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Using Food To Ward Off Anxiety

It’s normal to feel anxious or worried from time to time. Work deadlines, writing an exam or giving a presentation, for example, can trigger short-lived anxiety.

People with an anxiety disorder, however, experience persistent and intense anxiety, worry or fear that’s out of proportion to everyday occurrences. Symptoms interfere with daily life, impacting thoughts, emotions, behaviour and physical health. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (excessive worry about ordinary, everyday situations). Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression.

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the foods we eat – and the ones that we don’t – play a role in developing and treating anxiety.

The diet-anxiety connection

Components in whole foods can influence mood in a number of ways. Some nutrients are used to synthesize brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that regulate emotions, while others impact how the brain responds to stress.

An imbalance of omega-3 fats, which are essential for the integrity of brain cell membranes, may alter how brain cells communicate with one another. Certain nutrients may also dampen inflammation in the brain.

While diet can’t cure anxiety – nor can it take the place of medication – research suggests that the following strategies may help reduce symptoms.

Follow a healthy dietary pattern. Studies conducted in many different countries have found that healthy traditional diet patterns, including the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diets, are associated with a lower risk of anxiety disorders.

In general, eating a diet that’s low in added sugars and emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and beans and lentils guards against anxiety. In contrast, a “Western-style” diet consisting of refined grains, highly processed foods and sugary foods increases the risk.

Include omega-3′s, fatty fish. Observational studies have linked a higher intake of oily fish and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, to a lower risk of anxiety disorders in children, adults and pregnant women.

A randomized controlled trial published in 2013 found that medical students who received omega-3 supplements (2.5 grams a day) experienced a 20-per-cent reduction in anxiety compared with the placebo group. They also had lower blood levels of stress-induced inflammatory proteins.

Salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids; these fish are also low in mercury. Include them in your diet at least twice a week. DHA supplements made from algae are available for people who eat a vegetarian diet.

Try fermented foods. Preliminary evidence suggests that a regular intake of fermented foods, a source of probiotic bacteria, may reduce the risk of social anxiety in women. Fermented foods include kefir, kombucha, kimchi, unpasteurized sauerkraut and yogurt.

Probiotics may also help ease anxiety symptoms. A review of 10 randomized controlled trials, published in 2017, concluded that probiotic supplements significantly improved anxiety. However, the strain of probiotic, the dose and the duration of treatment varied widely across studies.

Once consumed, probiotic bacteria take up residence in the gut, where they help to maintain a strong intestinal barrier. When the lining of the gut becomes more permeable than normal, toxins can escape into the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response that may interfere with neurotransmitters.

It’s also thought that probiotics in the gut increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates stress and emotions.

Increase magnesium, zinc. Findings from a number of studies have shown that a deficiency of these two minerals, needed for healthy brain cells, can lead to anxiety.

Excellent sources of magnesium include oat bran, brown rice, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black beans, lentils, tofu and edamame.

You’ll find zinc in oysters, beef, crab, pork, chicken, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, yogurt, milk and fortified breakfast cereals.

Avoid triggers. Eat at regular intervals during the day to prevent low blood sugar, which could precipitate feelings of anxiety. Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can also make you feel jittery and nervous.

Drink water throughout the day to prevent becoming dehydrated; even mild dehydration can worsen your mood.

LESLIE BECK         THE GLOBE AND MAIL         August 23, 2020

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

source: www.theglobeandmail.com

salmon

 

9 Foods That Calm Anxiety
(and 3 That Make It Worse)

Scientists are just beginning to recognize the connection between food and our brain. Eat these nutrients for a wave of calming feelings that keep worry away.

Omega-3 fatty acids make your brain happy

Doctors often know how to calm anxiety, or treat it, with therapy and medications, but the answer to calming the condition could be hiding in plain sight: the foods we eat. Doctors and nutritionists are starting to understand more about how certain nutrients, or lack of them, affect the brain. “Our brain has very high energy and nutrient requirements,” says clinical nutritionist and health coach Melissa Reagan Brunetti, CNC. “Nutritional deficiencies and dietary patterns can affect its function, and alter brain chemistry and the formulation of neurotransmitters—chemicals in the brain that can stimulate and calm.” These neurotransmitters influence our mood as well as our appetite, she says. A study from Ohio State University showed one nutrient that’s especially good for reducing anxious symptoms is omega 3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like wild salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds. “Our brains need fat from dietary sources to function properly,” Brunetti says. “If you are not eating a sufficient amount of beneficial fats, your brain will suffer.”

Probiotics are good for the gut

Surprisingly, another calming food source is probiotics. “Your gut bacteria is needed for production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid], which all play a role in mood,” Brunetti says. “The microbiome [gut bacteria] has a direct link to the brain and the immune system, so restoring balance in the gut of good and bad bacteria through use of probiotics can benefit the brain.” Recent research has found that probiotics may actually work to treat, or even prevent, anxious feelings. You can either take a probiotic supplement or eat foods that have been fermented, a process which encourages good bacteria to grow, and has been shown in studies as a way how to calm anxiety. “I like to see patients eat more fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir, as the kinds of bacteria in your gut influence anxiety,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in using dietary changes to help balance moods, and author of Eat Complete. Another fermented food you probably already have in your fridge? Pickles!

Caffeine makes you anxious

Although some of us feel like we’re miserable until we’ve had our morning cup of java, coffee and other caffeinated foods and drinks actually worsen anxious feelings. Because it’s a stimulant for the nervous system, it increases heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. According to the University of Michigan, coffee can lead to symptoms of worrying like nervousness, sweating, and shaking. A study from Brazil found that caffeine actually induced panic attacks in people with an anxious disorder. Another study, from Wake Forest University, found that caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 27 percent. Not to mention that it can mess with sleep, which is essential for brain health. “Limiting caffeine intake can help quell inflammation and contribute to improved brain function,” Brunetti says. Likewise, Dr. Ramsey suggests avoiding energy drinks with caffeine, as well as indulging in too much dark chocolate (stick to one or two squares a day).

