Dr. Greg Wells

Move Better

Move Better

Rio 2016: The Science of Michael Phelps

August, 10th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

Michael Phelps is obviously an incredible athlete, but the adaptations of his body may be even more amazing than his performance. His arm span is 2.03 metres wide, longer than average, giving him a greater distance per stroke. This means he has to take fewer strokes than his competitors, which increases his efficiency and saves energy during races. Height and arm length (unlike waist size) are characteristics that are largely determined by genes, but Michael’s commitment to training has had a powerful long-term effect on his body that is not genetic. Most swimmers at the international level will have a lung capacity that can be as much as two times the amount of a normal person’s lungs. No one has published lung-testing data from Michael Phelps yet, but I’d be willing to bet that his lung capacity is beyond limits even for swimmers. So is Michael a product of genetic talent or consistent training over an extended period of time?

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Rio 2016: The Science of Usain Bolt's Speed - Part 2

August, 10th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

Here is part 2 of my post on the Science of Usain Bolt!

With the Olympics in Rio underway I thought it would be cool to explore some of the physiology of the most legendary athletes. Usain Bolt certainly fits into this category. He’s aiming for 3 gold medals in 3 consecutive Olympics. Now, while you might normally think that his performance is powered by his muscles (and it is), there is one deeper level of physiology we can explore that will help you to appreciate how incredible his performances are. Let’s take a look at the what happens to the nervous system during the 100 m dash.

Let’s look at Usain Bolt’s world record 9.58-second 100-metre dash. Exploring “the start” is fascinating when we consider the lighting storm of electrical activity involved. There are  two critical stages of the run itself: the acceleration phase and the speed maintenance phase and that is what we will be exploring in this post.

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Rio 2016: The Science of Usain Bolt's Speed - Part 1

August, 8th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

With the Olympics in Rio underway I thought it would be cool to explore some of the physiology of the most legendary athletes. Usain Bolt certainly fits into this category. He’s aiming for 3 gold medals in 3 consecutive Olympics. Now, while you might normally think that his performance is powered by his muscles (and it is), there is one deeper level of physiology we can explore that will help you to appreciate how incredible his performances are. Let’s take a look at the what happens to the nervous system during the 100 m dash.

Let’s look at Usain Bolt’s world record 9.58-second 100-metre dash. Exploring “the start” is fascinating when we consider the lighting storm of electrical activity involved. There are three steps to the start: the “On Your Mark,” “Get Set” and “Go” steps. Let’s take a look at each of these steps.

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Toronto Star: Ice swimmers defy death for the thrill

August, 3rd 2016

Read article at Toronto Star.com

Ryan Stramrood’s “ice mile’” in sub-zero water off Antarctica set the standard for ice swimming.

As he swam against the current in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean among leopard seals and icebergs, Ryan Stramrood’s body went numb.

He looked down, pulling his arms one stroke at a time through the -1 C water, and he thought about how clear the ocean was that day.

“You don’t want to see very far down. It can be quite eerie,” he said.

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Redbull.com: The Learning Curve Episode 3

July, 25th 2016

On this week’s episode of The Learning Curve, we find Drew Bezanson putting in time at the Joyride 150 bike park warehouse, near Toronto, in Canada. With the mercy of a foam pit, Drew hucks his way to perfection as he prepares for competitive action.

Using the foam pit is key because of how fast I have to learn this stuff. If I was going to do it the old-fashioned way, on a regular jump, we probably wouldn’t be filming right now!

Drew Bezanson

The Learning Curve 3

 

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RedBull.com: The Learning Curve Episode 1

July, 13th 2016

Check out a new web series I’m helping with called The Learning Curve.

In episode one of The Learning Curve, we catch up with Drew Bezanson a few months after his release of Uncontainable.

Still riding the high from the success of the film and his own sense of accomplishment, Drew begins looking towards the next challenge – slopestyle mountain biking – and coming to terms with the uphill battle he’ll face if he wants to shred slopestyle with the best of them.

Here’s Episode 1 “Watch Drew Bezanson’s journey to Joyride begin”.

TheLearningCurveEp1

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Entrepreneur.com: 6 Happiness Tips to Boost Your Health and Performance

April, 14th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

As an entrepreneur you probably know that constant, high stress levels undermine your performance. When highly stressed, you don’t sleep as well, your concentration suffers, your patience bucket shrinks to the size of a teacup, and your ability to generate strategies and solutions plummets.

