Running Improves Memory, Grows Brain Cells

Aerobic Exercise Produces the Cathepsin B Protein


by Kelly R. Smith

Running and brain functionality
Running and brain functionality
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Runners might not all consider themselves to be superior to sedentary people but in all fairness, in our heart of hearts we might suspect it. As it turns out, running and other aerobic exercise does elevate us above the masses, at least with respect to health and mental functionality, all other things being equal. Let’s see how that works exactly.

Scientists now believe that running may help boost memory. This is because the aerobic activity produces a protein which boosts brain cell growth. Researchers at the National Institute on Ageing discovered that when our muscles are exercised they produce a protein called cathepsin B. This makes its way to the brain and triggers neuron growth.

Dr. Henriette van Praag, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging says “Overall, the message is that a consistently healthy lifestyle pays off.” The key word to focus on here is consistently. It should come as no surprise that one of the fundamental aspects of this healthy lifestyle is what we eat and drink. It is therefore important to follow a diet for body and brain.

Initial Findings on the Cathepsin B Protein

Praag explains the research this way, “We did a screen for proteins that could be secreted by muscle tissue and transported to the brain, and among the most interesting candidates was cathepsin B. Moreover, in humans who exercise consistently for four months, better performance on complex recall tasks, such as drawing from memory, is correlated with increased cathepsin B levels.”

Of Mice and Men

Praag’s team initially found that the protein increased when they were studying mice that exercised regularly on wheels. The protein level increased in the blood and muscle tissue the more the mice ran. They next found that when cathepsin B was applied to brain cells in their lab it initiated the production of molecules related to neurogenesis, meaning the growth of neurons.

Additionally, they found that the mice that were genetically modified so that they no longer produced the protein performed less well in memory tests. Dr. van Praag concluded, “We also have evidence from our study that cathepsin B is upregulated in blood by exercise for three species—mice, Rhesus monkeys, and humans.”

How can we as runners reap these benefits? Dr van Praag says, “People often ask us, how long do you have to exercise, how many hours? The study supports that the more substantial changes occur with the maintenance of a long-term exercise regimen.”

Exercising on a Regular Basis Helps Reduces Memory Loss

A Number of health experts have believed in the benefits of running or involved in some other fitness regimen for a quite some time now. Elisa Zied, a member of the American Dietetic Association says, “It’s a no brainer, we know that exercise is something everyone should try to incorporate.”

Another study was undertaken at Columbia University Medical Center that also suggested that exercise may elevate a person’s memory capacity. Researchers in that study were the first to track brain cells in a living brain in an attempt to find the exact area that is the most affected by exercise. What they found is that exercise targets the very region that is associated with the unfortunate age-related memory decline that usually starts around the age of 30.

Participants in this study who were consistently physically active performed better on memory tests than were the participants who neglected exercise. Many health and nutrition experts propose that it’s just one more reason to get active. Zied said, “We’ve known for a long time you get this burst of energy and feel-good chemicals when you exercise, so its not that much of a stretch that it is actually going to preserve your mental function as you get older.”

Increased Blood Flow is an Essential Part of the Process

Webmd.com says, “Researchers found that exercise boosts blood flow to a brain area involved in memory—even in people who aren’t in top shape.” This study shows that just three months of physical exercise was all that was needed for people starting with low levels of aerobic fitness to build up the blood flow to that specific part of their brains and increase scores on memory tests.

In yet another study performed at the University of British Columbia researchers found that consistent aerobic exercise seems to increase the size of the hippocampus. This is the region of the brain that is involved in verbal memory as well as learning.

Running Improves Memory Both Directly and Indirectly

From a direct point of view, some of the primary benefits of running come from its capacity to lower insulin resistance, lower inflammation, and stimulate the production and release of growth factors. These chemicals in the brain are at least in part responsible for the healthy maintenance and operation of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels internally in the brain as well as regulating the number of, and survival of, new brain cells.

But from an indirect point of view, a regular fitness routine has been shown to improve your mood and regenerative, restful sleep as well as reducing your levels of stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas often cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.

