Breathing to improve well-being

Breathing affects all aspects of your life. This invited keynote, Breathing and posture: Mind-body interventions to improve health, reduce pain and discomfort, was presented at the Caribbean Active Aging Congress, October 14, Oranjestad, Aruba.

The presentation includes numerous practices that can be rapidly adapted into daily life to improve health and well-being.

Healthy movement is the new aging

Born on 26 November 1911, Mr Robert Marchand and 105 years old, managed cycling 22.55 km (14 miles) at the national velodrome and set a new record for the furthest distance cycled in one hour for riders over 105. (Reynolds, 2017).

Meet 105-year-old Robert Marchand, the centenarian cyclist chasing a new record:

As people age there is an increase in Western Diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, gout, cancer, dementia and  decreases in physical fitness (Milanović et al, 2013Tauber, 2016).   To assume that the cause of these illnesses is the natural process of aging may be too simplistic. Although aging does affect physiology, there are other factors that contribute to the increase in “Western Diseases” such as diet, lifestyle and genetics.

A significant contributing factor of Western Diseases is diet especially  the increase in sugar and simple carbohydrates. Whether you are Pima, Tohono O’odham, and Navajo American Indian Tribes in Arizona, Intuits in Northern Canada, Japanese Americans, or indigenous populations of Kenya, when these people stopped eating their traditional diet and adapted the western high glucose/fructose/simple carbohydrate diet, the degenerative Western Diseases exploded (Bjerregaard et al, 2004; Burkitt & Trowell, 1975; Knowler et al, 1990; Tauber, 2016). Diabetes, hypertension, and cancer which were previously rare skyrocketed within one generation after adapting the Western life style diet. In some of these populations, 30% or more of the adults have diabetes and a significant increase in breast cancer.

The reduction of episodic high intensity physical activity and being sedentary are additional risk factors for the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Dulloo et al, 2017). As Mensing & Mekel (2015) state, “Sitting is the new smoking.”  Sitting encourages more sitting which leads to nonuse of muscles and causes neural and muscle atrophy.  Our physiology is efficient and will prune/eliminate what is redundant.  This is reflected in the popular phrase, “Use it or lose it.”  As we sit for hours in front of digital devices, use escalators, elevators, or drive cars, we are not using the muscles involved in dynamic movement.  We are usually unaware of this degenerative process. Instead,  we may experience difficulty walking up the stairs  which encourages us to take the escalator or elevator. When we do not use the muscles or are limited in movement by discomfort and pain, we move less. As we move less, we become  weaker which is often labeled as aging instead of non use.

Just, because most people loose fitness, it may not represent what is possible or optimum.  Instead, we may want to emulate the diet and fitness program of Mr. Robert Marchand who at age 103 set a new world record and improved the distance bicycled in one hour from 24.25 km at the age of 101 to 26.92 km at the age of 103. A 11% improvement! As New York Times science writer Gretchen Reynolds reports, “Lifestyle may also matter. Mr. Marchand is “very optimistic and sociable,” The researcher who did the study, Dr. Billat says, “with many friends,” and numerous studies suggest that strong social ties are linked to a longer life. His diet is also simple, focusing on yogurt, soup, cheese, chicken and a glass of red wine at dinner (Reynolds, 2017).

The improvement in bicycling performance and physiological indicators such as ⩒O2max increased (31 to 35; +13%), appeared to be due to a change in his training regimen (Billat et al 2016).  At age 101 he changed his bicycling training program from riding at a steady speed for one hour to riding 80% at an easy pace and 20% at high intensity.  This is a  type of interval training and includes enough recovery allows the body the recover and strengthen. This analogous to our evolutionary movement pattern of walking interspersed with short distance high intensity running.

As a hunter and gather we often moved steadily and then had to run very fast to escape a predator or catch an animal.  After extreme exertion, we would rest and regenerate (if we did not escape we would be lunch for the predator). Thus episodic high intensity activity with significant rest/regenerative periods is the movement pattern that allowed our species to survive and thrive. Research studies have confirmed that high intensity interval training offers more physiological benefits–increases cardiorespiratory fitness which is a strong determinant of morbidity and mortality– than moderate intensity continuous training (Weston et al, 2014).

Thus when Mr. Marchard changed his exercise pattern from moderate intensity continuous training to high intensity interval training with enough recovery time he set a new world record at age 103. Two years later he set a new world record at age 105.

Exercise improves brain function and interval training appears to improve brain function most.  When rats had prolonged exercise, the brain’s stores of energy is significantly lowered in the frontal cortex and hippocampus all areas which area involved in thinking and memory. If on the other hand, the animals had a single intense bout of exercise and were allowed to rest and feed than the brain levels of glycogen was 60% high in the frontal and hippocampus areas.  This suggest that the brain can then function better (Matsui et al, 2012).

