Exercise Your Way to a Better Brain

Motion is self-expanding. We can easily succumb to the nonchalance of sitting on a couch and watching endless hours of Netflix. However, a sedentary approach to life is a shortcut to an accelerated death. To grow and live long, we must stay in motion. Physical activity endeavors from Pilates to sports to yoga all contribute handsomely to enhancing your body not just physically, but mentally. All the small things add up in the end, but we can temporarily obviate our inevitable demise by expending more kinetic energy, daily. The benefits of the impacts that exercise places on your brain are enough to convince any sane person to get moving post-haste. The brain can atrophy (cerebral atrophy) just like muscles can with underuse.

Throughout life we are battered by pangs of distress, emotional despondency, injuries, illnesses, diseases, hapless happenings, brain cell deterioration, etc. Moreover, most of these maladies come at the expense of our own ignorance. We’re taught early in life how important physical activity is in gym class. Some of us adhere, some throw the information in the back of our cerebellum only to be retrieved when it’s too late; or when we’ve been perturbed by unsettling news that an impending problem with our body will soon be taking place.

One of my favorite platitudes that I can’t say enough, “The time is now,” really hits the nail on the head on why we shouldn’t delay the advancement of our mind & bodies because tomorrow is truly not guaranteed. I understand how easy it is to be lazy; the willingness to not unleash any energy seems like a quality that an obese society cherishes. There’s too many avenues of contentment and complacency that, and much to our own chagrin, end up withering us away — even unknowingly.

Neurobiologically, exercise releases cortisol — the stress hormone that increases fat and stifles memory consolidation — which is a major benefit to adapting to stressors that may offset your system’s homeostasis. Along with strengthening your immune system, exercise can increase euphoria and feelings of bliss by the production of endorphins. Hence the term “Runner’s high” that befalls you once you reach a plateau of running and the feeling of comfortability and oneness with the specific activity. Long walks stimulate creativity and de-stress you from whatever may be burdening you at the moment.

Alzheimer’s, the terrible neurodegenerative disease that affects millions of people,  can be slowly prevented by increasing your movement. Scientists and psychologists have proven that a reduction of cognitive decline can be the result of implementing small, 20-30 minute routines into your daily regimen. Obesity is a big risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so continuing to shed body weight can stave off the eventual disease and lower the incidence rate.

Cognitive functioning and brain plasticity will be expanded 10-fold by instituting any form of aerobic exercise into your lifestyle. The brain will become sharper, motor skills will improve, brain fogginess will subside, the ability to learn new things will increase, and your memory will strengthen. These are advantageous points enough to keep you from ever wanting to take the escalator again.

As time progresses, we slowly lose more and more brain cells. We just aren’t made to last forever. Our bodies fade just as ink does on a sopping wet canvas. Death is inescapable, but we can decelerate the process by becoming more active. A civilization in motion is one that is highly prosperous and productive. Showing our kids the importance of ‘go-getter-ness’ and relaying the undeniable benefits of movement can take our planet to greater heights. As the battle with obesity and decline in brain functioning continues, understand that you choose whether or not you want to make yourself better. Be wise, get moving.

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5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You

Every decision we make goes through a bevy of obstacles before we reach the “final answer.” Our cognition is affected by everything from genes to mood to upbringing. We often think we are impartial in our steps to coming to a decision, but our brains sometimes will say otherwise. Here, I present five cognitive biases—an error in thinking, or a distortion of our perception of reality—that blur our views on things and allow us to be led astray by irrationality.

Confirmation Bias

This widely popular bias can be reinforced by any immediate search engine. Confirmation bias is the tendency to confirm whatever unsubstantiated, preconceived belief you have by only searching for information that bolsters your view and disregards disconfirming evidence. For example, on Twitter, there’s a “search” function, which allows you to type in queries on anything you want. So, if you want to confirm your bias that a movie is terrible, just type in the keywords “Godzilla” and “Terrible,” and you’ll find people agreeing with your bias, thus reinforcing your previously held notion. I find myself doing this time to time; it does offer up a pang of satisfaction.

Hindsight Bias

Ever get the feeling that you “knew it all along” after the occurrence of something has taken place? If so, you may be suffering from hindsight bias. It is an illusion that an event is more predictable after-the-fact rather than before. We often don’t “know it all along,” but since our brain tricks us, we selectively recall information that may have been slightly presented to us then we rearrange the narrative to make it seem like we did. This can oversimplify natural cause and effect properties, and create a chasm in understanding because it was so seemingly “predictable.”

