Years ago when my Meal Delivery Service was vegetarian I served veggie burgers made with rice and kidney beans. They sold well but I was never completely thrilled with the recipe. I couldn’t get them to be crispy enough and over the years I stopped eating beans. I found I couldn’t get them crispy enough and I thought they were just too heavy.
THESE are the veggie burgers I always wanted.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
1 onion, diced, caramelized and drained
16 ounces mushrooms, mix of shiitake + Portobello, de-stemmed and diced
2 tablespoons tamari
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons siracha, more if desired
½ cup crushed walnuts
¼ cup ground flaxseed
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice, freshly cooked so that it’s sticky*
1 cup gluten-free panko bread crumbs, divided
Worcestershire sauce, for brushing (I make my own)
Ghee to pan fry
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, a generous pinch of salt, and sauté until soft and browned, 6 to 9 minutes, turning down the heat slightly, as needed. Add the caramelized onion and stir well
Stir in the tamari, vinegar, and mirin. Stir, reduce the heat, and then add the garlic, and smoked paprika, and siracha. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.
In a food processor, combine the sautéed mushrooms, walnuts, flaxseed, brown rice, and ½ cup of the panko. Pulse until well combined.
Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the remaining panko.
425° for about 9 minutes per side, or broiled for 5-7 minutes per side.
The impact of diet on health is really a no-brainer – even leading to calls for GPs to prescribe fruit and vegetables before writing out a drug prescription.
Now, US researchers report in the journal Cell Host & Microbe that they’ve found a mechanism to explain how obesity caused by junk food and an unhealthy diet can induce inflammation in the gut.
“Our research showed that long-term consumption of a Western-style diet high in fat and sugar impairs the function of immune cells in the gut in ways that could promote inflammatory bowel disease or increase the risk of intestinal infections,” says lead author Ta-Chiang Liu, from Washington University.
This has particular relevance for Crohn’s disease – a debilitating condition that has been increasing worldwide and causes abdominal pain, diarrhoea, anaemia and fatigue.
A key feature of the disease is impaired function of Paneth cells, immune cells found in the intestines that help maintain a healthy balance of gut microbes and ward off infectious pathogens.
When exploring a database of 400 adults with and without Crohn’s disease, the researchers discovered that higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with progressively more abnormal looking Paneth cells, captured under a microscope.
Armed with their discovery, they studied two strains of mice genetically predisposed to obesity and were surprised to find that the animals’ Paneth cells looked normal.
To dig deeper, the researchers fed normal mice a diet in which 40% of the calories came from fat or sugar, typical of a Western diet.
After two months the mice became obese – and their Paneth cells became abnormal. They also had associated problems such as increased gut permeability, a key feature of chronic inflammation that allows harmful bacteria and toxins to cross the intestinal lining.
“Obesity wasn’t the problem per se,” says Lui. “Eating too much of a healthy diet didn’t affect the Paneth cells. It was the high-fat, high-sugar diet that was the problem.”
Importantly, switching from junk food back to a standard diet completely reversed the Paneth cell dysfunction.
Further experiments revealed that a bile acid molecule known as deoxycholic acid, formed as a by-product of gut bacteria metabolism, increased the activity of immune molecules that inhibit Paneth cell function.
Liu and colleagues are now comparing the individual impact of fat and sugar on Paneth cells.
Whether the damaged cells respond to a healthy diet in humans remains to be seen, but preliminary evidence suggests diet can alter the balance of gut bacteria and alleviate symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
March 14, 2021 — 11:04 AM
More than 6 million Americans, age 65 and older, are living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, that number is expected to rise to more than 12 million Americans by 2050.
So, while misplacing keys or forgetting someone’s name are harmless human mistakes, those memory lapses over time can grow concerning. Thankfully, our brain and memory function isn’t entirely out of our control.
The brain is constantly undergoing neuroplasticity, meaning it’s growing and changing throughout our lifetime. One way to support that process and enhance memory function is by eating functional foods, neuroscientist and neurodegenerative disease researcher Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., tells mbg.