This perspective is supported by the evolutionary hypothesis discussed by Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert who points out that brains evolved, not to think or feel, but to direct movement. When movement is no longer needed the brain shrinks and gets reabsorbed which is illustrated by the sea squirt. This animal swims as a juvenile and then anchors on a rock and is passively moved by the currents. Once anchored, it no longer needed to coordinate movement and reabsorb its own nervous system. See Daniel Wolpert’s remarkable TED talk, The real reasons for brains.

The remarkable feat of Mr. Marchand offers suggestions for our own health. Enjoy healthy movement and exercise and incorporate our evolutionary movement patterns:  episodic high intensity followed by regeneration. At the same time include a healthy diet by reducing sugars and simple carbohydrates.  Finally, it helps to have the right genes.


Billat, V. L., Dhonneur, G., Mille-Hamard, L., Le Moyec, L., Momken, I., Launay, T., & Besse, S. (2016). Case Studies in Physiology: Maximal Oxygen Consumption and Performance in a Centenarian CyclistJournal of Applied Physiology, jap-00569.

Bjerregaard, P., Kue Young, T., Dewailly, E., & Ebbesson, S. O. (2004). Review Article: Indigenous health in the Arctic: an overview of the circumpolar Inuit population. Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine32(5), 390-395.

Burkitt, D.P. & Trowell, H.C. eds. (1975). Refined carbohydrate foods and disease: Some implications of dietary fibre. New York: Academic Press.

Dulloo, A. G., Miles‐Chan, J. L., & Montani, J. P. (2017). Nutrition, movement and sleep behaviours: their interactions in pathways to obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. Obesity Reviews18(S1), 3-6.

Knowler, W. C., Pettitt, D. J., Saad, M. F., & Bennett, P. H. (1990). Diabetes mellitus in the Pima Indians: incidence, risk factors and pathogenesis. Diabetes/metabolism reviews6(1), 1-27.

Matsui, T., Ishikawa, T., Ito, H., Okamoto, M., Inoue, K., Lee, M. C., … & Soya, H. (2012). Brain glycogen supercompensation following exhaustive exerciseThe Journal of physiology590(3), 607-616.

Mensing, M., & Mekel, O. C. L. (2015). Sitting is the new smoking-Modelling physical activity interventions in North Rhine-Westphalia. The European Journal of Public Health25(suppl 3), ckv171-037.

Milanović, Z., Pantelić, S., Trajković, N., Sporiš, G., Kostić, R., & James, N. (2013). Age-related decrease in physical activity and functional fitness among elderly men and women. Clinical interventions in aging, 8, 549-556.

Reynolds, G. (2017, February 8). Lessons on Aging Well, From a 105-Year-Old Cyclist. Retrieved from:

Taubes, G. (2016). The Case Against Sugar. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Weston, K. S., Wisløff, U., & Coombes, J. S. (2014). High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysisBritish journal of sports medicine48(16), 1227-1234.

Wolpert, D. (2011) The Real Reason for Brains.

Youtube video: Meet 105-year-old Robert Marchand, the centenarian cyclist chasing a new record:




From Wisdom to Alzheimer’s: Are we poisoning ourselves with affluent malnutrition and sedentary life style?

Wise elders, grand parents or statesmen have been the traditional roles for aging adults. Older people were revered as the repository and sources of wisdom in many traditional cultures.  Presently the development of aging into wisdom is being overshadowed by the specter of Alzheimer’s disease. Wisdom transforming into Alzheimer’s disease does not compute.  How come that in slightly more than a century after it was first described by the neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906, the fear of contracting and possible having Alzheimer’s disease with the concurrent  loss of cognitive and body functions is becoming a possibility? How could this have occurred?

Today more people are living to older ages; however, in traditional cultures some people also lived to very old age (the major increase in present day longevity is due to the elimination of infant and maternal mortality and medical treatment to survive trauma).

Is it possible that the prevention of Alzheimer’s will not be found in pharmaceutical treatment but in promoting organic food diet and movement?   The research data is starting to find that our life style patterns are risk factors for Alzheimer’s.  Changing lifestyle factors is a more promising treatment approach than drugs.  A significant risk factor may be the confluence of a sedentary lifestyle and affluent malnutrition. Researchers are even reporting that the built up of the beta amyloid plaques in brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease is not  the result of aging but the body’s attempt to cope with the influx of environmental and dietary poisons or decreases in essential foods or body activities.

