THE BRAIN-BODY CONNECTION DURING COVID-19

Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University’s Center for Neural Science, joins us to discuss the importance of maintaining your brain health during the coronavirus outbreak.

Aired on March 25, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> THE SUDDEN SHIFT IN LIFESTYLE AND ROUTINE HAS SENT A SHOCKWAVE THROUGH AMERICA'S CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM CAUSING STRESS AND ANXIETY FOR ALL OF US.

ONLINE WE SEE PEOPLE COMING UP WITH INGENIOUS WAY OF MAINTAINING THEIR PHYSICAL FITNESS EITHER ALONE OR IN GROUPS WHILE MAINTAINING SOCIAL DISTANCING AND STAYING AT HOME.

WHAT ABOUT THE HEALTH OF YOUR BRAIN?

DR. WENDY SUZUKI, A PROFESSOR OF NEUROSCIENCE AND PSYCHOLOGY AT THE NEW YORK UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR NEUROSCIENCE SAYS MAINTAINING THE HEALTH AND ACUITY OF OUR MOST CRUCIAL ORGAN IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY FOR OUR SENIOR POPULATION.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

HAPPY TO BE HERE.

THANK YOU.

SO, FIRST, I JUST WANT TO ASK WHAT FEELS LIKE A BASIC QUESTION, BUT YET SOMETHING THAT I THINK WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND MORE, AND WHAT DOES SUCH A SHOCK, AND AGAIN WE ARE NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT FEAR AND ANGER AND ALL OF THESE EMOTIONS THAT WE'RE ALL SUDDENLY FEELING ADDED ON WITH ISOLATION.

WHAT IS THAT DOING TO OUR PHYSICAL BRAIN?

WELL, IT IS CAUSING A LOT OF STRESS.

IT'S CAUSING ANXIETY.

IT'S CAUSING DEPRESSION.

THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR OUR BRAINS LONG TERM STRESS AND ANXIETY CAUSES HIGH LEVELS OF STRESS HORMONES THAT CAN SHRINK PARTS OF THE BRAIN AND START TO CAUSE LOTS OF LEVELS OF BRAIN DAMAGE.

SO WE WANT TO TRY AND NIP THIS IN THE BUD.

AND ABSOLUTELY ACKNOWLEDGE WE ARE IN A SERIOUS SITUATION.

THIS IS A PANDEMIC, AND THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT.

BUT AT THE SAME TIME WE CAN TAKE STEPS TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR BRAINS MAINTAIN GOOD HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT FOR THEM.

SO, WHAT WAS -- WAS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THE WAY THAT WE WERE LIVING OUR LIVES THAT WAS ACTUALLY GOOD FOR OUR BRAINS?

I MEAN, I KNOW THAT PEOPLE ARE INTO BRAIN TEASERS AND INTO SORT OF LIKE, YOU KNOW, CHALLENGING THEMSELVES WITH LEARNING NEW THINGS, BUT WAS THERE A WAY THAT OUR AMERICAN LIFESTYLE WAS THAT WAS ACTUALLY GOOD FOR OUR BRAINS, OR IS THIS PERHAPS A CHANCE TO RETHINK THE WAY THAT WE ENGAGE WITH THE WORLD NOT ONLY FOR OUR BRAINS, BUT ALSO PSYCHOLOGICALLY?

I THINK BOTH.

WE HAD WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITIES BEFORE THIS PANDEMIC HIT TO DO LOTS OF GOOD THINGS FOR OUR BRAINS.

WE KNOW THAT EXERCISE IS W WONDERFUL FOR THE BRAIN.

COGNITIVE ENGAGEMENT PLAYING.

GAMES LIKE BRIDGE AND CHESS AND BEING ENGAGED IN YOUR JOB AS YOU DO.

YOU HAVE TO LEARN SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS ABOUT SO MANY DIFFERENT TOPICS, FOR EXAMPLE.

GOOD EATING IS VERY GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED NOW?

I FIND IT FASCINATING THAT PEOPLE ARE GIVING SO -- GETTING SO CREATIVE IN THE WAY THAT THEY INTERACT.

TODAY I TOOK AN ONLINE VIDEO YOGA CLASS THAT HAD PEOPLE ALL AROUND THE WORLD ASSOCIATED IT.

IT WAS VERY DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER YOGA CLASS I EVER TOOK.