A number of other studies suggest that the regions of the brain that are responsible for controlling thinking and memory (specifically the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have a larger volume in individuals that are runners as opposed to those who are not.

In a nutshell, if you are a runner, you are doing a lot more for yourself than just keeping the weight off. If you are not a runner, why not start? We can all use an improved memory, and more brain cells as we age.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Is Scientology a Cult or a Religion?

by Kelly R. Smith

One of many Scientology churches
One of many Scientology churches
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Scientology was the brainchild of the charismatic leader and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard started in 1952. It has been classified as a religion by the United States and the United Kingdom governments for tax purposes. However, Germany calls it an “anti-constitutional sect” and France has labeled it a “dangerous cult” as have many parts of the United States. A looser definition that is sometimes used is a New Religious Movement (NRM), defined as a religious, ethical, or spiritual group or community with relatively modern origins. But is Scientology a cult or a true religion? Where is the dividing line? Does it fall somewhere in the middle, a secret society like the Illuminati?

What Is a Cult?

A sociologist will tell you that a cult is a small group of individuals without a distinctive authority structure, usually led by a charismatic leader or a small group of leaders, and who derive their cause and ideology from outside of, and counter to, the more broadly-accepted religious and social culture. However, in layman’s terms, a cult is a manipulating and authoritarian organization that likely uses mind control to recruit members, keep them in line, and poses a threat to mental health to the flock.

The term “cult” has been used broadly to refer to groups such as Scientologists, Obama’s shadow government, Satanists, Mormons, Druids, The Peoples Church, the KKK, the Manson Family, Antifa, Pagans, Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, Trekkies, and Pokemon Go players. The term is broad enough to include both dangerous types and mere enthusiasts.

Cults and New Religious Movements

One problem with the term “cult” is that it has such a negative, and to some people, dangerous and frightening connotations. This is why sociologists have dropped the term and now refer to non-traditional religious sects such as Scientology New Religious Movements (NRMs).

Scientology does not exhibit some of the most common characteristics of a truly dangerous cult. In particular, the presence of a beloved, still-living founder; a relatively small and easily controlled number of followers; and a disturbing history of murders or suicides at the command of the leader. However, there is disturbing concern over the amount of control the church possesses, and its constant legal trouble can be seen as a red flag.

Leah Remini, ex-Scientologist discusses growing up in the church

Scientology and Characteristics of Dangerous Cults

  • Ruled by One Charismatic leader. Scientology was created by one charismatic man, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. His originally intended it to be a branch of science, but that didn’t catch on so he switched his focus to a religious movement. He died in 1986, and the current head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige took over. He maintains all the power and control over the money. He has a reputation as being abusive and tyrannical often losing his temper and physically attacking members of his staff.
  • Complete Control Over Church Members. One of the ways it does this is the policy of disconnection. But what is it? Mike Rinder says in his blog1, “There IS policy of the church of scientology that REQUIRES someone to disconnect from anyone declared by HCO as a Suppressive Person. HCOB 10 September 83 PTSNess and Disconnection states the following: ‘To fail or refuse to disconnect from a suppressive person not only denies the PTS (person connected to a Suppressive Person) case gain, it is also supportive of the suppressive – in itself a Suppressive Act. And it must be so labeled.‘” In a nutshell, if the Church finds disapproval with a person, the Church member must disconnect association, be it a family member, coworker, or other.
  • The Commission of Felonies. Many legal accusations have been directed at the Church over the years, and many have resulted in felony convictions, for example, in connection with Operation Snow White, which included theft of government documents. Through The Looking Glass says2, “Operation Snow White was a criminal conspiracy by the Church of Scientology during the 1970s to purge unfavorable records about Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. This project included a series of infiltrations into and thefts from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, as well as private organizations critical of Scientology, carried out by Church members in more than 30 countries.” The most common accusations are fraud, extortion, and harassment, although other accusations such as kidnapping and negligent homicide have also been leveled.
  • Communal Living. Many Church members live in special Church-owned facilities (presumably for more control). There are groups in Scientology (notably Sea Org) that often have semi-communal arrangements in which families may be kept separated. Former employees have reported that they worked long hours, were paid very little, and were actively discouraged from having families.


