“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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How Your Brain Works Against Weight-Loss

A study carried out in mice may help explain why dieting can be an inefficient way to lose weight: key brain cells act as a trigger to prevent us burning calories when food is scarce.

“Weight loss strategies are often inefficient because the body works like a thermostat and couples the amount of calories we burn to the amount of calories we eat,” says Dr Clémence Blouet from the Metabolic Research Laboratories at University of Cambridge. “When we eat less, our body compensates and burns fewer calories, which makes losing weight harder. We know that the brain must regulate this caloric thermostat, but how it adjusts calorie burning to the amount of food we’ve eaten has been something of a mystery.”

“USEFUL MODEL”???!!!!

What to do (and not to do) to survive a disaster

Ay Yi Yiii Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

  • In 2011 there was an earthquake in Japan. People risked their lives to . . . save bottles of alcohol.
  • In 2017 a plane caught on fire at an airport in Denver. People fleeing from the plane . . . stopped to take selfies.
  • In Dubai when a plane was on fire . . . people tried to collect their bags.

People argue while their ship is sinking, stand on the beach as a tsunami approaches. In fact 80-90% of people will respond to a crisis in ways that decrease rather than increase their safety. They may be in a deadly situation, but do not act fast enough to save themselves.

In most disasters, people wait–they do not panic, they do not stampede . . . they wait

There is a failure to adapt–especially in unfamiliar environments like a burning plane or sinking ship. Especially in a stressful situation, more thought about what to do is needed, but the situation moves faster than our ability to adapt to what is a new experience.

What to avoid doing (easier said than done):

1. FREEZING

One of the natural responses to danger is to freeze. (Psychologists now add “freeze” to fight or flight.) Your brain stops you, even though you have plenty of adrenaline.

It isn’t intelligence that matters–in emergency situations your thinking brain can shut down. You enter a fight or flight situation-or you freeze.

2. INABILITY TO THINK.

We use our working memory to make quick decisions. (When faced with a new, first time disaster there is no working memory.)

Disasters happen fast (plane manufacturers must show that a plane can be evacuated in 90 seconds-because the risk of the cabin being consumed by the fire increases sharply after this). But our brains do not work that fast most of the time in part because we need to invent a new strategy

  • The speed at which we can go through our options is limited and usually slower than the unfolding crisis.
  • The brain is flooded with dopamine (a feel good chemical) which also triggers the release of more hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. in a disaster as the body prepares for the disaster.
  • Then to make matters worse for figuring out what to do next . . .  the prefrontal cortex (where we think things over) shuts down because of cortisol & adrenaline.

3. Having TUNNEL VISION

In a crisis, it is unlikely that most people can respond creatively about the problem. Instead, what we do is keep using the same solution over and over, even without good results.

Tunnel vision is also seen in people with permanent damaged to their prefrontal cortex. So the brain’s stress response of shutting down this region might be to blame for inflexible thinking in moments of crisis.

4. Staying STUCK IN ROUTINE

James Goff, a specialist in disaster and emergency management at the University of Hawaii has seen shocking reactions to disaster. People will risk their life to retrieve their wallet. It seems crazy, but it is common. This refers to continuing with everyday routines when faced with a crisis.  He says,

“Being in a situation where your life is in danger increases your emotional arousal, and high arousal causes people to limit the number of alternatives they consider. That can be bad when trying to determine a course of action, since you may never consider the option most likely to result in escaping safely.”

5. DENIAL

“Invariably over 50% of the population do it, they go down to the sea to watch the tsunami,” says Goff. “They act as if nothing untoward is happening.” Denial usually happens because:

  • We don’t see the situation as dangerous, or
  • We don’t want to see it as dangerous.
  • We are not good at calculating risk.
  • We rely on our feelings, and sometimes reassure ourselves we will be OK. (Cancer patients wait four months on average before seeing a doctor. On 9/11 people who survived and were on the upper floors of New York World Trade Center waited an average of five minutes after the attacks before they started to evacuate.)