Gambler’s Fallacy

When a person believes that the probability of an event happening again is decreased because it has already happened, it is a glitch in thinking. This fallacy is ubiquitous in casinos, and owners dupe gamblers by making them think that each spin at the roulette table is NOT independent of the previous spin, but that’s erroneous. When you witness black come out 60 times in a row, it does not mean that the chances of red coming out next are higher than the last spin. Why? Because each spin (or event) is independent, meaning the probabilities reset back to their normal standards. The chances of a coin being flipped heads or tails is always 50 percent, regardless of what has happened before.

Negativity Bias

The old platitude, “Bad news travels fast” fits perfectly with this bias. Negativity has a stronger impact on us than positive experiences. This can be seen as a defense mechanism to shield ourselves from future negative situations. Our amygdala—the fear center in our brain—has been honed to protect us from threats by inducing responses that increase our chemicals to preserve ourselves. All news outlets thrive off of bad news, and we seem to succumb to that because we get comfortable with thinking “that’s not us; I should be grateful.” Think about how negative comments stick with you much longer than positive ones. Evolutionarily speaking, negativity reminds us that we’re fragile and not perfect, so it keeps our heads up in times of hardship.

The Ingroup Bias

Everyone has had their “cliques” or “crews” back in the day. Remember thinking that your crew was better than any outside one? The ingroup bias is a condition in which you favor people that belong to your group over ones who don’t. This bias can be harmless when speaking of elementary school, but it can stir up hate and anguish toward others when infused in something like religion. Fundamental religion subscribers often take umbrage to people who oppose their beliefs and will act unscrupulously because “their” group is correct. This can undeniably distort our vision of what’s reasonable and what isn’t.

The next time you’re at an intersection of uncertainty, be wise; make sure to consider that your brain may be leaning toward a bias of which you are unaware.

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Appreciating the Moment

Our society prides itself on getting things done in a timely fashion. If we fall behind or procrastinate longer than usual, we feel things such as anxiety and uneasiness. These consequential feelings induce a burden on our shoulders that never seems to be pacified. We make plans. We talk about the future. We promote our aspirations through endless contemplation. But, when things go amiss (which they inevitably will), we notice that we’ve—unbeknownst to ourselves—sacrificed our most precious commodity: time.

Some of us adamantly feel as if we are truly living in the moment, but once we enter that destination, a cascade of thoughts leaves us tumbling down a mountain of unforeseeable anticipation. To actually feel the present moment, we have to relinquish our external world and look inward at our current situation. Whether by recognizing your thoughts or being grateful for what you have right this instant, remaining faithful to the moment on any given day for a certain amount of time will lead to the gratification of your self-worth.

Recently, I had a vivid moment of nostalgia in the shower that was akin to revisiting a dream or getting the unsettling feeling of déjà vu, which left me startled. I was thinking back to a time when I was in the shower—at the inception of my 21st birthday—and thinking, “Wow, 18 felt like it was yesterday.” Now, with me being 26, I got the same feeling about being 21. To summarize those profound but fleeting thoughts: life is a race against time, and things go faster as you get older. I realized that we’re all so inundated with distractions that we continue to shrug off the essence of life: living. Of course, technology presents itself in a way that’s abundantly innovative; thus, it leaves us yearning for what’s to come and how things may change going forward.

What we fail to notice is that the only time is now. Eventually, when we arrive at the future, we lose grip of it quickly, only to forget that we’ve even made it there. Contemplatives—people who practice meditation—understand the value of living by creating circumstances where they can really feel in tune with life. Mindful mediation has steadily become a beneficial practice that can relieve stress and increase brainpower. It’s tantamount to physical exercise for the body, but for the brain. Getting lost in life has been an antiquated endeavor that has lost its flair due to the barrage of social outlets at our fingertips. Life is short, even when it’s long-lived. We ought to appreciate the moment and be grateful for it before we become aware that everything snuck past us.