AND IT IS CHANGING THE WAY THAT WE ARE CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE.

THAT CONNECTION IS VERY, VERY IMPORTANT FOR YOUR BRAIN, OUR BRAINS.

SO YOU CAN SAY THAT THIS PANDEMIC HAS KIND OF INCREASED THE WAYS THAT WE CAN ENHANCE THE FUNCTIONS OF OUR BRAIN WITH CREATIVITY, FOR EXAMPLE.

WELL, I WONDER IF YOU CAN TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT -- WITHOUT BEING TOO SCIENCE AND JARGONY, ABOUT THE WAYS THAT WHAT YOU WERE SAYING, THAT CREATIVITY HAS SORTED OF AWAKENED IN SO MANY PEOPLE, HOW DOES THAT IMPROVE YOUR BRAIN'S FUNCTIONALITY?

YEAH.

SO, CREATIVITY IS SOMETHING THAT IS FASCINATING TO SO MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE, AND CREATIVITY IS PART OF KIND OF COGNITIVE ENGAGEMENT, COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT.

WE KNOW THAT, FOR EXAMPLE, PEOPLE WITH HIGHER LEVELS OF EDUCATION, THEY STAYED IN SCHOOL LONGER PERIODS OF TIME, THEIR BRAINS TEND TO BE MORE RESILIENT TO AGING AND COGNITIVE DECLINE.

SO CREATIVITY AND USING YOUR BRAIN IN A NEW WAY IS ONE ASPECT OF THAT.

SO I LOVE ALL OF THE WAYS THAT I'M SEEING PEOPLE INTERACTING WITH EACH OTHER IN DIFFERENT WAYS FWR OPERA SINGING OUT OF THE WINDOWS IN MILAN TO ONLINE HAPPY HOURS, WHICH I ALSO DID FOR THE FIRST TIME LAST NIGHT AND I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT.

SO THAT IS HOW WE THINK ABOUT CREATIVITY IN THE BRAIN.

ANOTHER THING IS THAT YOU HAVE BEEN AN ADVOCATE FOR THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE AND THAT HAVING AGAIN AN AFFECT ON OUR PHYSICAL BRAIN.

I AM WONDERING IF YOU COULD SORT OF EXPLAIN HOW THAT WORKS AND WHY IT'S WORTH, EVEN IF IT'S JUST GETTING OUT AND TAKING A WALK AROUND YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, WHY THAT'S WORTH IT.

YEAH.

SO, SO IMPORTANT.

I'D SAY THAT EXERCISE IS THE MOST TRANSFORMATIVE THING THAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR BRAIN TODAY.

YOU CAN DO IT INSIDE.

YOU CAN DO IT OUTSIDE.

BUT MOVING YOUR BODY IS TRANSFORMATIVE BECAUSE IT HAS IMMEDIATE POSITIVE BENEFITS.

IT IS BATHING YOUR BRAIN IN WHAT I LIKE TO CALL A BUBBLE BATH OF NEUROCHEMICALS, INCLUDING DOPAMINE AND SEROTONIN THAT INCREASE YOUR MOOD AND DECREASE STRESS AND AINXIETY.

SOMETHING EVERYBODY NEEDS.

AND FOR THE LONG TERM, IT ACTUALLY STIMULATES THE BIRTH OF BRAND-NEW BRAIN CELLS IN A BRAIN AREA THAT IS VERY SUSCEPTIBLE TO AGING AND ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE.

THAT IS CALLED THE HIPPOCAMPUS.

SO IT'S -- YOU CAN THINK OF THE BRAIN LIKE A MUSCLE, LIKE THE REST OF YOUR BODY, A MUSCLE IN THE REST OF YOUR BODY.

THE MORE YOU WORK OUT AND THE MORE YOU MOVE YOUR BODY, THE STRONGER YOUR BRAIN GETS, THE BIGGER AND FATTER THIS BRAIN AREA, THE HIPPOCAMPUS, GETS.

SO IT TAKES LONGER FOR AGING AND NEURODEGENERATIVE STATES TO START TO AFFECT IT.

AND SO YOU ARE STAVING OFF THE DEBILITATING EFFECTS OF AGING AND NEURODEGENERATIVE STATES, WHICH ARE SO IMPORTANT FOR OUR SENIORS WHO ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE.

