Can you actually change the way you age for a healthier life? The science says yes.
The slow creep of aging affects everyone, and before you know it, you’re over the hill and losing steam. But what exactly causes us to age? Scientists believe it is ultimately because of accumulated metabolic damage that occurs at the cellular level.
As we age, certain biological compounds decrease, including one called NAD+. This coenzyme is found in all living cells and plays a vital role in energy metabolism, DNA repair and healthy cell function — particularly that of the mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells that convert food to energy. As NAD+ declines, our mitochondria are adversely affected and damaged, resulting in less energy output and leading the corporeal aging process. Low NAD+ also alters the activity of enzymes called sirtuins, a class of proteins believed to play a role in healthy aging by turning certain genes on and off and by helping protect the body from the onset of age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
The Fountain of Youth?
The good news is that you can increase and replenish NAD+ by supplementing with a precursor called nicotinamide riboside (NR). NR (commercially known as Niagen) is a newly discovered version of vitamin B3 found in trace amounts in milk. According to a study published in Nature Communications, NR converts to NAD+ when ingested and goes to work improving mitochondrial function, creating new mitochondria and increasing energy production at the cellular level. NR also reactivates the sirtuin proteins, some of which work to maintain the length of telomeres, the caps on the ends of DNA associated with longevity, ultimately reversing the aging process and extending your life span, according to research published in PLOS One.
Though best-known for its energy-boosting properties, NR is also being studied for these benefits, which are of particular note to athletic women:
- NR may improve muscle quality and strength. According to a study published in Science, NR supplementation in mice resulted in rapid DNA repair and an improvement in the health of muscle tissue within a week.
- NR might fight fat. A study published in Cell Metabolism found that NR helped boost metabolism and prevent weight gain, even when test mice were fed a diet high in fat.
- NR may help with cognition. According to researchers at the National Institutes of Health, NR-treated mice had less DNA damage, higher neuroplasticity, increased neuron production and less neural damage than the control group, and they performed better on given memory tests.
There are no adverse side effects of NR and no contraindications, so if it sounds enticing, try it for yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose and energy — and longevity — to gain!
A New Kind of Energy
ChromaDex, the innovators of NR, maintains a scientific advisory board that includes Nobel Prize–winning researchers and is continually conducting studies and are uncovering more benefits of NR every day. To date, most studies have been done on animals, but a recent six-week human clinical trial found that participants taking Tru Niagen — a name-brand version of NR with three safety certifications from the Food and Drug Administration — experienced on average a 40 percent increase in NAD+ levels.
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Haley Brennan battled a binge-eating disorder and returned to fitness stronger than ever.
Haley Brennan began lifting weights at age 16 and began reading Oxygen magazine and following the workouts at the gym. By 17, she had competed in two figure competitions and was hooked on the fit lifestyle. “I craved the dedication needed for training and eating properly, and I wanted to spend my days continuously improving,” Brennan says.
But while at college, Brennan was the victim of an assault at work, which caused her to disconnect from her social circle and turn to food for comfort. “As if someone flipped a switch, I went from working out six days a week to hardly at all,” she says. “My hunger was insatiable. All the progress I had made slipped from my fingers.”
In six months, Brennan’s weight shot up 60 pounds and she became severely depressed. Though she began relying on her extra weight as a security blanket, the embarrassment and ridicule from so-called friends was unbearable.
Her senior year, the term “binging” came up in Brennan’s psychology class and she realized that she was suffering from a severe binge-eating disorder, averaging more than 13 episodes per week.
“Everyone around me was very judgmental, and I carried a lot of shame,” she says. “I realized I needed to make a change, so I stopped hanging out with people who made me feel bad about myself. I also decided that it was OK for me not to track my foods, have off-limit foods or to have to eat at specific times.” Brennan learned to listen to her hunger cues again and set a goal to work out three to five times per week and eat healthy.
Seeking a Happy Medium
In 2017, Brennan and her husband discovered they were pregnant. “Along with the excitement of having a baby came the anxiety and fear that my binge-eating habits would return,” she says. “But the beautiful thing about being pregnant was that it gave me an opportunity to rebuild healthy and sustainable habits because it was not only about my health but the baby’s, as well.”
After having a girl in May 2018, Brennan sought the opportunity to start over, this time with the knowledge gained from past successes and defeats. She now does high-intensity interval training along with strength training, and her favorite exercise is squats because they are her nemesis; soon she will compete in a powerlifting competition.
