The Brain is Fascinating
When my daughter was about 5 months old, I watched as she figured out how to rotate a toy so she could pass it through the bars on her crib. I realized in that moment that at 5 months old she could solve a problem my 5-year-old dog could not master! I as fascinated by how quickly her brain was developing.
The human brain is fascinating. I thought I'd highlight 2 observations about the brain that have direct relevance to your health, and which you may not have heard.
1. Your Brain is Cleaned When You Sleep
In people who develop Alzheimer's disease (AD), characteristic changes occur in the brain. Substances like beta-amyloid and tau protein, which are present in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding the brain, become deposited in the brain. Known as "beta amyloid plaques" and "tau tangles," these changes represent the pathological markers of AD.
When I speak about the 3 components of Optimal Metabolism - Quality Movement, Quality Nutrition, and Quality Sleep - I discuss how people who are short on sleep put themselves in "metabolic storage mode." It is harder to lose weight, for example, when you are sleep deprived. While we still don't understand exactly why we need to sleep, other benefits of sleep are known. Interestingly, it's recently been shown that sleep helps to clean our brains.
When we sleep, changes occur in the "interstitial space," or space around the brain occupied by fluid, which increases in volume by 60%. This leads to increased clearance of proteins from the CSF like beta-amyloid.The conclusion from researchers is that sleep is important to help clear neurotoxic substances from our brains. In addition to improving your metabolism, quality sleep therefore looks to be important to decrease the risk of dementia.
2. Learning Improves After Exercise
Another chemical in the brain, called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is known to have potent effects on synapses, or the connections between nerve cells in the brain. Importantly, BDNF regulates connections in the hippocampus, a key brain structure for learning and memory.
Research has shown that memory improves after exercise, and that this is likely mediated in part by increases in BDNF that occur with exercise.
Additionally, exercise is known to reduce the risk of depression and dementia.
Not only does exercise improve your metabolism, it also helps your brain to function better!
Thoughts for the week
Sleep and exercise. They are good for you. What can you do this week to improve your sleep? Or your exercise? Or if you are doing great in these areas already, what do you need to notice is true about your life right now that helps you to be hitting your targets? Write down 1-2 things you want to change (or maintain) this week.
Dr. Topher Fox