The Brain Professor: "Popular Treat Now Considered Deadlier Than Smoking!" - David Raichlen

The Brain Professor: "Popular Treat Now Considered Deadlier Than Smoking!" - David Raichlen

Intro (00:00:00)

  • Sitting for extended periods increases the risk of dementia:
    • 10 hours a day: 10% increased risk
    • 12 hours a day: 60% increased risk
  • Healthy aging is linked to diet, physical activity, and social connections.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (over one drink per day) is associated with negative health outcomes.
  • Sleep is a significant factor in cognitive decline:
    • Both insufficient and excessive sleep are linked to higher risks.
  • The recommended amount of physical activity is 150 minutes per week, but only 25% of adults in the US meet this guideline.
  • Small activities that generate new neurons and integrate them into key brain parts provide significant benefits.
  • Remote work can be dangerous for physical health.

My Work: How Lifestyle & Exercise Affects the Brain (00:01:59)

  • David Raichlen's work focuses on understanding how physical activity and lifestyle behaviors impact health, particularly brain health.
  • Brain health problems are increasing as the population ages:
    • 6 million people in the US have Alzheimer's or related dementias, projected to grow to 13 million in 25 years.
    • Worldwide, 150 million people are projected to be diagnosed with dementia.

You Can Change an Ageing Brain (00:03:07)

  • The brain can generate new neurons, especially in key areas like the hippocampus, which is associated with memory.
  • This growth of new neurons may be the key to preventing or staving off neurodegenerative diseases that impact the aging brain.
  • Physical activity and exercise can promote the birth and survival of new neurons in the hippocampus.

What Is a Neuron? (00:05:22)

  • A neuron is the main brain cell responsible for communication and transmission of information across brain regions.
  • The hippocampus is located in the temporal lobe of the brain and resembles a seahorse in shape.
  • It plays a crucial role in working memory, formation of event memories, and spatial navigation.
  • The hippocampus is particularly vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, leading to memory deficits.
  • In rodent models, exercise-induced neurogenesis is primarily observed in the hippocampus, while human studies show more widespread volumetric changes in the brain, including the hippocampus.

The Link Between Exercise and Brain (00:07:28)

  • Exercise has been linked to increased brain volume in the frontal lobes, which are associated with executive cognitive functions such as planning and decision-making.
  • Humans evolved in a context of high levels of physical activity, and our physiology is adapted to this level of activity.
  • Modern lifestyles often involve much lower levels of physical activity than our ancestors experienced, which may have negative consequences for brain health.

What Happens to Our Brain When We Don't Exercise (00:09:06)

  • Lack of physical activity is detrimental to brain health.
  • Low levels of physical activity are associated with:
    • Smaller brain volumes, particularly the hippocampus.
    • Worse overall cognition.
    • Increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
  • The risk of cognitive decline can be reduced by being physically active.
  • Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, providing nutrients and supporting neuron function.
  • Muscles generate proteins called myokines that travel to the brain and interact with neurons.
  • Myokines upregulate neurotropins, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
  • BDNF acts like a fertilizer for brain cells, promoting the birth and survival of new neurons and integrating them into brain processes.
  • Humans evolved as physically active beings, and our physiology is adapted to that condition.
  • The rapid decline in physical activity over the last few hundred years is a relatively recent change, and our physiology has not had enough time to adapt.
  • The Industrial Revolution mechanized many tasks, reducing the need for physical activity for survival.
  • Changes in work life, such as the increase in office jobs, further reduced activity patterns.
  • Cars made commuting less physically demanding.
  • Leisure time activities have become increasingly sedentary, with people spending more time sitting and using screens.

People Aren't Meeting the Guidelines for Good Health (00:12:54)

  • People are sitting for an average of 9 to 10 hours per day.
  • Only 25% of adults meet the physical activity guidelines.
  • The body adapts to the demands placed on it, and if we don't use it, we lose it.
  • The brain is no exception, and if we don't use it, we lose it.

What Activities Are Good for Our Brain? (00:15:25)

  • Both resistance training and endurance activity have benefits for the brain.
  • Different types of exercise may have different benefits through different pathways.
  • Orienteering, which combines endurance activity with spatial navigation, may have additional benefits for cognitive function compared to hiking.

Orienteering Can Train the Brain (00:17:35)

  • Orienteering combines cognitive and physical challenges, which may provide greater brain benefits.
  • Physical activity in an evolutionary context involves cognitive challenges like finding food and water.
  • Humans are energy minimizers and only engage in physical activity when necessary, such as finding resources.

How the Different Types of Exercise Increase Neuroplasticity (00:18:47)

  • Studies in mice show that combining access to running wheels with a cognitively challenging enriched cage environment doubles the growth and survival of new neurons compared to either alone.
  • Combining physical activity with cognitive challenges can boost the effects of physical activity on cognitive performance.
  • Playing a game while on an exercise machine can provide a bigger benefit for cognition than just exercising or just playing a game.
  • Making exercise more cognitively challenging by taking new routes or running outdoors may provide better benefits for brain health and mood compared to repetitive exercise in impoverished environments.