“Overcoming my insecurities and having a new sense of self postpartum was no walk in the park, yet my driving force was to pull myself out of the past and work on becoming a healthier person each day,” Brennan says. “By no means is the journey over, but each day brings me one step closer.”
Haley Brennan/Shakopee, Minnesota
Age: 23 Height: 5’3”
Old dress size: 12
Current dress size: 6
Occupation: Personal trainer and job coach for adults with disabilities
Meal: Chicken sausage, peppers, spinach and mushrooms sauteed with butter and olive oil and topped with avocado.
Mantra: Struggle is proof that you have not been conquered.
Advice: Each success and adversity in life gives us an opportunity to learn and grow. Figure out what worked and hold onto that, and discard that which didn’t.
Day 1: upper body/bench
Day 2: lower body/squats
Day 3: upper body/shoulders and back
Day 4: lower body and back/deadlifts
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Shake off the winter blues and get your brain summer-ready!
With the dark days of winter often comes the blues, and the American Psychological Association concluded that this kind of seasonal stress can contribute to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and depression. Almost 15 million Americans are affected by depression each year, which can interfere with everything from school to work to social activities, and you may feel hopeless, exhausted, lackadaisical or indecisive.
The exact cause of depression is complicated, and it can be any combination of several known factors, including genetics, traumatic events, hormone imbalances and biochemical reactions in the brain. The good news is you can do something about it.
The Endocannabinoid System
As you know, the brain is the control center of your body, and several neurological systems assist in sending messages to and from this hub. One of these is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis — internal balance from constant pressure of external stimuli — and affects nearly every biological process in your body, including memory, appetite and sleep, as well as mood, pain and stress.
Here’s the deal: In response to negative stimuli, the ECS produces cannabinoids that bind to particular brain cell receptors, causing the release of serotonin, improving mood and reducing stress. The ECS is also responsible for that “runner’s high” and exercise euphoria you feel after training. Are you addicted to chocolate? It’s no wonder: The cacao in chocolate interacts with your ECS, boosting mood and simulating feelings of love.
The trouble comes when your ECS is not functioning properly or is not making adequate levels of cannabinoids. Your brain chemistry begins to change, and research has linked ECS decline with a number of diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and depression.
Stress reduction is one of the ECS’s primary purposes, and as you become depressed and anxious, your cortisol levels rise. Excess cortisol has been shown to negatively impact your hippocampus — the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning and emotion — actually causing it to shrink and leading to cognitive decline and furthering depressive symptoms. Fortunately, the hippocampus is capable of neurogenesis, and it is able to grow new neurons and make new connections.
Happy, Happy Hippo(campus)
If your ECS is not properly forming its own cannabinoids, introducing cannabidiol (CBD) can mimic the way your own cannabinoids operate and function. In several studies, CBD has been shown to reduce depression through hippocampal neurogenesis, promoting the creation of new neurons, activating the release of serotonin and dopamine, and reversing atrophy. CBD has also been shown to reduce inflammation and pain and re-establish healthy sleeping patterns, all of which can decrease the severity of depressive symptoms.
In addition to CBD supplementation, maintaining a consistent habit of healthy eating and exercise also can help with depression. Exercise promotes the release of several hormones that support your ECS, improving overall mood and outlook. Additionally, a lack of omega-3s has been shown to negatively impact the brain receptors for the ECS, which could lead to depressive symptoms. Supplement daily with omega-3s or eat several servings of fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel per week to keep your systems on go.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding depression and its causes, but it is known to be a biological imbalance of sorts. And since the ECS works to maintain homeostasis, it’s to your benefit to keep it healthy and happy!
Learn to Spot Quality
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This two-time Ms. Bikini Olympia and two-time Bikini International champion opens up to Oxygen.
I wish women in the fitness industry didn’t think they have to look perfect. It seems like they are never really satisfied with the way they look, which is a shame. It is important to enjoy the process of getting fit and making sure you do it in a healthy way.
What’s your favorite bodypart to train?
What is your dream vacation?
“Though I have traveled many places as a pro, my dream vacation would be Italy. The people seem to be very warm and friendly — and of course, the food is amazing!”
Is there anything in life you wish to re-do?
“If there was one mistake I could go back and correct in my life, it would be to learn English before moving to the U.S. from Brazil. It would have made things a lot easier.”