  • Punishment for Defection or Criticism. According to Learn Religions3, “Defection and criticism can lead to one being labeled a suppressive person from whom other members should disconnect. SPs can become targets of harassment through the church’s ‘fair game’ doctrine. Established by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, the ‘fair game’ doctrine states that anyone identified as an opponent may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. Scientology has sued several of its former members; defectors are shunned or ‘disconnected.’ According to the church and former members, leaving is a lengthy process that can take months. The church requires that the leaving members pay ‘freeloader’ bills—former members report bills of tens of thousands of dollars—and sign affidavits which are drawn up by the officials.”
  • Large Donations are a Way of Life. As soon as they join, members are required to pay large donations for their coursework. This money must be paid up front, not-pay-as-you-go. Next, members are highly-encouraged to use these services since they are a fundamental way of achieving the goals of Scientology. Then there are ongoing requests for still more donations for projects and new buildings.

So, is Scientology a cult or a religion? Given how broad the definitions are, there is a lot of gray area. We do know that they don’t believe in Jesus or any other earthly prophet. Instead, they believe in the Overlord Xenu who headed the Galactic Federation, which was an organization of 76 planets. They do believe in reincarnation (hence, the billion-year contract they sign).


References

  1. Mike Rinder, Scientology Disconnection, https://www.mikerindersblog.org/scientology-disconnection/
  2. The Infomaniac, Through The Looking Glass, OPERATION SNOW WHITE: How Scientology Was Behind the Largest Infiltration of the US Government, https://throughthelookingglassnews.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/operation-snow-white-how-scientology-was-behind-the-largest-infiltration-of-the-us-government-in-history-besides-israel-with-5000-under-cover-agents/
  3. Catherine Beyer, Learn Religions, Is Scientology a Cult?, https://www.learnreligions.com/is-scientology-cult-95820

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

The Effect of Blue Light Exposure on Eyes and Sleep

by Kelly R. Smith

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Anti-blue-light glasses protect eye health
Anti-blue-light glasses protect eye health

You might have heard about the effects of blue light on your eyes and sleep patterns. As we live longer, the more chance there is of our health being affected. Blue Light is the visible light located at the blue end of the light spectrum. Although not as energetic as ultraviolet (UV) light, there is some concern that high levels of blue light might cause more damage at the cellular level than longer wavelengths of visible light, which you perceive as the colors red through green. Exposure to blue light may have an impact on your sleep-wake cycle, compounding the problem with Coronavirus pandemic dreams.

Sources of Blue Light

Blue light occurs naturally. This is not really a concern. Where it gets troubling is adding in the light emitted from LED lights, cell phones, television sets, tablets, and laptop computers. Studies suggest that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day in front of a digital device (or near certain lights) so what did not used to be an issue is suddenly the elephant in the room.

Outside, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere. As it does, the shorter, high energy blue wavelengths collide with air molecules causing blue light to scatter everywhere. This is why the sky is blue. Interesting, yes?

Blue Light and Your Sleep

In its natural form, your body takes advantage of blue light from the sun to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles.  This is called your circadian rhythm.  This light also helps boost alertness, heighten reaction times, elevate moods, and increase the feeling of well being. In the wintertime, when the period of sunshine is reduced, some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, symptoms begin in the fall and continue through the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody and glum.

Chronic exposure to blue light at night (binging on Netflix, gaming, social media) can lower the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and disrupt your circadian rhythm. You can’t be expected to withdraw from activities, but over-the-counter melatonin supplements are quite inexpensive.

Blue Light and Your Eyesight

Blue light waves are some of the shortest, highest energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum.  Since they are shorter, these blue, or High Energy Visible (HEV) wavelengths, flicker more than the longer, weaker wavelengths. This kind of flickering creates a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity.