Here are her go-to nutrients and food sources for a sharper brain:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fat (aka the “good” kind of fat) that helps shape cognitive capacity. They’re rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which help support cognitive function, maintain the fluidity of cell membranes, and increase synaptic plasticity, Willeumier tells mbg.
In case you’re curious, “The more fluid a cell membrane is, the more efficiently it performs, contributing to a healthy mood and memory. It’s also crucial to cell survival, growth, and renewal,” she explains.
They also support memory function by maintaining brain volume in the hippocampus (the region of the brain involved in learning and memory) as we age, she explains.
Eating sustainable fatty fish—like wild cod, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout—is a protein-packed way to get more omega-3s. For those on a plant-based or vegan diet, Willeumier recommends marine algae and seaweed, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds.
Polyphenols are a plant-based dietary antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits, and they’re abundant in berries. “Blueberries are great for the protection of chronic disease and brain health,” Willeumier tells mbg.
A 20-year study from Harvard Medical School found that the adults who ate blueberries and strawberries had the slowest rate of cognitive decline. “They could delay cognitive decline by as much as two and a half years,” Willeumier says.
Because of the blood-brain barrier, foods that protect the brain will also protect the heart, making blueberries a one-stop-shop for vascular health.
The American Heart Association published a study on more than 93,000 women between 25 and 42 years old. In an 18 year follow-up, they found that those who ate blueberries and strawberries three times per week had a greater reduction in heart attacks.
There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, but instead of fearing unexpected outcomes, take control where you can. Simply adding delicious and nutrient-dense foods to your diet, like blueberries and walnuts, is one way to take initiative with your brain health.
hort bursts of physical exercise induce changes in the body’s levels of metabolites that correlate to an individual’s cardiometabolic, cardiovascular, and long-term health, a study by Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has found.
In a paper published in Circulation, the research team describes how about 12 minutes of acute cardiopulmonary exercise affected more than 80 percent of circulating metabolites, including pathways linked to a wide range of favorable health outcomes, thus identifying potential mechanisms that could contribute to a better understanding of cardiometabolic benefits of exercise.
“What was striking to us was the effects a brief bout of exercise can have on the circulating levels of metabolites that govern such key bodily functions as insulin resistance, oxidative stress, vascular reactivity, inflammation, and longevity,” said investigator Gregory Lewis, section head of Heart Failure at MGH and senior author of the study.
The MGH study drew on data from the Framingham Heart Study to measure the levels of 588 circulating metabolites before and immediately after 12 minutes of vigorous exercise in 411 middle-aged men and women.
The research team detected favorable shifts in a number of metabolites for which resting levels were previously shown to be associated with cardiometabolic disease. For example, glutamate, a key metabolite linked to heart disease, diabetes, and decreased longevity, fell by 29 percent. And DMGV, a metabolite associated with increased risk of diabetes and liver disease, dropped by 18 percent. The study further found that metabolic responses may be modulated by factors other than exercise, including a person’s sex and body mass index, with obesity possibly conferring partial resistance to the benefits of exercise.
35 minutes a day of physical activity may protect against new episodes, even in the genetically vulnerable
After six weeks, mice had lower levels of inflammatory leukocytes
“Intriguingly, our study found that different metabolites tracked with different physiologic responses to exercise, and might therefore provide unique signatures in the bloodstream that reveal if a person is physically fit, much the way current blood tests determine how well the kidney and liver are functioning,” notes co-first author Matthew Nayor of the Heart Failure and Transplantation Section in the Division of Cardiology at MGH. “Lower levels of DMGV, for example, could signify higher levels of fitness.”
The Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and now embraces three generations of participants, allowed MGH researchers to apply the same signatures used in the current study population to stored blood from earlier generations of participants. By studying the long-term effects of metabolic signatures of exercise responses, researchers were able to predict the future state of an individual’s health, and how long they are likely to live.
