“What you pay attention to GROWS” your brain and not just for monkeys

I had the fortune of studying under David Bresler, Ph.D and Marty Rossman, M.D., both pioneers in the field of MindBody Medicine.   They founded The Academy for Guided Imagery, a teaching academy for health care professionals to provide treatment using individualized one-on-one imagery for health and wellness.

Not only did they train me to teach Interactive Guided Imagery(sm) they introduced me to a different way of thinking and experiencing my world.

Many of you already know that I keep ranting and raving about the power of our minds, not to dwell on the negative, not to focus on what we can’t do but on what we are capable of.  SO!  When I came across this article by Dr Rossman I HAD to share.

“Repetitively shifting your attention to positive outcomes may actually result in growth in areas of your brain that start to do this automatically. My colleague, neuroscientist Dr. David Bresler, always says that

What you pay attention to grows

and research proves him correct.

“Neuroscience journalist Sharon Begley wrote in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, “Attention, … seems like one of those ephemeral things that comes and goes in the mind but has no real physical presence. Yet attention can alter the layout of the brain as powerfully as a sculptor’s knife can alter a slab of stone.”

Not to be confused for either Dr Bresler or Dr Rossman

”She describes an experiment at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in which scientists “rigged up a device that tapped monkeys’ fingers 100 minutes a day every day. As this bizarre dance was playing on their fingers, the monkeys heard sounds through headphones. Some of the monkeys were taught: Ignore the sounds and pay attention to what you feel on your fingers…Other monkeys were taught: Pay attention to the sound.”

“After six weeks, the scientists compared the monkeys’ brains and found that monkeys paying attention to the taps had expanded the somatosensory parts of their brains (where they would feel touch)but the monkeys paying attention to the sounds grew new connections in the parts of the brain that process sound instead.”

“UCSF researcher Michael Merzenich and a colleague wrote that through choosing where we place our attention, “‘We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves.'”

I promise I won’t say “I told you so.”

Originally posted on Curious to the Max. Click here to see more from Curious to the Max.

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Coronavirus Panic: How To Get Your Thinking Brain Back Online

We’ve been posting self-help tips & techniques on how better to survive the pandemic. Most of the posts are on CURIOUStotheMAX, simply because that blog covers a wide range of topics, more than just the mind which is this blog’s focus.

This interview with Dr. Judson Brewer, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Brown University caught our attention since he touches on many of the same things we’ve been covering.  NPR host Shereen Marisol Meraji spoke with Dr. Brewer about what’s going on in the brain when we’re anxious, how to get our “thinking brains” back online, and how not doing anything can actually be helpful to those around us.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  Dr Brewer’s responses are in italics & color:


Dr. Jud, everyone, including me, has been saying, “Take a deep breath,” or “I need to take a deep breath” way more lately — to the point where I feel like it’s becoming a little bit cliché. But you say this actually works?

“Yes, this is how our brain works. Fear is a normal adaptive response, but fear plus uncertainty makes our brains spin out in anxiety. And the best way to get our physiology calmed down and our thinking brain back online is literally to take a deep breath.”
“If we can understand why fear is a helpful adaptive response, we can understand how taking a deep breath can help. Fear helps us learn. For example, if we step out into the street and we almost get hit by a car, but step back just in time, our fear response here reminds us to look both ways before crossing the street.”

“We get revved up [and anxious] when the newer parts of our brain, the thinking and planning parts of the brain, don’t have accurate information. And [the newer parts of the brain] start spinning out into these “what if” worry loops. You know, “What if this happens? What if that happens?”‘

“If we can notice that we’re starting to spin out and take a step back and see that our brain is just trying to get control where there’s uncertainty, we can try and get our thinking brain back online. We can try to literally calm our nervous system down by taking a deep breath or feeling our feet as a way to ground ourselves in our direct experience.”

You’ve talked about how the prefrontal cortex in our brains needs very clear information. And we’re in a place right now where information is changing rapidly. So what’s going on in the prefrontal cortex while all of this is changing?

“Well, sometimes there’s not a lot going on in the prefrontal cortex. Let’s say we’re afraid and anxious and maybe we go on social media to try to get more information. We can actually catch something that’s even more contagious than a virus — [we can catch] panic and fear. [Panic and fear] can spread through social contagion, which is simply the transmission of affect or emotion from one person to another. And that actually makes our prefrontal cortex shut down. You can catch a virus from somebody by being near them, but someone can “sneeze” on your brain from anywhere in the world.”
“We can also see this playing out not only on social media, but when we say, go to the grocery store. If someone goes to the grocery store and sees somebody else hoarding toilet paper, suddenly, their scarcity brain kicks in. They might think, “maybe I’m not going to have enough toilet paper.” So they run to the toilet paper aisle and buy all the rest of the toilet paper, even though they probably have enough at home. So when this scarcity mode kicks in, it can also spread panic and fear through social contagion.”

People are trying to control this situation that we absolutely have no control over, right? I’m just cleaning everything that I can get my hands on and I’m never stopping, which makes me feel like I have some sort of control over everything. Is it ever helpful to try and control things in the ways that we can?

“Well, it depends on what we’re doing. So if we’re afraid or panicked and we try to control things, we’re going to actually fall back into old habit patterns. For example, if our habit pattern is to clean, we might start cleaning obsessively in a way that’s not helpful — It could use up cleaning supplies. If we start cleaning our house and nobody’s been in our house for a week, the likelihood that something infectious is going to suddenly show up on our countertops is pretty low.”

“So here, if our brain is anxious and our thinking brain is offline, the likelihood that we’re going to have any wisdom show up is pretty low. So again, it comes back to grounding ourselves and then asking ourselves, “What am I about to do? Is this actually helpful?”‘

“For example, in my psychiatry training, I learned this great phrase, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” The idea is, if I’m sitting with a patient and they’re anxious, I could catch their anxiety through social contagion. Here, I become anxious and then I try to do something to fix them to make myself feel better. When in fact, the best thing that I could do is simply to listen. And I think that applies to all of us.”

All of this feels simple and fairly easy — take deep breaths, feel your feet, take some time to just notice where you’re at and what’s going on around you in this very moment. But how do we make these into habits?

“There’s this phrase, “short moments, many times.” If somebody is going to create a habit of anything, they need short moments of repetition and they need to repeat it over and over and over. So it’s not just about trying to force ourselves not to check the news — that actually fails. You can’t think your way out of a bad habit. But we can tap into the strongest parts of our brain, the reward based learning parts, which feed on reward. For example, when we worry, we get more anxious. But if we can see that when we calm ourselves down — maybe we hug a loved one or pet our dog or take a deep breath— we feel less anxious, then we can start to change our habits.”

How are you talking to people to make them feel better about staying home? What are you telling people to make them feel empowered when they’re not allowed to leave the house?

“Two feelings I’m noticing here are guilt and shame. Guilt is feeling that we should do something when everybody else is doing something. This then can lead to shame about ourselves. So guilt is about a behavior and shame is about ourselves. So I think, again, the first thing to do is recognize what you’re feeling. Are you feeling guilt? Is that leading to a shame spiral where you’re beating yourself up? This can make our thinking brain go offline. We tend to do things that are not helpful when we’re not thinking.”

“If we can step out of that process, we can see that the best and most helpful thing to do is stay home. Because that’s what’s going to stop the spread of this virus. Running out there and trying to do something could actually make this worse. If we can step out of that shame spiral, our thinking and creative brains come back online and then we can think about what skills and talents we have that can be useful.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/04/10/832171895/coronavirus-panic-how-to-get-your-thinking-brain-back-online

 

Did YOU know – Social Laughter Triggers Endogenous Opioid Release in Humans

You don’t need to pick fleas off your partner, fluff their fur, hold hands or hug to boost your own pain threshold, with a hit of opioids.