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Figuring Out Your Body

Many people of all shapes & sizes ring in the new year with an immense amount of confidence. The idea of reforming one’s self and being able to examine how much potential one has can feel extremely uplifting. New Year’s resolutions vary from minute goals such as cursing less than normal to grandiose goals like partaking in an Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, all done successively without a break. But, the most troubling goal that people continually fall short of is weight loss. If you browse any library or Barnes & Noble, you’ll notice a plethora of books pertaining to the subject of “dieting.” Semantically, I try to avoid using the word diet, because it comes with an evanescent connotation. Dieters merely aspire to be lifestyle changers. The path to changing your body composition is no easy task, but the low-hanging fruit must be to understand how your anatomy works and how to do what’s best for your body.

In the past year, I’ve dropped 35 pounds. I’ll tell you this one thing: it was not easy; there were endless nights fraught with hunger pangs and cravings ad nauseam. My plight with weight loss was an ongoing battle with no armistice in sight. I was eternally at war with my mind – in the hope of improving my body, I began to introspect and outsmart myself. But why, all of a sudden, did I have the urge to succeed after many fruitless attempts at dropping weight?

During college, I had many schemes to trick my body into a skinnier physique: eating once a day, working out completely malnourished, drinking booze instead of edible food because “liquid calories can’t be that bad.” All these gimmicks worked, but only for a very short time. As my body would naturally return to homeostasis, I’d eventually be back up to my hefty weight – and with interest! I always thought of it as punishment for trying to cut corners instead of attacking the problem head on. College, in general, is a tough time to lose weight because partying and cheap food is ubiquitous around campus. One night of imbibing various alcoholic concoctions on top of late night eating will set you back a few days. Our bodies can’t overcome the consumed calories in such a short span of time. Having been a college running back, I still would always excuse my bad eating with “I’ll work it off at practice” which, of course, is a zero-sum ideology.

After college, year in and year out, I fought tirelessly. I would have glimpses of weight reduction, but once the friends called me to accompany them on a night out (which comes with a two-day package: the calorie consumption from the revelry that overflows into the following day with horrific, fatty-food cravings), everything would go straight out the window and into the dumpster.

As time progressed, I began to bury my head in articles and books on different ways to alter one’s body composition. From observing tons of workout techniques to noticing the worst times of day for my body to deal with food, I became health-conscious to the utmost degree. Booze is a weight loss impediment. The empty calories and chemical-altering aftereffects will leave you searching for harmful carbs as obsessively as a damn honey badger sniffs out its prey. By cutting down drinking, you’ll notice immediate physiological changes. No more brain fogs. No more eating voraciously as if you’re not in the driver’s seat of your body. No more being tired just enough to keep you from making it to the gym. Water is essential – dehydration thwarts all plans of muscular development and cardiovascular expansion. By lessening my alcohol consumption, I became reinvigorated and ambitious. I also implemented cardio in my weight lifting regimen, which consists of circuit training (3 different workouts then a brief break, repeat, etc.) At first, spending a couple hours in the gym for a session soon would lead to two-a-days. I became infatuated with sweating; a euphoric moisture pouring from my epidermis, which was evidence of the changes taking place anatomically.

I attribute much of my ‘getting-in-shape’ to the stairmaster. The machine is truly transformative and efficient. Since my intensity was increasing 4-fold, I had to figure out a way to mollify my insatiable appetite. This most definitely varies astronomically with people, genetically & biologically. Much of my weight gain was always amplified in the evening hours, when I would get struck by thoughts of sweets that only a crackhead could attest to. Rummaging through cabinets, at the moment, I was sure I had an undiagnosed case of “Night Eating Syndrome.” But all these issues were just bad habits that became enhanced over years of conditioning. If you do something long enough, your body will adapt to it and it will become automatic. Also, when you know you’re susceptible to eating untimely snacks, just banish them from your house. You’ll never have a strong enough hankering to get in your car at 4 am just for some Cool Ranch Doritos, well, unless you’re impaired.

When the weight started steadily dropping, I knew I couldn’t revert to my erstwhile behavior. By inculcating myself with health insights, I soon felt obliged to keep striving for less & less weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect – I still eat unhealthy, but certainly not as much. I’m a sucker for pasta and sweets, but I’m keenly aware of when to eat them: earlier in the day, when my metabolism is still rapidly churning. The metabolism radius is what I call it – the 3-hour period of time that occurs before or after your workout that will basically eliminate what you ate.