Water keeps everything flowing smoothly

How to calm anxiety in one step? Drink good old fashioned water. “Staying hydrated with clean water is very important,” Brunetti says. A study from the University of Connecticut showed that even mild dehydration can cause mood problems. According to the study’s author, Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD, by the time you feel thirsty it’s too late. “Our thirst sensation doesn’t really appear until we are one or two percent dehydrated,” he says. “By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform.” The connection behind dehydration and anxious symptoms is not totally known; but the UConn study authors think it may be part of an ancient warning system alerting us to find water for survival. So, you should be sure to consume water throughout the day.

Stay away from refined sugar and processed foods

Sweets and processed foods all are, not surprisingly, bad for your mental health. Sugar and refined carbs cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a sudden drop. A study from Columbia University found that the more refined carbs and sugar women ate, the higher their risk for mood changes and depression. Another study, from the United Kingdom, found that eating processed meat and fried foods had similar responses, possibly because of the link with heart disease and inflammation, which are also associated with mental health problems. “Skip highly processed foods, as these are mainly simple sugars and vegetable oils,” Dr. Ramsey suggests. Instead, try eating more complex carbs like whole grains, which were linked to fewer mental health issues in the Columbia study.

Alcohol brings you down

Alcohol is a depressant but it can also worsen anxiety symptoms. And unfortunately, the two often go hand-in-hand—in a study that took place over 14 years, researchers found that people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) were 4.5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that 20 percent of people with SAD also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Drinking can seem like a good way to calm your nerves, but in reality, it causes spikes and dips in blood sugar, dehydrates you, and causes impaired brain function—all of which can lead to anxious feelings, which then make you want to drink more, creating a vicious cycle. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking a lot can cause changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters that may induce these symptoms. For this reason, Brunetti says it’s best to reduce or eliminate alcohol.

Load up on antioxidants

Here’s another reason antioxidants are superfoods: They can help quell anxious moods. “Antioxidants protect the brain against oxidative stress [free radicals],” Brunetti says. “Oxidative stress leads to inflammation, which can impair neurotransmitter production.” Research by the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state, and that antioxidants could actually help treat mood issues as well. So which nutrients are antioxidants, and which foods contain them? “Diets rich in beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, and kale; vitamin C like citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and strawberries; and vitamin E like almonds, avocado, spinach, sunflower seeds, spinach, and sweet potatoes, are essential for supporting optimal brain function,” Brunetti says. Another powerful antioxidant Brunetti says is shown to combat anxious feelings is the trace mineral selenium, found in Brazil nuts, halibut, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, and eggs. Also, studies have shown that upping your zinc, which has antioxidant properties, leads to fewer anxious feelings. Cashews are a great source of zinc.

Magnesium is calming

Another nutrient that might stave off anxious symptoms is magnesium. “Magnesium is a calming mineral that has been found to induce relaxation,” Brunetti says. In an Austrian study with mice, diets low in magnesium increased anxious behaviors. Research has shown that magnesium may also help treat mental health issues in humans. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, inadequate magnesium reduces levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and antidepressants have been shown to increase magnesium in the brain—evidence of a positive link. “Magnesium can act at the blood brain barrier to prevent the entrance of stress hormones into the brain,” psychiatrist Emily Deans, MD, writes on Psychology Today. “All these reasons are why I call magnesium ‘the original chill pill.’” Dr. Ramsey suggests eating eggs and greens, like spinach and Swiss chard, for magnesium. Other sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, and avocado.

Try tryptophan

We usually think of tryptophan as the nutrient in turkey that puts us to sleep after Thanksgiving—and in fact, tryptophan is an amino acid that the body needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and moods. According to the University of Michigan, tryptophan may help reduce anxious feelings. In one small study, participants who ate a food bar rich in tryptophan reported fewer symptoms than those who ate a bar without tryptophan. More research is needed, but it seems likely that there is a connection. Tryptophan is in most protein-rich foods like turkey and other meats, nuts, seeds, beans, and eggs. (Incidentally, protein is also important for the production on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can benefit mood as well.)

B vitamins bump up good feelings

Harvard Medical School advises eating foods rich in B vitamins, like beef, avocado, and almonds, to help ward off anxious feelings. “B vitamins have positive effects on the nervous system, and deficiencies have been linked to anxious disorders,” Brunetti says. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influence mood. A study from Australia found that stressed-out workers who were given a high dose of B vitamins felt less strained and in a better mood after 12 weeks. Another study, from the University of Miami, found that depressed adults who took a vitamin B complex had fewer depressive and anxious symptoms after two months. “Another nutrient that seems to matter is choline, found in eggs, which is a cousin of B vitamins,” Dr. Ramsey says. More research is needed, but these results are promising.

Cozy up with herbal teas

So you might not want to indulge in too much coffee, but you can relax with a mug of herbal tea in order to feel less anxious. “Great options for herbal teas are chamomile, skullcap, and kava kava to start,” Dr. Ramsey says. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who took chamomile for eight weeks experienced fewer anxious symptoms than those that didn’t. However, be aware that kava can interact with anti-anxiety and antidepressant meds, so talk to your doctor first if you’re on them. Plus, it’s so relaxing that high doses of it could impair your ability to drive, according to one study. If you’re using herbs for anxiety, steer clear of ones that are stimulating, such as ginseng, cautions Dr. Ramsey, because they might actually make anxious feelings worse.

