Host: Welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast where we talked to wellness professionals from many walks of life from around the world and get their insight into living healthier. I’m your host, Wes Malik. Today we’ll be talking with Nick Bolhuis who is VP of clinical services at Neuropeak Pro. He had the staff in charge of all peak performance training and he has extensive experience working with teams and athletes in the NBA, NFL, and NHL. He and his team also work with numerous professional golfers on the PGA, LPGA, and Korn Ferry Tours. And he has also worked with several Olympic athletes and professional tennis players looking to maximize their brain performance. He also spent several years leading the Neuro Analytic Evaluations for prospective NBA draft prospects. Today, we’ll be talking to Nick about how to improve our brain's performance. Welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast. How are you doing today?
Nick: Wes, I'm doing great. Just glad I had to get to enjoy the air with you.
Host: Alright. So, tell us a little bit about how you became involved in working with individuals dealing with issues related to focus and stress and mood conditions and sleep concerns because it's a big part of what you do with corporations and individuals. How did the whole story start?
Nick: Yes. So, I’ve been with the company now with Neuropeak Pro for about 13 years, little over 13 years and at the union, we primarily work with kids doing a lot of those issues or academic issues. I got a job it’s one of those things in life where I knew one of the guys who start the big company.
Nick: So, it was those “who you know” type of things and I actually got my wife a job working for them when they first started and I joined shortly thereafter and kind of blend with the team ever since.
Host: And did you do the same thing before you joined the Peak Performance?
Nick: No, actually I took a unique route. My undergrad is in Finance so I figured my life would be working on retirement accounts and those types of things and it would have been fine I’ve always liked numbers and data, but there’s something different about somebody entrusting you to help their brain or their child's brain. I can see a higher level of trust even beyond your retirement account. So, I came on-board, really on the low level here as with big company, happened to hook people up and I went back to grad school, got a degree in Psychology.
Nick: And, you know, just kind of, my job now is I kind of straddle the business operations and the clinical operations. So, it’s actually a really good fit based on my interests and my background and all those types of things,
Host: So, being a psychologist, this whole what we’re going through in the world and in the US might be very interesting to you and you might be, you know, focused on and observing human behavior as you've never observed it before.
Nick: Yes. No, we’ve all said these are unprecedented times. There’s not a playbook for us to go to and, “Ah! This is how everybody is going to respond”. We’re changing daily and rules are changing daily. And it’s a great time, though, to be a part of the company that helps people because like you’ve said and I’ve heard said by others, with the whole COVID crisis, it’s looking like the majority of us aren’t going to have major physical issues or symptoms with the virus but pretty much all of us are going to have some mental health ramifications. So, being able to provide services that can help those people is a very rewarding job.
Host: So, have you started helping people already or are you going to start doing that soon, in terms of just specifically COVID-19 and the quarantine and lockdowns.
Nick: Yes. So, we have a couple of different avenues that we help people. We have our offices, our Brain Performance Centers, where we have those in Michigan and Florida where people come to our facilities. But then we also have remote Neuro Feedback Training programs and telehealth counseling. So, mid-March our offices were shut down just like most of the other offices and so they remain close to this day. So, we quickly pivoted. All of the people who are coming into our facilities, into our mobile programs.
Nick: So, we’re very blessed that we have those already in place for a lot of folks were scrambling to figure out how to readjust how they deliver their services. So, we’ve been able to continue to work with our existing clients, and actually we have quite a surge of people reaching out to us as they’re homebound. And, you know, one of the cool things that actually my boss, our CEO came up with this. We got a lot of employees that are just homebound right now, looking for things to do. Why don't we offer telehealth counseling to the real heroes in this COVID crisis, the first responders and medical personnel? So, we, several weeks, a few weeks back now we kind of soft launch this service to any first responders or medical personnel that are interested in free telehealth counseling we’d love to offer it and the tax is taken off.
Nick: And we have, each week it's multiplied. We’re not just seeing a small increase, it's just a significant surge and these folks reaching out to help us out. So, that’s a really small piece of this huge crisis that will hopefully announce some individuals directly.
Host: So, when you help them this is person-to-person consultation through the internet?
