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

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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What Science Says About Achieving Peak Performance

I’ve peaked . . . not in the sense I’m going downhill now . . . but rather experiencing peak performance.  My first peak experience was memorable because it was a time in my life when I was the most self-conscious and questioning – a teenager in high school. I vividly remember, during a discussion, hearing my own words coming out of my own mouth, articulate, composed, effortlessly making the points I wished to make. I was peaking and flowing.

As an adult I’ve had a few times when I felt in the flow.  Looking back, each time met the 5 criteria described by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius in their book “The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance”

The main points Hagemann and Fabricius describe as the basis for creating peak performance:

  1. Creating psychological safety
  2. Regulating negative emotions
  3. Not entering a stress state.
  4. Gender and age matter.
  5. Leaning towards rewards, not threats.

“Peaked” by Peggy

1. Psychological Safety

Hagemann emphasizes that the most important thing that underlies peak performance is psychological safety.  If you are working in a climate of respect and appreciation,  you can do your best. 

If you are trying to perform well, using energy to inhibit negative emotions will take away from your performance.  “Two systems in your brain are competing. That leads to not being focused on anything anymore.”

To regain cognitive control, recognize and ‘label’ how you feel”.

Labeling emotions by Peggy

2.  Stress

In situations where you feel threatened, your stress response increases, which makes you physically stronger, but reduces your ability to think well.  

The stress response directs blood flow to the muscles – for fight or flight – and away from your brain.  The stress response says this is the time to act not deliberate and debate.

Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.  That will send more oxygen to your brain and help you refocus.

 3.  Regulate your negative emotions 

When you try to inhibit negative emotions  — anger, frustration, disappointment — your rational and emotional systems  compete with each other.  

Name your feelings, either outloud or on paper, so your brain doesn’t have to busy itself trying to tamp down negative feelings and distract you from, consciously or unconsciously, performing well. 

4.  Lean towards rewards, not threats

In a “threat” state, “you get a rush of cortisol in your bloodstream – it’s that stress response making your muscles stronger, but and cutting off your cognitive thinking.  

Figure out what the pay-off will be in the situation and place your focus on the reward at the end (just like athletes do).   Your brain will help you “flow” toward it.

5.  Gender and age matter.

Hagemann refers to a “performance profile” as the amount of intellectual arousal needed to help an individual achieve peak performance. The amount of arousal needed to be at your peak are different for different people, and maybe for the same person at different ages. The amount of intellectual arousal makes a difference between men and women, old and young.  Some people are “sensation seekers,” and need a lot of arousal to hit their peak. That means they are often running on testosterone (he calls it “a very male thing”) while others can hit their peak with fewer stresses placed on them.

Both men and women have sensation seeking personality traits (like thrill rides, thrive on taking chances).   If you need a lot of arousal use the stress response to your advantage.  Relabel it as excitement and intently focus on the reward.

Have you ever been in “the flow”, had a “peak performance”?

What was it like for you?

(PA)

“The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance” by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-leading-brain/

 

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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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The Longer Your Telomeres, The Longer You Live

“Telomeres – the caps at the end of our chromosomes – protect the DNA within our cells. The longer our telomeres, the less our likelihood of chronic disease and signs of aging.”

“Have you wondered why some sixty-year-olds look and feel like forty-year-olds and why some forty-year-olds look and feel like sixty-year-olds? While many factors contribute to aging and illness, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn discovered a biological indicator called telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, which protect our genetic heritage.”

“Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel’s research* shows that the length and health of one’s telomeres are a biological underpinning of the long-hypothesized mind-body connection. They and other scientists have found that changes we can make to our daily habits can protect our telomeres and increase our health spans (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free).”

“THE TELOMERE EFFECT* reveals how Blackburn and Epel’s findings, together with research from colleagues around the world, cumulatively show that sleep quality, exercise, aspects of diet, and even certain chemicals profoundly affect our telomeres, and that chronic stress, negative thoughts, strained relationships, and even the wrong neighborhoods can eat away at them.”

Lifestyle factors known to modulate aging and age-related diseases might also affect telomerase activity and have all been linked to shorter telomeres.

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Cardio-vascular disease processes (related to oxidative stress and inflammation)
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Lower physical activity
  • Psychological stress
  • Unhealthy diet

You can counteract your “biological clock” by reactivating telomerase through diet and lifestyle interventions

With intensive lifestyle modification, a low fat diet, regular physical activity, and mental stress reduction (by yoga and meditation), telomerase activity increases significantly in peripheral blood mononuclear cell.

Specific nutrients provide all the necessary building blocks to support telomere health and extend lifespan like:

  • Folate 
  • Vitamins (B, D, E, C) 
  • Zinc
  • Polyphenol compounds such as resveratrol 
  • Grape seed extract 
  • Curcumin

Rich in those vitamins and minerals and a good source of antioxidants are foods like: Tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, cat-fish, grouper, flounder, flax seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes and olives.  “These, combined with a Mediterranean type of diet containing fruits, vegetables and whole grains would help protect our chromosome ends [6270].”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4761710/

*The Telomere Effect,  A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Dr. Elissa Epel “A groundbreaking book coauthored by the Nobel Prize winner who discovered telomerase and telomeres’ role in the aging process and the health psychologist who has done original research into how specific lifestyle and psychological habits can protect telomeres, slowing disease and improving life.”

 

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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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