Tag Archives: brain health

What Are Superfoods and How Can They Help You

You may be hearing about “new superfoods” this year.

What does this mean and how can you fit this information into a realistic plan for health and wellness?  (Hint, see below for 3 tried and true tips).

Essentially the term “superfood” is not necessarily one that is scientific but may still be relevant to consider with identifying food sources that are packed with nutrients.

“Superfood” is indicative of a food source and the compounds within it that have been linked to certain health benefits or the prevention of adverse health conditions.  Many of these foods are derived from plant-based sources, although not all.

You will likely hear about the power of these foods concerning a range of health topics including, but not limited to the following:

  • weight loss
  • reversing or preventing cognitive impairments and our overall brain health
  • help in mental and emotional wellness, such as conditions like depression
  • overall health of the gut
  • stress reduction

The health benefits from these foods may include reducing excess inflammation and adverse oxidative stress which are two key factors involved in the discussion of chronic health conditions.  This is also a key reason for the emphasis on these “superfoods” when it comes to your health outcomes.

It seems that each year there is a new list of hot topic food options that can apply to your health and wellness but may also be trendy and, therefore, will show up in restaurants or product offerings.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of as an empowered health consumer.

So, what are a few of these “2020 superfoods” that you may be hearing more about this year?

In somewhat of a continuation from recent years past, you will be hearing and learning more about fermented foods, seaweeds and algae, and seeds that are both edible and carry significant nutritional benefits.  Furthermore, food sources that may aid in your digestive health such as those with prebiotics, fiber, or digestive bitters.

A term that you may hear and could be new to you is “nervines” which are adaptogenic herbs supportive of your nervous system or are “neuroprotective”.  Nervines can also influence hormone regulation so can be important in many health-related conditions.  Also, these food sources may be good to include in your health plan for approaches to stress.

One of my all-time favorite companies for herbs, spices, teas, and essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs.  They break down Understanding Nervines and Adaptogens in their blog.  Furthermore, Healthline, a leading source for consumer information related to health and wellness, also provides an overview of Adaptogenic Herbs.

Then, of course, there are the tried and true options such as berries, avocados, beets, dark leafy greens and microgreens, mushrooms, and fatty fish like salmon or sardines.  An important attribute to many of these foods is the rich pigments (i.e. color) of the food.  In natural foods, color is often indicative of nutrients critical to human health.

So how can you make sense of the term “superfood” used in media and marketing?

According to the leading global consulting firm, Accenture, consumers are changing to be more health-conscious and aware.  Also, the emphasis on personalized approaches to diet and nutrition is growing.

As a health and wellness professional myself, it is an exciting trend to observe.  Yet, it is also one to monitor for quality and overall relevance of the information.  As alluded to above, there is an intersect of science and marketing with the term “superfood”.  However, there are certainly ways to remain clued in and empowered as a health consumer.

In closing, 3 simple, tried and true approaches to include superfoods in your health and wellness are:

  • Eat colorful foods in variety
  • Incorporate nutrient-dense foods into snacking
  • Include herbs and spices in food preparation and cooking

If you simply start with and focus on these 3 tactics, you will undoubtedly be at an advantage when it comes to living most healthful and well.

Photo credit(s):  Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Amazing Links Between Social Interaction and the Brain

Remaining socially active could be just what your brain needs.

Research has shown that social interaction influences health in several ways.  When social dynamics are of an appropriate type and level, the favorable benefits possible include the following:

  • Engagement in behaviors that lead to good health
  • Boost to mental and emotional health
  • Reduction in stress levels
  • Improvements to internal health
  • Self-confidence
  • Outlook on life and happiness
  • Longevity
  • …and, you guessed it, brain health!

Multiple studies have demonstrated that positive, meaningful social relationships may have protective effects on human health.

A few attributes indicative of a favorable social relationship are those that encourage personal growth, provide emotional support, entail mutual respect and trust, and focus on positive attributes of one another.

So how exactly can social interaction influence the health of our brain???