Social contacts are of prime importance to humans. The size of human social networks significantly exceeds the network that can be maintained by social grooming or touching in other primates.

“You don’t need to believe me, read this”:

Positron emission tomography (PET) was used “to show that endogenous opioid release following social laughter may provide a neurochemical mechanism supporting long-term relationships in humans.”

Participants were scanned twice; following 30-minute social laughter session, and after spending 30 minutes alone in the testing room (baseline). Endogenous opioid release was stronger following laughter versus baseline scan. Opioid receptor density in the frontal cortex predicted social laughter rates.

Modulation of the opioidergic activity by social laughter may be an important neurochemical mechanism reinforcing and maintaining social bonds between humans.

B”orrrrrrrrring.  Researchers need to get a sense of humor.”

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/early/2017/05/23/JNEUROSCI.0688-16.2017

Drumbeats and Your Brain

We’ve posted research on singing and the impact on the brain so when we saw this it was of immediate interest.  We were doubly impressed when we saw it was a letter to the editor written by an 8th grader!  The only changes made were some paragraph breaks because Sabinav has a compelling voice.

How does drumming affect the neuroscience of the brain?

by Sabinav Senthilkuma

“I am an eighth grader at CMS. For an assignment, I designed and conducted a STREAM (Science, Technology, Research, Engineering, Arts, Math) Project to investigate the answer to this question. I was looking for results on a percussionist’s IQ compared to an average. In fact, I found many results, news and analytics site PolyMic compiled a group of studies that indicate drummers are not only generally smarter than their bandmates, they actually make everyone around them smarter too.”

“The research suggests that drummers have innate problem-solving skills and a positive impact on communities. Researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet found that, after playing a series of beats, drummers who had better rhythm scored better on a 60-question intelligence test. Seems using all the various parts of a drum kit to keep one steady beat is actually an expression of intrinsic problem-solving abilities.”

“A University of Texas Medical Branch researcher using the same method on elementary and middle school boys with ADD noted an effect comparable to Ritalin. In fact, the boys’ IQ scores actually went up and stayed up.”

“It gets even crazier, and more primordial, with reports suggesting drumming played a role in our own civilization.”

“Researchers at the University of Oxford discovered that drummers produce a natural “high” when playing together, heightening both their happiness and their pain thresholds. The researchers extrapolated that this rhythmic euphoria may have been pivotal in mankind establishing communities and society. Essentially, drum circles were the very foundation that made human society possible. All this info was acquired from consequencesofsound.net.”

“My results should be of interest to you because we have not only found that music can make more connections, but that drumming and percussion can ultimately make more. We have only scratched the surface enough to look within.”

“What? Me Worry?”

If you worry you have a evolved brain.

Powerful emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, are products of our neurology and created largely for survival.  It’s just that our brains no longer know we are not living in caves and threatened by being eaten alive.

Alfred E. Neuman was  an iconic figure in the comic book MAD in the 1950’s*.  MAD’s first editor, Harvey Kurtzman identified him: “It was a kid that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief.”  Few of us don’t have a care in the world and most of us worry.

If you are someone who tends to worry or be anxious (probably most of us), listen to what Professor B.L. Chakoo has to say:

Worry

” Worrying is primarily the result of poor communication between the thinking prefrontal cortex (which is the whole surface of your brain) and the anterior cingulate which notices all your mistakes and contributes to ‘the tendency to dwell on everything that is going wrong’.”

Anxiety

Anxiety, by comparison, is mediated by some circuits within the limbic system which is the emotional part of the brain and is responsible for things like fear, anxiety and memory.  So, there is no reason to get upset with yourself for feeling anxious or worrying too much.  It is just a by-product of your brain’s evolution.”

“Yes, it would be a marvelous world if we never felt worried or anxious, but that is not the way our brains are ‘structured or wired’. We as human beings worry about the future, ‘regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present’. We get upset, feel angry, frustrated when we cannot have what we want, and sad, irritable or disappointed when what we desire ‘ends’.”

He also says that our brains make things up, and so you can worry about something that has not happened yet, as well as regret what did happen.

The Good News

If the brain is the cause of suffering, it can also be its “cure.”  Understanding  why you worry or are anxious will help your brain will develop the ability to right itself. Decades of neuroscience inquiries have shown us how to modify our brains and change the levels of different neurochemicals.*

We can also grow new neurons and improve the way our brains work to reduce stress: 

  • Movement – walking, jogging, gardening or even walking up and down stairs – increases ‘the firing rate of serotonin neurons’, which causes them to release more serotonin.
  • Exercise with moderate intensity increases norepinephrine which helps with concentration and deep thinking.
  • Activity outside is best since sunlight improves serotonin production . . . as does . . .
  • . . . Interactions with others.

All these activities increase serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex, which help keep you from thinking about negative experiences.

And that means having an easier time saying “What? Me worry?”

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman

*To read the entire article by Professor B L Chakoo

Click here: http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/depression-and-neuro-science/

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)

Your Brain on Chocolate Chip Cookies

What is your preference?

Soft and gooey?
Crisp and crunchy?
Semisweet chocolate?
Milk chocolate?
Bittersweet?

Some research suggests that ingredients in chocolate chip cookies may have additive properties. Take sugar: Evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce rewards and cravings comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs, including cocaine.

Oh Noooooooooo

Then there’s the chocolate, which, in addition to sugar, contains small amounts of a compound known as anandamide. Anandamide is also a brain chemical that targets the same cell receptors as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for its mood-altering effects.
(That’s not to say chocolate will produce the same “high” as marijuana, but there may be a chemical basis for the pleasure we get from eating chocolate.)
“According to Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of “Your Brain on Food,” high-fat, sugar-rich cookies will raise the level of anandamide in our brains independent of what’s in the cookie, because it’s our body’s response to eating such a tasty item. “The fat and sugar combine to induce our addiction as much as does the anandamide,” Wenk said. “It’s a triple play of delight.”‘

Oh Nooooooooo

Texture and flavor: Key to a cookie’s addictive characteristics

The flavor of chocolate chip cookies is “. . . a beautiful amalgam of caramelized butter and sugar,” the result of the browning of butter and caramelizing of sugar while it bakes. The combination of the toasted grain with the browned butter, caramelized sugar, vanilla and chocolate are “the beautiful rich flavors that blend together in a chocolate chip cookie.  And as the chocolate melts, it becomes more aromatic and punches up the flavor.”*

A happy indulgence

“The main thing is not to think of food as good food and bad food. It’s all good. It’s how much you eat of it,”
So whether it feels like a true “addiction” or not, indulging in a chocolate chip cookie or two should be a happy experience.

Oh Yessssssssss

*Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products.

My Peak Alpha Frequencies aren’t Peaking

Current research points to common underpinnings of neuro-inflammation and immune dysfunction for many chronic conditions like pain, MS, lupus, migraine, cancer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) or Fibromyalgia.  One of the symptoms people with chronic conditions often experience are flu-like symptoms and brain fog.  The brains of people who have chronic conditions work differently from those of healthy people. 

  • A recent study done at Stanford looked at brain waves of people with ME/CFS and compared them to healthy controls. They found those with fibro or chronic fatigue have decreased  peak alpha frequencieswhich are associated with goal directed behavior being interrupted, and problems with attention and alertness. Getting moving at a task is difficult, and thus why we can feel resistance to everyday tasks.
  • A different study showed that neuroinflammation is higher in people with chronic fatigue or fibro and the level of inflammation correlated with the level of symptoms. One area with the most inflammation was the amygdala, which plays a role in procrastination.
  • Another study found that the reward center of the brain is less activated . Reducing the expectation of reward may contribute to difficulty in starting tasks.

What relief to read new studies that say “It’s not my fault I procrastinate.  I can blame my brain.”

