Monthly Archives: December 2012

Blueberries the brain and synergy

blueberries

Source: Wikipedia

Blueberries may be one of the best foods for keeping your brain healthy. According to research at Tufts university, Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. This sounds very promising, although this study used rats instead of humans.

A study using humans at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center showed “The findings of this preliminary study suggest that moderate-term blueberry supplementation can confer neurocognitive benefit and establish a basis for more comprehensive human trials to study preventive potential and neuronal mechanisms.” Basically, blueberry consumption improved memory, and according to the same study “there were trends suggesting reduced depressive symptoms”.

This is quite impressive for something that often grows in bogs in the northern U.S. Blueberries tend to get a lot of attention due to their antioxidant power – if antioxidants were like muscle power, blueberries would consistently knock out all the other fruits and vegetables and be the antioxidant heavy weight champion(the only fruits that scored higher were dried so their antioxidant power became more concentrated). This antioxidant power comes from its very high amount of anthocyanins, the reddish, purplish, blueish pigments that gives it its distinctive color. However, the antioxidant effects of anthocyanins only partially explains their neuro-protective effects and other health benefits. There is so much else going on, with anthocyanins also having possible anti-carcinogenic effects. Cranberries, which are in the same genus as blueberries, have similar benefits. The bilberry is the European cousin of the North American blueberry – in Spanish however they are both called “arándano”.

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Public domain image from BrainSource.com

All these studies cited(even from previous posts) only focus on one particular substance or therapy. Imagine combining them. Imagine the synergistic effects on the brain of blueberry consumption combined with exercise and juggling on patients with cognitive problems – can it also enhance brain function in people who are young and healthy? Obviously, more research needs to be done, but what we do know suggests strongly we should be eating more fruits and vegetables, especially the dark, richly colored ones.

There is so much you can do to keep your brain young, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Related articles:

Parkinson’s Disease and physical activity

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that slowly leads to almost total loss of motor function. At later stages, it can lead to dementia. The ultimate cause of this disease is not known, though genetics and exposure to toxins appears to play an important role. The proximate cause appears to be an accumulation of proteins in certain neurons, and lack of dopamine in the parts of the brain responsible for movement. “The discovery of dopamine deficiency in the parkinsonian brain” by Dr. O. Hornykiewicz gives a detailed account of how scientists unearthed the link between dopamine deficiency and Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is currently incurable, but it can be treated in its early stages by drugs and other interventions. As time goes by, and the disease progresses, these drugs become less effective. At more advanced stages, doctors may implant electrodes in the brain to provide “deep brain stimulation”, but not everyone responds well to such treatments.

Placement of an electrode into the brain. From Wikipedia.

Placement of an electrode into the brain. From Wikipedia.

There are of course other, less invasive ways to stimulate the brain to slow down the progression of the disease. According to research done by Rose MH, Løkkegaard A, Sonne-Holm S, Jensen BR, at the University of Copenhagen, high-intensity locomotor training can greatly improve Parkinson’s symptoms. Similar research conducted by Cakit BD, Saracoglu M, Genc H, Erdem HR, Inan L., at Ankara Education and Research Hospital, Turkey, show treadmill training can improve mobility in Parkinson’s patients, and reduce their fear of falling.

So it appears that regular exercise in the early stages of Parkinson’s can slow down the disease’s progression, with or without medication. David H. Blatt, M.D., who is himself a Parkinson’s sufferer and runs the website, Exerciseforparkinsons.com, recommends regular exercise to treat Parkinson’s, especially learning how to juggle. In his own words:

I believe that by practicing juggling I have substantially slowed the progression of my Parkinson’s disease. Juggling stimulates the brain – it forces the brain to quickly process complex, sensory input and then it forces the brain to direct muscles to move quickly in a complex, coordinated manner.

