Short book extract

This week has been interesting: It started with a meeting with an elite team that just needed to remind itself that it was one and refresh the behaviours that made it so in the first place.

What was great about this team is that it did not take long before they were back in the correct zone (the red zone) where they just trust themselves to perform at the correct level. Adversity once again is where any team needs to remind itself of what it needs to perform well.

We will always come back to basics.

Jumping ahead to Thursday I worked with another group who need to be elite all of the time as they work at the far right hand edge of resilience where the decisions they make are the difference between life and death.

What was great about this group was once again they were able to really identify their current start point, and examine what they need to do to improve their performance as individuals and as group. I am now in Dubai working on multiple projects.

This means that I have to stay in the zone for a prolonged period so as to not drop a ball. This is one of the times that I will be out of balance with work taking the priority of my time. On Wednesday I climbed Pen-y-fan and it was tough because I did it at a fast pace to assess my start point once more. My legs were tired for two days afterwards. At least I know how fit I am and the work I now need to do to get to where I want to be.

There is also a squash match looming and the loser pays for the champagne and dinner. Could be an expensive evening. I thought I would tie this blog in with an extract from the book that I am writing with RC at the moment. Happy for any comments.

Physical Resilience

The Greek ideal emphasized physical prowess and accomplishment in the arts as an important component in developing its citizens. Fitness was almost as important as learning itself, Mens sana in corpore sano a healthy mind in a healthy body. The body was ‘designed’ with the presumption that it would experience a certain amount of movement, and when this movement doesn’t take place, the body doesn’t perform up to spec.

There’s always been a tradition in any training that I have undertaken with elite performers that optimum performance needs peak physical and mental resilience. All should be in harmony, – the mind and body should be as one. For me it is really important I am physically fit. I want to give myself a possibility to win from weakness (the fitter I am the longer I am in the game, my opponent may be better but will he be there at the end of the day?). Arguably this is another basic.. Your ability to keep going when all those around you have given up is severely curtailed if you feel constantly jaded, tired or ill.

It’s impossible to give your all if you are suffering from poor health. Eat well, exercise regularly, get sufficient sunlight and enjoy fresh air. Then you will have the health, balance and vitality to take life’s stresses in your stride. A great way to look at health is to look at your strength, your aerobic ability and your flexibility as well as eating a healthy diet. It’s that straightforward.

Frank Hu, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health Good nutrition is essential for health but once-promising discoveries, including antioxidant supplements like beta-carotene, have turned out not to be magic pills. The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise. Let your body go, then, and your brain will follow. Furthermore there is increasing proof for this folklore.

A groundbreaking investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from Harvard psychiatrist John J. Ratey, Spark the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain backs this up. He provides a wealth of Neuroscientific evidence that provides a metaphorical shot in the arm to keep exercising. It draws together emerging findings that correlate exercise with a wide range of brain-related benefits—improving attention, reducing stress and anxiety, and staving off cognitive decline in old age.

Three-time winner of the Tour de France Greg LeMond calls it a turning point Having experienced symptoms of both ADHD and mild depression, and personally witnessed the powerful effects of exercise, he always suspected that the health benefits go way beyond just fitness. Exercise is not simply necessary, it’s medicine. You know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat?

The seemingly incontrovertible evidence: shows how. Aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance. Even moderate aerobic exercise is seen to supercharge mental circuits to beat stress, sharpen thinking, enhance memory. Let’s be honest scientists are still not entirely sure how exercise primes the brain for learning but they have some good ideas.

There’s no way to say for sure that improves learning capacity for kids, but it certainly seems to correlate to that. The exercise itself doesn’t make you smarter, but the likelihood is it puts the brain of the learners in the optimal position for them to learn. Could be this another reason why sport brings out the best in people and helps transform and enrichen the lives of so many ? Ratey first noticed the link between exercise and mood disorders because he had a number of patients who ran marathons.