Why can’t we turn these reflexes off?

In everyday life, our brains are reliant on familiarity. Mindlessly getting our bag when the plane lands helps free up mental space to focus on new stuff we need to attend to.

In an emergency, adjusting to the new situation may be more than our brains can handle–so we keep doing what we have done before.

WHAT TO DO:

HAVE A PLAN AND PRACTICE “What if?”

If we can’t rely on our instincts, what can we do?

The best way is to replace automatic but not helpful reactions with ones that could save your life by practicing. You have to practice and practice until the survival technique is the dominant behavior.  It’s a bit hard to practice for a tsunami but you can IMAGINE.

Taking some time to imagine “what if”.  “Ask yourself one simple question, “If something happens, what is my first response? Once you can answer that, everything else will fall into place. 

THE GOOD NEWS – OTHER PEOPLE

Research shows that in most scenarios, groups of people are more likely to help each other than hinder. “In emergencies, the norm is cooperation . . .  Selfish behavior is very mild and tends to be policed by the crowd rather than spreading.”*

“Psychologists call this response “collective resilience”: an attitude of mutual helping and unity in the middle of danger.”

People’s tendency to cooperate during emergencies increases the chances of survival for everyone. “Individually, the best thing tactically is to go along with the group interest. In situations where everyone acts individually, which are very rare, that actually decreases effective group evacuation.”*

 LUCK MATTERS 

but sometimes what is needed is a good dose of luck.

____________________________________

*Chris Cocking, studies crowd behavior at the University of Brighton.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170711-what-not-to-do-in-a-disaster

“Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” by Laurence Gonzales

 

Why exercise in old age?

Doing lots of exercise in older age can prevent the immune system from declining and protect people against infections, scientists say.

They followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some now in their 80s, and found they had the immune systems of 20-year-olds.*

Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said:

“If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it.

“It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”

“The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.” (Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, and co-author of the research)

“Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”

The researchers looked at markers in the blood for T-cells, which help the immune system respond to new infections.  These are produced in the thymus, a gland in the chest, which normally shrinks in size in adulthood.

They found that the endurance cyclists were producing the same level of T-cells as adults in their 20s, whereas a group of inactive older adults were producing very few.

The researchers believe that being physically active in old age will help people respond better to vaccines, and so be better protected against infections such as flu.

 “Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active.” (Steve Harridge, co-author and professor of physiology at King’s College London)

A separate paper in Aging Cell found that the cyclists did not lose muscle mass or strength, and did not see an increase in body fat – which are usually associated with ageing.

“You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits – or be an endurance cyclist – anything which gets you moving and a little bit out of puff will help.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43308729

*The research was published in the journal Aging Cell.

One hour a week staves off disability

Unfortunately, pain, not prevention,  is my primary motivator:  When a body part hurts or doesn’t function I research, try healthier behavior, seek help or advice . . . I change and when I feel better revert to old ways.  

Freddie, however, keeps me walking and hopefully keeps me from being a 2 in 5 statistic*   (jw)

The goal was to see what kind of activity would help people remain free of disability:
Study investigators analyzed four years of data from more than 1,500 adults in the national Osteoarthritis Initiative from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The adults all had pain, aching or stiffness in lower extremity joints from osteoarthritis but were free of disability when they began the study. Their physical activity was monitored using accelerometers.

“Just one hour a week of brisk walking — as if you are late to an appointment or trying to make a train — staves off disability in older adults with arthritis pain, or aching or stiffness in a knee, hip, ankle or foot.”**

Less than 10 minutes a day to maintain your independence.

_________________________________

*An estimated 14 million older adults in the U.S. have symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of osteoarthritis. Approximately two in five people with osteoarthritis develop disability limitations.

Federal guidelines recommend older adults with arthritis should participate in low-impact activity. For substantial health benefits including reducing the risk for heart disease and many other chronic diseases, these guidelines recommend older adults participate in at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity.