He has many inspiring videos on his website which demonstrate the benefits of his approach. Juggling and exercise may prevent other neurological conditions besides Parkinson’s, as my previous post demonstrated. I would love to see some studies to see if and how juggling helps Parkinson’s patients. As time goes by, the list of benefits of juggling and exercise in general continues to grow.

Juggle to prevent dementia

It is so secret that by far the best way to prevent dementia is exercise. It is almost a truism – active people tend to age more slowly than couch potatoes. Just like muscle, “use it or lose it” applies to your brain and its 86 billion or so neurons(if you have counted your neurons recently and discover you have a little less, don’t worry!). 

The second best way to prevent a decline in neurological function is to engage in brain-stimulating activities, like doing puzzles, or learning new skills. Playing chess is excellent brain stimulation.

She won't be coming down with dementia any time soon.

She won’t be coming down with dementia any time soon.

Also, generally speaking, the more educated a person is, the lower their risk for dementia or alzheimers. 

This is why fitness juggling is such powerful preventive medicine. It’s the ultimate all-in-one exercise/brain stimulating activity. Joggling would be even better, so long as you don’t bump into any trees or people. Or you can simply move around a lot or dance while juggling at home to make it even more fun and challenging if you can’t run. Why should fitness be boring?

Your brain is an amazing natural wonder. It is your greatest asset and deserves to be protected and stimulated. Love your brain and it will love you back.

Have fun juggling!

 

 

 

My visit to Whole Foods

Many health-conscious people simply can’t live without Whole Foods. Or rather, make that rich, health-conscious people. Even though I seldom ever shop there, it can be fun to look around, especially since much of the store is a wild carnival of vegan products. And gluten-free products. So it’s a great place to shop if you’re a vegan and/or have celiac disease. Or rather, I should say, rich vegans, and rich people with celiac disease.

The selection they have is simply amazing. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as sprouted almond butter until last night. Look at that price!

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And it’s not even organic, sprouted, raw, whole, gourmet almond butter. Don’t forget Fair Trade! It looks yummy alright, but I prefer my peanut butter and only the occasional unsprouted, poor man’s almond butter. To be honest, I’m not sure if the sprouting process does anything to improve the almond’s overall nutritional status, but it probably improves profit margins. I say this as someone who used to sprout nuts and seeds on a regular basis. I think they are best fresh and unprocessed, so homemade is best.

It seems sIMG_0530ome people may mistakenly believe if something is sold at Whole Foods, it’s gotta be healthy. Or healthier than what is sold at plebeian supermarkets. I don’t buy into this. It seems a large part of Whole Foods appeal is you can buy “healthy”, more expensive junk food there.

Calories are calories, organic or non-organic.

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Look at this section devoted to that healthiest of healthy ingredients – sugar. Of course, as we all know, if sugar is organic, or vegan, or fair-trade, it’s healthier than regular sugar. Or at least some people might want you to believe this. I can’t say I am one of them. As a vegetarian though, I can understand the point of vegan sugar, since bone-char is added to regular sugar as an anti-caking agent by some sugar manufacturers.
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When it comes to organics, I am ambivalent, though I believe we should minimize pesticide use as much as possible(both organic pesticides and conventional pesticides). I eat mostly conventional produce and food, I simply try to avoid the foods with the highest pesticide(like strawberries or peaches) content or I wash them thoroughly. It’s also best to eat locally grown when possible, organic or not.

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The part of Whole Foods that has some of the truly healthiest and most reasonably priced items is the bulk grains/seeds/nuts section.

IMG_0533Although I see better prices elsewhere, this isn’t too crazy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Live organic vegan euphoria” – I’ve thought I’ve heard everything.

I can’t eat this though, due to a nasty chocolate allergy, and the price.
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It is interesting how this tiny health food store manages to stay in business just a few blocks away from Whole Foods.  
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Just about everything you need to eat healthy can be found at your local grocery, supermarket, or farmer’s market. You don’t have to eat expensive foods to be optimally healthy. If you know how to identify edible wild plants, you can even get vegetables for free if you have a large park or wilderness area near you.

