Keeping fit at all ages – yesterday in Malahide/Gestern in Malahide

Yesterday I took a rest from my powerlifting training and went for a morning walk in Malahide, a small town in North County Dublin, Ireland. Within one hour of walking I was able to visit the Malahide Marina, Malahide Castle and the Malahide Village. I also noticed the many people being active, either jogging, running, walking or cycling. There was a park run on, organised by parkrun.ie and sponsored among others by Healthy Ireland.  About a hundred people participated, young and old. Great to see so many people of all ages being active, and all that at 9.30 in the morning!

Meanwhile my son Christian was playing golf in Malahide Golfclub. To his surprise he noticed number of non-golfers – a family of foxes, as shown in his video!

Gestern nahm ich eine Auszeit von meinem Powerlifting-Training und machte stattdessen einen Morgenspaziergang in Malahide, einer kleinen Stadt in North County Dublin, Irland. Innerhalb einer Stunde konnte ich den Malahide Yachthafen, das Malahide Schloss und das Malahide Village besuchen. Ich bemerkte auch, dass viele Leute aktiv waren, entweder Joggen, Laufen oder Radfahren. Es gab einen Park Run, der von parkrun.ie organisiert und unter anderem von Healthy Ireland gesponsert wurde. Ungefähr hundert Leute nahmen teil, jung und alt. Toll, so viele Menschen jeden Alters aktiv zu sehen, und das alles um 9.30 Uhr morgens!

Inzwischen spielte mein Sohn Christian Golf im Malahide Golfclub. Zu seiner Überraschung bemerkte er einige Nicht-Golfer, eine Familie von Füchsen, wie sein Video zeigt!

 

The Yogi masters were right – breathing exercises can sharpen your mind

New research explains link between breath-focused meditation and brain health

It has long been claimed by Yogis and Buddhists that meditation and ancient breath-focused practices, such as pranayama, strengthen our ability to focus on tasks. A new study by researchers at Trinity College Dublin explains for the first time the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.

Breath-focused meditation and yogic breathing practices have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved arousal levels, more positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, along with many others. To date, however, no direct neurophysiological link between respiration and cognition has been suggested.

The research shows for the first time that breathing – a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices – directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

The study, carried out by researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity, found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention, than those who had poor focus. The authors believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilise attention and boost brain health.

Michael Melnychuk, PhD candidate at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity, and lead author of the study, explained: “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. In our study we looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is an all-purpose action system in the brain. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can’t focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can’t focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer.”

“This study has shown that as you breathe in locus coeruleus activity is increasing slightly, and as you breathe out it decreases. Put simply this means that our attention is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration. It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimise your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronised.”

The research provides deeper scientific understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms which underlie ancient meditation practices. The findings were recently published in a paper entitled ‘Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama’ in the journal Psychophysiology. Further research could help with the development of non-pharmacological therapies for people with attention compromised conditions such as ADHD and traumatic brain injury and in supporting cognition in older people.

There are traditionally two types of breath-focused practices — those that emphasise focus on breathing (mindfulness), and those that require breathing to be controlled (deep breathing practices such as pranayama). In cases when a person’s attention is compromised, practices which emphasise concentration and focus, such as mindfulness, where the individual focuses on feeling the sensations of respiration but make no effort to control them, could possibly be most beneficial. In cases where a person’s level of arousal is the cause of poor attention, for example drowsiness while driving, a pounding heart during an exam, or during a panic attack, it should be possible to alter the level of arousal in the body by controlling breathing. Both of these techniques have been shown to be effective in both the short and the long term.

Ian Robertson, Co-Director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity and Principal Investigator of the study added: “Yogis and Buddhist practitioners have long considered the breath an especially suitable object for meditation. It is believed that by observing the breath, and regulating it in precise ways—a practice known as pranayama—changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator are realised. Our research finds that there is evidence to support the view that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind.”