You don’t have to have a chronic medical condition. Anyone who procrastinates or can’t get started on a task can benefit from this 3 step technique.

Focus on what you would like to accomplish: 

1. Stop thoughts of being overwhelmed or feelings of dread.

Let go of any thoughts of anticipatory dread and move on to a calming thought, or instead focus on sensations in the current moment. For example:

  • Look at a something neutral or pleasant – even a pillow’s colors and pattern.
  • At the same time, smile. It can be a fake smile.
  • Take in a deep, slow breath, then breathe out and let go of your negative thought.
  • As you breathe in again, keep smiling and focus on the present moment–what you are seeing, or what you are hearing or feeling.
  • Repeat this as often as you need to. You may need to every few seconds, especially at first.

2. Ask: “What is the next small, easy step?”

  • Break the task into very small, tiny steps. Focus on what’s doable.
  • Once you have taken a first step, repeat the question– What is the next small, easy step?
  • Make it OK to do only part of what you want to accomplish.

3. Focus on the finish line: 

  • Think about what you will gain by completing the task. Ask yourself “What pleasure will I get when I complete this task?”  OR
  • Ask “What pain will I avoid by doing this task?” Sometimes that works even better.
Sharing with others, or use a buddy system can  help you move forward. Call your buddy and tell them what your 3 steps are, and listen to their 3 steps. Then call again to see how you both are doing. This can magnify the power of the 3 steps.

When I’m not so overwhelmed I’ll think about focusing on which teeth I want to brush . . . the cooking and cleaning can wait.

(jw)

“Combating Feelings of Overwhelm, Resistance, or Listlessness in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”,

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How to change your own neurochemistry to feel happier

There is power in positive thinking–and the power comes from you.  and what you can do to have more “happy” neuro-chemicals. 

SEROTONIN & POSITIVE THINKING

As far back as 2007 scientists* measured how positive thoughts change brain serotonin levels which is another key neurotransmitter in happiness. Professional actors were used since they could keep up an intense emotional state.   Using a PET scan researchers found that focusing on happy memories resulted in increased uptake of the serotonin building blocks. Focusing on sad memories resulted in lower uptake. This supports the since replicated conclusion that we, by choosing to focus on happy thoughts, can self-regulate our brain’s neurotransmitters and change our brain’s chemical balance to support happiness.

DOPAMINE & MEDITATION

Another study shows why meditation makes monks among the happiest people on earth,

Dopamine is also crucial for happiness and relaxation, Researchers examined the changes in dopamine during meditation using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning on meditators.  The dopamine increased significantly in an area called the basal ganglia during meditation. This is the first evidence that by focusing our thoughts, we can alter how the neurons in our brain fire, and increase dopamine release.

No prescription needed, no side-effects from medications.  Your only cost is a bit of practice focusing on positive memories and thoughts or, if you are more ambitious, a bit of your time to learn to meditate. 

The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

 

A Happiness Hack – “Eau de Grass”

We’re excited to let you know that we are compiling all the Happiness Hacks we’ve posted.  Here’s a “hack” that that surprised us.

Mow-on by Peggy

Mowing my lawn always makes me feel good.   I’ve figured it was because I love being outside and mowing was good exercise.  However, it’s a pretty small lawn and I don’t get a lot of exercise. I was surprised to read about research done at The University of Queensland in Australia finding that the smell of freshly cut grass increases feel-good neurochemistry in the brain.*

Their studies convinced the researchers cut grass smell was as powerful as well-known scents like:

 lavender, cinnamon, vanillacitrus, baby powder, pine, rose, rosemary, sunscreen and peppermint

They isolated the chemicals to create cut-grass aroma and have bottled it.  You can buy cut grass smell!

. . . or you could mow your lawn. Use a push-mower to get a twofer – aerobic exercise & happy aroma.

After all, your nose is very close to your brain . . . and connected to your happiness!

*University of Queens land researchers found that the scent of cut grass works directly on the amygdala and hypo-campus and makes you happier and less stressed.  They created a spray with the scent of cut grass called SerenaScent

 

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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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You can outsmart your brain – Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that the brain didn’t change after childhood. While it is true that our ability to learn new things is greater in our early years, it turns out our brains reorganize, physically change, and alter the function of different parts through our lives.

Each time we learn a new skill, make a new memory, rethink, respond, react, interact our brains change. Your brain is changing right now reading this post.

Why is this important?

Exercising and strengthening our brains is as important as keeping our bodies strong and limber.  The way you keep your brain in good shape spends on what you pay attention to, what you think, what you feel, and how you react to your environment.  You can change your brain with purpose by understanding how neuroplasticity works.

Two Main Ways You Can Drive Neuroplasticity

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”*

Donald Hebb developed the idea that when two neurons fire at the same time repeatedly, chemical changes occur in both, so that they connect more strongly.  Because neuroplasticity follows this rule, it’s fundamentally reversible. Neurons that fire together wire together, but when neurons “fire apart” their connection becomes weaker. That means your brain works on a “use it or lose it” principle. Information and behaviors that you do not use weaken and may be completely lost. This is called called “synaptic pruning.

“It is almost just as easy to drive changes that can impair one’s memory or slow down one’s mental or physical control as it is to improve one’s memory or speed up the brain’s actions.”**

Brain change comes from external experiences

What we practice or are exposed to becomes part of our brain wiring.

Everything that happens in our life wires our brains.  What we repeatedly do becomes wired – everything from muscle patterns (remember when you first learned to walk, ride a bike?), to skills (learning a native language – when’s the last time you thought about how to form a sentence?) to smiling or frowning (do you have to concentrate on each of your facial muscles to express a feeling?).

To keep our brains growing, functioning well and avoiding decline, we need to give it challenges such as learning new skills, exploring new places, changing routines and interacting with people.

Brain change comes from internal experiences

Mental & emotional exercise changes our brains too. What we think and imagine can change our brains for the better or worse. Where we focus our attention directs the synaptic connections, the brains wiring, and develops and strengthens connections.

We can purposefully and actively create the connections we want. Thoughts and images we replay in our minds create stronger connections.  Make neuro-connections by thinking of things in sequence, create positive mental images, do crossword puzzles. (You already do this whenever you study for a test, read a book, rehearse what to say, worry about your future, ruminate on the past.)

Here are some proven ways to positively impact our brains:

 Mindfulness:

Practicing mindfulness is learning to control your thoughts and develop ability to focus where we choose.

Meditation:

By decreasing stress, anxiety and depression meditation helps encourage neurogenesis (development new brain cells). This can happen in just a few weeks.

Visualization: 

Neurons fire whether something is real or imagined. Imagining doing something is not very different from doing it in terms of  brain wiring. Athletes use this to “practice” by imagining a perfect performance over and over. It helps them actually perform better.  Research has validated that the practice influences physical changes from muscle strength to brain pathways.

Now that you’ve finished reading, give yourself a pat on the brain for all the new neuro-connections it has just made for you.

*neuro-scientist Carla Shatz

**Dr. Michael Merzenich,  author of  Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life 

Reference: https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/

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Food is Medicine

I’m an emotional eater –  it doesn’t matter if I’m feeling bad or good.  But when I’m depressed I crave sugar & carbs.   I’ve always conveniently blamed my father.   I’m not sure whether he was the one who needed a pick-me-up or he thought I did but he would go out of his way to bring a bit of pleasure into my life in the form of something delectibly sweet.

Dad would drive across town to a special shop that dispensed root beer from a soda fountain and then back at home he’d pile in vanilla ice cream to make floats.  We would sneak out to eat cinnamon rolls and M’M’s peanut chocolate candy. 

Dad lived by specific culinary principles:

  • Cake’s main purpose was to hold up the frosting. 
  • Pepsi was the beverage of choice because water was for bathing, not drinking.
  • The only edible food was brown and white (unless it contained copious amounts of sugar), green food should be reserved for insects or chimpanzees
  • Fruit was only safe to eat if it was in a pie. 