My buddy Brandon Wilson – who lost more than 80 pounds all the while still eating voraciously – once told me, “You want to lose weight? Fall in love with exercise.” I echo those sentiments to this day. Exercise and nutritional intake equally play a role with losing weight, and you won’t get too far by adhering to one and neglecting the other.

That said, moving more and getting your body into a flow where everything becomes blissful with your neurotransmitters being fired off in all different directions is a habit that’ll create happiness and a long life. By slowly increasing your willpower from going a minute longer or a second faster will lend you excellent results. The brain is plastic – we have the ability to transform it into something better, stronger, smarter. Become aware of your proclivities and propensities. Fruits and fibers are vastly better than junk food and sodium. Just remember: There are no free lunches in life; everything comes with a cause & effect; a price tag; a consequence. Slow and steady wins the race. There’s no beating nature and there’s no easy way out, because the hard way is how we got here. Understand your body, for it is yours and you occupy it for only so long; appreciate it.

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Are We Alone in the Universe?

There are three deep questions that philosophers and scientists continually raise in their quest for enlightenment: What is the meaning of life? What kick-started life? Are we alone? Now, as humans we are virtually still in our infancy, having existed for a mere 200,000 years on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old (pretty difficult to comprehend how slow evolution takes to create physiological changes.) When you unpack our anatomy, both chemically and biologically, you’ll notice that we are comprised of the same “stuff” that pervades the universe. Astonishingly, we’re as much related to the universe as it is to us. However, stumbling upon another species that is more or less intelligent than us would be a significant milestone, considering that we have only been exposed to our own biosphere. However, things would change. Determining whether or not the extraterrestrials were hostile or benevolent would require us to tread lightly.

Given the gargantuan number of stars existing in our galaxy alone (100+ billion), it would be naive to say that life couldn’t form on any of these surfaces. Exoplanets—planets that are orbiting a star that is different than ours—are being discovered by the boatloads. Astronomers are shrewdly sifting out which planets are eligible to be exoplanets by recognizing certain light emissions and measuring distances from the star and the planet. Scientists swoon over these observances because it brings them one step closer to finding planets that are able to sustain life. Life, according to our standards, needs to be in a proximate distance from the sun in order to be viable. This zone is called the “Goldilocks zone.” When you exist in this region, your climate is neither too hot nor too cold. Earth, of course, teems with life because it is perfectly seated in that destination. Also, water is vital to survival and the conception of life because it can mix organic compounds together. It is only a matter of time until we find a twin-earth that has been around long enough to have life emerge into a multi-celled organism. Scientists are dutifully and cleverly using tactics to efficiently weed out all of the planets that do not satisfy the “habitable planet” criterion.

But what if life does not have to be based on a human-encoded rubric? What if life can exist interdimensionally? Firstly, if life can exist without the chemicals that are strewn throughout our molecular structure, then it is probably safe to say that life is abundant in the universe. Secondly, we cannot tackle such a question without having known that the other species is definitely disparate from us. But, let us think hypothetically: If this species were entirely made up of an undiscovered element, rather than our 6 elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus), then we would have great trouble analyzing it. If they are thousands of years ahead of us technologically, then we would concede their dominance in an instant. Anything that much more advanced than us is indistinguishable from magic. If you take a peasant who existed in the barbaric medieval age and give him a glimpse of what life is like today, he would be befuddled and flabbergasted within seconds, taken aback by unsettling thoughts such as “how’s that even possible!?” Technological growth is exponential, and these beings may be able tap into interstellar travel as easy as it is for us to ride a bike. Such a scenario is totally plausible when you think about how far we have come in the last century alone.

Interdimensional life that may thrive in a higher dimension would be peculiar and unquantifiable. Since we exist in 4 dimensions (length, width, height, and time), we cannot wrap our heads around anything existing elsewhere. Scientists theoretically postulate that there are 10 dimensions, which ultimately leads to infinite universes e.g., string theory (yes, I know, sounds preposterous.) Some scientists even posit that our universe is one among many that pop in and out of existence like little bubbles. As dehumanizing as it sounds, it shows the complexity of all things and how meticulously we are all interconnected. Therefore, it is a lot more reasonable that we find aliens of our nature than anything else. We are simply not evolved enough to witness imperceptible beings who dwell in other dimensions.

