BODY & MIND – Intermittent fasting and exercise may have some surprising brain benefits, research shows. Forget what you’ve heard about “brain food”…turns out, the best food for your brain may be none at all. New research on intermittent fasting and exercise show some surprising brain benefits of depriving yourself of calories — at least occasionally. “We have evidence that exercise and probably intermittent fasting increase the number of mitochondria in neurons,” said Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore.
So far, Mattson and other researchers have studied the phenomenon in animals, and are beginning to understand how intermittent fasting in rats and mice can enhance learning and memory, and how it can decrease the risk of those brain functions degenerating. The upcoming human study would seek people who are at risk for cognitive impairment — obese individuals between 55 and 70 with insulin resistance who are not being treated for diabetes. They would be put through “a battery of cognitive tests,” Mattson said, while their brains were scanned by fMRI. They’d also undergo the scan in a resting state. Then, after two months with half the group on a 5-2 diet (eating a calorie-restricted diet for two non-consecutive days a week and unconstrained eating the other five days), the researchers would repeat the evaluations and compare them to the control group.
Although exercise and fasting can produce some similar results (increased production of BDNF, for example), Eric Ravussin, Associate Executive Director for Clinical Science at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, points out that the mechanisms are very different. Still, there’s some preliminary ruminating that combining a short fast and exercise could piggyback to more quickly get the optimal results. “The thing that’s important is to dig into fat stores,” Ravussin said. “The longer the fast, the better. Or the more exercise, the better. If you could run at 6 a.m. and then skip breakfast, this would be the ideal.”
“We haven’t connected all the dots, but we know that exercise and intermittent fasting increases BDNF and that BDNF can slow resting heart rate,” Mattson said. In a review published this week in PNAS, the authors (including Ravussin and Matson) point out that an intermittent fasting type of diet has evolutionary roots — it’s likely closer to the way our ancestors ate. But if the thought of fasting makes you cringe, there’s good news: intermittent fasting can be as simple as severely restricting your calories just two days a week. Eat what you want five days of the week, and then eat 500 or so calories twice a week. Most people have better success at that model, which is popular in some fitness circles, than its precursor, alternate day fasting. –Seeker
FS: I must say I enjoyed reading your new book, Sapientia: The 40 Principles of Wisdom. I was actually pleasantly surprised how much I actually learned from the book. A lot of the wisdom you shared in Sapientia will stay with me as life-long lessons. What inspired you to write this book?
AC: I wanted to explore human potential. Not in a humanistic sense or in a scientific way or even as something remotely esoteric, but I wanted to challenge the traditional notions about the nature of reality and the self-imposed psychological restrictions we place on our minds from societal conditioning, which actually inhibits us from accomplishing truly great things.
FS: Sapientia shares tenets of wisdom that have some familiar roots in both Eastern and Western cultures. Do you think this book will be a bridge for cultures or even different religions that may find their followers gravitating towards its common themes and philosophical axioms?
AC: Well, truth is universal – like music. Anyone can comprehend music, but the understanding sometimes breaks down between cultures when we add elements of language to music to create songs. That’s why classical music is so beautiful and sacrosanct because it’s unadulterated by being wordless. Maybe another way of looking at it is, music is the soundtrack of life and we are the story or the words to the song. We don’t always have to talk to communicate – sometimes we can just “be.” I hope this book with be an intellectual and philosophical bridge across the oceans and something that resonates beyond the periphery of cultures.
FS: Your book challenges us in the most basic primal way to be more introspective, to reach for something higher, and to evolve into something more meaningful. Was this your intent?
AC: There is no evolution by revolution – going around in circles. The only evolution by revolution I know is by moving forward and tearing down the old order – a sort of demolition by innovation, so to speak. That’s how we make permanent changes in our lives. It’s like checkers. The objective of the game is to move across the board and become twice the person you were before you started by a series of well-coordinated moves. The goal and hope is to reach your crowning achievement on the far end of the game board. What everyone should want for themselves is progressive change; not retrospective wandering. The day we stop growing is the day we die.
FS: You also take exception with the traditional ways that we achieve greatness and think of success in society. Why is that?
AC: Because someone winning should not always be about someone else losing. It takes a thousand hairs to make one paint brush. In nature, success is inclusive not a competitive struggle for existence. There are symbiotic relationships which build networks of cooperation for the whole, not pyramids of competition that benefit only the privileged few at the top. Bees work together as a collective for a holistic purpose. Life is not about stealing opportunities. It should be about creating them. We can’t be truly successful until we’ve shared ourselves, our time, and resources. Love always goes searching for equilibrium. Selfishness, on the other hand, is always looking for leverage so it can be advantaged over someone else.
FS: You talk about personal growth a lot. Is that a part of the whole enlightenment process in your opinion?
AC: It’s certainly a part of it. Every journey doesn’t start the same, from the same starting point, and it won’t end at the same destination. Life will continue to challenge us from the cradle to the grave. When we were babies, there was always something we wanted that was just out of the reach of our cribs. Sometimes, it was for our own good and sometimes it was just because we were no good at reaching it. However, that’s what living is all about – meeting up at random connection points and sharing life experiences: its ups, downs, and all arounds. He came. She overcame. He saw. She conquered. He stepped in. She stepped up. She thought she was above it. He rose above it. She gave up. He never gave in. She pushed back. He pushed on. We go, so we can grow. We outgrow, so we can grow up. Life is a never-ending story because it’s one perpetual learning process. That’s what Sapientia is all about. Life begins now.
Fringe Science’s Mark Chaffin interviewing Sapientia author Alvin Conway
© 2016 Copyright Fringe Science
Sapientia is a holistic and revolutionary new look at life: philosophy, spirituality, diet, and health through the lens of 40 life affirming principles of wisdom. Discover the book.
Sapientia is a Latin word meaning “wisdom.” Life has meaning. Life has a purpose. The author offers 40 insightful adages of wisdom to help guide you through the sometimes “uncanny and uncertain” corridors of life. This is a wonderful book that touches on everything from spirituality to philosophy without ever forgetting that it is the reader who is ultimately in control of his or her own life. It contains koans of wisdom that the intellectual and philosophically-curious will luxuriously gravitate to. It counsels on the best foods to eat for health and long life. It offers motivational advice on how to obtain and successfully reach your goals. It has a chart for age, weight, and nearly every hormonal peak your body will experience, as it ages. It may be the ultimate life textbook. The book retrospectively and analytically examines the psychological works of Freud, Jung, and Abraham Maslow. It explores the wants, needs, and desires that drives us all in life – the very things that make us human and want to excel. This is one of the best motivational books I have ever read. It’s a book of wisdom that will seamlessly guide you along through life, as you age and mature under the lens of different life-altering experiences. Mr. Conway does a wonderful job of bringing all these existential elements together in one book that’s both enchanting to read and wonderfully illustrated to the point. –Evelyn Casey – NY First Look