It’s not just what you eat, but how

How to calm anxiety? Pay attention to how and when you eat. Bad habits can have a negative effect on anxious moods, which “get worse when people have low blood sugar,” Dr. Ramsey says. “A simple step people often forget is to eat regularly.” Brunetti says if low blood sugar is an issue for you (in other words, if you get “hangry”), eating smaller, frequent meals throughout the day can help. According to Harvard Medical School, there is evidence that our Western diet, with its focus on refined carbs and processed foods, might not be great for anxious moods; instead, Mediterranean or Japanese diets, which include a lot of veggies and fish, may be the way to go. But, be careful of fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. “Diets that are too low in [complex] carbohydrates can also be detrimental” for anxious feelings, Brunetti says. “Include a variety of foods in your diet to ensure you are getting a wide range of nutrients needed to calm the mind.”

Tina Donvito      November 21, 2018

source: www.rd.com


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4 Habits to Achieve Better Mental Health

The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in every five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. This number adds up to nearly 50 million people. Sadly, these numbers likely underestimate the extent of the problem.

Why is mental health important? A bit of a rhetorical question, right?

Clearly, mental health directly affects the quality of our life. Our mental health determines our productivity, feelings of self-worth, confidence, and skillfulness in navigating life’s inevitable challenges. Good mental health maximizes all of these things; poor mental health minimizes them.

If we’re stricken with poor mental health, it becomes impossible to experience life optimally. Without proper treatment or guidance – medical or otherwise – most watch as their life takes a turn for the worst. That’s because the state of our mind impacts both our life – both personally and professionally.

Fortunately, we can improve our mental health. Better yet, we needn’t rely on copious amounts of pharmaceutical drugs to do so (as valuable as these can be at times.)

In this article, we’re going to discuss four habits that can lead to better mental health.

Let’s get to it!

POOR MENTAL HEALTH HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PROBLEM

“ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder], anxiety, depression … can be thought of as problems that have existed – and been ignored – for years.”  ~ Paul Hammerness, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

While the catalysts of mental illness have changed, poor mental health has probably been a thing since homo sapiens first walked the primordial Earth.

Whereas in days of yore humans were concerned about wild animal attacks and having enough food, today we’re fretting about time, money, family, and career. Most likely, a combination of all these things.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

There is something that connects these two distinct periods, however: the brain.

Neuroscientists state that the structure of the human brain has remained mostly unchanged over the past 500,000 years. Ten thousand years ago, our brains actually shrank. The past century has resulted in a “brain size rebound,” a byproduct of better nutrition and less disease brought on by the industrial revolution.

We can attribute some of the more modern mental illnesses – anxiety and depression, mainly – to the brain’s relatively static development. The harsh living conditions of our distant ancestors required an ever-alert brain mechanism that could quickly respond to threatening stimuli.

Brain experts call this mechanism the Fight-or-Flight response. Others call it hyperarousal or acute stress response.

The ‘FoF’ response is critical to human survival, even now. If you’ve ever been in a situation of sudden, extreme danger – and had to take quick action to ensure your survival – then you’ve had first-hand experience with the FoF response.

The truth is that we’ve all had, to a greater or lesser degree, some experience with FoF. If you’ve ever suffered from an anxiety disorder, you felt the constant agitation. If you’ve ever had to act to avoid danger, you’ve felt the flood of adrenaline that accompanies FoF activation.

In all of these situations, you no doubt noticed an involuntary, unconscious state of arousal. That’s the FoF. Early humans, no doubt, also saw the unpleasantness associated with an overactive FoF response – which was passed along to us.

THE CAUSE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

While FoF plays a significant role in the state of our mental health, it’s far from the only influencer.

Neurotransmitters, chemicals that act as signaling molecules in the brain, also have a substantial effect on our mental health. While scientists posited this correlation a long time ago, it wasn’t until recently that SPECT imaging studies all but confirmed the relationship.

Any imbalance of the four primary neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and GABA – can lead to sub-optimal mental states, possibly mental illness.

mindfulness

4 HABITS THAT IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH

“You have the power over your mind – not outside events. 

Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

~ Marcus Aurelius

1 – OBSERVE YOUR MIND

Metacognition is actively observing your mental processes and understanding habitual emotional reactive patterns. It’s also a crucial component of good mental health.

If you’ve ever sat back and wondered why in the heck your mind is making so much noise, then you know what metacognition is. You’ve also made a crucial and potentially life-changing discovery: you are not your mind or feelings.

Rather, you are the awareness behind the thoughts and feelings. When you recognize and embrace this fact, you can observe the activity of our mind at a distance – as a passive ‘witness.’ You may even start to get curious about the inner-workings of your mind, and it’s this attitude that will lead to a transformation.

While it’s possible to observe your mind amid daily life, it’s often difficult – especially at first. This is where a regular meditation practice can help.

Try taking 15-20 minutes at the start of each day to sit and allow your mind to become quiet.

2 – SLOW DOWN

“The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.” ~ Lao-tzu

Okay, so this sounds like commonsensical gibberish nonsense. “What? Slow down? That’s it?”

Okay, then why do we fail at things repeatedly?

Reason #1: society has taught us that frenzied action is the same as productivity. Not only is this untrue, but it’s also potentially disastrous to our mental and physical health.

Slowing down – more specifically, not rushing – can have a powerful impact on our state of mind. Things still get accomplished, and with much less stress. Often, you’ll find that slowing down and focusing on one task at a time (see ‘Single-tasking’ next) not only improves the quality of your work but, ironically, can increase the pace at which things get done!

Practice performing one task a day slowly. Put all of your attention on the job – washing the dishes, showering, vacuuming, etc. – and while doing the activity gradually and deliberately.

3 – SINGLE TASK

“He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.”   ~ Charles Dickens

Few things have been more damaging to our state of mind than multitasking. How harmful is it? Well, per a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, participants who multitasked using multiple forms of entertainment media “showed symptoms of anxiety and depression” based on mental health surveys.

Did you get that? Multitasking – even with entertainment – causes symptoms that mimic those of anxiety and depression!

The truth of the matter is that not only is multitasking a myth; it’s also stress-inducing and harmful.