Today there is a an incredible amount of scientific evidence that food is medicine, not just muscle fuel, and the right kind of diet may give the brain more of what it needs to avoid depression, or even to treat it once it’s begun

You’re feeling depressed. What have you been eating?

Psychiatrists and therapists don’t often ask this question. But a growing body of research over the past decade shows that a healthy diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and unprocessed lean red meat—can prevent depression. And an unhealthy diet—high in processed and refined foods—increases the risk for the disease in everyone, including children and teens.

The findings are spurring the rise of a new field: nutritional psychiatry.

“Now recent studies show that a healthy diet may not only prevent depression, but could effectively treat it once it’s started.
“Researchers, led by epidemiologist Felice Jacka of Australia’s Deakin University, looked at whether improving the diets of people with major depression would help improve their mood. They chose 67 people with depression for the study, some of whom were already being treated with antidepressants, some with psychotherapy, and some with both. Half of these people were given nutritional counseling from a dietitian, who helped them eat healthier. Half were given one-on-one social support—they were paired with someone to chat or play cards with—which is known to help people with depression.”

“After 12 weeks, the people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support. And the people who improved their diets the most improved the most. (The study was published in January 2017 in BMC Medicine).”

“A second, larger study drew similar conclusions and showed that the boost in mood lasted six months. It was led by researchers at the University of South Australia and published in December 2017 in Nutritional Neuroscience.”

“And later this month in Los Angeles at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago will present results from their research that shows that elderly adults who eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains are less likely to develop depression over time.”

Scientific evidence aside . . .

My dad lived to 93 . . .  it might be prudent to follow his dietary regime.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Food That Helps Battle Depression bElizabeth Bernstein

 

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How to trick your brain into thinking you are happy

Yes, you can “fake out” your own brain.

Smiling fools your brain into thinking you are happy, then this creates actual happiness.  A smile spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin*.

Now here’s the fake-out:  Our brain isn’t good at telling the difference between a smile because you are happy and a fake smile.

Smiles by Peggy

But wait . . . there’s more

A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”

“And there are plenty more studies out there:  Researchers at the University of Kansas published findings that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another suggests that smiling leads to longevity.”

Smiling enhances our Immune system

“More than happiness is at stake.  Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist looks at the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system. He asserts that it has been found “over and over again” that depression weakens your immune system, while happiness boosts your immune system.”

“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”

Smiles are contagious

“This is because we have mirror neurons that fire when we see action,” says Dr. Eva Ritzo, As its name suggests, mirror neurons enable us to copy or reflect the behavior we observe in others and have been linked to the capacity for empathy.”

“Try smiling into the mirror. Dr. Ritzo recommends smiling at yourself in the mirror, an act she says not only triggers our mirror neurons, but can also help us calm down and re-center if we’re feeling low or anxious.”

So SMILE and pass on a dose of neurochemical happy

*Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression.  Low levels of dopamine are also associated with depression.

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Frankly Freddie – Spending money (on me) will make you happy

Dear Human-beings and critters with discretionary money.

Reading dry research is . . . dry.  If you don’t want to read this article, watch the video and . . .  buy me doggie treats so you feel JOYFUL.

There is scientific evidence that when you buy me treats you will feel good:  You probably think spending money on yourself makes you happy but this is NOT true.  

  1. In a series of experiments by Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues,employees were asked about their general happiness levels before and after receiving their annual bonus(2008). Regardless of the size of the actual bonus, employees who spent more of their bonus money on others or on charity reported greater general of happiness than those who spent more of it on themselves.

2. In another experiment, participants who were directed to spend a small amount of money on others (either $5 or $20) reported greater feelings of happiness than those who were directed to spend the same amounts on themselves. The dollar amount didn’t matter.  (Doggie treats cost $5 or $20)

Even human beings around the world get emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others.  Data from 136 countries found that prosocial spending was consistently associated with greater happiness. (Lara Aknin and colleagues, 2010). 

Your Giving (to me) Brain

“Humans are social creatures, who depend on the ability to foster teamwork with others to survive. To this end, the human brain has a built-in reward system that manages how we interact with others: the neurotransmitter oxytocin.”

“With respect to the happiness that prosocial spending produces, oxytocin might have something to do with the intensity of the feeling. When we spend money on others, it’s usually on friends and family (I consider all you as FAMILY) who we consistently work to maintain good relationships with. When we spend money to help our friends and make our family smile, our brain rewards us for strengthening our social ties.”

In appreciation for your generosity,

Freddie Parker Westerfield, DCD

Deserving Canine Dog

and then send me treats.

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What on earth is a “Nappuccino”?

I always have more than one book in progress:  One for when I’m tired and need mindless entertainment; one for when I’m alert, is informative and grows my neuro-connections.  

I found a book* that addresses both and surprised me with a tip on napping. When I was younger naps were a waste of time.  Now, I appreciate the “restorative power” of catching a mid-day snooze.  Here is a good recipe for a…

 “Nappuccino”

Want to maximize your Nappuccinos? Here is what you do:

  • Find the best time for your nap. When is your energy low point? Your mood low point? For most of us, it is about 7 hours after we wake up. 
  • Create your nap environment – someplace comfortable: the floor, bed, couch, bathtub (EMPTY) –  definitely low lights and NO cell phone.
  • Set a timer, nap 10 to 20 minutes, you will feel more alert and function better, without waking with that groggy feeling.

Here’s the kicker that surprised me:

The  Nappucino

Drink a cup of coffee! That’s right, drink coffee before you nap. It takes the caffeine about 25 minutes to kick in, so you’ll get the perfect amount of napping time and then you’ll wake up with the caffeine boost.  Who woulda thunk it?

There’s also evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers. Practice makes perfect – I’m taking a Nappucino every day until I am an expert.

(PA)

*”WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink 

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Google On! My brain grows younger while my body grows old

The bad news: I fractured my foot weeks ago and little did I know it might be causing my brain to shrink (read about it here).  

The good news:  I’ve done little but sit with my foot up, doing internet searches (and blog posts)

It was good to read (on the internet of course) that all my “googling is helping brain (even though it may now be the size of a pea) grow younger as my body grows older.

judy & Peggy dualalties: Internet vs Books

A study at UCLA showed that simply using search engines such as Google triggered key centers in the brains of middle-aged and older adults, areas that control complex reasoning and decision-making, according to a press release. Researchers involved said the results suggest that searching might help stimulate and possibly improve the function of the brain.

“Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function”*

Study volunteers were between the ages of 55 and 76; half of them had search experience and half of them did not. Gender, age and education level were kept similar between the two groups, which performed web searches and book-reading tasks.

While all the participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, internet searches were another matter. All the participants showed the same brain activity as in the book-reading task, but those familiar with online searches also showed activity “in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning,” the study revealed.

“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior internet experience.”*

“What does this mean? In addition to helping seniors keep up with ever-developing technology, being actively engaged with the internet can help stimulate brain activity as we age.”

*Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Before you get too excited and spend all day on Google, read this:

Sitting Possibly Makes My Brain (Yours Too) Thinner?

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4 tricks to rev up your memory . . . and Elvis

I’m not sure if my memory is not as good as it used to be or I just pay more attention now to when I forget.  

There’s so much information in my brain that has been stored that it takes longer to sort,  find and retrieve what I need to remember.  Makes sense to me.  However, I still read articles like . . . 

Making the Most of your Brain’s Memory Process

 “In terms of brain function, everyone has a decline over time in all areas, with the exception of vocabulary.”  (Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist specializing in behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.)

How memory works

Memory involves three processes:

  • encoding – brain receives and encodes (takes in) new information;
  • recording –  brain then records (stores) the information;
  • retrieval – brain retrieves information when you need it.