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Confession: I suffer from CUTE AGGRESSION

It started when I was a child with my pet parakeet.  I wanted to squeeze him.  He was so cute, and warm and soft.  I didn’t squeeze, probably because he wouldn’t let me.  The impulse to squeeze subsided because my next pet was a turtle, which was not squeezable.  But my Cute Aggression had been unleashed and the urge returned with every mammal, human or otherwise.  (Cold blooded animals and insects unleash my aggression too but it is not cute.)

“Being Cute has it’s drawbacks .. .”

Cute aggression was first described in 2015 by researchers at Yale University. Researchers wanted to know what it looked like in the brain and recorded the electrical activity in the brains of 54 young adults as they looked at images of animals and people.

The images included both grown-ups and babies. Some had been manipulated to look less appealing. Others were made extra adorable, meaning “big cheeks, big eyes, small noses — all features we associate with cuteness.

The study found that for the entire group of participants, cuter creatures were associated with greater activity in brain areas involved in emotion. But the more cute aggression a person felt, the more activity the scientists saw in the brain’s reward system.

That suggests people who think about squishing puppies appear to be driven by two powerful forces in the brain: Both emotional and reward systems in the brain are involved in this experience of cute aggression.”

The combination can be overwhelming. And scientists suspect that’s why the brain starts producing aggressive thoughts. The idea is that the appearance of these negative emotions helps people get control of the positive ones running amok.

“It could possibly be that somehow these expressions help us to just sort of get it out and come down off that baby high a little faster,” says Oriana Aragón, an assistant professor at Clemson University who was part of the Yale team that gave cute aggression its name.

Aggressive thoughts in response to adorable creatures are just one example of “dimorphous expressions of positive emotion,” Aragón says.

“So people who, you know, want to pinch the babies cheeks and growl at the baby are also people who are more likely to cry at the wedding or cry when the baby’s born or have nervous laughter,” she says.

I’m sooo relieved to know  I have dimorphous expressions of positive emotion, sounds much less aggressive.

judy

 

 

 

 

“Spaced-out” Learning

“What we know about how memories are made at a neuroscience level is that it’s not just important to repeat a stimulus, but it is important to leave spaces in between,” . . . “There are changes that happen to the genes and proteins on a neuron that help fix the memory if there are spaces between learning something.”

The latest neuroscience shows students who took part in spaced learning, where lessons are broken up by activities such as juggling, improved their attainment.

Training teachers to break up lessons with 10 minute “distractions”, such as juggling or model making, has been found to significantly boost pupils’ learning, early research has shown.

“A study involving 2,000 pupils revealed that information is more easily learnt if it is delivered in intense 12-minute bursts and broken up by 10 minute periods of an unrelated activity. The project, called SMART Spaces, is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that information is better absorbed and more easily recalled when it is repeated a number of times, but spaced out with distractions.”

Whoops . . . wrong “space”

Spaced learning

“In Sheffield England technique as part of their revision lessons ahead of students’ GCSEs. Pupils had an intense 12 minute Power Point lesson in chemistry, then juggled for 10 minutes. After that they had 12 minutes of physics before another 10 minutes of juggling. The lesson was then finished with 12 minutes of biology. This was then repeated over two more days. Other schools broke up their lessons with plasticine model making and games of Simon Says. Mr Gittner said the study led to some significant gains in learning, and there are plans to implement a full-scale randomised controlled trial involving up to 50 schools.”

“The idea for the project came after Monkseaton High School in Newcastle made headlines in 2009 for teaching its pupils to pass a GCSE after just three days of learning. They were able to pass a sixth of a GCSE in just 60 minutes. Distractions boost results Mr Gittner said such approaches were not to counteract shrinking attention spans, adding that the techniques were backed up by the latest developments in neuroscience.