You get most of your protein from nuts?!

Rumors have been swirling around about this for quite some time. I thought it was time to tell the truth. I do, in fact, on many days get most of my protein from nuts. Or a delicious combination of nuts and legumes. The Wild Juggler is in fact a vegetarian.

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So how is this possible? Is he, yet again, violating the laws of physics? Truth be told, nuts are a great source of protein.
1/4 cup of almonds contains about 6 grams of protein.

While it also has a lot of fat, it is mostly the healthy, unsaturated kind of fat. Almonds and many other nuts are also good sources of fiber, minerals, and protective phyto-chemicals, similar to the ones in tea and some vegetables. I love my nuts raw and unprocessed. I don’t eat nuts that have added oils, salt, sugar or anything. Read labels. I often snack on nuts after a long joggle.

If you’re afraid that eating nuts will cause weight gain, do not worry. I eat tons of nuts almost every day; if you’ve been pecan at my photos, you know I’m not exactly obese. Still not convinced?

According to Fitwatch.com, eating nuts regularly can help you lose weight by speeding up your metabolism – Why Eating Nuts Can Help You Lose Weight

Fiber, always your friend, helps prevent the fat from getting absorbed. I think nuts are a great way to replace meat and dairy in your diet. People who eat a lot of nuts are generally slimmer, on average than those who eat the least. Nut butters make a great snack and are good for making sandwiches. Peanut butter is one of my favorites, though technically, peanuts are a legume.

I totally love nuts. When people call me a “nut”, I take it as a compliment. So go nuts with nuts, and try to violate the laws of physics with your fitness routine!

Amazing winter forest photos. Would love to joggle there.

The Long Way There

I was late getting going again today, but made it out for a quick afternoon hike. Again it was beautiful! I hiked down my own trails today and ended up going solo, but that was ok, I liked the peace and quiet. I like to take a different route every time to mix things up, and there are several loops of varying length to choose from, I decided to skip the long loop and took a short cut that probably cut about fifteen minuets off my trip.

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Going alone I didn’t bother with a fire or to bring a lunch, just a thermos of hot tea. My stop wasnt very long, it was a little cool by the river and I wanted to get away from the wind. My river tail was a little tricky to get through, thick with weighted down bows and branches of trees heavy with snow…

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Fidget off the fat, research says

This sounds almost too good to be true, but research suggests that people who fidget a lot tend to be slimmer than those who do not fidget. 

What this means is that every little bit of exercise helps. Even if you are sitting, tapping your feet or moving around a lot can help burn calories. If possible, stand rather than sit. Losing weight is easier if you approach fitness as a lifestyle, not as an activity. 

Other ways to make fitness a lifestyle and not just an activity:

Take the stairs instead of the elevator

Walk instead of taking the car

Can’t or don’t want to go to a gym? Use resistance bands. You can even bring them with you to work(along with your juggling balls), where you can do a quick resistance workout that is practically the same as if you are lifting weights.

I also think it is important to avoid negative people who may try to sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

Of course twiddling your thumbs or taking the stairs can’t replace the recommended 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise we need to be fit and prevent disease. And you don’t even have to do the 30 minutes all at once either. You can divide it up – 10 minutes in the morning, 20 later in the day. 10 minutes seems to be the magic number for a bout of cardio to really count as exercise, so if you divide your time for exercise, do at least 10 minutes at a time.

Above all, make sure you enjoy your exercise. Do not think of it as punishment. You were born to move!

Juggling as cross-training

Cross-training is when exercisers alternate their fitness routine with something different yet complementary to their preferred, usual regimen. It aims to improve overall fitness by addressing whatever shortcomings their usual training has. A good example of this is a runner who occasionally cycles; running mainly uses the calf muscles while cycling mainly uses the quadriceps. By occasionally cycling, a runner can improve his ability to run up hills, since running up an incline relies more on the quadriceps. 