So one way to become a better business owner, leader and visionary is to be happier. Why? Because happiness has been shown to lower stress, increase well-being and boost daily energy. No surprise, perhaps, that feeling good creates a better work performance.

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Entrepreneur.com: 6 Ways to Curb Jet Lag and Travel Fatigue

January, 14th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

As an entrepreneur, you likely travel a lot, and you already know that jet lag (which science geeks call “flight dysrhythmia”) can cause all kinds of unpleasant symptoms: insomnia, loss of appetite, depressed mood, upset stomach, fatigue and mental fuzziness, to name a few.

And the farther you travel, the worse your jet lag will likely be. Why? Because crossing time zones throws your internal rhythms out of sync with your external environment. It’s like your body stays back in New York as you head off to your first meeting in London!

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Toronto Star: Cross-country running on uneven ground

November, 23rd 2015

What happens to girls and women when their feet touch grass?

That’s the question increasingly being asked in cross country running circles where old biases about what female athletes are capable of persist.

On the track and on the road, male and female athletes run the same distances, whether it’s the 100-metre sprint or the 42.2-km marathon. When they step on the softer, undulating ground of a cross-country course, that equality vanishes.

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Ride safely this summer! Bike helmet facts and tips.

July, 15th 2015

Hello everyone! It’s summer and that means getting out on your bike to get some exercise, see some sights and have fun. One of the reasons cycling is so much fun is that you can go much faster than you can when you walk or even run. And with some speed comes some risk. When you’re riding you can fall or even be hit by a car.

One of my good friends got hit by a car recently and here’s what his bike looked like after the fact:

Bob's Bike

You can see how much damage was done to the back wheel of the bike. Fortunately my friend and his wife, who were both hit in the same accident by the same far were both wearing helmets and escaped with minor scrapes and bruises. Ultimately the best way to prevent your head from looking like the back wheel of the bike above is to protect yourself by wearing your bike helmet.

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MindBodyGreen.com: Why Exercise Might Not Always Make You Healthier

June, 9th 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on MindBodyGreen.com.

If you exercise regularly, you probably already know the catalogue of benefits fitness brings to your life. Moving your body frequently lowers stress, improves mood and mental health, boosts problem-solving and memory, regulates sleep, and pretty much makes you a nicer person to be around.
In addition, if you’re a moderate exerciser, you may have noticed that you take fewer sick days than your coworkers. Or you might be the only one of your friends who doesn’t catch that cold going around. This isn’t just your imagination — numerous studies have demonstrated that regular exercise improves how well your immune system functions.

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Entrepreneur.com: Best Health Practices to Improve Your Life - In and Out of the Office

May, 13th 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

You know it. I know it. We all know research supports it: Healthy people think, adapt and perform better.

That goes for both in and out of the office.

Here, four key areas — eating smarter, moving more, sleeping soundly and thinking clearly — that, when improved upon, enable you to be able to perform at your best.

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The Globe and Mail: Why we need to bring physical activity back into our schools

April, 10th 2015

Read this article on The Globe and Mail Online.

For some time, educational leaders have been emphasizing the importance of physical activity in schools. The premise is that if children are active, they will develop good habits, feel better, be healthier and grow into adults who make exercise a priority. This is an important goal, but it is only part of the story.

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Based on my recent work with school leaders, teachers and students, and an extensive review of the research in this area, I am reminded of another important reason that we have to get school communities moving: Physical activity has a significant effect on academic achievement.

The evidence for the bodily benefits of physical activity is clear. At any age, regular exercise improves the health of our hearts, lungs, blood, bones, skin and almost every other organ. A growing body of research also shows that exercise can improve mental health. Yet despite this wealth of evidence, it remains a challenge for people to incorporate physical activity into their lives. Sadly, only 15 per cent of Canadians come close to the recommended levels of physical activity.

The numbers are equally bad for schoolchildren. We don’t seem to be able to get them moving based on the idea that it will make them healthier. But there is increased traction for the idea that we can get them moving if we emphasize the impact of physical activity on academic performance. The concept is that by doing the right activities at the right times, we can change the way children’s brains work and increase their ability to consistently and easily perform at a high level.

The research is compelling.