To what do you owe your success?
“In order to be successful, you have to employ mental strategies along with the physical work. I visualize achieving my goals every day as if they were really happening. I even feel the chills of the moment of winning when I see it in my mind.”
Who is your fitness inspiration?
“My inspiration when I started in fitness wasn’t a woman — it was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He came from another country and used bodybuilding to become a legend. He is an example that it doesn’t matter where you come from — that everything is possible when you’re willing to work hard for your goals.”
How would you describe your family?
“We are a fit family. My husband Marco works out, as well, and is a black-belt jiu-jitsu instructor. He definitely lifts more than I do! But I do love to lift heavy, and I always use a Schiek lifting belt to protect my back.”
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Judoka Nicole Stout ignored her father’s directive and followed her martial arts dreams — to the benefit of the world.
Growing up in a household of athletes, it was only natural that Nicole Stout began competing in sports by the age of 3. While her father and brother practiced judo under Olympian Patrick Burris, Stout chose to focus on gymnastics and ballet. By age 12, she was competing as a rhythmic gymnast on an international level. However, she quickly burned out.
“Between being bullied by my teammates and struggling with the negative body image ideals my coaches forced upon me, I knew I had to quit,” Stout says. “I’d always wanted to make an Olympic team, so quitting was very hard for me.”
Burris suggested she try her hand at judo, and against her father’s wishes, Stout accepted the challenge. Her father was concerned for his little girl’s safety in such a physical sport, but proving to him that she could be just as good as her brother became Stout’s driving force.
After working hard for a year to build her judo essentials, including strength, flexibility, balance, power, endurance, speed and agility, Stout finally won her first match and was hooked. She did sustain a couple of potentially career-ending injuries on the mat, including a broken foot and a torn ACL, which she incurred during the Judo National Championships, but Stout pushed on. She trained under some of the biggest names in the sport, including Japanese national champion Shinjiro Sasaki and four-time Olympian Jason Morris, and she earned her way onto various championship teams around the world. Currently, she’s a 2020 and 2024 USA Judo Olympic hopeful.
Fueling Her Fire
Stout practices judo twice a day, hits the weights daily and squeezes in twice-weekly cardio sessions — a grueling schedule that relies on proper nutrition and supplementation. “I eat a lot of fish such as salmon and tuna because they have so much protein and fantastic vitamins,” she says. The CarnoSyn-sponsored athlete also makes sure to include a carb and a vegetable to ensure a complete meal.
Stout is no stranger to pursuing goals and drawing inspiration from successful people in her inner circle — her parents hold multiple doctorates, and she works closely with Olympians on a daily basis — and has big goals for her future.
“This is going to be my most ambitious year yet,” says Stout, who is currently pursuing a degree in computer science at Harvard. “I’m competing every month and attempting to qualify for the World University Games, where I would represent Harvard and the United States in a tournament second only to the Olympics.”
Where does her father stand on her decision now? “He is proud that I am a fighter like he is,” Stout says. “He is excited to see what I will accomplish as I continue on my judo journey.”
For more information, go to team.carnosyn.com.
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Once working mom Sarah Grant made herself a priority, she lost 57 pounds.
Sarah Grant grew up poor, but once she got her first job, she quickly discovered the joys of a disposable income — and decadent food. Grant became a fine-dining foodie who reveled in eating for pleasure and didn’t really notice that a few extra pounds had begun to stick. But once she had kids, she also stopped being active and the weight became an issue. “Unfortunately, exercise is one of the self-care things moms tend to take off the schedule when life is busy and we prioritize other things,” she says.
In 2005, Grant had a lot of changes in her life: She went back to work full time, her son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and her daughter was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. “Food was my coping mechanism for the grief and guilt you go through as a parent when your child received a tough medical diagnosis,” Grant says. And though her coping mechanism meant continual weight gain, Grant still did not see her health as being important. “I felt like it would be selfish or vain to prioritize myself when I had a family and a career that needed attention,” she says.
Shedding the Guilt
A few years later, a friend got into strength training and Grant saw a transformation in her that was inspiring. She sat down with her friend and learned about macronutrients, energy expenditure and basic strength-training splits. Because she was not confident enough to join a gym, Grant bought her own barbells, weights and equipment and built a home gym in her garage. She started with very basic lifting and began eating a well-balanced, whole-food diet of lean protein, healthy carbs and healthy fats.