“Our findings could have particular implications for research into brain ageing. Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long term meditators. More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. Our research offers one possible reason for this – using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation.”

Reference:   Melnychuk, M.C., Dockree, P.M, O’Connell, R.G,  Murphy, P.R, Balsters, J.H,  Robertson, I.H. (2018). Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama, Psychophysiology,  https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13091

Source: Trinity News

WHO plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from global food supply

WHO yesterday released REPLACE, a step-by-step guide for the elimination of industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply.

Eliminating trans fats is key to protecting health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease.

Industrially-produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. But healthier alternatives can be used that would not affect taste or cost of food.

“WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply,”said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Implementing the six strategic actions in the REPLACE package will help achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease.”

REPLACE provides six strategic actions to ensure the prompt, complete, and sustained elimination of industrially-produced trans fats from the food supply:

REview dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.

Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.

Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats.

Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.

Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.

Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.

Several high-income countries have virtually eliminated industrially-produced trans fats through legally imposed limits on the amount that can be contained in packaged food. Some governments have implemented nationwide bans on partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of industrially-produced trans fats.

In Denmark, the first country to mandate restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats, the trans fat content of food products declined dramatically and cardiovascular disease deaths declined more quickly than in comparable OECD countries.

“New York City eliminated industrially-produced trans fat a decade ago, following Denmark’s lead,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there’s no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed.”

Action is needed in low- and middle-income countries, where controls of use of industrially-produced trans fats are often weaker, to ensure that the benefits are felt equally around the world.

WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg, a three-term mayor of New York city and the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “Banning trans fats in New York City helped reduce the number of heart attacks without changing the taste or cost of food, and eliminating their use around the world can save millions of lives. A comprehensive approach to tobacco control allowed us to make more progress globally over the last decade than almost anyone thought possible – now, a similar approach to trans fat can help us make that kind of progress against cardiovascular disease, another of the world’s leading causes of preventable death.”

Elimination of industrially-produced trans fats from the global food supply has been identified as one of the priority targets of WHO’s strategic plan, the draft 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13) which will guide the work of WHO in 2019 – 2023. GPW13 is on the agenda of the 71st World Health Assembly that will be held in Geneva on 21 – 26 May 2018. As part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, the global community has committed to reducing premature death from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by 2030. Global elimination of industrially-produced trans fats can help achieve this goal.

“Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods?” asks Dr Tedros. “The world is now embarking on the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, using it as a driver for improved access to healthy food and nutrition. WHO is also using this milestone to work with governments, the food industry, academia and civil society to make food systems healthier for future generations, including by eliminating industrially-produced trans fats.”

Notes
There are two main sources for trans fats: natural sources (in the dairy products and meat of ruminants such as cows and sheep) and industrially-produced sources (partially hydrogenated oils).

Partially hydrogenated oils were first introduced into the food supply in the early 20th century as a replacement for butter, and became more popular in the 1950s through 1970s with the discovery of the negative health impacts of saturated fatty acids. Partially hydrogenated oils are primarily used for deep frying and as an ingredient in baked goods; they can be replaced in both.

WHO recommends that the total trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet. Trans fats increases levels of LDL-cholesterol, a well-accepted biomarker for cardiovascular disease risk, and decreases levels of HDL-cholesterol, which carry away cholesterol from arteries and transport it to the liver, that secretes it into the bile. Diets high in trans fat increase heart disease risk by 21% and deaths by 28%. Replacing trans fats with unsaturated fatty acids decreases the risk of heart disease, in part, by ameliorating the negative effects of trans fats on blood lipids. In addition, there are indications that trans fat may increase inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.

From 4 May-1 June 2018, WHO is running an online public consultation to review updated draft guidelines on the intake of trans-fatty acids saturated fatty acids for adult and children.

