Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

It’s “that” time year – Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

We often believe that during holidays everyone, except us, is having a wonderful festive time, surrounded by loving family, caring friends, filled with fun, festivity and happiness.

At the risk of “bah humbug” what I most often heard from clients was holidays were filled with stress, trepidation, family feuds or deep pain at being alone while everyone else seemingly was partying.  

Coupled with studies which suggest that the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.* the United Kingdom study on loneliness and isolation of 6,500  had an interesting conclusion:

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. 

“The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.”

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.”

“To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.”

“And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”‘

‘”At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.”‘

“But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.”

Do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

“Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.”

‘”It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.”‘

‘”People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.”

*https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.cir.0000151424.02045.f7   (There are multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes.)

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/03/26/175283008/maybe-isolation-not-loneliness-shortens-life

It’s HOT . . . and chilli

Chillies come in many shapes, colours, sizes and strengths, but one thing they have in common is the burning sensation they cause in your mouth, eyes and any other part of your body into which their juices come into contact.

The hottest part of a chill isn’t its seeds, in fact it is the white spongy layer you find inside, called the placenta. Bite into this and you will really feel the burn.

  • That burning sensation is mainly caused by a chemical called capsaicin, which is found in tiny glands in the chilli’s placenta.
  • When you eat a chilli, the capsaicin is released into your saliva and then binds on to TRPV1 receptors in your mouth and tongue.
  • The receptors are actually there to detect the sensation of scalding heat.

Capsaicin makes your mouth feel as if it is on fire because the capsaicin molecule happens to fit the receptors perfectly.

When this happens it triggers these receptors, which send a signal to your brain, fooling it into thinking that your mouth is literally burning.

The Chili DOES NOT WANT TO BE EATEN

  • The reason wild chilli plants first started to produce capsaicin was to  protect themselves from being eaten by mammals like you.
  • From an evolutionary perspective the plant would much rather have its seeds dispersed by birds.
  • Oddly enough birds, unlike mammals like you, don’t have TRPV1 receptors, so they do not experience any burn.

Humans messed things up

  • Producing capsaicin was the ideal way to deter mammals from eating the plant while encouraging birds to do so.
  • Along came an ape with a giant frontal cortex who somehow learnt to love the burn.

Your body responds to a burst of severe pain by releasing adrenaline:

  • Eyes water
  • Pulse shoots up.
  • Heart beats faster
  • Pupils dilate.

If you can tolerate biting into some really hot chillies, it’s possible to have a “chili endorphin high” – Endorphins are natural opiates, painkillers which are sometimes released in response to the chilli’s sting. Like opiates they are said to induce a pervasive sense of happiness.

It is a form of thrill-seeking – feeding our brains’ desire for stimulation.

Beyond pain are there any health benefits to eating chillies?

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Vermont looked at data from more than 16,000 Americans who had filled in food questionnaires over an average of 18.9 years.

During that time nearly 5,000 of them had died. What they found was that was that those who ate a lot of red hot chillies were 13% less likely to die during that period than those who did not.

Researchers speculate that it could be that capsaicin is helping increase blood flow, or even altering the mix of your gut bacteria in a helpful direction.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-39217603

The Chocolate Express

One of my fibromyalgia main symptoms is chronic fatigue.  At it’s best, my entire body feels heavy and aches.  At it’s worst, I feel like I’m trying to run through quicksand which is up to my eyebrows . . . even when I’m sitting down.  I sleep 8 – 10 hours every night and wake up every morning feeling exhausted and achy.  Not a very pretty picture . . . However, I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to function and not incapacitated.

Because of the chronic fatigue I’m always on the alert for things that may help . . . and here’s my favorite . . . 

Scientists recommend eating chocolate for tired people.

Few know that the feeling of chronic fatigue is the fact that the body makes negligibly small amount of the hormone serotonin, responsible for feelings of joy and happiness.

American scientists conducted a study and found out which product can best produce serotonin and help to cope with chronic fatigue:

Everyone knows that chocolate improves mood, because it improves the production of serotonin.

It turns out, “. . . it is bitter chocolate – just 50 grams of this delicacy, is capable of preventing physical and emotional exhaustion, and to help cope with fatigue.”

To establish the production of serotonin in your body, people need to eat every day half tiles of dark chocolate for two months.

YA HOOOOOOOOOooooooo

(jw)

http://micetimes.asia/named-another-unique-property-of-chocolate/

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Owls, Larks & then there’s Me (Parenthetically Speaking)

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  Maybe there would be more validity if I had taken it when I was middle-aged and had the energy to rebound and peak.  As a seenager I seem to be in the slowdown phase, perpetually.)

Let me explain . . .  

What’s the best time to Think?

Daniel Pink* (born in 1964 and he’s NOT a seenager) says our ability to think changes throughout the day, consequently we function better, smarter and even more creative at various times.  Research suggests these effects can be as large as 20%.

Generally, we have a peak, a slowdown and a rebound during the day.

  • Most people are at their peak function during the late morning, till about noon. We think and focus the best then.  We don’t get distracted as easily.
  • Early to mid afternoon we are less alert and focused-this is the time for “busy work”.
  • In the late afternoon to early evening we rebound. We are more easily distracted though, which turns out to be good for creativity – problem solving and creative thinking. Our mood tends to be up and we are alert. Note that night owls have this time in the morning.

One in 5 people is a night owl, then the order is reversed–rebound, slowdown, peak.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  I’m a night owl person.  My morning rebound lasts until about 3 pm, followed by a slowdown until 11 pm when I go to bed.  My peak performance occurs undoubtedly while I’m sleeping.)