“We’re starting to better understand the molecular underpinnings of how exercise affects the body and use that knowledge to understand the metabolic architecture around exercise response patterns,” says co-first author Ravi Shah of the Heart Failure and Transplantation Section in the Division of Cardiology at MGH. “This approach has the potential to target people who have high blood pressure or many other metabolic risk factors in response to exercise, and set them on a healthier trajectory early in their lives.”
Lewis is associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing Laboratory at MGH. Nayor is a cardiologist at MGH and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Shah is a cardiologist at MGH and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Other co-authors include Ramachandran Vasan, professor of medicine at Boston University and principal investigator of the Framingham Heart Study, and Clary Clish, senior director of Metabolomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
The study was supported by the American Heart Association’s Grand Challenge Award and the National Institutes of Health.
November 10, 2020
In our series “Simple Steps to Sustainability,” experts from around the world give us their tips and tricks on how to live more sustainably.
Sustainable living is hard enough, now add the pressures of a global pandemic and all bets are off.
So we tracked down some experts and asked: What can we do to reduce waste?
“The single biggest source of waste that goes to municipal landfills is wasted food,” Peter Wright, the Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, told Newsy.
“If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest polluter after the U.S. and China,” Lucie Basch, the co-founder of Too Good To Go, said. “It’s 50% of people who don’t even know that there are several dates. The ‘best before’, for example, means that the quality is going to be perfect until that date. But it doesn’t mean after that date you can’t eat the product anymore.”
“To reduce your waste, you want to start looking at refusing taking things you’re going to have to throw away in the first place,” Alexander Furey, the founder of Zero Waste Mindset, said.
“Stock up on maybe some pantry staples in such a way that rather than getting a bunch of small bags of things wrapped in plastic, you could get one thing that you then divide up among your community,” Jocelyn Quarrell, the CEO and owner of Go Box, said.
“Maybe doing a waste audit of your home,” Furey said. “And every time you put something in the black bin, in the rubbish bin, write down what you put in. And then after a week, go back and look at your list and see if you can see patterns of the kinds of things you’re throwing away.”
For more videos on how to live sustainably, visit newsy.com/sustainability.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘ghee’ — a kind of clarified butter made by gently heating cow milk till it leaves behind liquid fat — which is often considered an unhealthy, fattening food item that creates hurdles in losing weight, is an Indian superfood which you must include in your diet.
In fact, the benefits of ghee are so many that even nutritionists, dieticians and other lifestyle coaches have started advising fitness enthusiasts to include it in their diet. Even renowned celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar has spoken on the benefits of ghee time and again on various platforms including her own social media handles which has thousands of followers.
On a healthier note, natural and free of unhealthy preservatives and trans fats, ghee not only has healing powers but is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamin A, E and cholesterol and helps in boosting immunity. It consists of fat-soluble vitamins, which aid weight loss.
Besides this, it plays an imperative role in balancing hormones and maintaining healthy cholesterol. And beyond all the health benefits that ghee provides, the age-old ayurvedic ingredient has a special space as far as haircare and skincare rituals are concerned.
So here, we will make an attempt to find out what the benefits of ghee are and the reasons why we must include this Indian superfood in our diet. And for this, we at DNA spoke with Dr Rohini Patil, MBBS, Dietitian and CEO of Nutracy Lifestyle, who shared with us some pointers that list out the benefits of ghee.
Check them out here:
Strengthens the immune system
Ghee includes high butterfat, vitamins and protein that helps in the absorption of nutrients. It includes butyric acid which boosts immunity and also prevents the formation of cancer cells. Along with this, it includes vitamin D, A, K and E.
Keeps constipation at bay
Ghee promotes and strengthens the digestive functions. Taking one teaspoon of ghee in a glass of hot milk before sleeping helps in relieving constipation. It works as lubricator that helps to flush out waste. Also, it neutralizes acids in intestines that prevents stomach pain and acidity.
Source of healthy fats
Ghee is rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids that have many health benefits. These fatty acids help in weight loss as it mobilizes fat cells to burn for energy. It also helps to remove toxins from cells and improves metabolism in the body.