Would aliens be hostile or benevolent? That is an undeniably hard question to answer. But we can be introspective and take a look at ourselves. Human nature tends to be selfish and altruistic. In order for us to propagate and survive, we had to be cooperative. However, we also had to preserve our evolutionary upbringing. It is all in our genes; some people are more helping and caring than others, mostly not by choice. Of course you can acquiesce and override those natural feelings to do something you want, but only to an extent. When it comes to good and evil, we lie in the middle of the train tracks. For example, people are ostensibly “good,” but behind closed doors they may be malicious and duplicitous. The worst possible scenario in discovering intelligent beings would be to find ones that are plundering planets because they need to colonize somewhere. These beings would not be kind in their approach to obtaining our resources. But when you think about it, if we were on our last leg of existence and we knew there was a prospering, less-evolved life form in our backyard, would we aggressively seek out our necessary ingredients to survive? Most likely, given our track record, but we have not yet been pushed against that wall.

There most likely is other life out there somewhere, just based on probability. Until we find “them,” we should be wary in our approach to discovering them in case they’re unfriendly. Space exploration is an important sector of science because it provides us with a way to expand our resourcefulness, rather than remaining bound by earth’s finite assets. UFOs that have been spotted in our atmosphere are mostly bunk and, if anything, anomalous behavior. Even if they were actual extraterrestrials, and that is the way in which they choose to communicate with us, then they are certainly not doing a good job of it. Most UFO observers eventually get exposed or are just delusionally unscientific. It would be cool to find different life out there; we’d gain a lot of uncharted insight. I just hope I am alive for the eureka moment.

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Keep Your Coffee Black

Every morning, millions of people indulge in caffeine-packed cups of coffee. From adding sweeteners to various creamers, people build the ultimate sugary snack in liquid form. Coffee has its pros and cons, but above all – keeps us stimulated and alert. No matter how repugnant the taste may be, we need our fix. The downside that coffee has is accruing too many additives, thereby mitigating its positive effects.

Black coffee is known to counteract the effects of type 2 diabetes. Since it’s virtually devoid of any calories, the benefits are tremendous: faster metabolism, less appetite due to an increase in serotonin, and provides antioxidants which clean out the liver. A diet consisting of water and black coffee for the primaries of the liquid you ingest, will accelerate your weight loss aspirations.

Avoiding additives is imperative. The unnecessary calorie accretion is not conducive to breaking down bodily fat , and, in turn, only makes the body work harder to burn off the excess intake. So the next time you choose to purchase coffee — go black.

Lack Of Sleep

Ever wonder what it’s like to wonder what it’s like to wonder? Yep. Another night passes where sleep seems esoteric; a complexed system where I can’t seem to grasp the nuances. Beleaguered by an endless thought-continuum, thinking has become tiresome, literally. This is the fifth night in a row where I’ve gotten less than 4 hours of sleep. Consequently, everything around me seems uncomfortable. My eyes are open but I’m not sure if they should be.

A lack of sleep comes at a heavy cost; you virtually constrict yourself of all your potential. Here’s some things I immediately felt upon waking up this morning: my heart felt to be in slight flutter, my attention span was short and scattered, my decision-making wasn’t as sharp as normal, and my appetite was extremely insatiable. These apparent changes in brain chemistry are hazardous, and can really decrease one’s mood or outlook on things. The old axiom: “sleep on it,” has a positive connotation that can really affect the way we choose to decide things. Essentially, our brains sift out toxins, consolidate important information, and prepare us for upcoming decisions that we may not have enough conscious time for. This brain is dutifully working even when our bodies aren’t. So why am I jumping through hoops?

Maybe I’m just ignorant. Maybe I understand the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation and am willing to live an enervated lifestyle. Maybe, us as a nation, love the thrill of doing things the last minute, so we sleep-procrastinate because we seek thrills and anything mundane will not be tolerated. Maybe the technology era has crushed all dreams of sleeping. Maybe my grammar & punctuation is objectionably bad while I’m typing this from an exhausted brain. Maybe we’ll change the status quo on sleep and continue to stumble through life from the vantage point of a foggy window.

We all know the importance of sleep. We all know that it can lead to many maladies and most frighteningly, death.
When will we regiment ourselves to routinely follow a “perfect night’s sleep” rubric. Maybe soon, but by then, I hope it’s not too late.