The human brain simply is not meant for multitasking. When we perform a job, our neural circuitry is concentrated around that task – and that task only. It is incapable of diverting mental resources to a secondary task.

Unless, say, we’re talking about chewing gum and walking at the same time.

Instead, make it a habit to focus your attention single-mindedly on each task. Not only is this a more effective way of living, but it’s also much more peaceful.

4 – BE COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS YOURSELF

“If compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”  ~ Jack Kornfield

Most people have good hearts. Although the media may try to convince you otherwise (their motto is “Bad news sells” after all) there is plenty of good happening in the world.

Since most people have good hearts, most of us are compassionate by nature. When someone is visibly hurting, we will often try to comfort and console.

But one problem that so many of us have is this: we don’t extend our compassionate nature to ourselves.

Indeed, each one of us is our own worst critic. We don’t even think about self-compassion. Many people live their entire lives without ever once practicing self-love or compassion.

To deny yourself some compassion is not only wrong; it is harmful to your mental wellbeing.

How do you practice self-compassion? Try picturing yourself as a child. If you have a picture of when you were a kid, take a good look at it.

Would you ever want this individual to suffer? Of course not. Talk to that inner child with compassion and love. How do you feel during and afterward?

FINAL THOUGHTS ON IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
In short, you hold the key to unlocking better mental health right there in your hand. All that’s left for you is to flick open that lock.

mindfulness

Mindfulness Improves as We Age

New research may provide an answer for why many people say life gets better with age. A new study by Australian investigators suggests this may be because older people have the wisdom and time to use mindfulness as a means to improve wellbeing.
Healthy aging researchers at Flinders University say certain characteristics of mindfulness seem more strongly evident in older people compared to younger people. The new findings may help people of all ages better deal with life circumstances.
Mindfulness refers to the natural human ability to be aware of one’s experiences and to pay attention to the present moment in a purposeful, receptive and non-judgmental way. Using mindful techniques can be instrumental in reducing stress and promoting positive psychological outcomes.
From middle age to old age, the Flinders University survey highlights the tendency to focus on the present-moment. The strategy to adopt a non-judgmental orientation may become especially important for well-being with advancing age.

“This suggests that mindfulness may naturally develop with time and life experience,” says behavioral scientist Associate Professor Tim Windsor. Windsor co-authored the study which was based on an online community survey of 623 participants, aged between 18 and 86 years.

The study, ‘Older and more mindful? Age differences in mindfulness components and well-being,’ appears online in Aging and Mental Health.

“The significance of mindfulness for wellbeing may also increase as we get older, in particular the ability to focus on the present moment and to approach experiences in a non-judgmental way.

“These characteristics are helpful in adapting to age-related challenges and in generating positive emotions.”

In one of the first age-related studies of its kind, the researchers assessed participants’ mindful qualities such as present-moment attention, acceptance, non-attachment and examined the relationships of these qualities with wellbeing more generally.

“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” says study lead author Leeann Mahlo. Mahlo is investigating mindfulness in older adulthood as part of her PhD research.

“We found that positive relationships between aspects of mindfulness and wellbeing became stronger from middle age onwards,” she says.“Our findings suggest that if mindfulness has particular benefits in later life, this could be translated into tailored training approaches to enhanced wellbeing in older populations.”

Mindfulness skills can help build wellbeing at any age, adds Mahlo. Tips to develop mindful techniques include:
• Becoming aware of our thoughts and surroundings and paying attention to the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way. This can prevent us from focusing on the past or worrying about the future in unhelpful ways.
• Understanding that our thoughts, feelings and situations exist in the moment and will not last. This can help us to respond in flexible, more optimistic ways to challenging circumstances, including those that we are facing with concerns related to COVID-19.
• Finding out more about mindfulness via app-based programs such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe & Think. These are available for use on computers or smartphones and offer flexible ways of learning and practicing mindfulness — including for people now spending more time at home.
By Rick Nauert PhD             Associate News Editor   Apr 2020
Source:   Flinders University/EurekAlert   psychcentral.com


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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

This gentle form of exercise can help maintain strength, flexibility, and balance, and could be the perfect activity for the rest of your life.

Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems. And you can get started even if you aren’t in top shape or the best of health.

In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise, you go without pausing through a series of motions named for animal actions — for example, “white crane spreads its wings” — or martial arts moves, such as “box both ears.” As you move, you breathe deeply and naturally, focusing your attention — as in some kinds of meditation — on your bodily sensations. Tai chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.

Tai chi movement

A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age. An adjunct therapy is one that’s used together with primary medical treatments, either to address a disease itself or its primary symptoms, or, more generally, to improve a patient’s functioning and quality of life.

Belief systems

You don’t need to subscribe to or learn much about tai chi’s roots in Chinese philosophy to enjoy its health benefits, but these concepts can help make sense of its approach:

  • Qi — an energy force thought to flow through the body; tai chi is said to unblock and encourage the proper flow of qi.
  • Yin and yang — opposing elements thought to make up the universe that need to be kept in harmony. Tai chi is said to promote this balance.

Tai chi in motion

A tai chi class might include these parts:

Warm-up. Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body.

Instruction and practice of tai chi forms. Short forms — forms are sets of movements — may include a dozen or fewer movements; long forms may include hundreds. Different styles require smaller or larger movements. A short form with smaller, slower movements is usually recommended at the beginning, especially if you’re older or not in good condition.

Qigong (or chi kung). Translated as “breath work” or “energy work,” this consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down.

Getting started

The benefits of tai chi are generally greatest if you begin before you develop a chronic illness or functional limitations. Tai chi is very safe, and no fancy equipment is needed, so it’s easy to get started. Here’s some advice for doing so:

Don’t be intimidated by the language. Names like Yang, Wu, and Cheng are given to various branches of tai chi, in honor of people who devised the sets of movements called forms. Certain programs emphasize the martial arts aspect of tai chi rather than its potential for healing and stress reduction. In some forms, you learn long sequences of movements, while others involve shorter series and more focus on breathing and meditation. The name is less important than finding an approach that matches your interests and needs.