Ghee is a really effective remedy for the treatment of cough. Due to its medical properties, it is being used for many years in Ayurveda. For the cure of cough, have one teaspoon of warm ghee directly or mix with ginger powder.
Powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory abilities
Ghee includes anti-inflammatory properties that treat various diseases. It maintains cholesterol level and is good for the heart as well. It contains vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant. It also prevents tissue and cell damage.
Ghee promotes learning, memory and recalling functioning of the brain. It strengthens the nervous system. It is an important detoxifying agent and improves the strength of the brain.
Along with health benefits, it is also beneficial for applying on skin. Ghee is suitable for all skin types. It provides hydration to skin cells and moisturises dry skin, especially during winters. It also includes anti-ageing properties and is also good for chapped lips. So, add ghee to your diet for healthy living!
There are many reasons why you may not include dairy in your diet, but is fear of elevated cancer risk one of them? New research indicates that drinking just one glass of milk each day could dramatically increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
A new study commissioned by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the World Cancer Research Fund found that women who drink cow’s milk could increase their risk of breast cancer by as much as 80 percent in comparison with women who drink soy milk. (Related: What Happens to Your Body When You Can’t Have Dairy).
Nearly 52,800 females participated in this 7-year-long study—which compared the health outcomes of women who drank cow’s milk versus those who drank soy—all of which had previously been involved in the Adventist Health Study-2. An important detail, seeing as Adventists typically abide by a vegetarian diet and also tend to eat a lot of soy products compared to those who follow the Standard American Diet.
Upon enrollment, all women were asked to fill out a detailed food questionnaire and a small group was selected to provide 24-hour food journals and urine samples periodically throughout the study. The results were shocking—more than 1,000 participants had developed breast cancer by the end of the study.
Researchers found that women who reported drinking eight ounces of cow’s milk each day escalated their cancer risk by 50% and those who drank two to three cups of the stuff per day increased their risk by up to 80%. Of course, this information doesn’t suggest that drinking one cup of cow’s milk per day makes a woman 50% more likely to develop breast cancer. Instead, this finding suggests that cow’s milk increases a woman’s individual risk by 50%. For example, the average risk for a woman developing breast cancer is about 12%. So, for a woman who falls in line with the average, her risk would elevate by 50% if she drank about 8-ounces worth of dairy each day.
Thomas Kelley @thkelley
Humans (and our ancestors) have been processing food for at least 1.8 million years. Roasting, drying, grinding and other techniques made food more nutritious, durable and tasty. This helped our ancestors to colonise diverse habitats, and then develop settlements and civilisations.
Many traditional foods used in cooking today are processed in some way, such as grains, cheeses, dried fish and fermented vegetables. Processing itself is not the problem.
Only much more recently has a different type of food processing emerged: one that is more extensive, and uses new chemical and physical techniques. This is called ultra-processing, and the resulting products ultra-processed foods.
To make these foods, cheap ingredients such as starches, vegetable oils and sugars, are combined with cosmetic additives like colours, flavours and emulsifiers. Think sugary drinks, confectionery, mass-produced breads, snack foods, sweetened dairy products and frozen desserts.
Unfortunately, these foods are terrible for our health. And we’re eating more of them than ever before, partially because of aggressive marketing and lobbying by “Big Food”.
Ultra-processed foods are harming our health
So concludes our recent literature review. We found that more ultra-processed foods in the diet associates with higher risks of obesity, heart disease and stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, frailty, depression and death.
These harms can be caused by the foods’ poor nutritional profile, as many are high in added sugars, salt and trans-fats. Also, if you tend to eat more ultra-processed foods, it means you probably eat fewer fresh and less-processed foods.
Put simply, ultra-processed foods are bad for our health and the environment. Igor Sefr/AP/AAP
Industrial processing itself can also be harmful. For example, certain food additives can disrupt our gut bacteria and trigger inflammation, while plasticisers in packaging can interfere with our hormonal system.