Dr. Arthur Kramer’s lab at the University of Illinois showed that children who did aerobic exercise for 20 minutes before writing math tests improved their scores. It also showed that children who did regular exercise had different brain structures than those who were less active. The brain regions that were more developed in the exercise group were related to attention control, cognitive control and response resolution – the centres of the brain that help us maintain attention and crisply co-ordinate actions and thoughts. These results were confirmed in young adults, illustrating that it’s not just children who benefit from exercise before mental tasks.

Another study of 5,000 children in Britain, conducted by Dr. Josie Booth from the University of Dundee, found that 15 minutes of exercise improved performance in math by about a quarter of a grade point. She also found that those increments in performance continued right up to 60 minutes of exercise per day. This means that getting 60 minutes of activity could possibly boost academic performance by a full grade point (for example, from a B to an A).

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey explains this concept in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He writes, “Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. … The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.”

Imagine the impact on the ability to learn if we could design our school days so that children did physical activity right before math or science class. Or think about what is possible if we expanded this idea even further and programmed music right before creative writing classes or integrated drama and language.

The evidence is clear: Exercise before certain mental tasks will result in better academic performance for our students. For this reason, on top of the significant health benefits, we need to strategically build physical activity into all levels of academic programs on a daily basis. There are important financial and time considerations associated with this approach, but we can’t afford not to make this change. The costs of inaction are too significant.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Dr. Greg Wells is a Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster & Author. He is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, which explores how generics and DNA, the brain, muscles, lungs, heart and blood work together in extreme conditions. You can follow him on twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You might also enjoy his podcast!

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for Dr. Wells’ monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights.

 

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inspiyr.com: Why Exercise Is The Best Medicine

April, 5th 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on www.inspiyr.com.

You’re likely aware that exercise is good for you, and you’ve probably done a workout or two in your time. But despite your interest and practice, I’ll bet there have been a few times when you’ve struggled to get to the gym or out for that run. I’ll also bet that your mind has begged you to slow down or take extra rest during a tough workout.

To help you get to the gym, out for a run or on your bike, and to do your absolute best while there, I thought I’d share the physiological science behind the power of exercise. Over the years of working with athletes at all levels, I’ve found that when people understand what their training does to their bodies, they perform better in the practice session. By showing you the power of a few little molecules, I believe I can help you train better to be healthier and achieve your dreams – whatever those might be!

Exercise as Medicine

Exercise is the most potent medicine known to humankind. Cardiovascular exercise and strength training can help to prevent and treat almost every chronic disease that afflicts us. Movement can help to improve the function of your heart and lungs, stimulate the creation of new red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body, promote the growth of new muscle tissue, and make your bones stronger. It even helps to prevent infections by enhancing your immune system.

Exercise has been shown to prevent or lessen the impact of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, muscle atrophy from aging, osteoporosis, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and a host of other illnesses. There are documented benefits for almost every organ in the body.

How It Works

How does exercise create all these powerful benefits? The answer is very complicated, but a few molecules can provide some clues. Those molecules are called mTOR, PGC-1 and BDNF.

The mTOR molecule is activated inside your muscles when you exercise. When you do strength training, mTOR works to stimulate the growth of new muscle tissue. So the next time you’re lifting weights, don’t think about the muscle burn. Think about all the microscopic mTOR molecules you just activated that are circulating around and building your muscle fibers so that they become stronger.

Endurance exercise works a little differently. When you go for a run, ride, swim, row or other cardio-type exercise, a little molecule called PGC-1 is activated inside your muscles. PCG-1 then works to assemble proteins to make new mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy factories inside almost every cell in your body. That’s why aerobic activities help to build your endurance: they stimulate your body to build new mitochondria.

The final molecule I want to mention is brain-derived neuropeptide factor (BDNF). When we exercise, there are powerful positive benefits for most organs in the body, especially the brain. This surprises people who think that the mind and body are separate. Some amazing new discoveries have been made recently using magnetic resonance imaging, which has shown that people with high levels of aerobic fitness have larger hippocampus volumes (a structure inside the brain). An increase in hippocampal volume is related to better memory. The benefits of exercise in the brain are thought to be because of BDNF, which increases with exercise. It also appears that when mTOR is activated in skeletal muscle, levels of BDNF increase in the brain.

The Takeaway

All of these relationships are being explored by scientists and it’s an area that we don’t understand very well yet. But what you can take away is that endurance exercise and strength training not only build up your body, they build up your brain as well.