“It fits with the generally accepted views that people can only really focus for 20 minutes, even adults. Students that took part in our trial were able to concentrate fully because they new in 15 minutes they were going to get to to juggle,” 

https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/education/juggling-lessons-boosts-learning/

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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

Buying happiness: How to get the most bang for your buck

There’s a lot of press on the misery that comes from winning the lottery and a lot of research showing that having more money doesn’t make you happier (if you can afford necessities like food and shelter).  Along comes happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky who maintains that money CAN buy happiness. It turns out it is all in how you spend it. There is also a catch.

How money CAN make you happier*

1. Develop yourself; pay to get a new skill, or to master an old skill or ability.


2. Connect with others; celebrate achievements of friends and family or take some one on a trip.


3. Buy things that relate to mastery or goals; buy new musical instruments, sports gear or software to advance a project.

4. Donate to worthy causes

5. Buy time with your money; relieve yourself from long work hours or chores that consume your time.

 Here’s the catch:

Money spent on other people brings the most happiness. A study by Elizabeth Dunn and others at U of British Columbia found a bonus raised happiness to the degree it was spent on others.

Spending your money on OTHER PEOPLE instead of on yourself gets you the most happiness for the buck.

*“The Myths of Happiness”by Sonja Lyubomirsky

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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

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

 

Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions

Before I was licensed I was the director of a Rape Trauma program and initially trained in what was called “Immersion Therapy” – Trauma survivors were suppose to tell and retell and retell their trauma experience until the trauma had “lost” it’s emotional impact.  After only a few sessions, watching clients get worse,  I knew there needed to be a better way so I studied alternate treatments that did not re-tramautize people. 

This experience was invaluable to both me professionally and the people who came to see me during my psychotherapy career.  I  successfully treated people with all manners of traumatic experiences from being in airplane crashes to buried alive.  Although I’m no longer in practice, trauma research still interests me.

Reading this study about how it might be better NOT to sleep after a traumatic event got my attention.  (jw)

Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions.

“Researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst asked more than 100 healthy adults to rate their emotional responses to a series of images, some depicting unsettling scenes. Twelve hours later, they rated the images again. The difference: Half of the subjects slept during the break; the other half did not.”

“Not only did sleep protect the memory, but it also protected the emotional reaction,” said Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist at UMass Amherst and co-author of the study that was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Study subjects who stayed awake for 12 hours had a weaker emotional response to the unsettling images the second time around, suggesting sleep serves to preserve and even amplify negative emotions. Their memories were also weaker than those of their well-rested counterparts, as they struggled to remember whether they had seen the images before.

“It’s true that ‘sleeping on it’ is usually a good thing to do,” said Spencer, citing evidence that sleep boosts memory and other cognitive functions. “It’s just when something truly traumatic or out of the ordinary happens that you might want to stay awake.”

Spencer said people often find it difficult to sleep after a traumatic event.
“This study suggests the biological response we have after trauma might actually be a healthy, she said. “Perhaps letting people go through a period of insomnia before feeding them sleeping meds is actually beneficial.”
While the findings may have implications for post traumatic stress disorder, Spencer emphasized that daily emotional ups and downs are not grounds for sleep deprivation.”

Just because we have a bad day doesn’t mean we should stay awake,” she said. “We need to maintain some memories and emotional context to know what to avoid. We do learn something from them.”

Although sleep gives the body some much-needed rest, the brain stays active. Spencer used polysomnography to monitor brain activity in some sleeping subjects.
“REM sleep in particular was associated with a change in how emotional you found something,” she said. “We think there are parts of the brain being activated during sleep that allow us to process those emotions more than during day.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College.

Evolution lets you off the hook. This makes perfect sense.

I never thought of myself as a perfectionist because I never have done anything “perfectly”.  

Are you a perfectionist? Do you, too, think you need to do your best and are hard on yourself because your best isn’t perfect?

P is for Peggy Perfect

I now have the “perfect” excuse to not be perfect. I can blame evolution.  

