Have more sex! Orgasm releases natural dopamine and opioids which can help calm the legs
- Slowly slide the leg back and forth on the bed for a few minutes and repeat with the other leg. May help relieve jumping
- Leg lunge exercises at bedtime, but be careful not to overdo it. More intense lunges are better earlier in the day
- Menthol creams such as Tiger Balm or Vicks Vapor Rub, rubbed into the legs before bed
- Balance electrolytes: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate. Read the electrolyte section in my Blood Tests article
- A hot soak in the bathtub with Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar or baking soda, before bed
- Relaxation, meditation, deep breathing and other stress-reducing activities
- Apply hot or cold packs to the legs. Alternating between hot and cold can help
- Sleep with a pillow between the legs to help prevent compressing leg nerves
- Keep a sleep diary for RLS symptoms – this will help determine which foods or activities aggravate symptoms
- Muscle relaxation, deep breathing and meditation at bedtime – see below
Muscle relaxation and breathing
Breathe deeply for a few minutes to oxygenate the lungs (breathing out fully is just as important as breathing in).
Tense the muscles in the feet and hold for a few seconds.
Breathe deeply again, and do the same with the calf muscles, and repeat with the thigh muscles.
Repeat with the other muscles all the way up to the neck.
The major muscle groups should now be more relaxed and oxygenated.
Fatigue can worsen the symptoms of RLS, so getting enough sleep is vital.
Regular exercise: If push-ups or squats do not appeal, then tennis, swimming, bowls, dancing, zumba, tai-chi, pilates, yoga, walking are a few more pleasant options.
Hit the sack at the same time every night, (or try warm baths before bed, or reading in bed) allowing plenty of time for winding down.
A warm bath with half a cup of Epsom Salts in the water can increase magnesium intake through the skin, avoiding diarrhea which can be the result of taking too much magnesium in supplement form. Magnesium also helps lower blood pressure, improve the cardiovascular system, and improve all nerve conditions.
Avoid TV, bright lights, etc for an hour or more before bed time.
Get support from family members. It will not hurt them to follow the same routine.
Reduce stress. Engage in a hobby, craft, or any pleasing activity can help calm down the nerves, and help forget the stressful events of the day, preferably something not involving sitting for long periods.
Supplements which can help RLS
- A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water at bedtime (or ACV capsules if the taste is a problem)
- 5-HTP before bed can help calm the legs and improve sleep quality
- Magnesium supplements 400 to 600mg daily – also helps diabetes, blood pressure, etc
- vitamin D3 also builds bones, improves immunity
- vitamin K2 to keep calcium in bones and out of blood vessels
- MSM – (Methylsulfonyl Methane) – to reduce inflammation and pain, improve nerves, increase pain tolerance
- Vitamin B-Group for nerve health
- Active Vitamin B12 for extra nerve health
- Active Folate essential for nerve function
- Iron – ONLY after a blood test showing deficiency, and NEVER overdose!
- Valerian may help get a better night’s sleep
- Vitamin E may improve symptoms
- D-ribose 5 grams powder once daily for prevention, 3 daily for treatment
- Potassium and Iodine Potassium deficiency is not uncommon, especially in hot weather. Many prescription drugs deplete potassium
Over-the-counter pain relievers may reduce symptoms temporarily, but long-term make the body more sensitive to pain.
Paracetamol (Panadol), known in the USA as Tylenol or Acetaminophen all deplete Glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. Even small doses may damage the liver.
The recommended 8 pills per day (500mg each) has now been reduced to 6 per day, but anyone in severe pain invariably overdoses, so it is best not kept in the house!
It is estimated that 90% of those on the liver transplant waiting list are there because of Paracetamol overdose!
If you have children, note that in Cuba, where Panadol/Tylenol cannot be bought off-the-shelf, Autism cases are less than 1 in 12,000 compared to the USA at 1 in 45, and Australia becoming very close to the USA.
A few decades ago, Autism cases were 1 in 100,000. Perhaps some were not diagnosed, but the increase is still alarming. If one were to include cases of ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity, etc in with the Autism count, it is 1 in every 5 new births and predicted to be 1 in 2 if the alarming increase proceeds over the next 1 or 2 decades!
No double-blind studies have been carried out to prove or disprove the relationship, but LeanMachine requires no further evidence to make a logical conclusion.
More info at www.leanmachine/catalog/articles/autism-spectrum-disorder.php
Aspirin is now proven to cause deadly side effects such as intestinal bleeding.
Supplements to NOT take
Surprisingly, Melatonin supplements (well-known for improving sleep) may aggravate leg movements in those with restless legs syndrome.
Caffeine, alcohol, SSRI antidepressants, antihistamines, and most antipsychotic and antinausea medications can potentially increase symptoms.
Also be aware that RLS can occur as a result of kidney or liver disease. People with these conditions should consult with a healthcare professional before taking supplements
All information here is for education only.
There is no intention to provide medical advice.
LeanMachine no longer sells supplements, but links to the best suppliers are available in our LeanMachine Supplement site.
The information provided is completely independent. Most products can easily be purchased world-wide at health stores, chemists, supermarkets, etc.
LeanMachine cannot take responsibility for any consequences from any treatment, supplement, procedure, exercise, diet, etc resulting from reading or following this information.
This information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. It is only intended to aid the reader to arriving at a better understanding so that a better outcome with the health provider may be hopefully achieved.
The reader should seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider before undertaking any course of treatment, supplementation or medication.
LeanMachine is not a doctor, and everyone should consult with their own health professional before taking any product to ensure there is no conflict with existing prescription medication.
LeanMachine has been studying nutrition and health since 2011 and has completed many relevant studies including:
Open2Study, Australia – Food, Nutrition and Your Health
RMIT University, Australia – Foundations of Psychology
Swinburne University of Technology, Australia – Chemistry – Building Blocks of the World
University of Washington, USA – Energy, Diet and Weight
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA – Health Issues for Aging Populations
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA – International Nutrition
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA – Methods in Biostatistics I
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA – Methods in Biostatistics II
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA – Principles of Human Nutrition
TUFTS University, USA – Nutrition and Medicine
TUFTS University, USA – Lipids/Cardiovascular Disease I and Lipids/Cardiovascular Disease II
Technical Learning College, USA – Western Herbology, Identification, Formulas
Bath University, England – Inside Cancer
WebMD Education – The Link Between Stroke and Atrial Fibrillation
WebMD Education – High Potassium: Causes and Reasons to Treat
Leiden University Medical Center, Netherlands – Anatomy of the Abdomen and Pelvis
MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – A Clinical Approach to the Human Brain
LeanMachine has now examined thousands of studies, journals and reports related to health and nutrition and this research is ongoing.
Updated 10th January 2020, Copyright © 1999-2019 Brenton Wight and BJ & HJ Wight trading as Lean Machine abn 55293601285