Many brain regions are involved in this process:

  • The cerebral cortex — the large outer layer of the brain — acquires new information as input from our senses. The amygdala tags information as being worthy of storage.
  • The hippocampus stores memories.
  • The frontal lobes help us consciously retrieve information.

The aging memory

“Many people notice a difference in memory starting in their 50s. That’s when age-related chemical and structural changes can begin in brain regions involved with memory processing, . . .  These changes may slow processing speed, making it hard to recall familiar names or words.”

“Other factors may be at play as well. “Working memory — a mental scratch pad that allows us to use important information throughout the day — is susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress, . . .   a lack of sleep can affect the brain’s retention and use of information.'”

“A medication side effect may also affect memory. For example, if you use an anti-anxiety drug like clonazepam (Klonopin), its sedating side effects can make your brain less alert and more sluggish.”

Shower Song with Elvis & Meowie by Peggy

Memory tricks

Another way to boost memory is to make the most of the way it works. The following strategies may help.

1. Repeat what you hear out loud, such as someone’s name, or an address, or a new idea. Repetition increases the likelihood you’ll record the information and be able to retrieve it later. “With each repetition, your brain has another opportunity to encode the information,” explains Dr. Salinas. “The connections between brain cells are reinforced, much like blazing a trail in the woods. The more you walk the same trail, the easier it is to walk it the next time.”

2. Make a note of people you need to call, errands to run, and appointments. “We are much better at recognition than recall,” Dr. Salinas explains. “With recognition, such as reading a list, you have additional hooks or hints that help you find the information you’re looking for.”

3. Make associations between old and new information. Connect a person’s first name to something familiar. For example, if the person’s name is Sandy, imagine that person on a beach. Or create a story around a shopping list. “Our brain is good at sequences, and putting things into a story helps. The more ridiculous, the more memorable it is. For example, if your list is milk, eggs, and bread, the story could be that you are having milk with Elvis over an egg sandwich,” Dr. Salinas suggests.

The Egg and E. by Peggy

4. Divide information into chunks, such as taking a long number and remembering it more like a phone number. “It’s hard to store a long number,” says Dr. Salinas, “but easier to store little bits through working memory.” If you’re trying to memorize a speech for a wedding toast, focus on getting only one sentence or idea down at a time, not the whole speech in one take.

When tricks don’t help

Forgetting something minor from time to time is probably normal. It’s not normal when memory changes interfere with day-to-day functioning. Dr. Salinas recommends that you talk to your doctor if you’re making more mistakes than usual at work; having difficulty paying the bills; or having trouble completing tasks, cooking, emailing, or doing chores. But don’t panic. “More often than not, there’s a temporary or reversible cause behind your memory slips.” says Dr. Salinas.

Reference: 4 Tricks to Rev Up Your Memory

The next time I walk into the bathroom I’ll remember I’m going to take a shower with Elvis and hope I’ve not forgotten to invite him.

To learn how appreciation and gratitude help you memory and your creativity, click below:

I’m Afraid Being Afraid Shrinks My Fluffy Brain & Creativity

 

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Why you can’t stop checking your e-mail

Our brains are wired to constantly seek novelty, and every new email that lands in our inbox with a ping sends a dopamine-fueled shiver of excitement through our cerebrum. Turning off notifications and setting and communicating clear email . . . can disrupt that addictive dopamine loop.

Addicted, by Peggy

But behavioral science would suggest there’s more than just neurotransmitters at work.

“a factor that may be driving our inability to disconnect is the peak-end rule, whereby people tend to judge an experience based on what it felt like at its most intense point and at the end. In other words, what we remember most about our inbox is just how awful it feels to face all those unanswered emails — that endless, running to-do list of other people’s priorities — that have piled up while we were away.  So we keep checking just to avoid that pain.

Another factor could be our human predilection for making decisions based on short-term payoffs, like deciding to fall back into a warm bed in the morning rather than get up and exercise.
“We love to get things ‘done,'” explained Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Email is terrible for that. If you only respond to these 10 emails, it feels like an accomplishable task.”
 

Ironically, if we did stop checking email, we really wouldn’t miss that much. In a survey, Daniel Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, found that only 11% of the emails in our inboxes require immediate attention. The other 89% can wait.

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Hot to stop your SuperWorry

Mind races.  Unsettling worry or concern repeats itself over and over.  No solution.  No relief.  Can’t sleep.  Can’t concentrate on anything other than your SUPER WORRY

It doesn’t feel like it but your brain is doing this for your benefit – Relentlessly focus your attention on a potential (albeit imagined) threat to help you stay safe.  Three parts of you brain start firing in lockstep:

  • The orbital frontal cortex gives you the feeling you made a mistake or there is danger.
  • It signals the cingulate gurus which generates the neurochemistry of anxiety.
  • The caudate nucleus usually allows thoughts to flow from one to another, but it stops doing this.
  • These 3 parts together keep person locked into worry, an obsession with something thy fear.

You may even realize that the worry is not rational, or the fear is not imminent.  It’s your brain locked into a feed-back loop and won’t let you escape from the worrying thoughts.

Mousey Worry by Peggy

You can rewire your SuperWorry into SuperRelief

Talk to your brain – silently or outloud:

  1. Thank your brain for doing what it was created to do.  Don’t be mad or upset with your brain. It’s a good brain.
  2. However, relabel the problem as a brain problem, not an imminent threat. The real problem is not what you fear, it is the brain is getting locked into a position and isn’t moving on.
  3. Pick something positive or neutral to focus on instead.  Ideally something pleasurable.
  4. Repeat this as often as necessary.  It takes time for your brain to understand it doesn’t have to protect you in this way.

Here’s an example:  Thank you brain.  You don’t need to keep reminding me that (an earthquake will happen, someone will break into the house, I will get fired).  I’m safe right this minute.

When brain focuses on something over and over, it strengthens the brain neuro-connections. When you stop the thinking the connections are weakened.  Think of it like a wilderness trail – The more the trail is traveled the path gets wider and the dirt gets more and more compacted.  Stop walking on the trail and it becomes overgrown, impassable and no longer used.

Use it or lose it 
Any deviation from the neuro-connection path weakens it.  Every time you interrupt and then stop the thought about the fear and redirect your thoughts it gets easier. The more you  practice the more the neural links to the worry weaken and new positive neutral pathways are generated.

PET scans have shown that the brain pathways actually change when you perform the four steps.

Use this process for small worries, not just big ones.  

Sources:

Norman Dodgie,  “The Brain that Changes Itself” 

Jeffrey M Schwartz, “Brain Lock”  

Daunted by “spring” cleaning? Blame your brain

I’ve barely made a dent in the editing down of this article.  Why?  It’s a big article, I don’t know where to start and I am  blaming it on my brain.

Cluttered Closet by Peggy

 “Closets bulging with clothes and shoes. Plastic bins of stuff shoved under the bed. Stacks of mail covering the dining table. Has anyone seen the car keys?”

“It’s spring, time of rebirth and rejuvenation. Time to throw open the windows and do some spring cleaning. But the magnitude of the project is daunting. How to begin?”

“If you want to know why it’s so difficult to tackle a big project like spring cleaning, blame your brain, said Randall O’Reilly, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at CU Boulder.”

“The brain is wired to be very cautious and conservative in starting big projects, because once you do start, it takes over your brain,” he said. “The brain, researchers think, is wired to track progress towards whatever it is you’ve decided to do, like spring cleaning, which is hard work. You have to make a lot of difficult decisions and the outcome is uncertain. Your brain recognizes that and says, ‘Maybe I won’t start on that project after all.’ It’s an adaptive property of the brain.”

“Once we get over the initial stalling and begin the project, the brain rewards us with small hits of dopamine as we make progress. This provides an incentive to stick with the task.”