Nick: Through telehealth, yes, through telehealth. So, we have…And in our team has been great. Our licensed mental health professionals they’re really stepping up to the plate saying, “Hey, yeah, whatever we can do to help”. I know we’ve got folks, you know because this medical personnel they’re working crazy shifts. So, some of them are asking us to login at 10 o'clock at night to do a counseling session and our team is stepping up and they’re doing it. You know, the stories are real, they’re heartbreaking. In some cases, it’s just what these first responders are going through just to, you know, not being able to see their families, you know, because a lot of them can’t go home. So, they're gone days and weeks at a time isolated from their children and their spouses because they want to keep them safe. So, just kind of processing through all of those things, very interesting to just hear those stories of what's going on out there.
Host: I'm glad that you and everyone at the Neuro Peak are doing that. That's just fantastic. You mentioned you started or the company started working with children first? And why was that and how did it move up to adults after that?
Nick: Yes. So, really simple. Actually the psychologist who started the practice had been on the staff of the local children's hospital. So their built-in client base was kids.
Nick: So, we’re kind of your traditional mental health psychologist office, offering counseling services and testing services for kids, and just over time is you’re sitting in the lobby, talking with their parents. They start to ask questions like, “Hey, you know, I kind of dealt with some of those same things” or “I’m dealing with this. Can you help with that?” and just kind of organically grows from there. And now they announced about a 50-50 split, children, and adults that we work with.
Host: So, apart from counseling, what is the services that you provide to everyone? Is it just counseling or is there more to it?
Nick: No, much more, yes. Counseling, it plays a role, but it's a smaller role in terms of what we do. You know, the thing that we really have specialized in over the years and really have taken the lead on in the industry is neurofeedback and biofeedback services. So, non-pharmaceutical intervention for these different conditions and what we found, you know, historically we’re kind of in that clinical population is people that are diagnosed with anxiety or depression or ADHD. A lot of the same things we were doing with the neural feedback and the brain training for them applies to Peak Performance individual. So, that's where we see the corporate wellness programs develop, where we work with a lot of pro athletes in pro sports teams. And so are our clinical division kind of help to support that by publishing the research and looking at the outcomes data to that feed into these programs that we’re offering to these high-performance individuals.
Host: Now, you work with corporations and when you work with corporations you evaluate them for well-being initiatives that they have. When you do that evaluation, what do you look for?
Nick: Yes. So, there are a few different platforms that we’ll offer to a business. It kind of depends on what they’re looking for. Or is it a small business with five or ten employees? Is it a larger group, the biggest is 500. So, I want to sit down and talk to them and say, “Hey, what are your needs?” You know, there’s a lot of people in the corporate wellness space doing a lot of great work, primarily looking at ways to help improve productivity in the workforce but also employees, just overall quality of life. So, a lot of these programs are centered around nutrition and exercise.
Nick: And we have those programs as well. I think the unique approach that we have where we gained a lot of traction and a lot of interest is we’re doing those things, but also coming at it from more of the brain wellness aspect as well and saying, “Okay, these are our core competencies of helping with the mental health aspects of life” or that what we call brain performance aspects of life in equipping the businesses and the employees with tools they can use to help manage stress better or improve focus or sleep. It’s a little bit wider net than just focusing on solving nutrition and exercise.
Host: Are these the common things that you see at corporations, anxiety, stress, sleep problems?
Nick: Yes. People would always ask, “What’s the most common thing?”, especially when they hear kind of our back story working with kids with attention issues they think, “Oh, it’s just ADHD” and I’m like, “No, no”. We see a lot of it in reality, even in kids. Stress is the number one thing that we deal with. You know, a lot of times the symptoms of stress can look like you’re having a hard time focusing, but you know we just… Up until a few weeks ago, we found a very fast-paced society. It’s gone, go, go, go, go.
Nick: And that leads to its own stressors. Well, now we have these new unique stressors of, “I can’t go anywhere. My whole life has been disrupted”.
Host: Yes, change yes.
Nick: Change, yes. So, working through on that and then a lot of times, too, what you see along with that stress is poor sleep. And so I often tell people if the only thing it improves for you as you go through one of our programs is that you sleep better, that's a huge victory right there. Now, there’s so much research out there on chronic stress and how that is just a huge drain on our economy, on our society and one of those things is poor sleep. So, if an employee or an athlete is not recovering and resting well, it’s going to have a huge impact on their health so we need to improve that.
