161: Kristen Willeumier: Another incredible powerhouse woman who learned the early lessons of competitive horse jumping (and falling) to become an expert in neurobiology. She is helping to change the world and give help to those with brain disease such as ALS, Parkinson, Epilepsy and others degenerative diseases.

July 24, 2020

Kristen Willeumier

As an athlete, what made Kristen Willeumier gravitate towards psychology?  “I started getting more interested in the mind through sports. So, when I was at Boston College, I studied psychology. But, I was really interested in continuing the thread of athletics, and the brain, and psychology. I thought I wanted to go into sports psychology, and at the time, which was in the early 90s, there weren’t a lot of sports psychologists. I joined an association for sports psychology, learned more about it. I really wanted to work with athletes and Olympic athletes, helping them improve their mental game.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Kristen Willeumier, PhD, Neuroscientist and Author of Biohack Your Brain, which is published by HarperCollins Publishers and will be released December 29th, 2020. How does she fill the gap between diseases that exist today and what traditional medicine knows? “Part of the reason why I ended up first doing the Masters Degree and then continuing to do another Masters and PhD in Neurobiology is that I wanted to study a disease that we think is incurable, whether that is Parkinsons, Alzheimer’s.”

What You Will Learn:

How did Kristen Willeumier get involved in competitive show jumping on horses? “I started riding at the age of 7, and like most parents do with their kids, I was doing gymnastics. I was doing ballet. I was taking classes at the Art Institute. You have your kids trying different things to figure out what they are going to excel at. I happened to go to a riding camp, at Kelly’s Riding Camp, and fell in love with riding horses, and I happened to grow up in a suburb outside of Chicago called Barrington which is essentially horse country.”

Kristen Willeumier explains the ‘hunters’ and jumpers’ areas of competitive show jumping. “I started out very naturally doing what we call the ‘hunters.’ For people who aren’t very familiar with the riding industry, we have ‘hunters’ and we have ‘jumpers.’ Hunter competitions are really judged on the horse, and how well you take the horses around the courses. Jumpers are more about not the actual judging of the horse and the rider, but it’s just how quickly you can get over a course of 10 to 12 to 14 fences. You need to jump them clean and you need to jump them for speed.” 

Did she have her sights set on the Olympics as something you wanted to do? “Absolutely. So, I actually rode for a decade, age 7 all the way to 17. Throughout that time, our family owned five different horses and the kind of training, so I was trained with people who ended up being Olympic show jumpers. Chris Kappler, who went to the Los Angeles Olympics, who is a gold and silver medalist. So, he was training in the barn with us.” 

Kristen opens up about a very serious injury that she sustained when she was younger riding a pony. “I’ve had so many injuries and accidents. But, the one that is truly the most memorable happened when I was 13 and I was at a local horse show riding Razzmatazz, who was a large pony, dapple gray, large pony, and I was in the children’s adult jumper class. So, the fences are between 3-foot 6 inches and 3-foot 9 inches. I was going around a corner with Lee, and he slipped. So, the show ring was wet. So, he slipped. His backend goes down. I go flying over him. He scrambles to get up and he steps on my chest. My ribs end up puncturing my lungs.” 

What makes Kristen Willeumier so passionate about her area of neuroscience? “Alzheimer’s disease, 5 million people in the United States have it. It is expected to triple by 2050. We have zero drugs that actually stop Alzheimer’s disease. Zero. I’m going to pivot off of Parkinson’s and go to Alzheimer’s for a minute. Alzheimer’s is 90% preventable by diet and lifestyle, and it is part of the reason why I’m such an advocate for brain health.” 

Diet Against Alzheimer’s

What is a natural way of eating that can fight against getting Alzheimer’s disease? “I’m going to do a Mediteranean Diet that is whole food plant-based. For example, on a day-to-day basis you want to be getting two servings of fresh fruit. Fruits and vegetables are at the core of brain health. First of all, most Amercians aren’t eating two servings of fruits and three servings of greens per day. If anyone is going to make one change today that they can take with them for the rest of their lives, that is probably the number one change.” 

Biohack Your Brain

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Kristen Willeumier also talks about the upcoming book that she wrote called Biohack Your Brain. “I basically give people the simple steps that they can do to take care of their brain health now, and a lot of it is the work that I did with professional football players and I give client stories. I talk about my own story. So, I make it really fun. It is loaded with great neuroscience facts, but fun ones, so very easily digestible.” 

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