How Exactly do Sports Lead you to “Zestful Aging” According to the Experts and Science
We all know that playing sports is “good for us” in general, but why is that? Dr. Max Cynader, the founder of Synaptitude, sat down with Nicole Christina, the host of the Zestful Aging podcast, to discuss exactly this. Synaptitude is pursuing the mission of making revolutionary advances in brain health research accessible to anyone interested in brain health. This interview is part of a broader series connecting healthy aging experts.
Nicole and Max are in the business of changing people’s mindsets first and behaviours second. Nicole points out that we generally associate youth with opportunity and change. But we overlook that people, at any stage of life, are capable of recalibration. This leads to a common angst for many people in early retirement and beyond. She sees many of her clients looking for meaning after life-changes like early retirement or the kids finally moving out. She identified this time as an excellent opportunity to adopt healthier behaviours and take on new challenges which can lead to lasting benefits and more fulfilling life at a later age.
Sports to some are the answer and could be the answer for a lot more if only they knew the health benefits. Both Max and Nicole have found motivation in playing tennis on top of all the health benefits that the sport brings. According to research, exercise in general increases one’s longevity on average by 2.5 years compared to a “couch potato”. Yet, depending on the type of exercise activity, people can gain up to 9 years of life. Almost a decade more than someone who leads an inactive or ‘couch-potato’ lifestyle!
Different sports, naturally, lead to different benefits. Team-oriented sports such as hockey, soccer, badminton and tennis can increase one’s lifespan by up to a decade. Others like running and biking, while still valuable, only add an extra 3 years on average.
What’s so Special about Sports like Soccer, Hockey, and Tennis?
In short, these types of sports involve many, semi-overlapping pathways in our brains. Dr. Cynader says there are important, scientifically-backed benefits of these sports. As Max puts it,
“It’s not an accident that we have machines that can play chess better than any human. But we don’t have a machine that can play tennis. There is a lot to gain from playing these active sports for your health and your brain. There’s a tremendous amount of brain activity involved in sophisticated motor control, in the communicative team aspect, strategy, and in the rapid reaction speeds required to play these sports. Some of these athletes are geniuses in their way, but even the rest of us can improve our brain health at any age.”
Tennis as an example activity, agree Max and Nicole, can bolster health in many ways. But other sports have a lot going for them too. On a soccer field, each player must track the other 21 players, and the ball too. All while
attempting to plan where and when to get into the best location. That’s a tremendous amount of fast-paced cognition occurring! Max thinks that the combination of group activity, with its competitive and social aspects, combined with the rapid-fire planning and dexterity-building motor activity of these sports are key to getting the most out of your exercise program. It doesn’t even have to be sports – Ballroom dancing embodies all of these features as well. It seems that the greatest benefits occur when you layer on several brain-health-friendly aspects of cognition at the same time.
For some folks in later age, these sports may not seem directly accessible but the takeaways from research are clear. Doing more exercise, regularly, that is a real challenge is a sure way to increase the overall quality and quantity of your life. Strength training has also been proven to make a measurable impact. There are other surprising benefits too though – like getting exposed to natural ‘blue-light’ while playing sports and getting outside.
Try Synaptitude’s Lifestyle Assessment Today to get a free Brain Health Report. Find out how you compare to your peers across five brain health pillars; Exercise, Sleep, Nutrition, Stress and Cognition.
Blue-light is Good and Bad for You – Knowing the Difference Matters
Blue-lighting might not be the ideal romantic lighting. Yet, it is surprisingly beneficial to our brains when timed right. ‘Blue-light’ includes light of wavelengths between 400 and 490 nanometers. In the natural environment, these wavelengths are present in sunlight. In an artificial or indoor setting, LCD screens emit these same wavelengths. Exposure to blue-light sends signals to our body’s ‘internal clock’, located in a tiny part of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Our hypothalamus is the master controller of the brain, regulating sleep, hunger, thirst, sex drive, hormone release, and other biological functions.
When exercising and spending time outside, blue-light stimulates our ‘internal clock’. This calibrates many of our body’s automatic processes and helps us to sleep better and more soundly. During the day, exposure to blue-light calibrates and trains our internal clock and prepares us for sleep. On the flipside, prolonged exposure to blue-light at night while scrolling through social media on our phones or binging Netflix is detrimental to our night’s sleep. As Max puts it:
“It turns out one of the key drivers of sleep is actually this tiny little cluster of a hundred thousand neurons. It is in the little part of your brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. Yet these 100,00 neurons can control all 37trillion cells in your body.The whole hypothalamus only weighs five grams. It’s like one-fifth of an ounce. To me, it’s the most important five grams in your body.”
What’s the takeaway? Well, most people know that outdoor exercise is good for our health but few people would say that outdoor lighting is a key part of that health benefit. We might not think of exposure to blue-light coming from the sun as a part of brain health, per se, but it absolutely should be considered so now. The bottom line is that getting outside more often is an easy way to improve your health. Studies have shown that levels of stress hormones can drop quite rapidly just by going outside, ideally into nature. Doing so while getting exercise, regularly, is even better. Take a note of that as we head into the winter season which makes it more difficult.
Meaningful Movement Forward
Synaptitude leverages science to improve brain health by showing people that it is achievable with tiny actions. Connecting with other practitioners like Nicole Christina whose mission is to showcase the value of ‘Zestful Aging’ is a part of the journey too. That’s why we have this Synaptitude interview series.
Synaptitude helps the average person make small improvements and changes to their lifestyle. We plan on sharing more science-backed information on topics like the advantages of playing different types of sports, and the research behind why scrolling on your phone at night is bad for you. As Nicole says,
“When you retire and change positions, it’s a chance for you to really take on new challenges. To take on new adventures. It’s a little scary maybe, but I think it’s also a great opportunity. If Synaptitude can help people along in their next chapter and to be better, then it’s a very fulfilling mission for us and one which can make quite an impact.”
For more information about Nicole Christina’s podcast, visit ZestfulAging.com; you can access podcast episodes, learn more about her web courses, and connect with other healthy-aging resources. For a free brain-health assessment backed by neuroscientists, check out Synaptitude’s lifestyle assessment.