What a relief.

Everyone has on average 400 flaws in their DNA*

“As life evolved, new abilities and new forms of life were not started anew, but grew out of what was there already. What existed just changed a bit, and those changes gave a new ability, a new advantage. Since new life was built on what already existed, the perfect solution to a  new environment wasn’t always available, only what could easily develop from what already existed.”

What was workable, what was good enough, survived. Good enough meant it allowed the plant or animal to survive. And to be better than other solutions. But not necessarily perfect. So we are not perfect, and we do not need to be. We need to be good enough.

“The research gives an insight into the “flaws that make us all different, sometimes with different expertise and different abilities, but also different predispositions in diseases,” said Prof David Cooper of Cardiff University, the other lead researcher of the study.”

“Not all human genomes have perfect sequences,” he added. “The human genome is packed with pervasive, architectural flaws.”

How life evolved means we are not perfect, nothing is perfect, and we do not have to be perfect because perfect isn’t what life is about. Life is about good enough.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-20617312

*The evidence comes from the 1,000 Genomes project, which is mapping normal human genetic differences, from tiny changes in DNA to major mutations.

 

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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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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Brain Food – Energy & Anti-inflammatory Drink

There are a whole host of diseases from auto-immune to arthritis that are increasingly being linked to inflammation. And there is more and more in the news about the cognitive benefits of turmeric on Alzheimer patients and the anti-inflamatory effects of ginger and cinnamon.   

Here’s a beverage I drink with those spices.  It’s quite good.

 (Dr Sanjay Gupta drinks this every evening as a tea for calming.)

1 cup almond milk – either vanilla or chocolate 

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1 tsp honey to drizzle over top (No need for honey if using chocolate)

Heat the almond milk in microwave. Stir in spices.  Drizzle honey on top. (You can add a packet of Stevia to the mix if you like your drinks sweet)  

I buy bulk turmeric, cinnamon and ginger in the market and mix up a batch to have on hand.  

With the mixture I add 1-3/4 tsp of mixed spices to one cup of almond milk.

 

Michael Greger M.D. and NutritionFacts.org.  

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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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Scientists have figured out exactly how much you need to exercise to slow your heart’s aging process

There’s bad news good news and there’s bad news.

The Bad News:  “More than 610,000 people die of heart disease in the US each year—accounting for about 25% of total deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year more than 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and 28% of those are a second heart attack.”

The Good News:  There are steps you can take to slow your heart’s aging process, increasing the chances of living a long, healthy life.

The Bad News: The trade-off is that you really do have to go to the gym.

“New research published in the Journal of Physiology pins down the number of days a week a person should exercise to maintain the overall health of their arteries, which stiffen with age and, as they do, increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Very few people experience heart attacks before age 45, and the average age is 65. But the new study suggests a way to keep your arteries physiologically “young.”

The study considered that every human has different-sized arteries, and found that the smaller arteries rely on fewer days of exercise per week than larger ones to maintain overall health.

The takeaway:

Medium-sized arteries need two to three days a week of 30-minute exercising to minimize artery stiffening. But to minimize the stiffening of equally important larger arteries, people should be exercising four to five days a week.

The study

“The scientists came to their findings by examining a group of 102 people—all of them older than 60—who had exercised over the course of their lives. The researchers started by measuring each person’s artery stiffness, then grouped them into four categories depending on how much they exercised through the years. One group was for people who generally exercised less that twice a week. Another was for “casual exercisers” who were active two to three times a week. The last two groups were for people who exercised four to five times and six to seven times per week.”

“A lifelong history of ‘casual exercise’ resulted in more youthful middle-sized arteries, which supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck,” the press release states. “However, people who exercised 4-5 times per week also had more youthful large central arteries, which provide blood to the chest and abdomen, in addition to healthier middle sized ones.”