Check with your doctor. If you have a limiting musculoskeletal problem or medical condition — or if you take medications that can make you dizzy or lightheaded — check with your doctor before starting tai chi. Given its excellent safety record, chances are that you’ll be encouraged to try it.

Consider observing and taking a class. Taking a class may be the best way to learn tai chi. Seeing a teacher in action, getting feedback, and experiencing the camaraderie of a group are all pluses. Most teachers will let you observe the class first to see if you feel comfortable with the approach and atmosphere. Instruction can be individualized. Ask about classes at your local Y, senior center, or community education center.

If you’d rather learn at home, you can buy or rent videos geared to your interests and fitness needs (see “Selected resources”). Although there are some excellent tai chi books, it can be difficult to appreciate the flow of movements from still photos or illustrations.

Talk to the instructor. There’s no standard training or licensing for tai chi instructors, so you’ll need to rely on recommendations from friends or clinicians and, of course, your own judgment. Look for an experienced teacher who will accommodate individual health concerns or levels of coordination and fitness.

Dress comfortably. Choose loose-fitting clothes that don’t restrict your range of motion. You can practice barefoot or in lightweight, comfortable, and flexible shoes. Tai chi shoes are available, but ones you find in your closet will probably work fine. You’ll need shoes that won’t slip and can provide enough support to help you balance, but have soles thin enough to allow you to feel the ground. Running shoes, designed to propel you forward, are usually unsuitable.

Gauge your progress. Most beginning programs and tai chi interventions tested in medical research last at least 12 weeks, with instruction once or twice a week and practice at home. By the end of that time, you should know whether you enjoy tai chi, and you may already notice positive physical and psychological changes.

No pain, big gains

Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Here’s some of the evidence:

Muscle strength. Tai chi can improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking.

Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body. Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.

Flexibility. Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.

Balance. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.

Aerobic conditioning. Depending on the speed and size of the movements, tai chi can provide some aerobic benefits. If your clinician advises a more intense cardio workout with a higher heart rate than tai chi can offer, you may need something more aerobic as well.

August 20, 2019

 

Tai-Chi-in-Park

11 Ways Tai Chi Can Benefit Your Health

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is a form of exercise that began as a Chinese tradition. It’s based in martial arts, and involves slow movements and deep breaths. Tai chi has many physical and emotional benefits. Some of the benefits of tai chi include decreased anxiety and depression and improvements in cognition. It may also help you manage symptoms of some chronic diseases, such as fibromyalgia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

1. Reduces stress

One of the main benefits of tai chi is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, though most evidence is anecdotal.

In 2018, one study compared the effects of tai chi on stress-related anxiety to traditional exercise. The study included 50 participants. The researchers found that tai chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as exercise. Because tai chi also includes meditation and focused breathing, the researchers noted that tai chi may be superior to other forms of exercise for reducing stress and anxiety. However, a larger-scale study is needed.

Tai chi is very accessible and lower impact than many other forms of exercise. The researchers found it to be safe and inexpensive, so it may be a good option if you are otherwise healthy and experiencing stress-related anxiety.

2. Improves mood

Tai chi may help improve your mood if you are depressed or anxious. Preliminary research suggests that regularly practicing tai chi can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s believed that the slow, mindful breaths and movements have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood-regulating hormones. Further research is being done to establish a clear link between tai chi and improved mood.

3. Better sleep

Regularly practicing tai chi may help you to have more restful sleep.

One study followed young adults with anxiety after they were prescribed two tai chi classes each week, for 10 weeks. Based on participant reporting, the individuals who practiced tai chi experienced significant improvements in their quality of sleep compared to those in the control group. This same group also experienced a decrease in their anxiety symptoms.

Tai chi can improve sleep for older adults, too. In a study published in 2016, researchers found that two months of twice-weekly tai chi classes was associated with better sleep in older adults with cognitive impairment.

4. Promotes weight loss

Regularly practicing tai chi can result in weight loss. One study tracked changes in weight in a group of adults practicing tai chi five times a week for 45 minutes. At the end of the 12 weeks, these adults lost a little over a pound without making any additional lifestyle changes.

5. Improves cognition in older adults

Tai chi may improve cognition in older adults with cognitive impairment. More specifically, tai chi may help improve memory and executive functioning skills like paying attention and carrying out complex tasks.

6. Reduces risk of falling in older adults

Tai chi can help improve balance and motor function, and reduce fear of falling in older adults. It can also reduce actual falls after 8 weeks of practice, and significantly reduce falls after 16 weeks of practice. Because fear of falling can reduce independence and quality of life, and falls can lead to serious complications, tai chi may offer the additional benefit of improving quality of life and general well-being in older adults.

7. Improves fibromyalgia symptoms

Tai chi may compliment traditional methods for management of certain chronic diseases.

Results from a 2018 study showed that a consistent tai chi practice can decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. Participants in the study who practiced tai chi for 52 weeks exhibited greater improvements in their fibromyalgia-related symptoms when compared to participants practicing aerobics. Learn about other alternative treatments for fibromyalgia symptoms.

8. Improves COPD symptoms

Tai chi may improve some of the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In one study, people with COPD practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, they have improvements in their ability to exercise and reported an overall improvement in their quality of life.

9. Improves balance and strength in people with Parkinson’s

In a randomized, controlled trial of 195 participants, regular practice of tai chi was found to decrease the number of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi can also help you to increase leg strength and overall balance.

10. Safe for people with coronary heart disease

Tai chi is a safe form of moderate exercise you can try if you have coronary heart disease. Following a cardiovascular event, regular tai chi practices may help you:

  • increase physical activity
  • lose weight
  • improve your quality of life

11. Reduces pain from arthritis

In a small-scale 2010 study, 15 participants with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the participants reported less pain and improved mobility and balance.