Your eyes’ natural filters don’t provide much protection against  blue light rays from the sun. The same is true of your devices or from blue light emitted from fluorescent-light tubes. Prolonged exposure to blue light is likely to result in damage to your retinas and contribute to age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to loss of vision.

How You Can Protect Your Eyes

Do what I do — wear anti blue light glasses. I wear them at the computer. They are inexpensive and give the screen a pleasant tint. My regular glasses have a coating that helps when I walk, run, or drive.

That’s the effect of blue light exposure on eyes and sleep. Welcome to the modern world. Please participate in the poll on the right-hand side of this page. I want to get a better feel about how others feel about blue light.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Synbiotics; What Does It All Mean?

by Kelly R. Smith

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The health benefits of probiotics
The health benefits of probiotics

This article was updated on 10/26/20.

Everywhere we turn nowadays we hear about probiotics. But what about prebiotics and synbiotics? Actually, they all work hand in hand. Here’s the rundown.

  • Probiotics. WebMD says, “Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. We usually think of these as germs that cause diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called ‘good’ or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.” When you lose the “good” bacteria that inhabit your gut, after you take antibiotics for example, probiotics can help replace them. The two main types are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You can get them through dairy and supplements.
  • Prebiotics. The Mayo Clinic tells us, “Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.” They are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, mostly those that are rich complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes. When your balance is off it can affect your metabolism.
  • Synbiotics. ScienceDirect says, “Synbiotics are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics that are believed to have a synergistic effect by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and enhancing the growth of beneficial organisms.” Evidence suggests that synbiotics influence the microbial ecology in our intestines. This is true in both humans and animals and synbiotics play a role in alleviating various illnesses.

Knowing what we know about prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics it becomes clear that we should maintain our diet with various types of foods in mind, organic whenever possible. This includes milk, cheese, fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha, whole grains, miso, fruits, and vegetables.

Benefits of Probiotics

  • Improves immune function. They assist in the treatment and/or prevention of many common conditions. Some of these include diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
  • Protects against hostile bacteria to prevent infection. Under normal (balanced) conditions, your friendly bacteria in your gut outnumber the unfriendly ones. Probiotics stand duty as gut-beneficial bacteria that create a physical barricade against legions of unfriendly bacteria.
  • Improves digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.
  • Counters the negative effects of antibiotics. When you contract a bacterial infection, antibiotics are most often prescribed to as the immediate solution. That’s a Godsend, but unfortunately, nothing good comes free, and antibiotics kill bacteria arbitrarily, decimating both good and bad bacteria in your intestinal tract. By eliminating beneficial bacteria, your body is susceptible to a number digestive issues. Myself, when I go to the grocery store to have an antibiotic prescription filled, I also stock up on yogurt with active cultures.
  • Boosts heart health.
  • Lowers cholesterol. Probiotics contain bacteria that are effective in lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Taylor Francis Online says, “Numerous clinical studies have concluded that BSH-active probiotic bacteria, or products containing them, are efficient in lowering total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.”

Others are reading:

References


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Melatonin Uses, Side Effects, Dosage, Benefits

by Kelly R. Smith

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Waking after a restful melatonin sleep
Waking after a restful melatonin sleep

Melatonin (5-Methoxy-N-Acetyltryptamine, MEL, Melatonina, Mélatonine, MLT, N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, etc.) is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production. It’s hard to experience lucid dreaming if you’re busy counting sheep.

It is most commonly bandied about a cure for insomnia although other benefits are also being investigated. Although we would all like to think that melatonin is a panacea for all number of things, it is a bit more complicated, like using UV light to kill COVID-19 virus is.