Risk: Sedentary lifestyle-Too little exercise

Over the last hundred years–and rapidly accelerated in the last 30 years–we have transformed work into sitting. By sitting in front of a computer screen, we have created a new disease: Immobilization Syndrome. Lack of exercise is recognize as a major factor in numerous illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. Movement in many different forms reduces the risk of illness.  Older people who exercise have a significant reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s  (Larson, 2006; Radak et al, 2010).

Regular movement lowers the risk. Even though there is overwhelming scientific evidence that movement and exercise are required for health, there is a disconnect with the medical and educational practices.  Insurances will pay for medical treatment; however, they usually will not pay for prevention or exercise.  At the same time physical education in schools is reduced or eliminated to reduce the risk of litigation (an injured child on the playground could sue the school).  Children now spend most of their time in front of a screen while exercising their thumb and index fingers instead of playing and moving outdoors.

Risk: Affluent malnutrition-too much sugar and simple carbohydrates

Affluent malnutrition appears to be another risk factor. Recent findings suggests that the beta amyloids plagues, as the marker for Alzheimer’s in the brain, may be a protective response to the modulating insulin levels triggered by affluent malnutrition and sedentary life style. This disease has been labeled as type 3 diabetes by Associate Professor Suzanne de la Monte at Brown University (Steen et al, 2005). Namely, the disease occurs as the brain tissue becomes resistant to insulin.

Rats that are fed high-fructose corn syrup laced water experienced learning and memory problems in less than 6 weeks and became less responsive to insulin.  At the same time if the animals were given omega 3 fatty acids, they appear to escape the cognitive decline.  In other research rats developed Alzheimer like brain changes and became demented when Suzanne de la Monte interfered with how the rats brains respond to insulin (Trivedi, 2012).

Alois Alzheimer first described these abnormal protein structure in the brains  a little more than a hundred years ago. At that time  the European diet had increased sugar intake as shown in figure 1. While more recently there has been a significant   increase in high fructose corn syrup as shown in figure 2.

Figure 1 sugar

Figure 1. Radical increase in sugar consumption in the last 200 years.  From:

Figure 2 High fructose corn syrup

Figure 2. Increase in the type of sugar consumption in the last thirty years.  From:

We are now becoming concerned with the Alzheimer’s disease as an upcoming epidemic.  It cannot be just sugar; since, its consumption has been high since the beginning of the 20th century. A possible contributor could be the high-fructose corn syrup; however, it is most likely the interaction between reduced exercise and sugar.

Sugar set the stage for pathogenesis to occur in the brain and the absence of movement/exercise promotes and supports the pathogenesis. People continue to decrease movement:  from walking or riding horses to sitting cars or standing on escalators and elevators; from doing physical housework to automated washing machines, driers and dishwashers; from preparing foods from raw materials to prepackaged foods; from filing and typing to computer work; from playing family games to watching TV and searching the net; from face to face communication to texting; etc.

We have separated from our biological evolutionary heritage.  I am not surprised that Alzheimer’s disease and immobility and sugar are linked.   Adopt the precautionary principle  and assume that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in conjunction with reduced movement (immobilization syndrome) is  harmful.

As a reader, you will probably have to wait another 20 years before these findings have been scientifically proven against the overt and covert lobbying efforts of agribusiness and pharmaceutical industry.  Remember it took 30 years to demonstrate that smoking was harmful.  Begin to move and eat in concert with your evolutionary background (See Part III Self-care in Gorter and Peper, 2011).

Begin now!

Eat food not sugars! Eat the foods great grandparents would recognize as food as Michael Pollan (2009) describe in his superb book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Eat foods that have not been processed or adulterated by additives. Take charge by eating brain supporting foods such as organic vegetables, roots, fruits, nuts, fish, some organ meat, and eliminate all those sugary, fatty processed highly advertised fast foods.

Move and exercise!  Get up and move every hour. Walk up the stairs instead of the escalator. Meet new people and move by going  hiking,  dancing,  Tai Chi or yoga classes or volunteer by helping others.


Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Non Toxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic.

Larson, E.G., Wang, L., Bowen, J.D., McCormick, W. C., Teri, L., Crane, P., & Kukull, W. (2006).  Exercise Is Associated with Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older. Ann Intern Med, 144(2), 73-81.

Pollan, M. (2009).  In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin Books.

Radak, Z., Hart. N., Sarga, L., Koltai, E., Atalay, M., Ohno, H., & Boldogh, I. (2010). Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 20(3), 777-83.

Steen, E., Terry, B.M.  Rivera, E.J., Cannon, J.L., Neely, T.R., Tavares, R., Xu, X. J., Wands, J.R., & de al Monte, S. M.  (2005). Impaired insulin and insulin-like growth factor expression and signaling mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease-is this type 3 diabetes? Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 7(1), 53-80.

Trivedi, B. (2012). Eat your way to dementia. New Scientist, 215(2880), 32-37.