Certain features of ultra-processed foods also promote over-consumption. Product flavours, aromas and mouthfeel are designed to make these foods ultra-tasty, and perhaps even addictive.
Ultra-processed foods also harm the environment. For example, food packaging generates much of the plastic waste that enters marine ecosystems.
And yet, we’re eating more and more of them
In our latest study, published in August, we found ultra-processed food sales are booming nearly everywhere in the world.
Sales are highest in rich countries like Australia, the United States and Canada. They are rising rapidly in middle-income countries like China, South Africa and Brazil, which are highly populated. The scale of dietary change and harms to health are therefore likely immense.
‘Big Food’ is driving consumption
We also asked: what explains the global rise in ultra-processed food sales? Growing incomes, more people living in cities, and working families seeking convenience are a few factors that contribute.
However, it’s also clear “Big Food” corporations are driving ultra-processed food consumption globally — think Coca-Cola, Nestlé and McDonald’s. Sales growth is lower in countries where such corporations have a limited presence.
Aggressive marketing campaigns by Big Food companies are contributing to growing consumption of ultra-processed foods. Shutterstock
Globalisation has allowed these corporations to make huge investments in their overseas operations. The Coca-Cola System, for example, now includes 900 bottling plants worldwide, distributing 2 billion servings every day.
As Big Food globalises, their advertising and promotion becomes widespread. New digital technologies, such as gaming, are used to target children. By collecting large amounts of personal data online, companies can even target their advertising at us as individuals.
Supermarkets are now spreading throughout the developing world, provisioning ultra-processed foods at scale, and at low prices. Where supermarkets don’t exist, other distribution strategies are used. For example, Nestlé uses its “door-to-door” salesforce to reach thousands of poor households in Brazil’s urban slums.
Rising consumption also reflects Big Food’s political power to undermine public health policies. This includes lobbying policymakers, making political donations, funding favourable research, and partnerships with community organisations.
The evidence that ultra-processed foods are harming our health and the planet is clear. We must now consider using a variety of strategies to decrease consumption. This includes adopting new laws and regulations, for example by using taxation, marketing restrictions and removing these products from schools.
We cannot rely on industry-preferred responses such as product reformulation alone. After all, reformulated ultra-processed foods are usually still ultra-processed.
Further, simply telling individuals to “be more responsible” is unlikely to work, when Big Food spends billions every year marketing unhealthy products to undermine that responsibility.
Should dietary guidelines now strongly advise people to avoid ultra-processed foods? Brazil and other Latin American countries are already doing this.
And for us as individuals the advice is simple — avoid ultra-processed foods altogether.
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Japanese Doctor Who Lived to 105—his Spartan Diet, Views on Retirement, and Other Rare Longevity TipsPosted: September 3, 2020
Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara had an extraordinary life for many reasons. For starters, the Japanese physician and longevity expert lived until the age of 105.
When he died, in 2017, Hinohara was chairman emeritus of St. Luke’s International University and honorary president of St. Luke’s International Hospital, both in Tokyo.
Perhaps best known for his book, “Living Long, Living Good,” Hinohara offered advice that helped make Japan the world leader in longevity. Some were fairly intuitive points, while others were less obvious:
1. Don’t retire. But if you must, do so a lot later than age 65.
But Hinohara viewed things differently. “There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65,” he said in a 2009 interview with The Japan Times. “The current retirement age was set at 65 half a century ago, when the average life expectancy in Japan was 68 years and only 125 Japanese were over 100 years old.”
Today, he explained, people are living a lot longer. The life expectancy for U.S. in 2020, for example, is 78.93 years, a 0.08% increase from 2019. Therefore, we should be retiring much later in life, too.
Hinohara certainly practiced what he preached: Until a few months before his death, he continued to treat patients, kept an appointment book with space for five more years, and worked up to 18 hours a day.
2. Take the stairs (and keep your weight in check).
Hinohara emphasized the importance of regular exercise. “I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving,” he said.
Additionally, Hinohara carried his own packages and luggage, and gave 150 lectures a year, usually speaking for 60 to 90 minutes — all done standing, he said, “to stay strong.”