Studies have demonstrated a relationship between social interaction and memory, cognition, and rates of neurodegeneration.  The evidence observed thus far has led to further emphasis on these areas within research.

On the flip side, social isolation may be a contributing factor in the onset and development of degenerative conditions affecting brain health.

As Dr. Eugene Rubin points out in a Psychology Today article on social interaction and brain cells, “there are specific nerve cells in the brain that are directly influenced by social experiences” which plays a role in the neuroplasticity of the brain.

Neuroplasticity is essentially the brain’s ability to change and adapt over the course of a lifetime.  It can apply to the better or the worse and is a critical component to brain functionality.

Also, other factors that social interaction influences, such as stress levels and emotional health, impact various internal mechanisms within the human body which could be affecting the brain.  Excessive mental and emotional stress is thought to lead to inflammation, another key facet to consider in brain health.

The evidence to suggest that positive relationships, maintained over your lifetime, support overall health and well-being is compelling.

The various dynamics between social experiences and the brain are a hot topic within neuroscience which could lead to new approaches and treatments to a variety of health-related areas including overall wellness of the brain.

One of my favorite ideas to nurture the body, brain, and social relationships is walking book clubs.  This approach provides social engagement, mental stimulation, and physical activity for a 3-in-1 healthful activity.  It can also be impactful to integrate mental stimulating activity into any social experience.

Photo credit(s):  Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

Cleveland Clinic (2020).  Healthy Brains, 6 Pillars of Brain Health:  Social Interaction.  Retrieved from https://healthybrains.org/pillar-social/.

Cohen, S.  (2004, Nov).  Social Relationships and Health.  American Psychologist, 59(8), 676-684.

Cohut, M. (2018, Jun 1).  Research Confirms that Social Interaction Protects Memory.  Medical News Today.  Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321976.php#1.

Davidson, R.J. and McEwen, B.S. (2012, Apr 15).  Social Influences on Neuroplasticity:  Stress and Interventions to Promote Well-being.  Nature Neuroscience, 15(5), 689-695.

Donovan, N.J., et al (2016, Dec).  Association of Higher Cortical Amyloid Burden with Loneliness in Cognitively Normal Adults.  JAMA Psychiatry, 73(12), 1230-1237.

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School (2010, Dec).  The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., and Layton, J.B. (2010, Jul 27).  Social Relationships and Mortality Risk:  A Meta-analytic Review.  PLOS Medicine 7(7), e1000316.

Rohrer, J.M., Richter, D., Brummer, M., Wagner, G.G., and Schmukle, S.C. (2018, Aug 1).  Successfully Striving for Happiness:  Socially Engaged Pursuits Predict Increases in Life Satisfaction.  Psychological Science, 29(8), 1291-1298.

Rubin, E. (2012, Jun 7).  Social Interactions and Brain Cell Connections.  Psychology Today.  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/demystifying-psychiatry/201206/social-interactions-and-brain-cell-connections.

Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010, Mar 1). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior51 51(1) Suppl, S54–S66.

Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010, Nov 1). Social Relationships and Health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2010/11/executive-summary/social-relationships-and-health.html.

Watt, R.G., et al (2014, May 30).  Social Relationships and Health Related Behaviors Among Older Adults.  BMC Public Health, 14(533).

Yang, Y.C., et al (2016, Jan 19).  Social Relationships and Physiological Determinants of Longevity Across the Human Life Span.  PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of American), 113(3), 578-583.

3 compelling reasons to practice gratitude in your life

It’s kind of amazing how many health and life-related benefits have been associated with the practice of gratitude, but just what does the research say and where does the most support lie?  As I found in a review of this topic, there is already a wealth of content highlighting researched-backed insights to the practice of gratitude.

As this article from Harvard Health detailed, simply writing out things one is grateful for could lead to a greater sense of optimism and overall positive feeling about life.  Furthermore, when assessing happiness on an index, those who take the time to thank someone tend to score higher.

Other studies have compared measures related to the practice of gratitude to health outcomes, such as self-care and physical health, sleep, and psychological well-being.  This Forbes article did a nice job synthesizing these benefits.  (Note, it also appeared in Psychology Today).