Host: What are the more popular wellness initiatives at the workplace you’ve seen with companies you work for?
Nick: Yes, it's all about packaging it in a way that will get the employee buy-in. Because, you know, again we’re busy. We can always find things to fill our time so we want to meet the employees where they’re at. So, we really try to tailor a program to the workforce. So, depending on if it's more of an office setting where they’re sedentary sitting at their desk all day versus maybe an environment where they’re up and moving more. We may tailor individual movement and exercise programs for them.
Nick: Based on what their routine is. The same thing with diet, you know, diet can be nutrition, can be a really sensitive subject for a lot of folks. So, our approach with that will be to find some food, some brain-boosting foods that you can add to your diet. So, before we search to try to take away all the bad stuff, let’s add in a good first. And we spent a lot of time, too, on breathing. Again, this a very simple exercise that we can do with folks to improve how their heart and lungs are functioning which is a great stress management tool.
Host: Oh really. Okay, so along with the food it's also breathing that you focus on. We usually when we talk about well-being, we focus on physical well-being, our outlook, the physical aspect of living healthy. Some of us also focus on spiritual health and mental health and I'm assuming I can use mental health and when you say brain health we’re talking about the same thing.
Nick: Yes. It’s very intentional. There are stigmas when we talk about mental health still, you know, mental health. So, what we do is we call a brain performance. It is exactly the same thing. Let me give example, I always use if I’m standing out in my front yard talking to my buddies like, “Hey Mike. Do you want to improve your mental health?” “Like Nick, that’s kind of a weird question. Can we else talk about sports or something”?
Nick: But if I say, “Hey Mike, do you want to improve your brain performance?”, well, who’s going to say no to that?
Nick: So, it's just kind of tweaking the language and how we talk about it so hopefully get that buy-in or that acceptance from others.
Host: You and your colleagues are experts in brain performance, in mental health, in the latter and I wanted to ask you why is it important to keep our mind healthy?
Nick: Well, our mind basically runs the entire system here. You know, again it's, you mentioned a minute ago most people want to focus on the physiological aspect of health.
Nick: So important that bottom-up piece, but then we want to incorporate that top-down because if our brain is not functioning well it is going to impact all these different symptoms that we’ve discussed. You want it to be focus or stress management, mood, sleep. So, these are like what I would consider immediate things, our day-to-day health, but then there's that long term ramification, too. When we sleep at night, one of the main reasons we sleep is for memory consolidation. So, if we have somebody, we didn’t sleep well, for whatever reason, whether it's stress or lack of exercise, lack of nutrition. If they're going night after night, year after year not sleeping well, they’re a high-risk factor for memory loss…
Nick: …because they're not allowing those memories to get etched in.
Nick: Because we do a lot of work with the elderly population and memory loss and so if I get somebody who is young who’s not sleeping well, I would do everything I can to get to help to get their brain to calm down and sleep all night because there are long-term consequences if they don’t.
Host: What is memory consolidation?
Nick: That’s where you’re kind of your brain is going through this cleansing process where it's taking everything you learned throughout the day and etching it into your memory.
Nick: Okay. So, that’s actually a different stage of your sleep when your brain actually becomes as very active and it’s etching all of that in. You know, more or less the first kind of half, first 3 to 4 hours of your sleep every night is more for physical restoration and healing. The last 3 or 4 hours is more for your brain. So, if you’re one of those people, “Yeah, I can fall asleep right away but then, boom! I’m up at 2 and I’m just restless the rest of the night”. Yes, you’re physically recharged but your brain likely hasn't taken care of itself like it needs to, to lock in those memories from the day.
Nick: And there’s also this kind of this picture that I have of you got like a custodian that comes through and cleans the floors and sanitizing and gets everything ready for the next day in the brand like what you do at the office or something. That’s what happens during those stages of sleep.
Nick: And so if that isn’t happening, you’re not going to clean it up for the day before the brain isn’t organized and ready to go that next day.
Host: So, you mentioned a couple of benefits of having a healthy brain or healthy mind, you know, memory consolidation, you know, you wake up refreshed, sleep. What other benefits are there of having a healthy brain?