A larger, earlier study found similar results in people with knee osteoarthritis (OA). In this study, 40 participants with knee OA practiced 60 minutes of tai chi, two times a week for 12 weeks. Following the study, participants reported a reduction in pain and an improvement in mobility and quality of life.

When compared to physical therapy, tai chi has also been found to be as effective in the treatment of knee OA.

Always talk to your doctor before starting tai chi if you have arthritis. You may need to do modified versions of some of the movements.

Is tai chi safe?

Tai chi is generally considered to be a safe exercise with few side effects. You may experience some aches or pains after practicing tai chi if you’re a beginner. More rigorous forms of tai chi and improper practice of tai chi are associated with increased risk of injury to joints. Especially if you’re new to tai chi, consider attending a class or working with an instructor to reduce your risk of injury.

If you’re pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program.

How to start tai chi

Tai chi focuses on proper posture and exact movements, something that is difficult to learn on your own. If you’re new to tai chi, take a class or get an instructor.

Tai chi is taught in studios all over the United States and other countries. Larger gyms, like the YMCA, sometimes offer tai chi classes as well.

Choosing a tai chi style

There are five different styles of tai chi, and each style can be modified to suit your goals and personal fitness level. All styles of tai chi incorporate continuous movement from one pose to the next.

  • Yang style tai chi focuses on slow, graceful movements and relaxation. Yang style is a good starting point for beginners.
  • Wu style tai chi places an emphasis on micro-movements. This style of tai chi is practiced very slowly.
  • Chen style tai chi uses both slow and fast movements. This style of tai chi might be difficult for you if you’re new to the practice.
  • Sun style tai chi shares a lot of similarities with Chen style. Sun style involves less crouching, kicking, and punching, making it less physically demanding.
  • Hao style tai chi is a lesser-known and rarely practiced style. This style of tai chi is defined by a focus on accurate position and internal strength.

How does tai chi differ from yoga?

Tai chi emphasizes fluid movement and has roots in Chinese culture. Yoga focuses on posing and originated in Northern India.

Both tai chi and yoga are forms of exercise that involve meditation and deep breathing, and they have similar benefits, such as:

  • relieves stress
  • improves mood
  • Improves sleep

Takeaway

Tai chi is an exercise that can benefit both healthy adults and adults living with a chronic condition.

The benefits of tai chi include:

  • better sleep
  • weight loss
  • improved mood
  • management of chronic conditions

If you’re interested in trying tai chi, an instructor can help you get started. Classes are offered in specialized studios, community centers, and gyms.

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How to Stay Calm and Healthy During a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is understandably causing panic in many people. Yet, fear doesn’t help anything. So how can you remain calm—and healthy—and help others in the process? How can you be a positive emotional contagion that helps not only yourself but others feel better about the global situation?

Buying six months’ worth of toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning goods, and food won’t help. Really.

Yes, it might give you a little peace of mind. I know my full pantry, refrigerator, and freezer (and large package of TP) do, indeed, provide me with a sense of security during this pandemic.

But purchasing more than what you need for a week or two, stockpiling as if the world were ending…that isn’t helpful. First, it leaves others without supplies—ones they might actually need. (Some people are out of toilet paper and just want a few rolls!) Second, the buying frenzy only adds to the emotional upheaval, panic, and overwhelm you and others feel.

So, let’s talk about what will help you stay calm and healthy during a pandemic.

Act Wisely
In North America as in most parts of the world, we are focused on taking precautions and acting wisely. We are practicing social distancing by staying home more, not gathering in large groups, and washing our hands and using hand sanitizer…a lot.

We are also doing other things. My acupuncturist closed his clinic to do a deep clean. My husband is being interviewed virtually for a gig (rather than in person). Companies have asked employees to work from home. My 96-year-old mom’s new doctor told her not to come to the office for a routine visit.

The key is to avoid potential exposure—from you or someone else, like eating out, attending large events, spending time in crowded places, or flying. Yet, you also want to live your life to the fullest extent possible.

How can you live fully while stuck at home? It’s not as hard as it seems.

Stay focused on your priorities and take action in ways that are appropriate and safe. For example, you can hunker down and write your book, shoot and share videos to promote a product, conduct virtual meetings, build the website you never have time to create, declutter, and exercise from the comfort of your home.

Or be a positive force for good. A friend of mine said she had started calling those people she knows who live alone. A neighbor of mine that goes into town daily offered to shop for those in our community who can’t or don’t want to leave their homes.

4 Ways to Stay Calm During a Pandemic

See yourself as a leader and role model. Your job is to be calm and centered amidst the chaos. That means you have to quell your own fear and panic.

Here are four ways to remain calm:

1. Limit your intake of news. I’m not saying you shouldn’t remain informed. Of course, you want to do so! But don’t watch the news incessantly.

I remember after 9/11, I watched identical CNN broadcasts for hours waiting for a new report. I have found myself doing the same in the last few days…watching or listening to the news to hear updated news about the pandemic.

Constant consumption of news just feeds your panic and fear. Watch the news only once or twice per day. In this way, you remain informed without allowing yourself to obsess all day long. I, too, have begun to limit how much I watch the news or consume information about the coronavirus via social media or the Internet.

2. Stay busy. If you have nothing to do, you will find your mind trained on fearful thoughts. Or you will seek out other panicky people on social media or television.

Focus on your agenda. What did you want to get done today? What projects could use your attention? Take action on these things so your mind and body remain busy…and calm.

Plus, being productive will make you feel better in general.

3. Increase your mental, emotional and physical self-care routines. These will provide you with a more peaceful countenance no matter what is going on around you.

Now is the time to increase or start a meditation practice. Try meditating twice daily.

Make sure you exercise daily. Exercise makes you happier and reduces stress. Plus, it helps you remain healthy. Try a quick walk outside to boost your mood.