What’s the best time to Exercise?

When is best time to exercise? Depends on your goals-here is Pink’s guide:

  • Morning exercise is best for losing weight –since blood sugar is low before we eat, we will burn fat – even 20% more fat than later exercise
  • Cardio in morning will boost your mood, and doing this in the morning lets you enjoy the boost longer
  • It is easier to have a routine in the morning that later in the day.
  • Late afternoon exercise is best for avoiding injury, since your muscles are warmed up
  • You also perform your best in the afternoon ( one study by Elise Facer-Childs and Ronald Brandstaetter at U. Of Birmingham  in 2015 showed a 26% difference. Lung function is highest and strength peaks at this time, reaction time is quick and eye hand coordination is at its best. This time of day is when athletic records tend to be set-late afternoon to early evening.  You tend to enjoy your workout more at this time.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  I’m a night owl person.  Since my morning rebound lasts until about 3 pm, followed by a slowdown until 11 pm when I go to bed.  I should be exercising while I’m sleeping which will ensure I enjoy it more.)

How to stay happy and productive

Take short breaks-this helps keep you able to focus, especially when you move during the breaks.  Taking a 5 minute walk every hour will increase your energy, focus and mood,  lessening afternoon fatigue.  It’s better than one 30 min. walk. Researchers at Stanford found motivation, concentration and creativity went up with short walking breaks.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this. Peggy told me this is how we evolved – pick some food from a plant, walk a bit, pick more food . . .   I tried this and gained 10 pounds which depressed me and now I’m going to bed to sleep at 3 pm when my slowdown starts.)

Pink says social breaks are the best as they increase mood and decrease stress. The best breaks may be ones in nature, people feel happier and more rested.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this. I could take a social break but I don’t think my husband would appreciate my asking anyone else to bed)

(jw)

Peggy made  Mood Tracker charts to help me pinpoint my daily energy swings.

Click HERE to get a PDF and print your own chart and instructions.

Mood Chart

 

Sample Mood Chart & Tracker

References:

Wall Street Journal article Feb. 16, 2018,

*“How to be Healthier, Happier and More Productive: It’s All in the Timing” by Daniel H. Pink

 

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Frankly Freddie, THE MENTAL BENEFITS OF WALKING (Parenthetically Speaking)

Dear Humans,

I hate to say “I told you so”  but I told you so – Walking is good for you.  It’s my preferred form of exercise.  Peggy and judy have found lots of studies on the benefits of walking. They asked me to promote it since I’m an expert walker:

Walking (preferably with me)

  • Gives you a creative lift.  A study at Stanford showed a 60% increase in creative output. Researches called the kind of creativity “divergent thinking”, thinking out of the box, looking at many different possibilities. Walking lets out minds wander and this puts us in a good mental state for generating new ideas.  (My Human Judy is already a “divergent thinker” . . .  to a fault.  Her brain hasn’t ever been able to walk a straight line)

  • Boosts your mood. In one study scientists saw increased energy, good mood, attentiveness and confidence with 12 minutes of walking compared to 12 minutes of sitting.  (I like my human to be attentive and obedient)

  • Walking in nature also reduced repetitive negative thoughts (ruminating).

  • Improves memory.  (You’ll remember that walking helps you)

  • Just 10 minutes of walking may relieve anxiety and improve mood as well as a workout lasting 45 minutes. (I prefer long walks but I’m all for anything that gets my human in a better mood)

If it’s raining or snowing or blowing you can use a treadmill for a walking workout.

Walking on a treadmill gives you the most benefit if you vary the speed and incline so that your heart rate is raised and lowered. Sort of like walking up and down hills, going fast some times, slow some times. Setting a high incline makes you use more energy to walk, and you can get a good cardiovascular workout without as much strain on your knees (For those of us who have 4 knees that’s important)

Interval training is a way to get the most from a workout. So whether you are outside on a trail or inside on a treadmill here’s how to do intervals. Start with a warm up warm up 5 minutes, then do an incline  or speed for 3 minutes a few minutes, then back to level then 1 minute level at a walk, and repeat for about 20 minutes total.  (I do interval training with Judy – I run, stop, raise my leg, run some more, stop, sniff, saunter, stop, raise my leg, run, stop, sniff, trot . . .)

Another protocol I often follow, and you can too, is to go as hard as I can for 1 minute, then sniff and walk until I recover, then go again. 

Finding your target zone

My target zone is most often a tree or a post.  For humans it may be different and here’s how you do it:

Find an online calculator for your target heart rate zone, or use this:

For vigorous exercise, use 70 to 85 percent of your heart rate reserve or HHR

Here is Mayo Clinics formula:

  • “Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as first thing in the morning. (For the average adult It’s somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute.)
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) – subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • These two numbers are your training zone heart rate for vigorous intensity exercise. Your heart rate during exercise should be between these two numbers.”

For example, I’m 6 dogs years old.

220-6= 114, my maximum HR
My  resting heart rate is resting
Then I subtract my resting heart rate from my maximum heart rate gives my heart rate reserve (HHR), (which is very confusing).

Multiply that by 0.7, then add my resting heart rate,

Multiply my heart rate reserve (HHR) by 85%  so 82×0.85=69.7 then add resting heart rate so 69.7+65=134.7 which is the high end of my target heart rate or training zone . . .

(I’ve computed my target zone to be 6 trees a minute.)

Frankly,

Freddie Parker Westerfield, CDWE

Canine Dog Walking Expert 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise

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