Another emerging area is the impact on brain activity.  Brain health is one of the most popular topics in health and wellness right now so the findings thus far are quite intriguing.

This Greater Good Magazine article, which is published by UC Berkeley, focused on the mental health benefits of practicing gratitude and, also, detailed an experiment where brain activity was measured while participants completed a “pay it forward” task.  The study accounted for other self-reported measures of behavior and motivations associated with gratitude.  In a nutshell, the researchers observed that people who were generally more grateful and participated in the task showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making.

The field of Positive Psychology is more or less the master at monitoring facets such as the practice of gratitude with respect to other health and well-being outcomes.

In 2019, PositivePyschology.com broke it down (link here).  To briefly synthesize, appreciation was considered to be a key trait to gratitude, but, as they detailed, can also be expressed through other distinct aspects.  Expressions of gratitude have been associated with well-being, relationships, and health.  Furthermore, these associations can be influential in feelings of happiness, love, and life satisfaction.

Finally, Happier Human, a leading source focused on tips and resources to support a happy life, gave us 31 science-backed benefits of gratitude in this blog post!  It broke down benefits across the areas of emotional, personality, social, career, and health.

So to recap, the most compelling reasons to practice gratitude are:

  • Level of happiness
  • Benefits to health
  • Quality of life

Whichever way you look at it, practicing thanks and, perhaps, a little generosity as well may be excellent options for your overall health and well-being.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Why care about lifestyle when thinking about brain health?

Brain health is often paired with a discussion on healthful aging each of which stems from a combination of three overarching areas;

  1. genetic disposition and/or triggering of the genes
  2. lifestyle
  3. environmental factors

There has been a common perception that having a genetic disposition will absolutely ensure a specific health outcome.  However, as more recent bodies of evidence on various chronic disease outcomes have suggested, this is a misinterpretation.

You will notice that I included “triggering of the genes” in the list above.  Well, the triggers can stem from variables associated with lifestyle and environment.  So, as you may begin to see, we have overlap or intersection of the three categories above.

So what do you need to think about for lifestyle?

Well, much of it is really not that different than what you may have heard from other health experts honing in on lifestyle health overall.  Essentially dietary patterns, movement and physical activity, reduction of adverse stress, and appropriate sleep all play a role.

You may have also heard of cognitive exercises to nurture a facet of the brain called neuroplasticity.  A more comprehensive synopsis is available from the Positive Psychology Program.

However, what seems to be a missing link?

An area that is often overlooked in lifestyle health approaches is addressing environmental factors and understanding for the areas in which we CAN take action.

Research is emerging, but from a scientific lens, we are starting to observe more patterns in chronic disease manifestation associated to adverse environmental exposures, including those associated to the brain, such as forms of dementia.  Also, chronic diseases associated with the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, have observed increased prevalence, especially in industrialized nations.

It may seem as if we are helpless in this area.  However, a key take-way from this blog post is that there are certain shifts in the lifestyle that can support a reduction in the overall burden.

Approaches should center on some combination of realistic avoidance of adverse exposures and boosting our body’s detoxification pathways.  Then, as previously indicated above, focus on healthful behaviors and practices.

It is not uncommon for people to simply not know where to take action …or, out of ALL the options out there, understand what to place focus on. 

However, once some of the blinding curtains begin to come down, a clearer perspective for what to do can be gained.

Emphasis on the area of brain health is top of mind for so many people.  There is much more we could talk about for the “How to do it” with regards to lifestyle health and the brain.  It is this reason why I’m offering a free 5-day virtual challenge, Boost Your Brain Health in 5 Days, which starts April 29th, 2019.

Participation in this free educational challenge will get you started on realistic shifts in the lifestyle to further support healthful aging and the brain.  The challenge will include daily emails with an informational video and easy to complete activity plus daily engagement in a closed Facebook group.

The sign-up form can also be accessed for the Facebook event page HERE.

Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!