They told him they started to feel depressed after they stopped training. One of the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain he shows new research that you can literally pick up a jump rope or go for a run and short-circuit the stress response. After a fast-paced workout, the muscles relax and often the worry or agitation eases as well. People who work out on a regular basis find they’re resistant to the stress response. They’re more likely to remain calm even in situations that would have triggered a toxic stress response in the past. In some cases, a regular exercise program works as well as medication typically used to relieve anxiety or mild to moderate depression. It’s at the early stage and it’s substantiating what many have recognised for some time.

The evidence is if you activate your brain with exercise, you’re going to release a lot of the neurotransmitters aimed for in psychopharmacology, you know. Serotonin drugs, dopamine drugs, norepinephrine drugs all tend to try, we think, elevate the levels of these neurotransmitters. Aerobic exercise does that pretty quickly. When you’re moving, you’re doing better. You have more dopamine circulating, more epinephrine, and eventually more serotonin. So, this is one of the quick ways of thinking about how we, all these things work in the brain.

There’s more elaborate effects and scientific support but if I go back to my early training days when people were put under immense physical and mental stress, the two tended to go together. Try testing someone completely exhausted after climbing Pen-y-fan (a 2,900ft peak in Wales.) on their mathematical skills or test their ability to navigate and it’s rather obvious.

In one study, that relates closely to my experience the effects of aerobic, weight, and no training on responses to a fiendishly stressful situation were compared. Participants had to answer mental arithmetic puzzles, which flashed up on a screen too fast to complete, while listening to distracting conversations involving numbers. Those who had undergone the aerobic training had reduced heart-rate and systolic blood-pressure responses relative to the control group. So it seems apparent that exercise builds physical and psychological resilience to the other event. We don’t fully understand why but it may by primarily due to improvements in general cardiac performance – the cardiovascular system becomes more efficient and doesn’t need to do as much work to mobilise resources in reaction to a stressor. In effect then exercise effectively raises the body’s natural ‘trigger point’ for the stress response.

On another occasion I put a top international sportsman in a stressful state, by simply wiring him up to a computer in front of his peers. When I asked how he was feeling now that I was about to test his intellect, he said “I feel fine”, his heart rate however showed he was at 175 beats per minute, even when we appear to be in control our internal self may be in over drive. The key thing is that he was still able to work at this high rate due to his physical fitness. How many people that are unfit would be able to operate with their heart rates above 80% or the norm? .

The benefits of physical health, particularly aerobic fitness are well proven. There’s another impact arising out of the status of being classified as being an elite performer that adds another dimension. In the UK Marmot knighted for services to epedimiology and health inequalities addressed the question of why do people of higher status have better health and live longer than those of lower status. We might think in binary terms of rich and poor high status low status but actually there is a gradient, the CEO lives longer than a head of department.

When he first examined the mortality from heart disease among British civil servants, he noticed an interesting fact: The lower the employee’s civil-service grade, the higher the age-adjusted mortality risk. Related to this he cited studies of primate communities that show higher status monkeys have reduced day-to-day cortisol levels, are healthier, and live longer. Longitudinal studies showed that it is status that matters; moving a high status monkey to a low status group raised stress hormones. Marmot and his colleagues found that only about a quarter of the observed variation in death rates could be accounted for by rank-related differences in such things as smoking, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Follow-up studies measuring the degree of control people had over their jobs found it to be a good predictor of the incidence of and mortality from heart disease five or more years later. In fact, job control and status accounted for more of the variation in mortality from heart disease than physiological factors.