“Dopamine is a chemical released by neurons that sends signals to other nerve cells and plays a major role in both mood and reward-motivated behavior.”

“So, you’ve tackled cleaning and decluttering and you’re making progress. And then you notice the teapot that belonged to your grandmother stored in the back of the cupboard. It’s sweet and dainty and evokes fond memories of your grandmother, but it’s not your style at all. Now you’re confronted with a dilemma: Keeping a teapot you never use is taking up much-needed space, but getting rid of it would feel disrespectful to your grandmother.”

“Things with an emotional attachment take on meaning,” O’Reilly said. “The teapot is not just a teapot. It has a personal history, so it’s unique in that sense. If you get rid of the teapot, it feels sacrilegious. It’s valuable to you because it carries that authenticity and history with it, so it feels like you’re disrespecting that value.”

“So, why do we accumulate clutter? The answer is found in the dopamine system, which is based on expectations. When we accumulate something or have a pleasurable experience, the brain releases dopamine and we feel good. As soon as our wants and desires are satisfied, however, the brain discounts that feel-good moment.”

“You can see mathematically that the brain is constantly comparing what we have versus what we expected to get,” he said. “Every moment of our lives, that’s what our brain is doing. How much better is that movie versus what you thought it would be? How much better was that cookie than you remembered? Every single thing is being compared to a baseline of what your expectation is.”

It needs to be better than what you expected

“Attachments to things are like those expectations. We want them and feel that we need them. This is where it gets diabolical, O’Reilly said. If something we like is meeting our expectations, we no longer get a dopamine burst. Our brains are constantly trying to up the ante, so we continue to acquire more stuff to feel better.”

“To get the dopamine surge, the experience needs to be better than what you expected. If it just meets expectations, guess what? No dopamine for you! The flip to the reward of dopamine is a downer.”

“If the experience was less than you expected, there’s actually a reduction in the firing of dopamine neurons, leaving you feeling disappointed,” O’Reilly said. “Then the brain tries to come up with new ways to get the dopamine. It needs to be better than what you expected.”

“The expectation system is what drives learning,” he said. “This system in our brains drives us forward, to learning more and more. You’re changing your expectation level, your sense of self. Don’t have attachments. Have ambition.”

https://www.colorado.edu/today/2018/03/27/daunted-spring-cleaning-blame-your-brain-professor-says

Read

Loss Aversion – why we don’t declutter.

 Click Here: Spring has Sprung and so have I

 

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Stress is Contagious . . . and it’s not seasonal.

I’m a passionate but fairly even-tempered person.   Times when I’ve felt stressed were very few and far between until I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and consciously being on over-load and “wigged-out” became greater and more obvious.

It also became obvious that stress exacerbated my symptoms.

There’s a saying that the stress of one person ‘rubs off’ on another.  Having “sat with” thousands of stressed- out clients for 30 years I’ve often wondered if there was any connection to my developing fibromyalgia.

Now there’s scientific evidence that stress can more than just ‘rub off’ – it can mess with my brain as badly as it can mess with people in my life (and vice versa) . . . even if I’m not a mouse.

Contagious by Peggy

A study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience has found that stress may be contagious and even its effects on the brain may be transferred to people around. The research was conducted by Jaideep Bains, PhD, and his team at the Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), at the University of Calgary and his team.

“The study that was conducted on mice, also showed that the effects of stress were reversed in female mice, following a social interaction, but the same was not true for male mice. “Brain changes associated with stress underpin many mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression”, said Dr. Bains

“Recent studies indicate that stress and emotions can be ‘contagious’. Whether this has lasting consequences for the brain is not known.”

The research team studied the effects of stress in pairs of male and female mice. They removed one mouse from each pair and exposed them to mild stress and then returned them to their respective partners to test the results. The researchers monitored the response of a specific group of cells that control the brain’s response to stress. This showed that the cells of both the stressed mice and their partners were affected in the same way.

The most remarkable result of the experiment was that the neurons of the mice who were not themselves exposed to stress had been altered in a way that was identical to that of the exposed ones. The mirror effects were caused due to the release of a chemical from the activated neurons called the ‘alarm pheromone’. This chemical alerts the partner mouse who can then transfer the same signals to others in the group.

(jw)

https://www.ndtv.com/food/your-stress-can-affect-your-partners-brain-too-says-study-eat-these-foods-to-beat-stress-1822182

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Bet you didn’t know Your Heart Literally Talks to Your Brain

If you think your neck’s main function is to hold up your head you gotta read this!

“Given its distance from the brain, neuroscience hasn’t had much to do with the heart quietly thumping in your chest. But to get a fuller picture of the mind, you need to start looking below the neck.”

“These matters of the heart are University of Sussex researcher Sarah Garfinkel’s speciality.  Over the past several years, she’s found evidence that the beats of your heart — and your awareness of that rhythm — shapes everything from anxiety to racism to stock trading.”

“Every time the heart projects blood, it pings pressure-sensitive receptors that send signals to the head . . .The brain essentially flashes each time the heart beats,” she says, “and the degree of signal in the brain corresponds to how fast and how hard the heart is beating, so the brain is in dynamic, constant communication with the heart,” especially the amygdala and thalamus, regions associated with fear and pain perception, among other roles.”

“. . . your brain, but it also represents the activity of our organs, and whether you realize it or not, these sensations guide the way you navigate the world. Recognizing this marks a shift in how neuroscience could be approached, she says: Rather than separating the brain and the body, the brain is seen as embedded within the body. Doing so could offer new treatments for things like anxiety, where drugs could target bodily processes as well as those in the brain, or behavioral techniques like meditation that make people more bodily aware.

“I think the general public kind of knows it instinctively, they know if they exercise they feel better, they know their mood changes, their cognition and memory increases; people who meditate also see changes in their cognition and emotion,

“One of those primary somatic tools is interoception, or the felt sense of the activities of your organs. Garfinkel (and other neuroscientists and social psychologists) are finding that bodily sensations are key ingredients in emotional experiences, and that how fine-tuned of an internal “feeler” you are predicts your ability to stabilize them.”

Making decisions can be emotionally loaded — the decision feels right or good. 

More hopefully, heartbeat awareness looks to be trainable: Garfinkel says she has yet-to-be-published data suggesting that you can teach people to align their interoceptive self-confidence and their accuracy, reducing the unrecognized sensations and the anxiousness they promote . . .”

Source: To read how autism, negative racial stereotyping and how high interoceptive fluency can also help you make a lot of money  read the entire article: How Your Heart Talks to Your Brain

 

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Are you as bizarre as I think you are?

I know the difference between reality and imagination.

My vision is smooth and continuous.

I can tell the difference between my limbs and yours.

I consciously control my behavior.

Turns out I’m wrong and YOU are no different.  

“There are hundreds of surprising, perspective-shifting insights about the nature of reality that come from neuroscience. Every bizarre neurological syndrome, every visual illusion, and every clever psychological experiment reveals something entirely unexpected about our experience of the world that we take for granted. Here are a few to give a flavor:”

Famous illusion done by Meowie

1. Perceptual reality is entirely generated by our brain. “We hear voices and meaning from air pressure waves. We see colors and objects, yet our brain only receives signals about reflected photons. The objects we perceive are a construct of the brain, which is why optical illusions can fool the brain.”

2. We see the world in narrow disjointed fragments.  “We think we see the whole world, but we are looking through a narrow visual portal onto a small region of space. You have to move your eyes when you read because most of the page is blurry. We don’t see this, because as soon as we become curious about part of the world, our eyes move there to fill in the detail before we see it was missing. While our eyes are in motion, we should see a blank blur, but our brain edits this out.

3. Body image is dynamic and flexible. “Our brain can be fooled into thinking a rubber arm or a virtual reality hand is actually a part of our body. In one syndrome, people believe one of their limbs does not belong to them. One man thought a cadaver limb had been sewn onto his body as a practical joke by doctors.”