SO I AM A NEW ADVISOR FOR MAPLEWOOD SENIOR LIVING AND INSPIRE SENIOR LIVING HERE IN THE CITY, AND WE TALKED A LOT ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO KEEP OUR SENIORS, WHO ARE HOPEFULLY SAFE IN THEIR HOMES, BUT NOT JUST SITTING THERE.

CAN THEY GET UP?

CAN THEY DO A LITTLE BIT OF CARDIO OR AT LEAST ENERGETIC VACUUMING?

CAN THEY CHANGE THE BEDS?

THERE IS SO MANY THINGS YOU CAN DO AROUND THE HOUSE THAT ACTUALLY COUNT AS EXERCISE.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO GET IN YOUR SPANDEX TO MAKE IT COUNT, BUT HOUSEWORK AND EVEN GETTING UP AND TAKING A LITTLE WALK AROUND THE APARTMENT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GO OUTSIDE.

THAT COUNTS AS WELL.

VERY IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE THAT YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR SENIORS NOT ONLY HAVE THAT FOOD, CARE PACKAGE THAT WE'RE ALL GIVING TO OUR SENIOR FRIENDS, BUT OARE REMINDED TO GET UP, GE OUT, TAKE THEM OUT FOR A WALK STAYING SIX FEET APART IF YOU CAN.

BUT VERY IMPORTANT FOR THEIR MENTAL HEALTH, ESPECIALLY TO DECREASE THAT ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, THAT COMES WITH THE ISOLATION THAT WE'RE ALL EXPERIENCING.

OF COURSE.

AND THAT, I THINK, IS SO INTERESTING AND MIGHT EVEN FEEL PROFOUND, ALTHOUGH OBVIOUS TO YOU, BECAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE SEEM TO FEEL, YOU KNOW, IF I CALL AND CHECK IN OR IF, YOU KNOW, IF THEY KNOW HOW TO USE THE INTERNET, MAYBE WE CAN PLAY A GAME OR SOMETHING ONLINE, VIDEO CHATTING.

BUT IT'S THE ACTUAL MOVEMENT OF THE BODY THAT YOU ARE SAYING THAT'S WHERE THE KEY IS?

YEAH, ABSOLUTELY.

AND IT WORKS NO MATTER WHAT AGE YOU ARE.

I HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE ASK ME, WELL, I'M 65.

IT'S TOO LATE FOR ME.

IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.

THERE ARE STUDIES THAT HAVE SHOWN THAT OLDER PEOPLE IN THEIR 70s THAT HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE, WITH THREE MONTHS OF INCREASED MOVEMENT, WHICH FOR THEM WAS JUST WALKING, YOU KNOW, KIND OF POWER WALKING FOR THREE MONTHS, COMPARED TO PEOPLE THAT JUST DID STRETCHING AND TONING, THEIR DEMENTIA SCORE SIGNIFICANTLY DECREASED OVER THOSE THREE MONTHS.

AND WITHOUT THAT INTERVENTION, THE DEMENTIA SCORE TENDS TO, IN ALL OF OUR FAMILY MEMBERS WITH DEMENTIA, GO UP AND UP AND UP AS YOU AGE.

SO THIS IS SOMETHING, IT'S NOT JUST A VITAMIN, IT IS A MEDICINE.

MOVEMENT IS A MEDICINE FOR YOUR BRAIN.

THAT IS SOMETHING I HAVE NOT HEARD BEFORE.

SO THAT IS INCREDIBLY UNIQUE.

I WANT TO ALSO ASK YOU SINCE YOU ALSO ARE A PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST WAY FOR US TO ATTEMPT TO HANDLE JUST THIS RUSH OF EMOTIONS?

SO MANY PEOPLE I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING TO, IT'S NOT JUST FEAR.

IT'S ANXIETY.

IT'S ANGER.

DEPRESSION.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS.

WHAT IS A GOOD WAY FOR US TO START TO MANAGE THOSE EMOTIONS THAT THEY DON'T OVERWHELM US INTO INACTION?

I AM GOING TO GIVE YOU THE NUMBER ONE STTIP THAT CAN HELP IMMEDIATELY, AND THAT IS SIMPLY TAKING DEEP BREATH IN AND OUT.

WHY?

BECAUSE OUR BREATH IS CONTROLLED BY TWO DUELING NERVOUS SYSTEMS.

