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How to grow your brain

Ever since I took the leap into playing poker full time and coming on to work with Intertops Poker, I’ve still tried to stay true to my fitness roots.

I’ve always believed that staying in shape physically will improve my poker game and I try to encourage others to do the same. For me personally, there’s no question that I play better when my fitness program is on point. I think clearer, feel looser (physically, lol) at the table, stay sharper longer and have an overall better mood. It’s always noticeable when my fitness goals fall of track, you can just look at the dips in my bankroll for proof! haha!

Staying in shape is a must for any player in today’s game! Plenty of other players have already figured out what I am telling you, and they are leaving the competition far behind! I know, I know, poker players aren’t usually the type of people known for their intense training ethic.. haha.. most are usually the polar opposite! That’s not entirely their fault, we love a game that forces us to sit still for LONG hours and play in an environment that offers very limited healthy food choices. I mean, poker rooms are basically breeding grounds for fatties! lol

So what are we poker players to do? How do we step up our poker game through fitness and more importantly, how to make it easy enough for even least active poker players to apply!?

Well like I said, I’ve always seen the benefits exercise has on my play, but that’s more from personal experience than anything scientific. So to dig a bit deeper and get that scientific angle on things I called in the big guns again, Victor Gaspar (founder and creator of livingleanandmean.com)! He’s just as fascinated with the effects of exercise on mental performance and has the wealth of knowledge to explain it. In a series of articles, that I will post, he explains and gives a breakdown on the WHY and the HOW. Giving the science, while showing the real world ways, everyone can apply fitness to their lives and begin reaping the benefits, both on and off the felt! Victor has an extensive and in-depth knowledge about how to improve human performance. Being involved in the game for over 12 years he has a huge archive of interesting articles that he has written and he has the know how to implement it in a person’s day-to-day life. Have a look at his site livingleanandmean.com and get your journey started today! I hope you learn as much as I did and enjoy the benefits to your game and most importantly, your health!

Tim “2Fit2Fold” O’Keefe

How To Grow Your Brain

Are we losing our minds?

Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and dementia are rising at an unprecedented rate. 50 million people today suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and that number is expected to triple within the next 30 years (Brookmeyer et al, 2007). We are spending more money today treating neurological disease than cardiovascular disease and cancer (Mattson et al., 2003). Maintaining cognitive performance has become a matter of life and death. The good news is there’s more opportunity here than you think. In this article series we’ll cover everything you need to know about preventing and even reversing the loss of brain power.

Stress and Your Brain

Do you frequently feel anxious, irritable and stressed-out for no apparent reason? Are you suffering from poor sleep and finding it increasingly difficult to remember that one actor’s name?

High levels of stress and diminished brain performance go hand in hand. Cortisol, your principal stress hormone, is a key player here as it impedes cerebral blood flow and accelerates brain degeneration. Anxiety, restlessness, chronic fatigue and cognitive decline are well-known symptoms of a whacked stress profile. Stress per se is not the issue, however. Intense workouts, short-term under-eating/fasting and cold showers for instance are “good” stressors, as they elicit compensatory mechanisms that improve your resilience and ultimately your capacity to survive.

Constantly worrying about your car payments, living on a McDonald’s diet, and getting 4 hours of sleep every night, on the other hand, is crippling your health and chipping away at your neurons as we speak. Unfortunately this is the type of stress dominating the civilized world.

Grow Your Brain

Let’s be realistic here. There’s no way you’ll ever live stress-free. You have bills to pay and kids to feed. Living a stress-free life is not the solution. Increasing your resilience is. You need to maximize your ability to handle stress and thus minimize its deleterious effects on your body. Exercise is good for you. You knew that. But here’s something you probably didn’t know. Exercise creates the optimal environment for peak performance. And I’m not talking about athletic performance here. Strenuous physical activity increases BDNF, a growth factor responsible for brain cell formation (Ang et al., 2010). You’re literally growing new brain cells and ramping-up the production of protective neurochemicals (Voss et al., 2013) while working out. Physically active populations display greater brain volume and better cognitive performance than their sedentary peers (Erickson et al., 2009). Improved memory, enhanced executive function, mental processing speed and resilience are but a few of the benefits you can expect. Low BDNF levels, on the other hand, are associated with not only decreased brain performance but obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s.

Go ahead, read that again.

It’s not about being more mindful, reaching a zen-like state or hugging trees. This is purely physiological. This is about improving cerebral blood flow (Chapman et al., 2013) and up-regulating the production of neuro-protective chemicals in your brain. Your body and brain are a functional unit. You cannot have one without the other.

How to Train for Brain Health

So where do you start? For one, I want you to understand that your actions (or lack thereof) have consequences. It is entirely up to you to win the war of brain health. No pill, potion or short-cut will do the trick. Instead of jumping head first into a new diet and exercise regimen, however, start with something you can and will do on a regular basis. Consistency is where results are made. No matter if you’re trying to grow your biceps or your brain. Taking massive action one day only to fall back to old habits the next isn’t going to cut it. You will need to incorporate a select few changes into your daily routine. Take the stairs whenever you have the chance. Go for a brisk walk every day. Get a gym membership and start strength training (which comes with a whole host of additional benefits). Lift something heavy or throw in a few sets of push and pull-ups 2-4x a week to really supercharge your neurons. You don’t have to kill yourself either. A single run per week has shown to positively impact brain plasticity (Vaynman et al., 2004). If you’re training for cognitive enhancement you want to maximize intensity while keeping your sessions short (<40 min). Shorter but more intense workouts may potentiate your body’s response to training. Get uncomfortable in the gym but don’t overstay your welcome.

Your nutrition is your second line of defense. And we’re going to talk about that next time.

Thank you for reading,

Victor

Resources Ang ET, Tai YK, Lo SQ, Seet R, Soong TW. Neurodegenerative diseases: exercising toward neurogenesis and neuroregeneration. Front Aging Neurosci. 2010 Jul 21; 2():.

Brookmeyer, Ron et al. (2007). Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association , Volume 3 , Issue 3 , 186 – 191

Chapman, S. B., Aslan, S., Spence, J. S., DeFina, L. F., Keebler, M. W., Didehbani, N., & Lu, H. (2013). Shorter term aerobic exercise improves brain, cognition, and cardiovascular fitness in aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 5, 75.

Erickson KI, Prakash RS, Voss MW, et al. Aerobic Fitness is Associated With Hippocampal Volume in Elderly Humans. Hippocampus. 2009;19(10):1030-1039. Mattson, M. P., Duan, W. and Guo, Z. (2003), Meal size and frequency affect neuronal plasticity and vulnerability to disease: cellular and molecular mechanisms. Journal of Neurochemistry, 84: 417–431.

Phillips H. S., Hains J. M., Armanini M., Laramee G. R., Johnson S. A., Winslow J. W. (1991). BDNF mRNA is decreased in the hippocampus of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuron 7, 695–702

Vaynman S, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F. Hippocampal BDNF mediates the efficacy of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. Eur J Neurosci. 2004;20:2580–2590.

Voss, M. W., Erickson, K. I., Prakash, R. S., Chaddock, L., Kim, J. S., Alves, H., … Kramer, A. F. (2013). Neurobiological markers of exercise-related brain plasticity in older adults. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 28, 90–99.