Source: World Health Organization

 

My Powerlifting Journey

Yesterday a colleague asked me how I got into powerlifting – at my age. This is a question I was asked many times before, so I thought I write a blog about it, to describe the beginning of the journey, the painful lessons, the successes, the benefits and what powerlifting does for me.

 

The Beginning of the Journey

I started lifting heavy weights in summer 2015 at the tender age of 54. As I had a month of work I thought it would be nice to get really fit and in shape, see what I achieve with exercise and good nutrition.
I had been a member of a lovely hotel health and fitness club for 20 years. However, none of the fitness routines such as treadmill, stepper and bike aerobics had improved my body, perhaps just kept me in reasonable shape.
I asked one of the fitness staff in the gym to tell me what else I could do “to get rid of the wobbly bits”. I was lucky as the guy I asked was also a strength coach in another gym. He advised me that I should start lifting weights.
I told him that I did not want to get bulky, look like a bodybuilder, but he said that there is “not a chance” as I would not have enough testosterone in my body to build big muscles.
So I thought I’ll give it a try. After a few weeks I saw results, my clothes felt more comfortable, I felt more energetic and lifting heavier and heavier weights made me feel very good. I slowly changed my nutrition, mainly more protein, less sugar, more vegetables. I learned about the importance of sleep, as the whole strength building process happens while sleeping (I’m sure there is a scientific rationale).
Soon I noticed in the gym that I lifted heavier weights than the young guys working out beside me. I looked up the weights I lifted on the web and the world records in my weight/age category were not miles away, in fact, I had already beaten the standing world record in deadlift many times in the gym!

Painful Lessons

So, thinking that I may have a talent for weightlifting I went to get a few lessons in powerlifting. Powerlifting is a form of competitive weightlifting in which contestants attempt three types of lift in a set sequence, squat, bench press and deadlift, which is called “Full Power”. Competitions are also held that include just one of these lifts which are called “Single lifts”, or a competition of two lifts.
In August 2015 I joined the Irish Drug Free Powerlifting Federation and in September I took part in my first competition in Ballina, Co Mayo, a “push – pull” competition, meaning bench press and deadlift.
What a (painful) learning opportunity! Similar to boxing, powerlifters compete in weight category and I thought, and still think, the weigh-in in the early morning is the worst part of the competition. Then I made so many mistakes, wrong shows, wrong belt, wrong technique, nerves….
I was disqualified after not being able to get one successful bench press. I wanted to drive home and cry! What had I been thinking! However after many encouraging words from another female powerlifter, I partook in the deadlift part of the competition, even though none of the lifts would be counted. I achieved three successful lifts, got a lot of applause and again I got a lot of encouraging words. Even though I left Ballina empty-handed, I decided to try again in another competition.

Successes and further goals

By now I took part in four world championships, in Wales, Italy, Belgium and Boston, USA. I broke and set some World and European records. I met other powerlifters from many countries, also passionate about powerlifting. My next goal is to partake in the European full power championship in the UK in May and beat my personal records in all three categories.

Benefits of lifting heavy

So far, I am enjoying the sport. Other powerlifters have described the relaxation aspect of this sport and the reduction of anger, the emotional wellbeing. I agree with them. No matter how much is going on in my life, I can put it out of my head for a few hours every week, without taking drugs. When I am preparing for a big lift there is this intense concentration with one single purpose – to get that weight of the ground. This is a quiet and meditative moment, I notice nothing else but the bar.

What does it do for me?

I think that my competitive sport enables me to manage the other aspects of my life – my hectic personal life, my managerial role in Trinity College as well as my scholarly work. Thanks to my sport I can completely switch off for a few hours a week.
I am now in better shape than ever. I am stronger, feel calmer, the best is really that the training, the discipline and determination gives me the ability to face better everything that life might through at me!

How did I get into Powerlifting?

I started lifting heavy weights in summer 2015 at the tender age of 54. As I had a month of work I thought it would be nice to get really fit and in shape, see what I achieve with exercise and a good diet. Read more