The Big Four

The four areas of health on which I have been focusing – sleep, nutrition, movement and stress control – are the fundamentals, the bedrock, of my health. I focus on no, or very low, cost interventions that anyone can implement. I was going to list my top recommendations to optimize each of these when I realized they are all elements of one main thing – health! They aren’t separate and alone. Each of them feeds the success of the others, and its impossible to say that what you eat does not impact your sleep, or vice versa.

Having said that, here’s what is working for me right now:

Eating a ketogenic diet and fasting intermittently each day (limiting eating to the hours between 11 am or noon and 6 pm)

Moving for a minimum of one hour each day, including some HIIT and some balancing.

Keeping a gratitude journal daily.

Thinking happy thoughts  😉

And … getting 8 hours of sleep every night, enhanced by:

1. A very dark room. No lights but moonlight.
2. Cooling the room, the bed, and my body.
3. Getting away from blue light well before bed time and reducing EMFs as much as possible. Basically, the mobile device must be put in another room, in airplane mode, in the earlier evening.
4. Generating my own melatonin by walking outside in the mornings.
5. Reducing nasal stuffiness by reducing histamine-rich foods, particularly red wine, dark chocolate, and aged cheeses. (I know, could I have listed three foods I love more?)
6. Getting enough vitamin D (with K2) and enough magnesium.
7. Drinking sleepy time tea before bed.
8. Getting to bed by 10 pm so I have at least three hours of sleep before the witching hour of 1 am.

 

Every stupid thought I have

Brain Tree

One of the doctors I have learned about in my quest to improve my health is Daniel Amen. He runs a number of clinics focused on optimizing brain health and decelerating the aging process, among other things, and one of his recommendations is this:

Don’t believe every stupid thought you have.

The brain is noisy, and skews negative. There is no imperative that you must believe every thought that is rattling around up there. Instead, ask yourself, “is it true?” This will help reframe the thought, and re-focus your mind.  I have found this helpful and I hope you do too.

The chain of my health

Shiney black and white chain

A visual depiction of your health might be this: a clean, neat chain of DNA pulled taut, a chain that is tugged on and pulled at by all kinds of outside factors during your long life. The chain gets dirty, and stretched thin in places, and that is aging. If however, the chain breaks, you have yourself a disease that can be acute (like a cancer) or chronic (autoimmune, or neurodegenerative) disease. A disease that our allopathic doctors continue to treat with the same tools that may have enabled the disease in the first place.

What broke my chain of health? Was it an intervention like the thyroid my doctors recommended be removed via radioactive isotope? Or a long-term treatment, like the statins I took for years? Was it something more systemic like all the food I have eaten that’s been raised with glyphosate, or meat raised on factory farms with antibiotics and growth hormones? Was it the inflammation caused by too much manufactured “food” and not enough of the fresh nutritious stuff, or by the sugar that was a true addiction for me for most of my life? I have drunk a lot of good wine, used a lot of commercial skin and beauty products, flown a lot of miles exposed to high altitude radiation. I have let stress run my life. I have gone whole years without serious exercise. Any of these stressors could have been the tug that broke my health chain.

My goal in this thing we call retirement is two-fold: first, to learn everything I can about whole health and apply these lessons to myself so that I don’t break my chain of health in another spot, and second, to sound the alarm to those who can hear the bell.

September Focus: Sleep

Sleep is one of the four main pillars of good health, and something I continue to focus on. I used to be a sound sleeper, but in the past five years have found myself awake for significant hours of the night, or waking in the morning with no sense of being rested. I’m focusing on building some new sleep habits in September to continue to optimize my health.

Recent research from the University of Rochester shows that when you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins (by-products of neural activity when you’re awake) from its neurons. Your brain can only adequately remove these toxic proteins when you have sufficient quality sleep. When you don’t get high-quality deep sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc.

Besides the obvious attention I give this area of my health – a good mattress, keeping the room cool and dark enough, going to bed early, and limiting exposure to my iPhone for the last hour of the day – I found an article on Inc. yesterday that had some tips that were either new to me, or framed differently. I summarized it below, but urge you to read the article at the link if you believe your sleep could be improved.

Titled This Is What Your Overactive Brain Needs To Get A Good Night’s Sleep and written by Dr Tara Swart, it suggests:

“While falling asleep might seem like a passive process, there’s a whole cocktail of neurotransmitters involved in it, including histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. But that means there are many physiological “levers” you can pull on your way to a better night’s sleep. Get your evening routine right, and you’ll be able to enjoy the spoils that come with it–better concentration, memory, and moods, enhanced creativity, and reduced inflammation and stress.”

Dr Swart’s recommendations include:

Lose the routine glass of red wine before bed. Why?
Because your liver uses more resources to try to break down the toxin, your brain is starved for the energy it needs to recuperate effectively for the next day.

Eliminate as much artificial light as possible after the sun sets. Why?
Because darkness triggers the pineal gland to release melatonin, and it may be confused by all artificial light. Try switching to either paper books, or an activity that doesn’t rely on light once the sun goes down. I think campfire light is sleep enhancing!

Skip the snack before bed. Why?
Many foods stimulate the brain, at a time we want to be calming it.

Smell some lavender, or jasmine. Why?
Lavender is a powerful neuromodulator, which means that it lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, making you more relaxed and likelier to fall asleep.