Train your brain on the positive. What might you gain by staying home for a few weeks? How might you make being housebound a pleasant experience? What might be the outcome of a self-quarantine—for yourself and others?

4. Have faith. It’s been said that faith is more important than fear, and in the case of a pandemic, that’s true.

We know that “this, too, will pass.” So focus on a positive future, one where no one gets the coronavirus, travel bans are lifted, large gatherings are safe, and you no longer need to stay at home.

7 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During a Pandemic

Now is a great time to take a serious look at your health routines. Are you taking good care of yourself? Not only do you want to increase your level of emotional and mental health by staying calm, but you also want to improve your physical health.

To help you boost your immune system and ward off illness, here are seven common-sense things you can start doing today.

1. Wash Your Hands (and More)
You’ve heard this ad nauseam and seen all the cartoons as well, but it’s sound advice. Wash your hands for more extended periods and more often—especially after touching surfaces, shaking hands, handling any items made of plastic, glass, or cardboard. Wash your hands also after opening mail, receiving packages, or putting away groceries.

Along with hand washing comes the following advice: avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes (especially if you haven’t washed your hands first).

If you feel unwell or have a compromised immune system, consider wearing a mask, too.

2. Use Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes
I know these can be difficult to find right now, but if you have some, use them to clean surfaces and to cleanse your hands after touching anything. Don’t forget to wipe off the plastic or cardboard boxes of food you purchase at stores or any packages your receive via mail delivery services—or wash your hands afterward.

The Internet has a host of articles on making your own hand sanitizer and wipes. So, if you can’t purchase any, make your own.

3. Sleep Enough
If you are working from home or quarantined for any reason—sick or not, sleep needs to become your priority. Actually, even if you are still working, sleep should be non-negotiable.

To boost your immune system, sleep eight hours per night…or more. Sleep helps fight off infectious diseases. In fact, there are studies that show that sleeping less than seven hours increases your chances of getting sick considerably. This is not the time to be sleeping only five or six hours per night!

4. Eat a Healthy Diet
Help your body fight off illness and stay strong by eating healthy foods rather than sweets and junk. You’d be amazed at how much difference a nutrient-rich diet makes on your immune system.

And cook healthy meals at home for the time being. Stop frequenting restaurants, salad bars, and fast-food places. Even take-out or delivery could introduce a source of infection.

5. Boost Your Immune System
If you don’t already take multi-vitamins, start doing so. I could go into a long discussion of what supplements to take, but I’m not an expert or doctor. Find a herbalist or nutritional counselor who can help you determine what supplements are best for you.

There are also a host of herbs that boost your immune system. Of course, check with your doctor before adding anything new to your diet.

Some people will claim that supplements and herbs are effective only because of their placebo effect. It doesn’t matter why they work; all that matters is that they help you stay healthy.

6. Lower Your Stress Level
The immune system reacts badly to stress. Fear and anxiety put your body into the flight-or-fight mode, which is driven by your sympathetic nervous system. This response is your body’s reaction to danger and helps you survive stressful and life-threatening situations.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “During the fight or flight response, your body is trying to prioritize, so anything it doesn’t need for immediate survival is placed on the back burner. This means that digestion, reproductive and growth hormone production, and tissue repair are all temporarily halted. Instead, your body is using all its energy on the most crucial priorities and functions.”

The article goes on to explain, “Living in a prolonged state of high alert and stress can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.” Indeed, chronic stress is known to suppress immune function and increase susceptibility to disease.

So…again…stay calm! Meditate. Pray. Exercise. Watch funny movies. Go for a walk in the woods or on the beach. Take a nap. Read a book.

Don’t watch the news or engage in conversations about the pandemic that raises your level of stress.

7. Focus on the Positive
Drop the end-of-the-world mindset. Be a positive emotional contagion. Guide conversations toward something other than the pandemic. Be happy and upbeat and help others stop feeding the negative emotional cycle.

And think positive thoughts. Feel grateful for whatever you can—the rain, the sun, your elderly parents’ safety, the paycheck you just received, the spring flowers in bloom, the call from your friend or child, the extra time to read a book, or the new opportunities coming your way.

While you are at it, stop complaining about things that are out of your control, like empty shelves at the supermarket, the kids being home from school, not being able to attend a concert or the theater, or anything else. Complaining doesn’t help you or anyone else.

You will find it easier to stay positive and grateful if you remain present. Stop focusing on the past or the future. Stay in this moment.

This, Too, Shall Pass
Finally, remember, this pandemic will pass. It may take a little while, but the coronavirus will peter out. When it does, you and I—and the entire world—will be more prepared next time, if there is a next time. And we will find that the aftermath provides new opportunities, deepened relationships, and a different view of what it means to be part of a global community.

While you wait for the situation to change, be a force for good—a positive emotional contagion that infects everyone you encounter. By staying positive, calm, and healthy, you keep those around you calm and healthy, too.

If you have helpful advice to add to this post, please share it in a comment below. And share this post with anyone you feel might benefit.

Note: It’s important to stay informed about the state of coronavirus for the health and safety of your friends, family, and co-workers. Please visit the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control websites for up-to-date information. Also, be sure to check out your local health agencies and authorities for updates about your area.

 

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Staying Healthy During a Pandemic: 10 Immune-Boosting Tips

During the current coronavirus outbreak, you’re probably (very rightfully so!) concerned for your health and that of your family. The CDC has several recommendations for preventative action against coronavirus, including social distancing, hand-washing, and clean frequently touched surfaces daily.

We 100% agree with all of these recommendations, but additionally believe it’s prudent to do everything possible to boost your immune system to decrease the likelihood of getting sick (with coronavirus or any other seasonal bug, for that matter!)

Here are 10 easy ways you can help strengthen your immune system.

Eat immune-boosting foods.

​Examples include: ginger, turmeric, honey, garlic, lemon, mushrooms, and bone broth.