ONE THAT IS ACTIVATING US TO RUN AND FIGHT.

THAT IS CALLED THE SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM.

ANOTHER NERVOUS SYSTEM THAT IS THE REST AND DIGEST AND THE WEEKEND NERVOUS SYSTEM.

THEY ARE BOTH AFFECTING OUR BREATHING, AND THAT STRESS NERVOUS SYSTEM IS MAKING US BREATHE LIKE THIS.

THE BEST WAY TO COUNTER THAT IS SIMPLY TO TAKE A DEEP BREATH BECAUSE WE HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER THAT.

AND THAT IS -- TRY IT OUT.

IT CAN CALM YOU, EVEN IF YOU STILL HAVE THOSE WORRIES ABOUT WHAT THE PANDEMIC IS DOING.

IT WILL HELP THE WHOLE REST AND K DIGEST NERVOUS SYSTEM KICK IN JUST BY STARTING TO BREATHE DEEPLY AND WITH INTENTION.

SO THAT IS MY NUMBER ONE TIP.

MY NUMBER TWO TIP IS TO GET UP AND MOVE, AND MOVE YOUR BODY, DANCE TO YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC, TAKE ONE OF THE FREE YOUTUBE CLASSES THAT ARE ALL OVER THE INTERNET AND GROWING EVERY DAY BECAUSE EVERYBODY IS GIVING OUT THERE OF THEIR EXERCISE EXPERTISE.

AND SO THOSE ARE THE TWO THINGS.

BREATHE AND MOVE.

I FEEL LIKE THE MOST HELPFUL THING THAT YOU SAID, AND PERHAPS THIS JUST A ME THING, BUT SOMETHING THAT I CAN CONTROL IS REALLY, I THINK --

EXACTLY.

THAT'S THE BEST THING I HEARD.

YES, YES, ABSOLUTELY.

AND ALL THE OTHER PARTS OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM THAT ARE IN THIS BATTLE BETWEEN STRESS AND NON-STRESS, MUCH HARDER TO CONTROL YOUR HEART RATE.

CAN I CONTROL MY HEART RATE?

TRY REALLY HARD, YOU CAN'T.

CAN I CONTROL MY DIGESTION?

NO.

CAN I CONTROL MY REPRODUCTION?

NO.

WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL IS YOUR BREATH.

THAT'S WHY IT'S SO POWERFUL.

THAT IS A REALLY, REALLY POWERFUL THING.

I JUST WANT TO -- WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

I WANT TO ASK, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU HOPE, ASIDE FROM THE HEALTH AND WELL BEING, OF COURSE, OF EVERYBODY AND THEIR PHYSICAL HEALTH, BUT WHETHER IT COMES TO OUR BRAIN, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WOULD HOPE THAT WE AS A COUNTRY ARE ABLE TO TAKE AWAY FROM AND HOW WE TREAT THIS CRUCIAL ORGAN?

YES.

WELL, I THINK THAT JUST APPRECIATION OF THE POWER AND THE BEAUTY OF OUR OWN BRAINS.

THE BRAIN IS THE MOST COMPLEX STRUCTURE KNOWN TO HUMAN KIND, AND WE ALL HAVE ONE.

AND IT NEEDS TO LAST A LIFETIME.

AND THAT IS WHY EXERCISE IS SO TRANSFORMATIVE.

IT'S THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO.

IT'S FREE.

ALL YOU DO IS MOVE YOUR BODY.

IT DOESN'T REQUIRE ANY EXTRA, YOU KNOW, FEES TO PAY.

AND I LIKE TO CALL EXERCISE THE SUPERCHARGED 401(K) FOR YOUR BRAIN.

EVERY TIME YOU MAKE A DEPOSIT OF MOVEMENT, YOU ARE LITERALLY HELPING YOUR BRAIN LAST FOR A LONG, LONG TIME IN THE FUTURE.

STAVING OFF AGING AND NEURODEGENERATIVE STATES.

AND IT IS POWERFUL, AND YOU CAN DO IT RIGHT NOW.

LISTEN, DR. SUZUKI, I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING ME ON THE PROGRAM AND WITH SOME REALLY IMPORTANT HELPFUL, POWERFUL TIPS SO THAT WE CAN GET THROUGH THIS, I THINK, AS STRONG AND COME OUT VIBRANT AS EVERYBODY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.

Funders

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