Slowly but surely, Grant whittled away at the layers of stress and grief, and a little over a year later, she emerged 57 pounds lighter. “A whole new world of possibilities opened up at that point,” she says. “I got down to 118 pounds and went from over 40 percent body fat to around 20 percent.”
Though she didn’t think it would, Grant discovered that taking care of herself by getting healthy and fit has been one of the best things she’s done for her family. These days, she trains six days a week and is still working on adding lean muscle to her frame.
However, muscle isn’t the only thing she has gained from her experience. “One of the really remarkable things about the strength-training community is the sense of family and friendship,” she says. “Everyone welcomes you with open arms, and it’s very special in today’s world to see that kind of connection and community. My lifting family is by far one of the best ‘gains’ to come out of this experience.”
Sarah Grant/Jupiter, Florida
Old weight: 175+ lb
Current weight: 118 lb
Occupation: Chief financial officer
- Get started with what you can do right now. Make a commitment to yourself that no matter how long it takes, you will get up every day and work toward your goal.
- There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes, no easy answers to weight loss. You simply have to make it happen every single day — especially on the days you don’t feel like it.
- Having the support of others is crucial. I would not have been able to weather the tough days without the support of the amazing women I have met in my journey. They gave me a place to cry, celebrate, and share the ups and downs of this process.
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Have you been watching “Tidying Up?” If so you’ve probably been so inspired that you’ve made piles of your possessions, held them tight to see if they spark joy, and said “thank you” or “bye” to those that don’t. Perhaps you’ve even organized your drawers, folding each item with such care and attention. If this sounds like you, I’m here with you. I’ve been on the joy-sparking, minimalism, decluttering train for a few years. It started with a desire to clear something from my air. Not the incessant dog hair that seems to multiply with each blink — no, something…
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Want amazing scenery and healthy food while staying active? Renourish your body and mind in Thailand with the best wellness retreat you’ll ever experience.
The post Why Thailand Is The Best Wellness Retreat For Your Mind And Body appeared first on Women’s Health.
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Hard workouts can improve mood, improve attention — and even build more gray matter.
Science has spoken: It’s time to retire the “brains vs. brawn” trope. The stereotypical weakling genius and the ditzy gym bunny are as old and tired as blond jokes. And, according to recent research, they make even less sense.
A mountain of scientific findings has provided us with a new understanding of the human experience. Instead of acting as separate entities, or even working in opposition, the brain and the body are constantly communicating with and even nourishing each other. Exercise induces a cascade of benevolent changes within the brain, and when brains experience exercise on a regular basis over the years, they tend to age better.
The Game of Concentration
“Some evidence shows that people who have been physically active all their adult lives have less chance of developing depression, anxiety disorders or cognitive problems,” says J. Carson Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland and the director of the Exercise for Brain Health Lab. Regular exercise can improve mood, increase resistance to stress and stave off age-related decline. And the improvements are not just related to transient surges in brain chemicals and hormones: Scientists have found that regular workouts actually build new supportive structures within the brain.
“There are many possibilities for how exercise may protect the brain from age-related disease,” Smith says. “What is so elegant about it and what makes it so difficult to study is that it affects everything all at once.”
The benefits that a hard workout imparts on your heart and your muscles are just as good for your brain, and for many of the same reasons. For instance, exercise helps control blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity — two concepts familiar to fit-minded people because managing blood sugar leads to a leaner physique. But a study published last year in the journal Diabetologia found that subjects with chronic high blood sugar experienced cognitive decline at a faster rate than those with lower blood sugar. In other words, the higher the blood sugar, the faster the cognitive decline.
Another explanation for how exercise preserves cognition over decades is the possibility that exercise increases neurogenesis, new nerve cell growth in the brain. This theory hasn’t been proved in humans yet, since brains must be removed and measured from the test subjects to show the growth, but research strongly suggests that neurogenesis occurs in human brains.
“Exercise has been shown in animals to increase the number of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the hippocampus,” Smith explains. “The hippocampus is very important because it is part of our memory system. You have to have a healthy hippocampus to remember things. But the hippocampus also helps regulate our mood and our response to stress. So that might be part of what protects us, as well.”
Mood and Stress
Depression is a serious health epidemic in the United States, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 16 million Americans suffer at least one depressive episode a year, with twice as many women affected as men. Anxiety disorders also strike more than 30 percent of us at one time in our life. Throw in premenstrual syndrome, winter blahs and the prospect of the final season of Game of Thrones and these moments of despondency are understandable.
