FEELING FOGGY? MOVE YOUR BODY!Sep 26, 2022
Some days I can barely remember what day it is, let alone the names of my children or don’t ask me why I walked into a room!
These can often be overlooked; we’re busy women and retaining all the information is hard at the best of times.
But brain fog can become increasingly frustrating when it starts to interfere with our everyday lives.
With figures ranging from 60 to up to 80% of women reporting struggles with cognition, it is one of the most commonly reported menopause symptoms.
Brain fog can be characterised by several symptoms, including:
Feeling mentally fatigued
Difficulty processing information
An inability to multi-task
Feeling overwhelmed by information
It’s not a surprise that many women fear the worst. And given that we are busy women, leading busy and often stressful lives, brain fog really couldn’t come at a worse time.
But it’s more than that. It can feel like we’ve lost our identity. We often pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task, to organise, to do a gazillion things at once. It often forms an important part of our identity, our ability and confidence in being able to do everything.
Feeling like we’ve lost the ability to do the things that make us us can have a significant impact on both our physical and mental health.
But why does it happen?
For starters, you’re not imagining it. This isn’t you, your brain is going through a period of transition and this is why you are feeling like you do.
We have estrogen receptors throughout our brains that are responsible for so much of our daily functioning. From cognition, memory, sleep, mood… Estrogen plays an important role in all of these without us even realising. Yep, it’s not just a sex hormone!
So it’s understandable that when estrogen is declining, the functionality of these areas is impacted. The brain is having to get accustomed to this new normal and whilst it does, we experience symptoms such as poor memory, terrible sleep and low moods.
But the good news is, it doesn’t last. If you are in the midst of this right now, please try to hold onto the fact that this is a transition period, the brain will recalibrate and settle into its new normal. You won’t feel like this forever.
There are lots of things we can do ladies to support our brains and improve symptoms of brain fog.
And what’s good for the brain is good for the body too, so it’s a real win win!
Starting with your training
Yep, exercise has been found to improve brain power!
Exercise increases levels of something called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein that is essential for neuronal health in the brain; supporting the growth and survival of neurons that promote functions such as learning and memory.
I think we’re onto something here!
During our pre-menopause years, estrogen also plays an important role by helping to regulate BDNF, so with decreasing levels of estrogen we need to find other ways to promote higher levels of BDNF.
And exercise will do just that for you, especially resistance-based exercise.
A study led by the University of Australia examined 100 older adults living with mild cognitive impairment and put them on a progressive resistance-based exercise programme 2-3 days a week for 6 months. And the results showed a significant improvement in both muscle strength and cognitive function and whilst further research is required, it is the first study of its kind to find a causal link between muscle strength and brain power!
In another study conducted in 2019, Herold et al. found that not only did strength training resulted in significant changes in brain function, but also supported lower white matter loss and smaller white matter lesion volumes (white matter in our brains is responsible for the exchange of information between different parts of your brain).
As with everything, especially when it comes to women’s health, a lot more research is needed. But the evidence is pretty convincing, and this is great news because it gives us an opportunity to take control and do something to support our brains.
And a sense of control is something we need in spades right now.
How else does exercise help?
We all feel like a different person after a great workout!
It gives us energy, boosts our mood, improves our mental clarity, reduces stress; the list is endless.
And all of this is really important for your brain too.
Stress, sleep and mood are big considerations when it comes to brain health and the good news is, exercise can help us with these too!
Let’s look at sleep
Ladies, I know I don’t need to tell you that sleep is important. Who doesn’t want to sleep? And it’s important that we do everything we can to promote a good night of ZZZs…
When we sleep, our brains have a deep clean, known as ‘glymphatic drainage’. I wish they’d clean my house whilst they were at it!
But of course, if our brains aren’t getting enough opportunity to cleanse, it can be a risk factor for cognitive decline.
So, what can we do to promote a good night’s sleep? We can move our bodies!
Not only does exercise support better sleep but it is proven to improve glymphatic drainage too!
In a study on ageing mice, they examined the effects of exercise on the glymphatic drainage of protein waste (the deep clean process) and chronic inflammation in the brain. The results showed a significant improvement in glymphatic clearance which in turn saw a significant improvement in cognition. Yet another study demonstrating the benefits of exercise to brain health and cognition.
Getting a hold of stress
Stress is a big thing I work on with my clients as it’s something that whilst we can’t eliminate entirely, we must have strategies in place to manage.
One reason being is that cortisol is linked to brain fog. And yet again, exercise plays an important role in our stress management. Exercise helps to reduce cortisol and adrenaline, whilst stimulating the production of endorphins; the body’s natural mood elevators.
Just be careful with the intensity of exercise you choose to do; HIIT for example isn’t going to be your friend when you’re stressed as it will increase cortisol levels further! So stick with low impact, lower intensity exercise forms, such as strength training, yoga, Pilates, swimming and walking.
Which leads us nicely onto mood
Brain fog can make us feel low and vice versa; it’s a vicious cycle.
And whilst we feel low the motivation to exercise can be really hard, exercise would the be the most widely prescribed drug for mood enhancing.
In an exciting new study funded by the team at ASICS (yep, the trainer and sportswear brand) and Dr Brendon Stubbs, the Global State of Mind Study (2022) tracks the mental state of over 37,000 people across 16 countries to assess the relationship between movement and the mind.
Findings suggest that just 15 minutes, yes 15 MINUTES, exercise starts to uplift our mood but moreover, those that took a week off from exercise in the middle of the programme reported a decrease in their wellbeing which was likened to ‘having a week of broken sleep’. There was a 23% increase in racing thoughts, a 20% drop in confidence and a 19% reduction in calmness but as soon as they started again these emotions started to return to normal.
The message is clear; movement is as important for the mind as it is our bodies.
How to get started
Brain fog is up there as one of the worst symptoms women can experience.
We pride ourselves on being able to do it all and when we feel like our minds are letting us down, it can take a severe toll on our wellbeing.
But we don’t need to take it laying down. We can help our minds and bodies by doing what we can to support them.
My top tips for getting started
- Start at home by doing a few bodyweight exercises
- Set aside 15-20 minutes 3 times a week to get started and build from there
- Build confidence in the comfort of your own living room or rope in a friend!
- Pick a time of day where you feel most energised
- Fuel your workouts, ensure you eat before and after to support energy levels
- Start with the basics; try doing 3 sets of 10-20 squats and build up from there
- Don’t exercise to close to bed time
- Ensure you are well hydrated
Let’s do it for our brains and bodies ladies and I’ll be here to support you every step of the way!
Mediation of Cognitive Function Improvements by Strength Gains After Resistance Training in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment: Outcomes of the Study of Mental and Resistance Training, Yorgi et al., (2016), 550-559.
Functional and/or structural brain changes in response to resistance exercises and resistance training lead to cognitive improvements - a systematic review Fabian Herold 1, Alexander Törpel 2, Lutz Schega 2, Notger G Müller., (2019).
Voluntary Exercise Promotes Glymphatic Clearance of Amyloid Beta and Reduces the Activation of Astrocytes and Microglia in Aged Mice - Xiao-Fei He et al., (2017).
To find out more about strengthening your body from simple movement to regular workouts from Emma Simarro - Click on the image below:
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