Nick: Yes. So, when you look at all the different chemical activity in our brain, a healthy brain can regulate our mood and our emotions more efficiently. So, again if we have somebody who's dealing with excess stress or say, you know, depressed type feelings even if they’re not formally diagnosed. If that brain is not firing optimally, it's going to lead to a worsening of those symptoms, it’s kind of cloud their situation and where they’re at. How we process information, going back like our athletic side. If I have a pro quarterback of an NFL team whose brain is sluggish, it’s not firing like it should, as he takes the snap and has surveyed the field this guy, you know, seven or eight guys coming at him and he has to go find that open receiver, he needs to be processing a ton of information very, very quickly. So, if the synapses in his brain are not firing as they should, he’s probably not going to make the right decision.
Nick: So, that efficiency of processing of information is very important as well.
Host: So, the reflexes, the decision-making under pressure, all of that. Now, that leads me to, okay, we need a healthy brain. But how do we get to, how do we know we have an unhealthy brain or even have a like a normal brain or normal mental health. How can we make it better? How do we train our brains? What do you do to defunction optimally? Is it, I can only make guesses at this point because…
Nick: Yes, yes.
Host: So, you got to tell me everything about this.
Nick: Yes, know for sure so notice this is raw I can do a little history lesson first then I’m going to leak forward where we are at today.
Nick: So, I like to use an easy example, Abraham Lincoln.
Nick: So, it’s been a few years since he’s been around, about 150 years or so. He was not feeling himself so he went to his doctor and his doctor asked him a series of questions. And based upon Abe’s answers, he was diagnosed as melancholy.
Nick: Say we would call that depression.
Nick: Okay. So, fast forward 150 years or more, that’s still more or less how we diagnose that condition.
Nick: You know, you go, “Hey, I'm feeling this”. So, your doctor asks you some questions or hand you a checklist, and based upon how you answer it, you are right diagnosed with a mental health condition. We have made so many advances in the last 150 years. Our field is very rigid. I’m saying this is how we’ve always done it, this is the way we want to continue to do it. There is a time and a place. You know, we definitely want to know what's bringing you in the door. Please declassify your symptoms. Tell us what you're experiencing. But we want to go beyond that and say, “Okay, let's not treat symptoms anymore. Let’s go to the root issue of what's going on. Let’s actually look at your brain. Let’s map out the electrical activity in your brain to say how efficiently is your brain firing”. We have the technology now that allows us to measure that electrical current in the brain. So, that's to us, to me, the most important part of the process. Okay, you’ve identified all these things that are bringing you to us. Now, let’s look at the organ that is dictating those things, and let’s look for areas that we could improve how your brain is functioning.
Nick: So, a simple way to look at it would be if you got your alignment on your vehicle. If you’re driving down the road, everything…If your alignment is good you can be able to steer and take turns and do everything well. But after a while, that alignment gets a little off.
Nick: Steers a little wobbly, you kind of feel it. And if you just kind of let it go it’s going to get worse and worse. So, when we look at the electrical activity in the brain, we can measure that stability in the brain. We’ve got slower brain waves and we have faster brain waves.
Nick: So, you have a job to do. So, we need all these super brain waves. But what you’ll find in some instances, say somebody with excess stress, they’re going to have an abundance of fast brain wave activity, those fight or flight brain waves.
Host: I see.
Nick: And we can measure that. And so what happens is their kind of humming along and it’s a little wobbly because it’s just a little off but then those environmental stressors come in and add to it. So, you’re already a little wobbly, to begin with and then the environment packs on and then, “Okay. That's when it gets too much”. So, what we want to do then is we’ve measured and we’ve quantified where in the brain those issues are and how bad they are. Then we can develop the training plan that’s going to train your brain to reduce those fight or flight brain waves and that’s where the neurofeedback comes in to play. So, the way the neurofeedback works it’s a reward system for your brain. We take this a little electro, that’s what EEG sensor and we stick it to one of the hot spots on the top of your head, just kind of sticks on the top of your head and you open up our app on your phone or your tablet.
Host: Oh, really! Interesting!
Nick: Yes and you watch a movie.
