New book reveals the brain-heart connection and its health impact

A new book by Cape Town-based Neurobiologist of Exercise and Sports Medicine, Dr. Laurie Rauch (54) provides new insight into the heart-mind connection and supports holistic solutions to managing stress and living in a post-COVID economy.

The self-published book is titled, “KEEPING CALM: How to Master your Brain Reward System to Optimise your Health, Wellbeing and Performance”.

Husband and father of a 13-year-old daughter, Rauch is currently an adjunct lecturer in the University of Cape Town Department of Human Biology.

Real-world recovery

His motivation for writing the book was based on sharing what he has learned on his 20-year journey of recovery after a drunken container-truck driver knocked him off his bike while he was on a training ride in preparation for the South African Triathlon Championships.

The accident left him, at the age of 30, with traumatic brain injuries, a broken neck and he had to have his right leg amputated above the knee.

Rauch’s motivation for writing the book is to highlight the vital connection between one’s head and one’s heart.

Uncovering the head/heart hypothesis

He explains: “As a scientist the head/heart hypothesis initially seemed incongruous based on the purely physical-based data that underpins metabolic and physical performance. However, having applied that science to my own healing, I can attest that human beings are built to operate optimally only when we ‘align’ our heads with our hearts.”

The book provides the key neurobiological underpinnings and principles of how and why this integration between heart and head is so crucial for one’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

“I firmly believe that the biggest challenge facing us as a society today is how to effectively balance what is in and on our hearts in relation to the output-focused and instant-gratification agenda we most commonly pursue,” adds Rauch.

Practical applications

He has not only been able to apply the theory and the practical experience of his mental and physical recovery in this book, but also in his role as co-supervisor to MSc and PhD students in research projects.

These projects range from relational health, weight loss, exergaming (emerging fitness trend where physical activity is combined with video games, creating an interactive experience that encourages fitness and the development of cognitive and motor skills), sleep, Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) dysregulation and spinal cord injured persons; and making use of techniques such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Cardio-vascular (CV) function, Heart Rate Variability, cognitive function and Electro-encephalography (EEG).

“As a triathlete and a scientist, I have always been interested in the Autonomic Nervous System as a means to understanding what happens inside the heart, brain and body of a person performing at their peak in any situation.

The long and arduous journey of my own mental and physical recovery has enabled me to understand the critical brain-heart connection and how vital it is to stay composed (in the zone) when it comes to interacting with a challenge or competitor.

“This is particularly useful in respect to stress management and teaching children and adolescents holistic coping mechanisms that allow them to fully integrate their cognitive and emotional faculties in such a way that they keep working towards what is intrinsically rewarding rather than getting caught out chasing the short term “instant gratification” benefit.”

In recent years, Rauch has dedicated his time to sharing his personal journey, academic findings and professional experiences to a wide range of audiences, both locally and around the world, focusing on sporting experiences from his triathlon, cycling, rugby and rock climbing days; experiences in regaining his health after his accident and 25 years of conducting Health Science research at the University of Cape Town via academic and mainstream presentations, lectures and workshops.

KEEPING CALM: How to Master your Brain Reward System to Optimise your Health, Wellbeing and Performance is available for online purchase in Kindle Format via Amazon for R200 and is available in a printed version that can be posted to the purchaser.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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