The Surprising Way To Exercise For Your Brain Health, with Max Lugavere

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

When it comes to fitness and exercise for maximum health benefits, the discussion is usually centered around cardio. But is cardio exercise really the BEST way to get your brain and body in shape? In the last episode of a series with “The Genius Life” author Max Lugavere, he and the Amens discuss another type of approach to the gym that can have a bigger impact on your overall health.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with Max Lugavere, we're having a great conversation about his new book, The Genius Life, and he's the bestselling author of Genius Foods. He's been on television a bunch. I have his brain, which always makes me happy. We did a show together for The Dr. Oz Show and we're talking about practical ways to keep your brain and your body healthy, and so we've talked about food, we talked about light-
Tana Amen: What about exercise? What about weight bearing exercise?
Max Lugavere: Crucially important. I'm so glad you brought that up. I think that there's been a bias in the medical literature for a long time. All of the exercise interventions on brain health have really centered around aerobic exercise, which I think it's certainly important doing cardio, but I think it's been overemphasized in the literature especially ... and also in the media. I think resistance training is crucially important. If that's the one exercise tip that I can give to you, it's resistance training. Get stronger, build muscle. Do high intensity-
Tana Amen: Yeah, especially women. Women don't want to do it and I'm like, you're not going to look like Ms Olympia, trust me, I've tried. It doesn't happen. I want to look like that and I can't. You're just not built that way unless you are just a genetic freak, in which case good for, but it just doesn't ... women avoid it at all costs, they don't want-
Dr Daniel Amen: What are the health benefits of resistance training? When you say that you basically being lifting weights?
Max Lugavere: Yeah, well I mean, it means having a better body composition. So I mean take a woman who is eating a lower protein diet because women are told, and I think many people are to avoid meat and protein and things like that. You take an older person who's eating a low protein diet and they're not weight training but they're doing only cardio. That's the perfect recipe for muscle loss-
Tana Amen: And inflammation, yeah.
Max Lugavere: ... and inflammation and fat gain. That's the perfect recipe. Consume a little bit more protein, which it's very difficult to over-consume protein. It's not bad for your kidneys. That's been a myth that has been debunked, thankfully, if you have healthy kidneys, and weight train. Having stronger muscles is associated with better brain health, better brain function, better insulin sensitivity, which is the inverse of type 2 diabetes, lower inflammation, reduce inflammation with weight training. [crosstalk 00:03:28]
Tana Amen: Yeah. It reduces your risk of osteoporosis. I mean, you just need to do it.
Dr Daniel Amen: The stronger you are as you age, the less likely you are to get Alzheimer's. Now you're not saying cardio is an important ... There's this fascinating study that if you're 80 and you can walk three miles an hour, so I try to walk like I'm late, that's my big recommendation. You have a 90% chance you're living to 90, but if you're 80 and you can only walk a mile per hour, odds are you don't have muscle and you're frail. You have a 90% chance you are not living until you're 90.
Tana Amen: But you don't want to just do cardio. And that's what we usually tell people. It's like alternative if you have to like ... because I like doing a little cardio, I like hiking, I like all that stuff. But some weight bearing exercise, especially if you've got like me, if you've got, which so many women now do, thyroid problems, you are at much higher risk for bone wasting, muscle wasting, it's osteoporosis. So weight bearing exercise becomes crucial.
Dr Daniel Amen: And we're not recommending people start heavy because then they get hurt. And when the older you are the longer the recovery time when you're hurt. So what are the resistant training exercises you recommend, Max?
Max Lugavere: Yeah, well thankfully you know whether or not you have access to a gym or you can do pushups in your home or even air squats, anything that's going to function as a compound exercise. So it's going to work multiple joints and muscle groups at the same time. So take a squat, for example, squats work your quadriceps, your hamstrings, your glutes. It's really important to have strong glutes, which are meant to be the strongest muscle in the body.
Max Lugavere: But because we're so sedentary these days, it actually is allowed ... We atrophy it and we lift with our lower backs causing back pain for so many of us. Trying to work your way up to a pull up. I know some people are going to be like, "Oh my God, a pull up! How am I going to be able to do that?" Well, by joining a gym you, you have assisted pull-up machines that can help you get stronger. People don't appreciate, but just there was a study that took elderly sedentary people who were not resistance trained at all and they put them on, I believe it was a six week program. They saw ... it might've been a six week or a six month program, don't quote me on this, but they saw a dramatic improvement in their strength, up to a 50% improvement in their strength. Crucially important.