I hope this helps you appreciate how wonderful your workouts are for you. This is a hot area for research, so stay tuned for more amazing discoveries. In the meantime, please use exercise as medicine to improve your performance and health.

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for our monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights. You might also enjoy my podcast!

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Year in Review: 6 vital health stories from 2014

January, 8th 2015

Working to improve the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness

By: Michael Kennedy

In 2014 the University of Toronto continued its legacy of life-changing discovery and solidified its reputation as a global medical-research powerhouse. 

It was a year that saw U of T medical researchers tackle everything from treatments for childhood brain cancer to the debunking of fad diets and explaining unconventional methods of teeth whitening

And researchers at the Faculty of Medicine, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, the Faculty of Dentistry, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy weren’t the only ones working to improve health and wellness. Engineering researchers also shared knowledge that contributed to innovative health practices used to tackle disease locally and around the world

Writer Michael Kennedy reports on health and wellness stories for U of T News. Below, Michael shares some of his favourite stories from 2014.

Reducing risk and complications in the operating room

Researchers create “black box” for use in operating rooms to improve patient care

Associate Professor Teodor Grantcharov and his team of researchers have developed a “black box” for using in operating rooms, similar to that used in the airline industry. It’s been tested here in Toronto, at St. Michael’s Hospital, and in hospitals in Copenhagen, Denmark. The goal: to improve patient safety by identifying where and when errors occur in an OR and teaching surgeons to prevent them.

Publishing the largest genomic study to date on any psychiatric disorder

U of T researchers shed new light on biology underlying schizophrenia

As part of a multinational, collaborative effort, researchers from the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) helped identify more than 100 locations in the human genome associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia. It’s hoped this work will lead to new treatments for the disorder, which has seen little innovation in drug development in the past 60 years.

“Large collaborative efforts such as this one are needed to identify genes that influence complex disorders,” said Jo Knight, professor of psychiatry at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, CAMH senior scientist and the Joanne Murphy Professor in Behavioural Science. “The result is a major advance in understanding the genetic basis of brain functioning in schizophrenia.”

Diagnosing Autism at a younger age so treatment can start sooner

Unlocking Autism’s code

Dr. Stephen Scherer leads the Toronto research team that has identified the formula for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at an earlier age. This will let patients receive therapies at an earlier age, while helping to create  more advanced genetic diagnostic tests.

Explaining how sitting is killing you and what you should do about it
Everyone says sitting is the new smoking

Study after study has highlighted the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle that includes extended periods of sitting, and the catchphrase “sitting is the new smoking” has gained traction in the media and in popular consciousness.

Writer Jenny Hall turned to Assistant Professor Greg Wells of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at U of T and an associate scientist in physiology and experimental medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children. His advice?

“For every 20 minutes of sitting, stand up and stretch for 20 seconds. Beyond that, within every two-hour block, try to find 15 minutes to do some activity, be it walking or stairs. Even just standing for a while is better than sitting down. I tell people to stand up in meetings. If everyone else is sitting, find a spot to stand up in the back. If you’re doing a phone call, get up and do it with headphones while you’re standing.”

Discovering a new class of stem cell

Stem cell pioneers’ major, multinational discovery may speed research

It was an effort so huge, they dubbed it Project Grandiose. U of T’s Professor Andras Nagy led a team of almost 50 scientists on four continents and the results, published simultaneously in five separate scientific articles in Nature and Nature Communications, grabbed headlines around the world. (Read the TIME magazine article. Read the South China Morning Post coverage.)

Committing to reduce hospitalization for heart failure by 50 per cent over the next decade

Historic $130 million gift to establish Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research

With a $130 million from the Rogers family – the largest monetary gift ever made to a Canadian health-care initiative – The Hospital for Sick Children, the University Health Network and U of T announced the creation of the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research.

“The Toronto region is home to one of the world’s largest biomedical science and health education clusters,” said President Meric Gertler. “This exceptionally powerful network of researchers and educators is translating exciting ideas, innovations and therapies in stem cell research and regenerative medicine into clinical settings where they will address the most challenging problems across the spectrum of heart disease. With its pioneering spirit and innovative approach, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will be a world-class collaboration and a most fitting tribute to its namesake.”