4. “Our behavior is mostly automatic, even though we think we are controlling it. The fact that we can operate a vehicle at 60 mph on the highway while lost in thought shows just how much behavior the brain can take care of on its own. Addiction is possible because so much of what we do is already automatic, including directing our goals and desires. In utilization behavior, people might grab and start using a comb presented to them without having any idea why they are doing it. In impulsivity, people act even though they know they shouldn’t.”

5. Our brain can fool itself in really strange ways. “In Capgras syndrome, familiar people seem foreign (the opposite of deja vu). One elderly woman who lived alone befriended a woman who appeared to her whenever she looked in a mirror. She thought this other woman looked nothing like herself, except that they seemed to have similar style and tended to wear identical outfits. Another woman was being followed by a tormenter who appeared to her in mirrors but looked nothing like herself. She was fine otherwise.”

6. Neurons are really slow. “Our thinking feels fast and we are more intelligent than computers, and yet neurons signal only a few times per second and the brain’s beta wave cycles at 14-30 times per second. In comparison, computers cycle at 1 billion operations per second, and transistors switch over 10 billion times per second. How can neurons be so slow and yet we are so smart?”

7. Consciousness can be subdivided. “In split-brain patients, each side of the brain is individually conscious but mostly separate from the other. In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), memories of a traumatic event can become a compartmentalized inaccessible island. In schizophrenia, patients hear voices that can seem separate from themselves and which criticize them or issue commands. In hypnosis, post-hypnotic suggestions can direct behavior without the individual’s conscious awareness“.

http://www.medicaldaily.com/7-cool-brain-facts-neuroscientists-know-about-consciousness-your-behavior-your-412191

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Your Personal Happiness Quartet

How happy we feel is strongly influenced by 4 neurotransmitter chemicals: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. They are often called “the quartet.”

Endorphin on Electric Guitar, Serotonin on Sax, Dopamine on Drums, Oxytocin on Oboe

Here’s a very basic idea of what they do for you and 7 ways to help boost your happiness:

ENDORPHINS 

They promote a sense of well-being, lesson pain and are primarily released when we are in pain or stressed.  Endorphins work in similar ways as prescription anti-anxiety drugs and opiate painkillers but provide the benefits without all the side-effects.

Low levels of endorphins are linked to opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain linked to disorders like fibromyalgia), addiction and risk taking behavior.

SEROTONIN
Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”.  It improves your mood and helps beat depression.  Not only does it help with mood stabilization but plays a big role in getting good sleep, dreaming, emotional and social stability.

Low levels serotonin are associated with various mental disturbances including: depression, anxiety, PMS,  sugar/carbohydrate cravings, trouble sleeping, obsessive thinking and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Too high levels can be  problematic as well.

DOPAMINE

Dopamine is one of the strongest “feel-good hormones”.   It makes you feel energized, alert, motivated and in control.  Within the brain, dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers as well as helping regulate movement and emotional responses.  Interestingly, it enables us to not only see rewards, but to take action to reach them. 

Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction.  Low levels can trigger depression, lack of concentration (brain fog), poor motivation and difficulty initiating and/or completing tasks.

OXYTOCIN

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” since it’s released during highly emotional moments, such as  childbirth, being in love, and during orgasm. It motivates us to strengthen personal relationships, be faithful and facilitates compassion.  Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, produced mainly in the hypothalamus, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain

On the flip side, as a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, oxytocin fosters distinctions between “in-group” and “out-group” members, and sets in motion favoritism toward “in-group” members and prejudice against those in “out-groups”.

7 ways to get the “Happiness Quartet”

working more for you:

We are all capable of producing our own natural highs (without taking illegal or prescription drugs) and when we repeat  behavior that facilitates the release of neurotransmitters we become naturally motivated to create positive habits.

1.  Tasting

Neurotransmitters that signal the release of endorphins come mostly from nutrients in our diet, like amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals. 

Serotonin is made primarily through intake of tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey or milk. Most proteins will help release serotonin, including meat, fish, chicken, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs, which are complete proteins. A number of different plant foods, such as beans with sprouted grains, will get the same effects. Whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, peas, corn or the germ of grains, such as buckwheat and oats, are all good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin.

Fats comprise 60 percent of the brain. Essential fatty acids support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Get healthy fats from coconut or olive oil, wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.

2.  Laughing

Laughter is a quick-fix for feeling almost instantly better, thanks to the release of endorphins.  Studies have even linked laughter with an elevated pain threshold. Try regularly doing something to keep your sense of humor: play with children, watch funny shows, recall a funny moment, share jokes, spend time with friends who have a sense of humor.

3.  Connecting

Give a hug, get a massage or simply have a deep conversation with someone you trust will all help release oxytocin and other chemicals that help you feel calm and comforted.  Some studies show acupuncture and other hands-on treatments  have similar effects. Make time for friends, reach out to others in need, find a sense of purpose and notice how good you feel when you do something nice for someone else.

4.  Learning

Every time you experience something novel or learn something new dopamine’s reinforces you.  With the internet, learning is at your fingertips.  Use your techno-time to look up something that peaks your curiosity,  travel, take up a hobby or get better at something you already do and release feel good neurochemicals.

5.  Smelling

The release of endorphins helps you feel calmer almost instantly when you smell the aroma of something that reminds you of fun or comforting times.  It can be as simple as the scent of fresh baked cookies, a parent’s favorite perfume or a dab of essential oil scents such as vanilla, chamomile, rose and lavender.  Your nose, after all, is close to your brain.

6.  Sunning & Nature

Sunshine and nature sites/sounds/colors seem to help regulate the release of serotonin and melatonin.  It only takes about 20 minutes a day to help your skin produce vitamin D (sunscreen will block this), which is important for your mood.  Studies indicate that exercising outdoors elevates mood better than indoors.

7.  Moving

A large body of research shows that people who exercise regularly have added protection against depression, reduce anxiety and get better sleep.  Exercise is one of the most endorphin-boosting things we can do. It also increases self esteem, gives a sense of mastery, increases energy levels, and thanks to dopamine, keeps you motivated to continue and improve.   You don’t have to do 10,000 steps or do intense workouts.  Research indicates that 3 times a week of brisk walking will do the trick.

Putting into practice all 7 ways to get the Happiness Quartet working for you:  

Eat a hardboiled egg while walking for 20 minutes in the park with a trusted friend, practice speaking Mandarin Chinese, laugh at your bad pronunciation and stop occasionally to smell the flowers.  How easy is that!

 

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Science says gratitude is good for your health (and ours too) & Anniversary Post Winners –

Curious Critters

Winners of our One-Year-Anniversary-Celebration Drawing

Claremary P. Sweeney,  Around ZuZu’s Barn

Kathy Whittam

Jessica-Lauren,  Mother is a Verb

Claremary, Kathy, Jessica,  Here’s what to do to pick out your prize:

  1. Click on this link to choose your prize:  ZAZZLE CATNIPblog Store
  2. E-mail your choice and mailing address to: Peggyjudytime@gmail.com

Being grateful for you AND ALL OUR FOLLOWERS helps us grow healthier and makes us feel so good.

Peggy, Judy & Freddie Parker Westerfield

and all the Curious Critters at Curious to the Max

___________________________________________________________________

*Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis.

http://www.today.com/health/be-thankful-science-says-gratitude-good-your-health-t58256?cid=eml_tst_20170515

Brain Myth – 100% Psycho Fact

We use only 10 percent of our brains . . . not

This has been repeated in pop culture for a century, implying that we have huge reserves of untapped mental powers. “But the supposedly unused 90 percent of the brain is not some vestigial appendix. Brains are expensive—it takes a lot of energy to build brains during fetal and childhood development and maintain them in adults. Evolutionarily, it would make no sense to carry around surplus brain tissue.”