Nick: So, you can pull up, it’s kind of cool. Yes, in a way we’ve developed this mobile application for times and you can't leave your house.
Nick: You put the little sensor in your head.
Nick: Open up your app, you log in and you can either play these video games that we have on their or you can actually go to YouTube and you can watch anything on YouTube. The key is, your brain is going to play that video game or that movie. So, when your brain is firing like we wanted to and those neurons and that electricity is firing and it’s a healthy optimal state, everything's going to play. The split-second your brain goes out of balance, so if you get that stressed brain, if a split second, you get a little surgeon activity, the sensor picks that up and it stops your video, your screen goes dark. You get this feedback and say, “Hey, Wes. Don’t do that”. And as soon as your brain calms back down, the video starts up again.
Host: Wow! Very interesting.
Nick: So, this repositions over time your brain is getting the same feedback at the same point over and over and over just to figure out that pattern. It says, “I don’t know why. When I’m here I get the reward. When I go there, I don't. I’m going to stop going there. I’m going to spend more time right here”. So, you’ve conditioned or trained your brain to spend time in that healthy optimal state.
Host: And that's how Neuropeak Pro trains the brain. Is that the method?
Nick: Yes. That’s how neurofeedback works. It’s a very precise plan for the individual. So, this is kind of like a gym for the brain, if you are going in and you do your exercise for your brain right there.
Host: Now, I understand that a lot of athletes, you work with a lot of athletes, and I wanted to ask. You mentioned before, you know, it's the reaction times, processing, decision-making makes them better athletes. Would you like to expand on that? Because you work with Pro Golfers, NBA, you work with football, NFL. Do these athletes really benefit from training their brains?
Nick: Yes, it’s a huge aspect of it, and, you know, one of our athletes he’s done some videos for us. He is the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Kirk Cousins. And he had, said something along the lines of, ”Hey, it used to be the weight room was a competitive advantage in pro sports”. Not every team had a weight room. Well now, every team has a weight room down the like high school level, they’re all lifting weights. There’s no competitive advantage there.
Nick: What he sees as the competitive advantage is the mental side because not everybody's doing it yet. There's still a huge opportunity to get that competitive advantage if you're focusing on your brain performance. And the cool thing just like I mentioned when you're doing the neurofeedback when you're doing the app on your phone or on your tablet, that plan is specific to you. Now, we have a whole curriculum where we’re walking people through their nutrition and their exercise. Those are generally good things and just general principles there that are good for everybody.
Nick: The neurofeedback allows us to go in there and look at each individual’s brain and see exactly what that brain needs because no two brains are alike. So, you would think like we got a ton of Pro Golfers on the PGA Tour. You’d think, “Okay, golf very stressful, very mental game. I bet they only help with stress management”. If I know, when I golf I get stressed. (laughing)
Host: Right. (laughing)
Nick: Some of them do, you know. So, we’ll set up their plan…
Nick: …to reduce those fight or flight brain waves.
Nick: But there are golfers, well they’re actually really good at managing stress that's not their issue, they actually get bored out there on the course.
Nick: And I never would've thought of that but talking to one of our guys a few years back, he’s like, “Yes, we play a tournament, we play four rounds and I’m basically playing the same course, the same shots four days in a row”.
Nick: Much I was like, “Okay that never happens. I get to play the same course four days in a row and just got to be a different experience every time because I’m just playing the ball over”. But for him, by like Saturday and Sunday, he would start to lose focus out there because he's already done this.
Nick: So, we’ll find some areas in his brain where he would have a tendency to zone out and through the training, we would specifically target those brain waves to help him to focus better out on the course. So, that’s the key differentiator in our program compared to some other different wearables that are out there. These are not canned protocols where they’re kind of one-size-fits-all. It's taking the time to measure your brain and in developing the plan that’s going to help your brain.
Host: Sounds all so unbelievable, I mean it sounds incredible. To me it sounds very futuristic, never heard of anything like this before.
Nick: Yes, it’s kind of fun and I always talk to people and I’m trying to explain and I’m like, yes, it’s kind of cool. It’s kind of crazy to think really. I can watch a video on my phone, hooked up to this little electrode…
Nick: …and that’s going to change how my neurons fire? Yes. So, there’s that complexity, too, but they're also is very much simplicity to it. This is a reward system. This is how we learn anything. You know, like I’ve got family store educators and they do sticker charts for their kids in the classroom to reward behavior.