He also pointed out that people who live an extremely long life have a commonality: They aren’t overweight. Indeed, obesity is widely considered one of the most significant risk factors for increased morbidity and mortality.
Hinohara’s diet was spartan: “For breakfast, I drink coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it.” (Studies have found that olive oil offers numerous health benefits, such as keeping your arteries clean and lowering heart disease risk.)
“Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat,” he continued. “I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.”
3. Find a purpose that keeps you busy.
According to Hinohara, not having a full schedule is a surefire way to age faster and die sooner. However, it’s important to stay busy not just for the sake of staying busy, but to be active in activities that help serve a purpose. (The logic is that one can be busy, yet still feel empty and idle on the inside.)
Hinohara found his purpose early on, after his mother’s life was saved by the family’s doctor.
Janit Kawaguchi, a journalist who considered Hinohara a mentor, said, “He believed that life is all about contribution, so he had this incredible drive to help people, to wake up early in the morning and do something wonderful for other people. This is what was driving him and what kept him living.”
“It’s wonderful to live long,” Hinohara said in the interview. “Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society. Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.”
4. Rules are stressful; try to relax them.
While he clearly promoted exercise and nutrition as pathways to a longer and healthier life, Hinohara simultaneously maintained that we need not be obsessed with restricting our behaviors.
“We all remember how, as children, when we were having fun, we would forget to eat or sleep,” he often said. “I believe we can keep that attitude as adults — it is best not to tire the body with too many rules.”
Richard Overton, one of America’s oldest-surviving World War II veterans, would have most likely agreed. Right up until his death at age 112, the supercentenarian smoked cigars, drank whisky and ate fried food and ice cream on a daily basis.
Hinohara might not have approved of Overton’s diet, but, to be fair, Overton did credit his longevity to maintaining a “stress-free life and keeping busy.”
5. Remember that doctors can’t cure everything.
Hinohara cautioned against always taking the doctor’s advice. When a test or surgery is recommended, he advised, “ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure.”
Hinohara insisted that science alone can’t help people. It “lumps us all together, but illness is individual. Each person is unique, and diseases are connected to their hearts,” he said. “To know the illness and help people, we need liberal and visual arts, not just medical ones.”
In fact, Hinohara made sure that St. Luke’s catered to the basic need of patients: “To have fun.” The hospital provided music, animal therapy and art classes.
“Pain is mysterious, and having fun is the best way to forget it,” he said. “If a child has a toothache, and you start playing a game together, he or she immediately forgets the pain.”
6. Find inspiration, joy and peace in art.
According to The New York Times, toward the end of his life, Hinohara was unable to eat, but refused a feeding tube. He was discharged and died months later at home.
Instead of trying to fight death, Hinohara found peace in where he was through art. In fact, he credited his contentment and outlook toward life to a poem by Robert Browning, called “Abt Vogler” — especially these lines:
There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before;
The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
What was good shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more;
On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven a perfect round.
“My father used to read it to me,” Hinohara recalled. “It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that there is no way we can finish it while we are alive. All we see is an arch; the rest is beyond our vision, but it is there in the distance.”
Tom Popomaronis is a leadership researcher and vice president of innovation at Massive Alliance. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., and The Washington Post. In 2014, Tom was named one of the “40 Under 40” by the Baltimore Business Journal. Follow him on LinkedIn.
A history of increased exercise doesn’t affect the immediate physiological response (like a release of cortisol) during a stressful event, Weinshenker and Tillage explain. Instead, exercise increases behavioral resilience after stress exposure.
“This could suggest that increased exercise doesn’t impact our immediate feelings of stress, but does allow us to cope with stress in a healthier way,” the co-authors say.
In times of serious stress, people might turn to exercise to blow off steam and shake off nervous energy. However, despite anecdotal evidence, the link between working out and relieving stress isn’t well understood by scientists. Researchers haven’t yet pinned down exactly how exercise modulates stress in the brain and body, despite knowing that exercise benefits mental health.