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The Globe & Mail: Meditate on this to jumpstart your immune system

December, 17th 2014

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Health Advisor section at this link.

If you’re at all like me, you dread getting sick. I’m just not very good at lying around for days feeling as if I’ve been run over by a truck. So I’m all about trying not to get sick in the first place.

As a researcher at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, I have to get a flu shot. But since the flu shot is not 100-per-cent effective, I am working on other ways to avoid getting sick or, if I do, to get better as fast as I can.

In my hunt through the research on influenza, I came across a very interesting finding. In a paper published in the Annals of Family Medicine, Dr. Bruce Barrett and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked into the benefits of meditation and exercise for prevention of the flu.

Before the annual flu season began, they divided their research volunteers into three groups: one that would practise meditation, another that would exercise regularly and a third control group that just carried on with normal daily life. They then tracked how many people in each group got sick and how severe and long-lasting their symptoms were.

The results were surprising.

As an exercise physiologist, I would have bet that exercise would be more powerful than meditation for preventing the flu. I was wrong.

Both meditation and exercise reduced the number of people who got sick by about 25 per cent.

The severity of the symptoms was lowest in the meditation group, followed by the exercise group and most severe in the group that did neither.

The duration of the illness was reduced equally by meditation and exercise.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was the total number of missed days of work in each group. The meditation group only missed 16 days, compared with 32 in the exercise group and 67 in the observation-only group.

The researchers conclude that exercise and meditation are both effective in reducing the burden of respiratory-tract infections. Moderate exercise is known to be very beneficial for your immune system – the body’s system that fights off infection, illness and disease. This is partly because exercise improves the flow of fluids in your lymphatic system, which means that viruses, bacteria and toxins are filtered from your blood and lymph more effectively. Consistent exercise also increases the number and potency of macrophages, which are white blood cells that travel around your body and attack and destroy invaders. We know that exercise works and how it works.

Although meditation, yoga and relaxation have all been used effectively to help people reduce stress, hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and illness, how meditation works to accomplish this is less clear.

But some new research studies have shed some light on this area.

A group at Massachusetts General Hospital found that when people practised meditation – either experienced practitioners for a single session or novices consistently for eight weeks – there were improvements in the function of mitochondria (the energy factories inside all the cells of the body), better insulin metabolism (which helps your cells absorb blood sugar which they then use for energy) and less inflammation (high inflammation is related to many illnesses and diseases).

In addition, a research study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that students who practised meditation increased their levels of immunoglobulin A (which is a substance that identifies invaders such as viruses and bacteria so that they can be destroyed by your immune system) and that the levels kept increasing over the course of the four-week study.

At this time of year, some people are going to get sick. If you don’t want to be one of them, be sure to work out and take time to relax each day. Even better, try meditation. You’ll be doing your body, your mind and your immune system a lot of good.

Thoughts, questions or comments? Tweet to me @drgregwells.

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for our monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights. You might also enjoy my podcast!

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The Globe & Mail: Want to boost your brain power? Three ways getting physical can help

December, 15th 2014

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Health Advisor section at this link.

You know that exercise is good for your body. What you might not realize is that exercise is just as good for your brain as it is for your muscles. We are now learning how exercise can improve concentration, learning, focus and memory, and can even prevent and treat mental illnesses.

Here’s what we know about the correlation between exercise and the brain:

1. Increasing your physical activity results in reduced stress levels and helps your body deal with the hormones that are released when you’re under stress.

2. Increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain from exercise promotes the production of new cells and neural connections in the areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, problem solving and creativity.

3. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, chemicals that are released by the pituitary gland in response to pain or stress. Endorphins also lead to feelings of euphoria and happiness.

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey explains this concept in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He says: “Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn.”

How can we harness this process? Exercise primes the brain for mental performance. If you have an important thinking-related task to do during the day – a presentation, a major meeting or a test – take 15 to 20 minutes to do some light exercise in the hour before the event. This exercise will increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and improve your mental performance.

Exercise also improves health at any age. It’s never too late to start exercising. By improving cardiovascular health, you can decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Your brain also benefits whenever you exercise. In a six-year study of more than 1,700 people age 65 and older, researchers at the University of Washington in Tacoma found that those who exercised three times a week had a 32 per cent lower risk of dementia than those who were sedentary.