Nick: That’s the same exact principle right there. We’re just rewarding one thing and not rewarding another in order to kind of train that new habit for that new behavior.
Host: You work with Olympic athletes, professional tennis players, NBA draft prospects from high school. What other type of client does Neuropeak Pro work with?
Nick: Yes, we’re heading on a lot of them. The cool thing that I would say whether we are working with an Olympian or a pro athlete or somebody working in a corporate setting or even a child, we’re tailoring the program to be individual right there. But at the same time though, the equipment in the program that Kirk Cousins is using is nearly identical to what a 10-year-old boy with a focus problem is using.
Host: I see.
Nick: You know, so it’s kind of cool like when people see these stories about the athletes of the teams that we work with, you know, you can do that, too, which is kind of unique. You know, it’s like if I go to the store, I can’t go buy the golf ball or the golf club one of my PGA Tour guys. They got their own specialized equipment.
Host: Oh, yes.
Nick: But we really try to set up the program to say, “No. The same principles and the protocols we’re using for the lead athletes here are available to everybody”.
Host: I see. Now, how can I start doing this?
Nick: Yes. So, great question especially now like I mentioned at the beginning we’ve seen a pretty big surge on our online platform because there are people that have maybe been accustomed to going to a facility for these types of programs. Well, we can’t do that now or one of the criticisms or feedback you always get from people, “I don’t have time. I don’t have time to take care of myself. I’m too busy”. Well, so we won’t have that excuse. We got all the time in the world.
Host: Yes. That’s for sure, yes. Absolutely (laughing)
Nick: So, we always tell people to go to our website neuropeakpro.com. We got a ton of great information on there, a lot of research on there that we've done. We can talk about the kind of science behind the different programs that we offer as well as the different program packages that we do. And then it also gives you a spot to be able to talk with one of our staff about your situation and what you're looking for. So, yes, neuropeakpro.com.
Host: Very nice. And if I start doing this, how will I know that it's working for me?
Nick: Yes that’s a great question. So, we want to both look at the subjective, the qualitative like, “Hey. How are you feeling?”, but also quantify that, too. So, being able to look at your brain every time you're running a session with us, we’re measuring your brain. So, we have this ability to show you and every time you're done with your session, you get your statistics. You can see how well that I focus today or how did my brain perform today in my session. In a way, we can track that back over your previous sessions to see how you’re trending. When you start our program, you work with one of our brain coaches. We have a great team that is highly trained and how to look at brains and how to coach you along. So, once you get started, you meet with one of your brain coaches every other week.
Host: Oh, okay.
Nick: So, in between your coaching sessions, you're running your neurofeedback sessions at home. I mean, my eight-year-old son runs his own session, it’s that simple.
Nick: But then every other week, yes, you’re meeting via, you know, webinar with your coach and we’ll walk you through, “Okay. How are we doing towards our goals? Because you’re establishing goals on the front end’s worth. We’ll talk about that progress. We’re looking back at your session data, we’re doing a lot of the education, on the nutrition and exercise and the sleep hygiene”. So, over the course of our 12-week program, it’s a 12-week program, you’ve met with your coach multiple times and you're able to again chart out how different your brain looks from the beginning, quantifiable, how’s that electricity changed. But then, we've been talking all along the way about the goals and the symptom changes that you're looking to experience as well.
Host: This is so fascinating and really eye-opening. I learned a whole lot in the last 35 minutes we've been together. Nick Bolhuis from Neuropeak Pro, thank you so much for being on our podcast today and explaining… I want to say this is new, but I'm sure, you know, this is something that has been out there for a very long time, but the way you're doing it seems very, very new and very advanced to me. So, thank you so much for sharing that.
Nick: I know and it’s been great to be with you here. I really love fresh sharing what we do and yes, you are right. We’ve been around for a while, neurofeedback has been for a while, but being able to utilize the technology that we have available to us today to make this more accessible to others is a really big part of what we do.
Host: Brilliant. Thank you so much for being on the show with us.
Nick: Thanks, Wes.