“Exercise has a very strong effect on improving mood, reducing anxiety and increasing feelings of relaxation,” Smith says. One study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, examined a group of depressed subjects and prescribed one of four treatment options: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant medication or a placebo. After four months, the supervised exercise groups and the medication group had the highest (and nearly equal) rates of remission, followed by the home-based exercise group.
Theories abound about why exercise is such a mood booster. One common thought revolves around neurotransmitters — chemicals in the brain that respond to the environment and influence how we feel‚ specifically serotonin and norepinephrine. A deficiency in either neurotransmitter has been linked to symptoms of depression. Some of the most popular prescription antidepressants work by increasing the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine available in your brain. Not surprisingly, both serotonin and norepinephrine are released during exercise. Other hypotheses credit the postworkout calm to endorphins, increased core temperature, feelings of self-efficacy or just simple distraction from daily problems.
Smith points out that the effect of exercise on stress levels is the perfect example of the integral relationship between brain and body. Consider the classic Type A personality who may be a candidate for a stress-induced heart attack at age 50: Exercise reduces a major risk factor by mitigating stress while also strengthening the heart. A stronger cardiovascular system helps the brain become more resilient to stress. Everything works together.
So how exactly do you train your brain in the gym? Scientists have not determined a single training regimen that results in insane gray matter gains, but a few training factors stand out as particularly beneficial to your brain.
Cardio + Weights
Most of the research concerning exercise and brain function thus far has focused on cardio workouts, but a session in the weight room is just as effective, and a combination of the two creates a synergy that might be best of all, according to Smith.
“Resistance exercise is as effective as cardio, whether it is cognitive function or mood regulation,” he says. “In studies of cognition in older people, when you combine resistance exercise with cardiovascular exercise, you seem to get stronger effects.”
While you might dread it, your brain likes sprinting: Evidence shows that high-intensity cardio is where you see the biggest increases in neurogenesis, results Smith believes can be extrapolated to high-intensity interval training in the weight room.
“The manipulation of intensity using less time between sets
at a lighter load is an interesting question,” he says. “I don’t know of a study that has tested this, but my hunch is that it would behave like higher-intensity cardiovascular exercise and show decreased anxiety.”
Go Easy on the 1RMs
Research suggests that lifting very heavy weights actually makes your brain feel more stressed: A study out of Davidson College in North Carolina found that lifting less than 70 percent of your one-rep max produced the most reliable decreases in anxiety levels.
But don’t swap that barbell for a pair of pink rubber dumbbells just yet: Lifting heavy provides a slew of benefits from body composition to bone density. But if you’re training at the end of a very stressful day, try chasing a really good pump rather than a deadlift personal record.
Try New Things
Everyone knows that crossword puzzles and Sudoku help keep your brain pliable, but learning new exercises and movement patterns seems to do the same thing: A study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed that subjects who learned how to juggle experienced an increase in their white matter. White matter is made up of nerve fibers, so if gray matter is the computer, white matter is the cable that transmits messages to the computer, and impairment in white matter is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Adding movement-based workouts to your programming, such as yoga, Pilates or agility ladder drills, keeps your brain in the white.
The interaction between the brain and the body is a beautiful — albeit complicated — system of logic. Ultimately, what is best for your body is best for your brain: Work hard. Be consistent. Learn new things. Vary your workouts. Any exercise is better than no exercise. It’s a relief to know that at least something in this world was designed to make sense.
Regular exercise does more than keep your body fit and your mind stress-free, and the list of physiological functions that benefit from an active lifestyle never seems to end. Here are a few of the lesser-known benefits of exercise.
As we age, the outer layer of our skin gets thicker while the inner layer gets progressively thinner — resulting in that saggy look we all hate. A study out of McMaster University in Canada took skin samples from subjects’ buttocks and discovered that women 40 and older who exercised regularly had the opposite effect: a thicker inner layer and a thinner outer layer.
Good for Your Gut
Irish researchers found that professional rugby players had a greater diversity and more health-promoting strains of bacteria in their guts than sedentary men. A good thing because a loss of microbiome diversity is linked to a number of maladies. Scientists aren’t sure how much exercise is necessary to promote healthy bacteria, but being even moderately active helps.
One interesting finding of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that adults who exercise regularly are less likely to have gum inflammation and disease.
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