Impact of Exercising in Greener Spaces Than Urban (00:22:39)

  • Research suggests exercising in green spaces, such as parks or trails, may have greater benefits for mood compared to exercising in urban environments or indoors.
  • Moving in green spaces may provide additional benefits for mood and well-being beyond the physical benefits of exercise.
  • The cognitive benefits of exercising in green spaces are still being studied, but early research suggests potential advantages.

Better Cognition Exercising Before a Task (00:24:06)

  • Exercising before engaging in a task, such as a podcast, can improve cognitive function and make it easier to communicate effectively.
  • Exercise activates reward centers in the brain, increasing arousal and creating a sense of well-being.
  • The rewarding sensations of exercise lead to improved mood and confidence, which positively impact overall cognitive function.
  • The molecular rewards of exercise are similar to those experienced when using certain drugs, but to a lesser extent.
  • Exercise enhances sharpness, confidence, and overall well-being.

The Optimal Time of the Day to Exercise (00:25:41)

  • Exercising first thing in the morning is recommended because it improves the entire day.
  • Starting from zero? Don't be intimidated. Even small amounts of exercise, like taking 1,000 steps daily, provide significant cardiovascular and brain benefits.
  • The biggest public health benefit comes from going from zero to a little bit of exercise.
  • For those already exercising regularly, increasing the intensity or duration provides diminishing returns compared to starting from zero.

The Hadza: Researching Hunter-Gatherer Tribes & the Findings (00:27:46)

  • Research on the Hadza tribe in northern Tanzania began in 2009.
  • The Hadza provide a unique opportunity to study the health impacts of a hunting and gathering lifestyle.
  • Studying the Hadza offers insights into the physical activity levels, cardiovascular health, cognition, and aging patterns of full-time hunter-gatherers.

What Is the Optimal Exercising Time? (00:28:56)

  • The optimal amount of exercise aligns with our evolutionary past as active beings.
  • Living hunter-gatherers provide clues about the ideal lifestyle.
  • The Hadza tribe takes an average of 15,000 to 20,000 steps per day.
  • Health benefits start at much smaller levels, around 4,000 to 6,000 steps per day.
  • Diminishing returns occur at higher exercise levels.
  • Older adults in their 70s and 80s still exceed physical activity levels in the US and UK.
  • Older adults in the US engage in only 2 to 4 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity activity per day, compared to 60 to 80 minutes per day among older Hadza adults.
  • Only 25% of adults in the US meet physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • The Hadza meet weekly physical activity guidelines in just two days, achieving 300 minutes of physical activity in a couple of days.

Cardiovascular Illnesses in Hadza Tribe (00:31:59)

  • Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the US and UK.
  • The Hadza tribe shows little evidence of cardiovascular disease risk.
  • Biomarkers such as cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure indicate low cardiovascular disease risk in the Hadza.
  • Other studies on groups like the Chimane in South America also found low levels of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia.
  • Many diseases considered inevitable parts of aging are preventable and influenced by lifestyle factors.
  • Modifying lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of diseases like dementia.
  • Physical activity is a cornerstone of the author's life, driven by personal enjoyment and research findings.
  • Sitting behavior has recently gained the author's interest.
  • Sitting is a behavior that occupies more time per day than physical activity.
  • Research on resting behaviors in the Hadza tribe influenced the author's lifestyle.
  • The author tries to avoid prolonged sitting, breaks up sitting periods, and finds ways to reduce time spent sitting all day.

What's the Issue with Sitting? (00:35:07)

  • Sitting for extended periods, especially in chairs, is associated with negative health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease.
  • The Hadza people, known for their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, rest frequently but not in chairs.
  • Chairs have implications for economic status, power, and social dynamics.
  • Sitting in chairs is comfortable but can lead to health problems due to lack of muscle activity.
  • Employers and individuals should consider practical advice to reduce sitting time and incorporate more movement into their daily routines.
  • Prolonged sitting should be avoided, but standing all day is not necessarily beneficial either.
  • Breaking up sitting into smaller periods, drinking more water, and taking exercise snack breaks every 30-45 minutes can help promote movement and muscle activity.

The Power of Daily Small Amounts of Exercise (00:40:29)

  • Vigorous intermittent physical activity (VIPA), such as going up the stairs or brisk walking for a minute or two, is associated with a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease, regardless of purposeful physical activity.
  • Short bursts of activity, like walking to get lunch at a vigorous pace, can provide significant health benefits.
  • Randomized control trials have shown that breaking up prolonged sitting with short periods of light activity, such as walking on a treadmill for two minutes, can improve cardiometabolic markers, including insulin and triglyceride levels, and cardiovascular disease biomarkers.

How to Improve Memory (00:42:17)

  • Aerobic activity is a good way to boost the effects of exercise by adding cognitive challenges.
  • Brain training games may have some benefits in improving aspects of cognition, but the effects are not substantial and the industry has some low-quality studies and exaggerated claims.
  • Lifelong learning and education are associated with better cognitive reserve, which helps stave off cognitive decline.
  • Reserve can be built up through physical activity, cognitive engagement, and avoiding negative health behaviors like smoking and excessive alcohol use.