Tana Amen: At Tufts university they did a study and they got the elderly folks in nursing homes lifting just lightweights to start, I mean really lightweight, but for them it was big because they had never lifted and their independence increased dramatically. So that was just ... I mean it's a matter of independence and you made a really good point about squats. Again, the nurse in me is coming out. But what people don't think about, if you can't do a squat, we see so many people fall and hit their heads getting off the toilet when they're older or trying to squat down to pick up something and they lose their balance because they're not strong enough and they'll fall and hit their head. I'm just so critical. It's just so crucial.
Max Lugavere: It's crucially important. I mean, again, you go to the world's blue zones or a hunter gatherer communities, you see elders squatting on the floor, they're not sitting on chairs. And I'm not saying that we all need to start sitting on our floors, but being able to get up off of a floor, you're right is a very fairly good predictor of longevity. Now when it comes to these kinds of these exercises, I think it's really smart to pick a lighter weight at first so that you build a little bit of stability. You start to understand what the movement is so that you don't injure yourself, and not just to do like bicep curls. Sometimes I'll go to the gym and I'll see, older adults, they're putting in their best efforts, but all they're doing are those isolation movements.
Max Lugavere: You really want to do ... Focus on the exercises that are going to give you the most time for your back. So bench presses or pull downs or squats, lunges, things like that. Those are going to be the best. Start with a lightweight, but then don't be afraid to increase it, because exercising at a level of intensity that's about 80% of your max, that's really what it takes to stimulate that muscle growth. So if all you're doing is going to the gym, and throwing up these lightweights, you really want to be able to increase the weights. So if you're doing 15 to 20 repetitions, I think that's when it's time to up the weight.
Max Lugavere: And actually there was a study that came out very recently in the journal of NeuroImage that found for the first time that resistance training about 90 minutes a week was actually able to grow the hippocampus, which this is the first time that this was ever shown with resistance training. They've shown this in the past with aerobic exercise. But by resistance training, you're not just growing bigger muscles. You're growing a bigger memory center in your brain.
Dr Daniel Amen: I love that. We only have two minutes left. What are some other of the major messages and your new book Genius Life?
Max Lugavere: Exercise is crucially important. Exercise is medicine, but then one of the other modalities that I talk about, one of the other physical activities that I talk about is actually called non-exercise physical activity. The value of just staying active and doing things other than sitting on the couch watching TV. So being sedentary for an extended of time literally drains blood from your brain. Whereas even simple daily, basic, spontaneous movements like chasing your cat around the house or getting your laundry or doing dishes pushes fresh blood and nutrients up to your brain.
Dr Daniel Amen: Doing the dishes, that helps so much.
Tana Amen: I know, I love it. He does the dishes. So great.
Max Lugavere: Yeah, it's good for the brain. Any movement is good for the brain at the end of the day. And the inverse of that, an overly sedentary lifestyle is a toxin to the brain. So I recommend people being active as much as they can. Not just standing in one place, or sitting in one place, but being active, whether that means walking regularly, or doing chores around your house.
Max Lugavere: And also if you have a loved one that has dementia or some other kind of condition, this is pretty important. It's allowing them to continue to do the things that they love. I think we like to bear the burden for our loved ones, especially when they're in advanced age or they have a health condition, but it's crucial to continue to maybe assist them, but to let them do the things that get them up out of bed or off the couch. It's vital. I mean the human body is designed to move and stagnation is death.
Tana Amen: Yeah. We just had this discussion in our house this morning because it's also a mood stabilizer, let's just be honest. We were just talking about this, this morning. I'm not a nice person when I don't exercise. If I get too busy to move my body and I'm just sitting at a computer ... because I just finished writing a book and you can appreciate this. You've got a deadline. And when I sit and write, I'm just not a balanced person, I wish I was, but I'll sit for 16 hours and then I'll get up and just go ... and I don't like that but it's just how I function best when I'm writing. And so I am just not, I'm just grumpy, I don't feel good. And it's like we constantly have this discussion. He's like, "Go work out because you're just not fun to be around." It just, it changes your outlook on life. So I don't understand people-
Dr Daniel Amen: Well we are at the end of our time and I'm so grateful that you reminded her to do that because [crosstalk 00:11:04] it makes me happy. We're just so grateful for you Max-
Tana Amen: Yeah, thank you.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... and your mission in the world. I mean, we're really sorry what happened to your mom, but what we find for our brain warriors is basically taking your pain to purpose-
Tana Amen: Loves that you did this.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... and that's what you're doing. And I just can't imagine a better thing for you to do with that hurt and it is just helping so many people. So we are grateful for your friendship and look forward to this book being a monster success for you.
Max Lugavere: Thank you, Dr Amen. Yeah, it's a pleasure. I can't wait to get you on my podcast and thank you for helping me spread the word about the Genius Life. I think it's ... I poured my heart and soul into it and I hope it resonates with people.
Tana Amen: Wonderful.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, I think it will. All right, my friend. Take care.
Max Lugavere: Thank you doc.
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