In a recent study conducted in mice, researchers became one step closer to that understanding, discovering that exercise actually strengthens the brain’s resilience to stress. Exercise helps animals cope with stress by enabling an uptick in a crucial neural protein called galanin, the study suggests. This process influences stress levels, food consumption, cognition, and mood.
Leveraging this finding, researchers were able to genetically tweak even sedentary mice’s levels of galanin, shifts that lowered their anxious response to stress.
The study’s authors explain that this study helps pin down the biological mechanisms driving exercise’s positive effects on stress. While further human experiments are needed to confirm these findings, the researchers have practical advice for people looking to get these benefits: perform regular, aerobic exercise.
“Not exercising at all and then suddenly going for a hard 10 mile run just before a stressful event isn’t as helpful as regularly jogging 3 miles several days a week over several months,” researchers David Weinshenker and Rachel Tillage, tell Inverse by email.
That’s because, based on these results, a history of increased exercise doesn’t affect the immediate physiological response (like a release of cortisol) during a stressful event, Weinshenker and Tillage explain. Instead, exercise increases behavioral resilience after stress exposure.
“This could suggest that increased exercise doesn’t impact our immediate feelings of stress, but does allow us to cope with stress in a healthier way,” the co-authors say.
These findings were released Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The search for the brain mechanisms — Research shows exercise protects against the deleterious effects of stress in both mice and humans. Galanin, that pivotal brain protein that modulates stress and mood, is expressed in similar areas of both animal’s brains.
To examine how these factors interact and influence each other, the study team turned to mice.
“Mechanistic questions are difficult to answer in humans due to ethical and technical limitations, so we used mice for this purpose,” Weinshenker and Tillage say. With these overlapping properties, the team adds that the neurobiological substrates underlying galanin’s role in physical activity-related stress resilience could occur across species.
“One of the major implications from this study in that the galanin system could be a potential target for future therapies… “
The measured mice’s anxious behavior 24 hours after a foot shock test — aka the stressful event. They also analyzed their levels of galanin and examined its source.
Half the mice had regular access to an exercise wheel in their cage, while others had no running wheel. Mice steadily increased their running distance over the first week, after which they ran approximately 10-16 kilometers per day. Researchers tracked the mice’s activity for three weeks.
Aerobic exercise, like biking, is more likely to have a greater effect on stress resilience than non-aerobic exercise.
Those who exercised showed less anxious behavior after the stressful event compared to mice that didn’t exercise. Exercising mice also had elevated galanin levels in the locus coeruleus, a cluster of neurons in the brainstem involved in the stress response.
The amount of time the mice spent exercising in the third week correlated with the amount of galanin in the locus coeruleus, which in turn correlated with their degree of stress resilience.
Based on these findings, the team then genetically increased galanin in the locus coeruleus in sedentary mice. This gave these inactive mice exercise’s beneficial stress resilience effects, without changing their physical activity patterns.
If further human experiments confirm these findings, it could mean hijacking the galanin system could help people gain exercise’s stress resilience benefits, even if they aren’t able to work out.
“These findings build on what we know by isolating a specific biological mechanism — increased galanin in the locus coeruleus— by which exercise can influence how we respond to stress,” Weinshenker and Tillage explain. “One of the major implications from this study in that the galanin system could be a potential target for future therapies to gain the positive effects of exercise on stress resilience for people who are not able to exercise.”
Interestingly, the increased galanin didn’t influence other aspects of the mice’s behavior, suggesting galanin may be recruited only during periods of high stress, the team says.
More human data is needed to figure out exactly what type or how much exercise confers this stress-resilience effect. But based on the current evidence, the researchers say they can offer some general guidance:
- Aerobic exercise (like walking, running, biking, swimming) probably has a greater effect on stress resilience than non-aerobic exercise (like weight lifting).
- Exercise probably needs to be routine; completed a few times a week. Cramming in a HIIT workout or long run right before a stressful event isn’t likely to be as helpful as regularly hiking or hitting the elliptical.