Top Factors That Fuel Cognitive Problems (00:46:08)

  • Excessive alcohol consumption (more than 1-2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women) is associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Poor sleep quality disrupts the brain's ability to clear plaques associated with neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Oversleeping may be linked to depression and inactivity, which are also risk factors for cognitive decline.
  • A sedentary lifestyle, including excessive sitting, can negatively impact brain health.

Link Between Human Connection & Brain Impact (00:48:38)

  • Strong and high-quality social connections are associated with better brain outcomes in aging individuals.
  • Loneliness, especially during the pandemic years, has become prevalent and can negatively affect brain health.
  • Social connections were crucial for survival during our evolutionary history, fostering trust, cooperation, and resource sharing.

Pollution Impact on the Brain (00:50:54)

  • Air pollution negatively impacts brain aging.
  • People living in areas with higher air pollution have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
  • Physical activity in areas with even moderate levels of air pollution diminishes the benefits of physical activity on the brain.
  • Being physically active in polluted environments doesn't worsen health outcomes but reduces the cognitive benefits of physical activity.

Racquet Sports for Brain Health (00:53:13)

  • Racket sports, such as tennis, are recommended for brain health.
  • Racket sports involve strategic thinking, fast reactions, and aerobic activity, all of which benefit the brain.
  • Racket sports are a social activity, often played in doubles, making them enjoyable and accessible for older adults.

How Much Activity Do I Have to Do? (00:54:41)

  • Find an activity you enjoy and will stick to.
  • Don't worry about finding the "perfect" activity.
  • The key is to find something that makes you excited to get out and do it.

Endocannabinoid Receptors and Exercise Rewards (00:55:52)

  • Exercise upregulates the endocannabinoid system, which is our body's natural form of marijuana.
  • This may be why exercise makes people feel good.
  • Dogs also get the same endocannabinoid signaling from exercise, which may explain why they love to exercise.
  • Finding activities that generate these rewards can help us want to do them more often.

Mental Health Issues Linked to Lack of Exercise (00:57:24)

  • Lack of exercise can lead to depressive symptoms.
  • The biological mechanisms that improve mood after exercise may take time to kick in.
  • Staying within a certain intensity level is important to experience the benefits of exercise.
  • People may need to stick with exercise long enough to gain fitness and reap the rewards.
  • Combining cognitive challenges with physical activity is an exciting area of research.
  • The aim is to boost the brain benefits of exercise.
  • Making exercise more cognitively challenging can enhance its benefits.
  • Sitting for extended periods is linked to brain health risks.
  • A study found a 10% increased risk of dementia for sitting 10 hours a day compared to 9 hours.
  • Sitting for 12 hours a day increases the risk of dementia by 60% compared to 9.5 hours.
  • The relationship between sitting time and dementia risk is nonlinear, with risks rising exponentially after 9.5 hours a day.
  • Interventions to reduce sitting time could have a significant impact on brain health.
  • Exploring low-cost and low-investment ideas to encourage people to sit less.
  • Vibrating chairs or electric shocks are potential interventions to discourage prolonged sitting.
  • Tracking sitting time can provide motivation to reduce it.

Brain Foods (01:01:45)

  • There is no such thing as a magic pill for brain health.
  • The best evidence suggests a plant-based diet, with less meat, especially processed meat, and more whole grains, legumes, and less processed food, is linked to better brain outcomes.
  • Aspects of the Mediterranean diet, such as more plant-based foods, legumes, whole grains, less processed food, less meat, and less sugar, are associated with better brain health.

Reaching Optimal Living (01:03:07)

  • The most dangerous misconception about exercise is the amount needed to gain benefits, which acts as a barrier for many people. Minimal amounts of physical activity can provide significant benefits, and even small increases in daily movement can have a positive impact.
  • It's important to start slowly and gradually increase exercise to avoid injuries, especially for those new to regular physical activity.
  • Even on days when a full workout is not possible, engaging in any amount of vigorous activity, such as a brisk walk or pushups, can provide benefits.
  • A YouTube video titled "The Brain Professor: 'Popular Treat Now Considered Deadlier Than Smoking!' - David Raichlen" discusses the potential health risks of a popular treat.
  • The speaker recommends a complete diet and suggests trying a specific product called "hu RTD" which can be found at various stores or online.

What Causes Alzheimer's? (01:07:50)

  • Cognitive decline can range from mild memory reduction to severe dementia, with Alzheimer's disease being the most common type of dementia.
  • Dementia is a progressive cognitive decline that impacts daily life and has pathological features that cause continuous decline.
  • Grief and depression can cause brain changes that mimic dementia symptoms, and treating depression, especially in older adults with cognitive challenges, can significantly improve cognitive function.
  • Social connections are crucial for brain health, and losing a partner can lead to accelerated cognitive decline due to loneliness and loss of social support.
  • Brain changes associated with social isolation are modifiable, so we should watch out for signs of social isolation in our parents and community members and try to help them maintain better social connections.

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