This work showed exercise training over a long period of time can slow artery damage and the aging of the heart; the researchers say the next step is to study whether it can also reverse damage and aging of the cardiovascular system.

https://qz.com/1284072/the-right-exercise-to-slow-down-heart-disease-according-to-a-new-study/

Research published in the Journal of Physiology

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Did you know?: You are more Microbes, Fungi than HUMAN

“There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells. But these tiny compatriots are invisible to the naked eye.  . . . artist Ben Arthur gives a guided tour of the rich universe of the human microbiome.”

Fun to watch and informative!

YOUR body is host to 101 fungal species, with each person harboring between 9 and 23 strains. 

“A growing number of researchers feel that alongside bacteria, the fungi that inhabit our bodies – or, collectively, the “mycobiome” — may also be influential in both our well-being and, at times, disease.”

If your fungi are out of balance it’s not healthy.

“Even when we are alone, we are never alone. We exist in symbiosis — a wonderful term that refers to different organisms living together. Some animals are colonised by microbes while they are still unfertilised eggs; others pick up their first partners at the moment of birth. We then proceed through our lives in their presence. When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us. Every one of us is a zoo in our own right — a colony enclosed within a single body. A multi-species collective. An entire world.”

Changes in our resident microbiota and their collective genome — called the microbiome — have been linked with a wide range of diseases, from various forms of arthritis to depression. At this point scientists tend to focus on which bacterial species might hinder or maintain health.

But our biota comprises a menagerie of microbes. And a growing number of researchers feel that alongside bacteria, the fungi that inhabit our bodies may also be influential in both our well-being and, at times, disease.

Fungi Out Of Balance

A Telltale Sign For Unwanted Fungi

  • French researchers distinguished the fungi present in healthy human lungs compared with those afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Aspergillus was most prevalent in the lungs of healthy people, whereas various Candida species dominated in those afflicted with CF and other lung disorders.
  • UCLA professor David Underhill  found that mammalian fungi interact with the immune system to control inflammation in the gut.
  • Mice in which the gene encoding for Dectin-1 was inactivated and in which colitis was induced came down with far more severe disease than mice with the active gene. With these findings in hand they then identified a Dectin-1 gene variant in humans that predicted a severe form of inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis.
  • Recent unpublished findings by Ghannom’s lab show that an interaction between fungi and bacteria in the gut aggravates the body’s autoimmune response in Crohn’s disease, another form of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • In collaboration with a group at Cleveland Clinic, Ghannoum also beginning to show that oral fungal populations are different in people with head and neck cancers.
  • Recent research found that autoimmune arthritis can be induced in mice injected with certain compounds found in fungal cell walls.

“None of these factors are working in isolation . . .it’s probably a confluence of them all interacting with each other and with us – what we eat, what kind of nutrients they have, genetic influences and how our immune system reacts to both fungi and bacteria in the gut.”

“We’re in a stage where we’re recognizing the biological significance of the fungi in our systems to help develop a common language and set of research approaches,” Underhill says. “Soon, hopefully, we’ll know how they can be good for us, bad for us and manipulated to our benefit.”

“There’s a certain beauty in our biologic cooperative; a reminder that mammalian life is complicated and communal, and that in nature imbalance has consequences. But perhaps tinkering with our fungal dwellers will one day help restore our biologic balance and fend off disease.”

Read the entire article The Human Body’s Complicated Relationship with Fungus.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

 

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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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Forest Bathing: Shinrin-yoku Can boost Immunity, reduce stress & elevate your mood

You don’t need to take off your clothes or use soap or water for that matter. Forest bathing isn’t a bath – it’s a sensory immersion. Forest bathing isn’t a hike, it’s a meander.

Taking a Forrest Dip by Peggy

The idea is to go slow and let yourself take in nature – the sights, smells and sounds of the forest – notice things you might ordinarily miss.  It’s a meditation which helps clear your brain, and see your surroundings with fresh eyes. 