Another small study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that as little as 20 minutes of yoga can help improve brain power. “It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout,” lead author Neha Gothe said, according to PsyBlog.

The key is to make exercise part of your daily routine. Not only for your body – but for your mind as well.

Thoughts, questions or comments? Tweet to me @drgregwells.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Dr. Greg Wells is a Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster & Author. He is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, which explores how generics and DNA, the brain, muscles, lungs, heart and blood work together in extreme conditions. You can follow him on twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You might also enjoy his podcast!

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for Dr. Wells’ monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights.

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The Globe & Mail: Want to work out more? Defend yourself against decision fatigue

December, 15th 2014

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Health Advisor section at this link.

Enjoying the summer? I’m loving it. Summer makes it so much easier to get outside and get active. But despite no longer having the weather as an excuse, Canadians still don’t come even close to getting enough physical activity.

A recent report on Canadians’ activity levels showed that only 15 per cent of us are getting enough exercise on a daily basis. (Keep in mind that the minimum standards that we are not meeting are designed to keep people from getting sick.) That means that 85 per cent of Canadians are at risk of chronic illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes simply because they are not physically active on a daily basis.

While as little as 15 minutes of exercise each day can decrease your risk of certain cancers by 35- to 50 per cent, in general you should be getting about an hour of physical activity each day to be healthy, happy and minimize your risk of chronic diseases. That hour can be broken up into short increments: Go for a quick walk, stretch at night in front of the TV, do some gardening on the weekend, take a yoga class at lunch. Any type of exercise helps and any intensity is better than sitting on the couch.

In a previous column, I wrote about the power of being 1 per cent better. Spending 1 per cent of your day on exercise means taking about 15 minutes to walk, jog, run, stretch or play. But still we don’t do it. Why not? What’s missing?

One of the most interesting ideas I’ve come across recently is the idea of “decision fatigue.” Basically the hypothesis is that people have only enough mental energy during a given day to make a certain number of decisions that are hard to make. Decisions like “I am going to sit down and get this project done,” “I’m going to the gym,” “I’m not going to have that treat that I want to eat right now.” Once you’ve burned through your mental toughness for the day, you’re done. At that point your habits take over and you’re a slave to what you normally have done up to that point.

So if you’re looking to make positive changes in your life like sleeping, eating and moving better, then you need to take decision fatigue into account to make sure you make the right choices throughout the day. Because as you live your days so you live your life.

Here are a few things you can to live a world-class life and overcome decision fatigue:

1. Many people end their days by crashing out on the couch and watching some TV to “relax.” Unfortunately that’s a recipe for a bad night’s sleep. The flashing lights from your TV activate your brain and make it hard for you to fall asleep quickly. Have a plan to help you fall asleep. Get some books. Put them on the nightstand by your bed. Make it easy on yourself to do the right thing when you’re tired.

2. To improve your nutrition you have to plan ahead. This takes work and some effort but if you don’t do this then you’re going to be faced with hunger or cravings at some point during the day – and that’s when you’re most likely to go get something fast that’s brutal for your body and your brain. You only have to look at the lineups for Starbucks or Tim Horton’s at 3 p.m. to know that this is the reality for many people at work. Take food with you from home. Having some healthy snacks to rely on during the day is a lifesaver that can make a huge difference in your health and performance. Nuts and berries are great options.

3. If you want to exercise more, then make sure you build it into your schedule when you have the smallest chances of something else getting in the way. I exercise first thing in the morning before anyone else in my family gets up. Work can’t get in the way and neither can helping my daughter put on yet another princess outfit. Find a time during the day when you know you’ll be consistent and you won’t get interrupted or rescheduled.

World-class performers build routines that they follow almost religiously that protect them from decision fatigue. Workouts are scheduled, nutrition is planned in detail and sleep is a priority. Routines, planning and scheduling help them do the right things at the right times despite the exhaustion that comes with training full time. We can all live better lives and make the right decisions that we all want to make to be healthier, happier and to perform better.

What do you do to overcome decision fatigue and live the life of your dreams?

Thoughts, questions or comments? Tweet to me @drgregwells.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Dr. Greg Wells is a Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster & Author. He is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, which explores how generics and DNA, the brain, muscles, lungs, heart and blood work together in extreme conditions. You can follow him on twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You might also enjoy his podcast!

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for Dr. Wells’ monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights.

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