Coping Beyond COVID-19

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Coping Beyond COVID-19

How Exercise & Nutrition Support Our Mindset

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a once-in-a-generation event that has placed tremendous strain on our public health system and our economy. Another unfortunate consequence of the disease has been the negative effect it has had on the mental health and well-being of countless people globally. Stay-in-shelter orders and limited human connection have contributed to increased levels of anxiety and depression.

How do we survive, or better yet thrive in a postCOVID-19 world? It all starts with developing the right mindset. And to create this mindset, we need to prioritize our health. After all, your mind is not separate from your body. You are an integrated machine – the most complex and sophisticated machine ever designed! Two of the most effective strategies to support our health and mental wellbeing are to move better and, fuel better. Here’s how:

Daily Movement

In the words of my brother and business partner Coach Gaetan, “movement is the most overlooked, undervalued ‘treatment’ for chronic health conditions. Movement practice can be the differencemaker that restarts and reinvigorates your body and your mindset.” Chronic stress and anxiety can be dramatically improved simply by having a daily movement practice – no prescription pills or potions needed.

A consistent movement practice increases endorphins, which are “feel good” neurotransmitters that can help fight depression. Exercise also improves circulation, which reduces inflammation and enables more oxygen to make its way to your tissues, including the brain. Better oxygen delivery helps your mitochondria (the powerhouse of your cells) make energy more quickly and eliminate neurotoxins more easily. Consistent movement prevents cognitive decline and helps reduce your risk of developing many neurodegenerative diseases.

One of the easiest ways for most of us to begin a daily movement practice is by walking. Walking is especially good for your brain and has been shown in research to help increase the size of the hippocampi, where neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) occurs.

Start small so that your movement practice can be sustainable. A ten-minute walk completed daily is more beneficial than a 60-minute walk once per week.

Strength Training

Strength training improves your brain so you can move better. This is achieved by increasing neural drive – the ability to send electrical signals from the brain to the muscles. Strength training also increases lymph flow, which supports the body’s natural detoxification process.

Perhaps most important, strength training has been shown to improve mental health. Research has shown strength training to be effective in decreasing anxiety, improving memory and cognition, reducing fatigue, and increasing happiness. This is due in part to the increase in endorphins and neurogenesis that strength training provides.

If you are new to strength training, I highly recommend you seek out a qualified coach to ensure you reach your goals and avoid unnecessary injuries.

Cardiovascular Training

Besides being good for your heart, cardiovascular training is also great for your brain. Cardio (as well as strength training) increases levels of a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF helps to create new brain cells, boosts learning, and enhances memory. Low levels of BDNF are associated with cognitive decline. An effective strategy to increase BDNF levels is to use HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), which alternates periods of intense exercise (i.e. sprinting, rowing, biking, swimming) followed by periods of active rest.

Hydration

Our bodies are composed of nearly two-thirds water. We all know how important water is for basic survival. However, for optimal performance and mental health, water is simply critical. When you don’t drink enough water, and start to dehydrate, your core temperature rises, which increases your perceived exertion. This means you feel fatigued (physically and mentally) faster. When you are optimally hydrated, your body can regulate its temperature more efficiently and deliver nutrients more easily to areas that need it most such as your brain. Proper hydration also helps to control cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can cause oxidative stress to your brain.

When deciding on which fluids to consume to meet your daily hydration needs, water is your number one choice. A simple guideline you can use to determine your optimal water intake is to multiply 0.6 ounces (approx. 18ml) of water for every pound of bodyweight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you want to aim for 90 ounces (about 2.7 L) of water per day. This equates to just over 11 glasses of water.

Nutrition

The food you eat is critical to the performance of your brain. Optimal nutrition can fuel your performance while subpar nutrition can negatively impact your performance.

Fats are critical for the health and performance of your brain. Your brain cells and the myelin that insulates them are all comprised of fat. Essential fats, such as those found in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, provide numerous benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory while Omega-6 fatty acids in excess, are inflammatory. A diet with a balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is required for optimal brain performance. Good sources of healthy fats include the following: grass-fed animal fat and meat, pastured eggs, wild-caught seafood (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring), coconut oil, olive oil, and fish oil.