The practice began in Japan. Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku — which translates roughly as forest bathing.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health,” says Philip Barr, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University.”

One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones.

“Researchers were able to document a decrease in blood pressure among forest bathers. As people begin to relax, parasympathetic nerve activity increases — which can lead to a drop in blood pressure.”

“On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest.  This might not sound like a big difference, but it can be clinically significant. Most doctors these days agree that people younger than 60 should aim to keep their blood pressure under 140.”

“There’s another factor that might help explain the decline in blood pressure: Trees release compounds into the forest air that some researchers think could be beneficial for people. Some of the compounds are very distinctive, such as the scent of cedar.”

  • “Back in 2009, Japanese scientists published a small study that found inhaling these tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and enhanced the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells .”
  • “Another study found inhalation of cedar wood oils led to a small reduction in blood pressure. These are preliminary studies, but scientists speculate that the exposure to these tree compounds might enhance the other benefits of the forest.”

“The idea that spending time in nature is good for our health is not new. Most of human evolutionary history was spent in environments that lack buildings and walls. Our bodies have adapted to living in the natural world.”

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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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Talk outloud to yourself

Talking to ourselves may seem strange because we tend to associate speaking out loud to nobody in particular as a sign of mental illness. For those of you who talk to yourself there’s a growing body of research to indicate that self-talk can help memory recall, confidence, focus and more.

Talking to yourself: a sure-fire way to become the most interesting person in the conversation

“It’s not an irrational thing to do,” says Gary Lupyan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, who has studied how hearing ourselves speak can impact our memories. “You don’t know everything you’re going to say – you can even surprise yourself.”

His work, which is one of the most cited studies in this field, had people look at objects on a computer screen. Some had to say the name of the item out loud, while others were instructed to remain silent and keep the word in their head. The result? The ones who said the word out loud were able to locate the objects on the screen more quickly.

A similar experiment had people say the names of common grocery store items out loud. They then had to find those items by looking at photographs. The ones who said the words found the foods faster.

“Saying a name out loud is a powerful retrieval cue,” says Lupyan. “Think of it as a pointer to a chunk of information in your mind. Hearing the name exaggerates what might normally happen if you just bring something to mind. Language boosts that process.”

Feel better with self-talk

“Anne Wilson Schaef, a former psychologist and now author and speaker, often encouraged her clients to speak to themselves. Not only did it improve her clients’ memories, but it also changed the way many of them felt. For instance, if a patient was angry, she’d tell them to say out loud what they were upset about. The anger would then disappear.”

We have to say the right words for this to work

In 2014, the University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross released a paper saying that self-talk can make us feel better about ourselves and instil a confidence that can help us get through tough challenges. However, we have to say the right words for this to work.

“Kross, . . . conducted a series of experiments that had people describe emotional experiences using their own names or words like “you,” “he” and “she.” He found that talking in the third or second person, helped people control their feelings and thoughts better than those who spoke in the first person.”

“In another study, Kross, who outlined his research in the Harvard Business Review, asked people to refer silently to themselves in the second or third person while preparing for a speech and found they were calmer, more confident and performed better on tasks than those who used only first-person words. The results were so profound, wrote Kross, that he now gets his young daughter to speak to herself in the third person when she is distressed.”

Improving muscle memory 

There is also a lot of research that shows that self-talk among kids is an important part of their development. A 2008 study found that five-year-olds who talk to themselves out loud do better at motor tasks than when they’re quiet.

why-talking-to-yourself-is-the-first-sign-of-success

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Pawsitively Tuesday – Make up your mind

 “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln

Today, researchers are confirming that assessment. Although some of your temperament is genetic, a large percentage is under your control. In short, your happiness is up to you.

WINE On!  

FIVE healthy supplements to add to your daily diet in ONE glass:

It’s National antioxidant, phenol, silicon, resveratrol, procyanidin Day

1. “Attacks” FREE RADICALS.

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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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