It all makes intuitive sense, although science hasn’t necessarily validated all the various forms of cross-training for athletes. Nevertheless, cross-training is encouraged by coaches and fitness experts to elite athletes and non-elite athletes alike. A runner who occasionally cycles will be more fit than a runner who exclusively runs.

It is my opinion that both juggling and joggling are neglected as cross-training for a variety of athletic activities. Off the top of your head, think of all the various sports that require good hand-eye coordination, and upper body endurance, which juggling is very good at improving. While juggling isn’t the only way to improve hand-eye coordination, it is one of the most convenient and is also a moderate aerobic workout in its own right. 

Consider boxers for example: They regularly run or use a jump-rope as cross-training to improve their overall aerobic fitness and endurance. However, neither of these helps optimize the critically important hand-eye coordination of the boxer, though jump-roping is slightly better than running in this regard. Jump-roping may be good for developing a good sense of rhythm and exercises the arms unlike running(even better if you can do a lot of tricks with the jump rope). It is still not as “good” as juggling.

Now imagine if instead of running or jump-roping a boxer joggled outside for a few miles or “joggled” in place at the gym with 3 balls. I believe this would be an improvement in their cross-training regimen, although I must admit I know very little about boxing. I believe it could improve their hand-eye coordination, unless they are doing something else as part of their training that has already optimized their hand-eye coordination.

If somehow the boxer could work his way up to juggling or joggling 5 balls, he may reap even more benefits. This is speculation on my part. Although I have never boxed, I did study martial arts for a few years which is similar. Juggling/joggling could also be used as cross-training for cycling, rock-climbing, tennis, martial arts, and so many other life-affirming activities. Even all by itself, it is fun and gives your brain a good workout.

For the record, I think joggling has improved my dancing ability, something which I had no ability to do before since I’ve always been a big klutz. 

 

New joggling record set in the rain

Laugh at bad weather. Unless the rain is especially heavy, or there’s tornadoes or a hurricane, don’t let “bad” weather interfere with your running routine. Yet again I learned the important lesson today to not let the weather prevent me from performing at my best.

It was raining, but luckily it was light. It was about 40 farenheit(4.4 C) but I didn’t feel the cold. There were a lot of puddles around that I dodged or jumped over. There was just slightly more than a hint of wind. I recently purchased some new sneakers, but wore my older pair since there is still some life in them. I wore sweatpants instead of shorts and had gloves and sunglasses(not very dark ones because of how cloudy it was)on. I didn’t really feel that energetic in the morning when I joggled. My breakfast was my usual bialys with sunflower seeds. 

Unfortunately, my feet got a little wet due to the rain and due to stepping in a few puddles(I need to work on this!), and my gloves got wet also. My sweatshirt and hat also got very wet. Worst of all, my sunglasses got wet and foggy, in spite of the baseball type hat I had on. I sometimes had trouble seeing the balls or my surroundings, but I couldn’t dry them for obvious reasons.

And yet, I broke all previous records. I consistently joggled 3 balls in 1 hour and 5 minutes, covering a distance of 6.7 miles(10.7 km) from start to finish without dropping any of the wet balls even once. I still have trouble believing it. I almost dropped the balls about 5 times(usually while doing tricks) but managed to catch them at the last second. I didn’t even intend to break any records, since I was kind of tired and thought the wet weather would interfere with my joggling. It didn’t. It was an amazing experience, though very exhausting toward the end. I didn’t even do any warm-ups before the run.

I still consider myself to be a total clutz.

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Opossum in Mount Vernon

Opossum in Mount Vernon

Opossum sighting in Mount Vernon, New York. They are rarely seen because they are nocturnal. They are the only species of marsupial in North America. This photo was taken only a few miles north of New York City – New York City has opossums too. They are generally harmless.