Bird Brain by Peggy

1) “Brain imaging research techniques such as PET scans (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) clearly show that the vast majority of the brain does not lie fallow. Indeed, although certain minor functions may use only a small part of the brain at one time, any sufficiently complex set of activities or thought patterns will indeed use many parts of the brain. Just as people don’t use all of their muscle groups at one time, they also don’t use all of their brain at once.”

2) “The myth presupposes an extreme localization of functions in the brain. If the “used” or “necessary” parts of the brain were scattered all around the organ, that would imply that much of the brain is in fact necessary. But the myth implies that the “used” part of the brain is a discrete area, and the “unused” part is like an appendix or tonsil, taking up space but essentially unnecessary. But if all those parts of the brain are unused, removal or damage to the “unused” part of the brain should be minor or unnoticed. Yet people who have suffered head trauma, a stroke, or other brain injury are frequently severely impaired. Have you ever heard a doctor say, “. . . But luckily when that bullet entered his skull, it only damaged the 90 percent of his brain he didn’t use”?”

Psycho-fact

Regardless of the exact version heard, the myth is spread and repeated, by both the well-meaning and the deliberately deceptive. The belief that remains, then, is what Robert J. Samuelson termed a “psycho-fact, [a] belief that, though not supported by hard evidence, is taken as real because its constant repetition changes the way we experience life.”

Sources: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/top-ten-myths-about-the-brain-178357288/

Do We Only Use Ten Percent of our Brains?

March 12-18, 2018 is Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is a nationwide effort organized by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the Society for Neuroscience to promote the public and personal benefits of brain research. 

http://www.dana.org/BAW/

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Brain Awareness Week- Focus on this post to strength your brain muscle


Waste not, Want not

Stop using your mental skills – you’ll lose them.  It’s similar to losing physical skills – If you’ve ever had an arm or leg in a caste you know how muscles atrophy.

In middle age, after formal education is finished, careers established, children in school, we have a tendency to not challenge ourselves to  learning new things and our brain “muscle” is not stimulated.  Start learning again and “fuzzy” thinking sharpens up.  However, it takes motivation to stretch ourselves by working our brains hard – learning new things that may not be necessary for daily living or survival.

Clean & Jerk by Judy

The Good News

When you learn anything new your brain creates a brain map.   As you learn your brain map for the information or skill enlarges, becomes more efficient and unneeded pathways – thoughts or actions – drop out, leaving the essentials.

Your brain gets faster at the skill as the brain signals become sharper, more powerful.To create more “brain muscle” you need concentrated focus, need to pay attention.  Striving and focus stimulate the brains attentional system, the nucleus basalis.  This area secretes acetylcholine which helps the brain make sharp memories.  People with mild cognitive impairment show very little acetylcholine in their nucleus basilis.

Even Better News

Even “old folks” can tune their brains by focused attention.  However, even more intense concentration than when younger is needed to get the brain chemicals going that regulate plasticity.

While genetic factors are 10%-15% responsible for the development of the degenerative brain disease, engaging in preventive activities such as reading, learning new professions, and trying to learn poetry by heart, are among the practices that can help deter the risk.

 

Source:  Norman Doidge “The Brain that Changes Itself”

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Grape News! for memory decline

Sharon Bonin-Pratt is an artist, writer and one of the most compassionate people I know.  On her Ink Flare blog she often posts about her journey with her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.  Shari’s poignant and  personal account has made me all the more aware of research and issues surrounding this punishing disease.

Since we believe that “food is medicine” here’s research that impacts not only Alzheimer’s but all brains.

Grape Friends by Peggy

“Consuming grapes twice a day for six months protected against significant metabolic decline in Alzheimer-related areas of the brain in a study of people with early memory decline. Low metabolic activity in these areas of the brain is a hallmark of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Study results showed a grape-enriched diet protected against the decline of metabolic activity. Additionally, those consuming a grape-enriched diet also exhibited increased metabolism in other areas of the brain that correlated with individual improvements in attention and working memory performance, compared to those on the non-grape diet. Results of the randomized controlled research study, conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, were recently published in Experimental Gerontology.”

“The study examines the impact of grapes as a whole fruit versus isolated compounds and the results suggest that regular intake of grapes may provide a protective effect against early decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Daniel H. Silverman, lead investigator of the study. 

“In the study, subjects with early memory decline were randomly selected to receive either whole grape powder – equivalent to just 2 ¼ cups of grapes per day – or a polyphenol-free placebo powder matched for flavor and appearance. Cognitive performance was measured at baseline and 6 months later. Changes in brain metabolism, assessed by brain PET scans, were also measured at baseline and 6 months later.”

“The results showed that consuming grapes preserved healthy metabolic activity in the regions of the brain that are affected by the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, where metabolic decline takes hold. Subjects who didn’t consume grapes exhibited significant metabolic decline in these critical regions. Additionally, those consuming the grape-enriched diet showed beneficial changes in regional brain metabolism that correlated to improvements in cognition and working memory performance.”

“Grape polyphenols help promote antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Research suggests that grapes may help support brain health by working in multiple ways – from reducing oxidative stress in the brain to promoting healthy blood flow in the brain to helping maintain levels of a key brain chemical that promotes memory to exerting anti-inflammatory effects.”

Read the entire article, click here: Grapes Benefit Brain Health

 

The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

Decades ago, when every one of the ten thousand doctors I saw (ok, so I exaggerate  . . a bit) pronounced me “fit as a fiddle” despite the crushing pain, depression and fatigue I was experiencing. I decided the only explanation was my body was inhabited by alien creatures.  Turns out my diagnosis may have been close to the truth.

“As researchers turn their microscopes to these hidden environments, they have discovered something remarkable: There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain—it does not reason, write poetry, or solve multi-linear regressions—but mounting evidence suggests that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood.”

“The enteric nervous system is a mesh-like network of neurons that lines the entire digestive track. It causes the sensation of nervous butterflies or a pit in your stomach that are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. Up to 90 percent of the cells involved in these responses carry information to the brain rather than receiving messages from it, making your gut as influential to your mood as your head is. Maybe even more.”

Even crazier is that our second brain is actually only half of us. Inside the digestive system, the enteric nervous system mainly communicates with bacteria. These are completely separate creatures that make up our microbiome, and there are just as many of them inside of us as our own human cells.

“Our gut bacteria have evolved with us since birth. They help digest our food and fight off unfriendly outsiders like viruses and molds. To keep us healthy they need to be healthy and plentiful as well. When they’re not, we feel it: This biomass of bacteria communicates with important neurotransmitters embedded throughout our enteric nervous system to send messages that influence the way we feel.”

“This could herald good news for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. Studies indicate that those with healthy and diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from either malady. And many of us who grew up in too—clean environments, frequently took antibiotics, and ate junk food have a decidedly unhealthy microbiome. So changing one’s diet could well benefit far more than your waistline.”

“If you’ve seen the term “probiotics” recently, this is why. Probiotics are foods that nourish and promote your biome. They’re foods cultured with the strains of healthy bacteria. Yogurt is a cultured food. Unfortunately, many grocery store yogurts are little more than a thickened, sweetened milk product. But yogurt that lists strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis actually contain the healthy bacteria your gut needs. “Prebiotic” foods, meanwhile, support a healthy gut ecosystem in which your bacteria can thrive. Together, prebiotic and probiotic food help keep your second brain full of the vibrant bacterial community it needs to function.”

Some gut-healthy foods – yogurt, sauerkraut & dark chocolate

“How exactly these gut-healthy foods help manage depression is not yet totally clear. The science on the gut-brain connection is still young, especially as it relates to our mood. But studies continue to find promising correlations. There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety.”

Your Microbiome is Invisibly Spewing YOU onto Others!

 (jw)

Article from Huffington Post

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