Common Uses for Melatonin

  • Promoting regular, satisfying sleep. As mentioned above, some people take melatonin in pill form by mouth seeking to adjust their body’s internal clock. It is most commonly used for insomnia and improving sleep in different situations. For example, it is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-work disorder), and for helping people establish a day and night cycle.
  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): At this time there is no research-based evidence to support using melatonin for COVID-19. That being said, people will latch onto rumors of efficacy.
  • Non-24-hour sleep wake disorder. Taking melatonin just at bedtime is reputed through anecdotal evidence to improve sleep in persons who are blind. We’ve all seen that commercial on TV.
  • Combating medications that lower melatonin levels. Some prescriptive drugs such as beta-blocker drugs for high-blood pressure, such as atenolol and propranolol, are a class of drugs that seem to lower melatonin levels. Supplementing is thought to replace them.
  • Relief for painful uterine disorder (endometriosis). There is anecdotal evidence that taking melatonin daily over an 8 week period seems to reduce the pain and associated painkiller use in women experiencing endometriosis. It also reduces pain during menstruation, intercourse, and while going to the bathroom.
  • Jet lag. Some research reveals that melatonin can significantly improve certain symptoms of jet lag including alertness and movement coordination. It also seems to slightly improve other jet lag symptoms like daytime sleepiness and tiredness. However, melatonin might not be as effective for lowering the time it takes for people with jet lag to fall asleep.

Side Effects

  • Interfering with pregnancy. A melatonin supplement may be unsafe for women when taken by mouth or injected into her body frequently and/or in high doses when she is trying to become pregnant. Melatonin might have effects similar to birth control. This might make it more difficult to become pregnant.
  • Breast-feeding. The jury is still out. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
  • Interactions with prescription medication. Always consult with your doctor if you are taking medications such as blood pressure medication.
  • Daytime sleepiness. There’s a reason it’s for sleep. Some might take it during the day as a “calm-down” measure but this is not recommended. But even when taking it at bedtime, Healthline.com says, “sleepiness is a possible problem in people who have reduced melatonin clearance rates, which is the rate at which a drug is removed from the body.”
  • Decreased body temperature. Melatonin causes a slight drop in body temperature. While this is generally not a problem, it could make a difference in people who have difficulty keeping warm.
  • Blood thinning. It may also cause a reduction in blood coagulation. Because of that, you should speak with your doctor prior to taking high doses of it with warfarin or other blood thinners.

Dosage

With regards to adults, the standard dosage used in studies ranges between 1 and 10 mg, but there isn’t currently a definitive “best-case” dosage. It’s widely believed that doses in the 30-mg range may be harmful. As an example, I take just 10 mg and sleep like a baby.

In fact, taking too much supplementary melatonin can actually disrupt your circadian rhythm (also called your sleep-wake cycle), and further disrupt what you are trying to deal with.

Bottom line? Melatonin uses, side effects, dosage recommendations, and benefits are important to know about before you go tinkering with your sleep patterns. Its use can be a Godsend in the right situation.


References:


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

A Book Review

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At first glance, this book by Alex Hutchinson would seem to be just another running book. After all, that’s what the cover photo shows. But in reality the book examines the slippery nature of endurance by looking not only at running, but also mountain climbers, skiers, cyclists, free diving, and more. Regardless of the activity, the boldest among us continue to push the known boundaries of endurance.

Is There a Limit to Endurance?

This is the central question of the book. It turns out that endurance is analogous to nutrition; every day it seems some “qualified person” comes up with the latest and greatest theory. Case closed; mystery solved. Well, until the next day. Then someone comes along and changes the game; moves the marker.

New records are constantly being set, from 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile to Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya setting a new world marathon record in Berlin. He ran an amazing time of 2:01:39. Ask anyone who is a distance runner; this time is phenomenal under any circumstance. Kipchoge says, “It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.”

He’s on to something there and that is precisely what this book explores. We can talk about physiology all day long but there is something else going on here. The real issue is that the “something” is so hard to quantify.

This book is a must-read (or in all honesty a must-listen since I listened to the audible.com release on my long runs) for any of us weekend warriors who are looking for a little bit more inspiration. The latest nutritional supplement may give us an edge or not but is it real or a placebo effect? Does it matter? You decide.


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