Protein is one of the most important pieces of the nutrition puzzle to support optimal health and mental wellbeing. Essential for repairing and rebuilding tissue, protein enhances immune system function, optimizes body composition, and provides key nutrients required to make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that have specific functions in the body. For example, dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with willpower, decision making, and motivation. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that directly impacts mood and wellbeing. The performance of your body and brain is critically dependent on how well your neurotransmitters function. High-quality protein sources such as beef, chicken, wild salmon, raw almonds, and pastured eggs are a great way to give your body the materials needed to make neurotransmitters and support your mental wellbeing.

Last and certainly not least, we can’t forget about eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies provide your body and brain with a full spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals. Many are also a great source of antioxidants, including polyphenols. Polyphenols have been validated by research as playing a key role in preventing cardiovascular disease, various cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases. Polyphenols have also been shown to improve blood flow to the brain, which enhances memory and prevents cognitive decline. Blueberries, blackberries, olives, and spinach are all good sources of polyphenols. They are superfoods for your body and mind.

Supplementation

When you have covered your bases with movement, strength training, hydration, and nutrition, supplementation can make a world of difference to enhance your well-being. The following supplements, while often considered basic, are game-changers in terms of strengthening the immune system, optimizing performance and supporting mental health:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3’ fatty acids are one of the most important supplements you can take. The typical North American diet does not deliver enough of this critical nutrient, which is why supplementation through fish or krill oil is highly recommended. Omega-3 fatty acids provide numerous benefits, including decreasing inflammation, increasing mental focus, memory, and increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Higher serotonin levels have a positive effect on mood and well-being.

Vitamin D: The benefits of vitamin D are almost too numerous to count. They include improved bone health, improved body composition, a stronger immune system, and decreased risk of disease. Higher vitamin D levels are also correlated with enhanced mood. Getting enough vitamin D through sun exposure is challenging for Canadians – and the COVID-19 crisis has only made it more difficult – which is why supplementing with this critical nutrient is so important.

Magnesium: This mineral is an absolute powerhouse, involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Researchers estimate that nearly 80% of individuals are deficient in this critical micronutrient, and the number is even higher among active individuals. Some of the many benefits of supplementing with magnesium include improved digestion, stronger immunity, enhanced sleep quality, a reduction in anxiety, and improved mood.

Zinc: Another, superstar mineral, zinc plays a critical role in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body, and is very important for optimal brain function. Low levels of zinc are associated with decreased insulin sensitivity and testosterone levels. Zinc can strengthen your immune system and several research studies have seen a reduction in depression symptoms with zinc supplementation.

The good news is that you don’t have to figure this stuff out all on your own. To help you get on, and stay on the right track, I would recommend you consult with an experienced coach and/or nutritionist who can design a program specific to your goals. As the co-founder of Strong Athlete, a high-performance coaching company in Mississauga, I’ve helped hundreds of people to move better, eat better, and live well. I’d love to help you with your health and wellness journey and take some of the weight of COVID-19 off your shoulders. Contact me at pk@strong-athlete.com for coaching inquiries.

PK Mills is a high-performance coach and the co-founder of Strong Athlete, with over two decades of experience in fitness and nutrition. A life-long athlete, Coach PK is a two-time national champion in powerlifting, multiple national record holder, and a bronze medalist at the 2018 IPF World Powerlifting Championships.

By |June 6th, 2020|Features|

About the Author:

Coach PK
A co-founder of Strong Athlete, Coach PK is a lifelong athlete whose passion is to help others realize their physical potential. Coach PK has nearly two decades of experience in high-performance athletics and sports nutrition. His no-nonsense programs integrate intense strength training, metabolic conditioning and performance nutrition to achieve results. Coach PK’s clientele includes physique competitors, fitness models, martial artists, law enforcement professionals and dedicated individuals who want to be stronger physically and mentally. To set up a consultation, Coach PK can be contacted at pk@strong-athlete.com.

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