Drink nut milk with turmeric before bed. Why?
Make your own relaxing bedtime drink using almond milk (full of magnesium that reduces the stress hormone cortisol) plus turmeric (anti-inflammatory) plus a little Manuka honey (boosts immunity).

Soak in the tub with Epsom salts. Why?
It is a great way to relax – both the warm water, and the cool down afterward – signal your body that it should get ready to sleep. Plus you can add magnesium salts to the bathwater, and that helps decrease cortisol levels.

A Quick Overview: Mitochondria

What are mitochondria?

The powerhouse of your cells. They turn food and oxygen into energy. They are eroded by inflammation and toxins. And they accumulate mutations over time that result in age-related diseases.

How can you strengthen mitochondria?

Four main ways: Improve nutrition, increase exercise, reduce stress, and get a lot of sleep. Plus some nutty-sounding-but-may-be-correct little ways.

Here’s a specific example in the exercise category from a Mayo Clinic study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism:

After 12 weeks on an HIIT cycling plan (three days of cycling – that involved four, 4-minute high-intensity intervals broken up by 3-minute recovery periods – and two days of steady, brisk treadmill walking) researchers measured leg strength, lean muscle mass, oxygen capacity, and insulin sensitivity through biopsied tissue samples from participants thighs.

Those participants who did high-intensity interval training (HIIT) got the biggest benefit at the cellular level. There were other groups in the study doing a variety of exercise programs.  Younger HIIT participants (under age 35) experienced a 49% boost in mitochondrial capacity—the cell’s ability to take in oxygen and produce energy—while older folks (over 65) experienced an even more dramatic 69% increase.

See, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about mitochondrial function!

The End of Alzheimer’s by Dr Dale Bredesen

I have watched several different interviews with Dr Dale Bredesen, and am posting the link to this one – an interview by Dr Steven Gundry – because I believe it gives the best overview of Dr Bredesen’s new book. Three takeaways for me from this interview:

  • Mutations in mitochondrial DNA are what collects as we age. This reinforces all the information now emerging about mitochondrial dysfunction causing most of our cognitive decline with age.
  • We cannot overstate the role of nutrition + exercise + sleep + stress reduction in healing our age-related diseases
  • Most M.D.’s will give you the normal range for the things they test for. Remember, normal ≠ optimal.

My Life, My Health

Zen stone beside a river of raked sand

One obvious truth I am realizing as I learn more about health is this: I’m in charge here.

I spend all day in this body. I’m not powerless, in any way, and I have to believe that I CAN guide myself to greater health. It takes continual learning and experimenting. It takes tuning out the naysayers who think I am merely on a weight loss diet or that the changes I make are temporary. It takes the realization that no one else can, or will, push me forward, and that there are no miracle easy fixes, like a new drug or medical procedure, on the horizon.

The work is mine to do. Or not. The outcomes are mine.

So if I want to take a passive approach to the chronic disease I have been diagnosed with, that is an option. But if I want to learn about metabolic biochemistry, the impact of insulin and too much protein, about mitochondria function and mTOR metabolic signaling, I can do that too.

It’s a choice. About my life.

Changing Your Brain

Mediation Hands

Here are a few recently-discovered resources that offer strategies for changing your brain:

I first heard Rick Hanson speak at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, where he talked about neuroplasticity and the kinds of regular practices that enable your brain to actually change. That talk was the first time I realized that it might be possible for me to use these practices to control my little dopamine problem called Parkinson’s Disease. His organization, The Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom offers an outstanding inventory of the practices Rick discussed. This is an amazing resource that I hope to utilize more in the future.

I also recently discovered Wildmind’s site, and in particular, their very thorough and helpful guide to meditation posture. Very helpful.

Finally, this short article on rewiring your brain to be positive is not too deep, but it does give a nice overview of how to notice when you are being negative so that you can make the shift to positivity.

It’s Friday. Movie time.

It is the last Friday in June folks. Today you are as old as you have ever been, and as young as you will ever be. One of life’s dichotomies – two parts of a whole, both true.

I’d love everyone to watch this 2-minute animation about the benefits of meditating from Happify and narrated by Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier. Meditation is really that simple and that impactful. Another dichotomy.

“There is no out until you become aware.” Minimalism: a documentary about the important things is a film that came out in 2015. Our stuff is our disease. It’s killing us and killing our planet. This will get your attention.

I learned about the Love Your Brain foundation from a Brain Health Summit webinar recently. It is about snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s accident and traumatic brain injury (TBI) just prior to the 2000 Olympics. The Crash Reel is a film about his journey back to health. The foundations site is very polished, and worth visiting.

Finally, October is just around the corner, and the second annual Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette, Michigan. We attended this festival last year and came away changed by it. Fun, funny, and inspiring.

I hope your weekend is the same!

Parkinson’s Research Project

I’m really excited to learn about this new research project from Dr Terry Wahls. Basically this team will survey all participants every six months for five years, and try to identify what impact alternative treatments might be having on the course of their Parkinson’s Disease. I am working on both my mitochondrial health through diet and lifestyle, and my brain’s neuroplasticity through learning and movement. It is my hope that I can model how to slow or halt this disease. I’d urge anyone with a Parkinson’s diagnosis to participate; it took me about 30 minutes to answer the first survey.