These findings shouldn’t come as a shock . Not being able to control you environment produces feelings of helplessness and stress, and study after study has demonstrated that stress can harm your health. So it follows that being in a position of low power and status is literally hazardous to your health, whereas having the perception of and reality of power and the control that comes with it could prolong your life. There we have it scientific evidence supporting the virtues in climbing the ladder and elite performance. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Aerobic exercise helps the heart pump more blood to the brain, along with the rest of the body. More blood means more oxygen, and thus better nourished brain cells. For decades, that has been the only scientific link between athletic and mental prowess. People have been slow to grasp that exercise can really affect cognition, just as it affects muscles. Now, armed with brain-scanners and a more sophisticated understanding of biochemistry, neuroscientists are realizing that the mental effects of exercise are far more profound and complex than they once thought. The process starts in the muscles. Every time a bicep for example contracts and releases, it sends out chemicals, including a protein called IGF-1 that travels through the bloodstream, across the blood-brain barrier and into the brain itself. There, IGF-1 takes on the role of foreman in the neurotransmitter factory. It issues orders to ramp up production of several hormones, including one called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This is called by some this “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” It fuels almost all the activities that lead to higher thought. With regular exercise, the body builds up its levels of BDNF, and the brain’s nerve cells start to branch out, join together and communicate with each other in new ways. This is the process that underlies learning: every change in the junctions between brain cells signifies a new fact or skill that’s been picked up and stowed away for future use. BDNF makes that process possible. Brains with more of it have a greater capacity for knowledge. On the other hand, according to UCLA neuroscientist Gómez-Pinilla, a brain that’s low on BDNF shuts itself off to new information. In his experiments, rats were put through weeks of running on a wheel, a workout that increased their BDNF levels. Half of the animals were left alone; in the other half, the hormone’s effects were blocked with a drug.

Then he subjected both groups of athletic rats to a test of wits, encouraging them to find an object that was hidden underwater. The first group easily pinpointed its location, but the second, BDNF-deprived group wasn’t nearly as quick or sharp. Nature has conducted a similar experiment on humans. In unlucky people with a faulty variant of the gene that makes BDNF, the brain has trouble both creating new memories and calling up old ones. Most of us maintain fairly constant levels of BDNF in adulthood. But as we age, individual neurons slowly start to die off. Until the mid-’90s, scientists thought the loss was permanent–that the brain couldn’t make new nerve cells to replace the dead ones.

Animal studies over the last decade have overturned that assumption, showing that “neurogenesis” in some parts of the brain can be induced easily with exercise. A study, published in Science, extended that principle to humans for the first time. After working out for three months, all the subjects in the study sprouted new neurons; those who gained the most in cardiovascular fitness also grew the most nerve cells. This, , was the work of BDNF. Its second job is to transform stem cells into full-grown, functional neurons; more BDNF equals a bigger brain. “It was extremely exciting to see this in humans because it defied dogma,” says Scott Small, a Columbia University neurologist who co-authored the study with Salk Institute neurobiologist Fred Gage. As far as scientists know, adults can grow new neurons only in the hippocampus. But other parts of their brains benefit from exercise in many secondary ways. Kramer found that exercise caused overall brain volume to increase in older men and women. The same is true for blood volume, says Small: “Wherever you have the birth of new brain cells, you have the birth of new capillaries.” Active adults have less inflammation in the brain. They also have fewer “little bitty strokes that can impair cognition without the person even knowing,” says University of California, San Francisco, neurologist Kristine Yaffe. Still other scientists have found that athletes have more astrocytes, or cells that support neurons and mop up neurotransmitters after they’re used to send messages from cell to cell. And even the levels of those neurotransmitters are higher in people who exercise frequently. “Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, all of these are elevated after a bout of exercise,” says Ratey. “So having a workout will help with focus, calming down, impulsivity–it’s like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.” Unlike neurogenesis, which can take weeks to occur, most of these additional effects appear almost immediately. Get off the treadmill after a half-hour workout, says Hillman, and “within 48 minutes” your brain will be in better shape. Alas, these benefits are somewhat transient. Like weight, mental fitness has to be maintained. New neurons, and the connections between them, will stick around for years, but within a month of inactivity, “the astrocytes shrink down again, and then the neurons don’t function as well anymore,”.

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