Take immune-boosting supplements.

​Try elderberry, zinc, vitamins A, C, and D, spirulina, and selenium.

Raise your core body temperature. Studies have found evidence that higher body temps help certain types of immune cells to work better, and thus make it better able to fight infection. Your body knows what it’s doing when you have a fever while sick! It’s thought that you can encourage the same benefits by proactively raising your body temp.

Try a sauna, steam bath, or move your body to break a sweat.

Get your veggies on: eating lots of veggies, especially leafy greens which are full of antioxidants, can help your body fight viruses and other free radicals.

​The more diverse your diet (and especially veggie intake), the better!

Take antiviral supplements. 

Some good ones include echinacea, colloidal silver, licorice root, apple cider vinegar, and probiotics.

Prioritize sleep: studies show that sleep can help build your immune system and fight infection.

Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Need some help getting a good night of rest? Check out these tips!

Get your exercise on! Exercise has many great benefits and one of those is that it builds a stronger immune system.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week – we say shoot for at least 20 minutes a day, every single day. Check out this 7-minute at-home workout that works – do it 3x for bonus points.

Ditch bad habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, as they can decrease ability to fight infection.

Reduce stress. The hormones released when you are stressed have been shown to have a negative effect on the immune system.

Try going for a walk, meditating, doing a YouTube yoga flow, or gratitude journaling.

Get some sunshine. A natural dose of vitamin D from the sun can do wonders not only for your mood but also your immune system – studies have shown that it can even decrease the length and severity of infections.

​Go outside for at least 15-20 minutes a day even if it’s just on your patio or backyard.

Have any other immune-boosting best practices? We would love to hear them! Please share them at hello@cleanfitbox.com. 

Stay healthy, friends!
March 17, 2020    by  Rene


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If You’re Not Sticking To A Regular Sleep Schedule, You’re Hurting Your Health, Study Says

Ok, I admit it. I often stay up late on weekends, catching up on TV or seeing friends, then decadently allow myself to slumber for hours past my regular wake-up time the next morning.

To a diehard night owl like me, this is delicious freedom, a sort of personal protest against the rigidity of the obnoxious workday alarm.

Sound familiar? If so, fellow snooze buddies, it turns out our lack of a regular sleep routine is hurting our health.

A new study published Monday found changing your regular sleep-wake time by 90 minutes — in either direction — significantly increases your chance of having a heart attack or heart disease.
A regular sleep time was defined in the study as less than 30 minutes difference, on average, across seven nights.

“Compared with people who had the most regular sleep time, those with the most irregular sleep time — more than a 90 minute difference on average across seven nights — had more than a two-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease over a 5-year period,” said study author Tianyi Huang, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The link remained strong even after controlling for cholesterol, blood pressure and other known cardiovascular risk factors, as well as sleep issues such as insomnia, sleep apnea and sleep duration.
That suggests, Huang said, that high day-to-day variability in sleep duration or timing may be a “novel and independent cardiovascular risk factor.”

“That’s huge,” said Dr. David Goff, who directs the division of cardiovascular sciences at the United States National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
“One out of three people in the US die from heart disease, and 60% of us will have a major cardiovascular disease event before we die,” said Goff, who was not involved in the study.
“People are living busy, stressful lives and not getting a lot of sleep during the week,” Goff said. “Then they are trying to get catchup sleep on the weekend, and that’s not a healthy pattern.”

The link between sleep and heart

The cardiovascular system — including heart rate, blood pressure and vascular tone — operates on a strong circadian rhythm to maintain normal functioning.

Messing with our internal sleep clock “has been linked to cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension, insulin resistance or diabetes,” Huang said, “but this is the first study to link an irregular sleep pattern pattern with cardiovascular disease.”

The study followed more than 2,000 people ages 45 to 84 without any cardiovascular disease over a five-year period. After a baseline exam, follow-up physicals measured any lifestyle, medication or disease changes, while a sleep study tested for sleep disorders like apnea.

Then the participants wore a sleep wrist tracker for seven consecutive nights.

“About a quarter of people in this age range didn’t have a regular time for going to sleep,” Goff said.

Since many of the participants were retired, it was surprising to find some 500 people had significantly disrupted sleep schedules.

While it may appear this link is strongest for the elderly, that may not be the case. A previous analysis of 53 studies on people age 18 and up found younger age to be more consistently associated with a variable sleep cycle.

“This sleep irregularity may be even more common among younger people,” Huang said. “Younger people may have more demands from study and from work, and those may also influence whether they can have a regular sleep pattern or not.”

If that becomes a habit in life, the results could be dangerous. That’s because the study also found a linear upward link between disrupted sleep cycles and heart issues.

“The more you sleep irregularly, the higher the risk you have,” Huang said.

Better sleep habits

The good news is that you can do something about your poor sleep habits.

Get moving. Exercise is key to promoting good sleep. As little as 10 minutes a day of walking, biking or other aerobic exercise can “drastically improve nighttime sleep quality,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Strive for cooler temperatures. Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable, and the room is cool: Between 60 and 67 degrees is best. Don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom. You want your brain to think of the room as only for sleep.

Avoid certain food and drink. Avoid stimulants such as nicotine or coffee after mid afternoon, especially if you have insomnia. Alcohol is another no-no. You may think it helps you doze off, but you are more likely to wake in the night as your body begins to process the spirits.

Develop a routine. Taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or doing light stretches are all good options.

Be good to your circadian rhythm. “Like your mom always told you, you should have a regular bedtime and a regular time for getting up in the morning,” advised Goff.

Keep yourself in the dark. Be sure to eliminate all bright lights, as even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. If that’s hard to accomplish, think about using eye shades and blackout curtains to keep the room dark. But during the day, try to get good exposure to natural light, as that will help regulate your circadian rhythm.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your sleep habits and your health.

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN      March 2, 2020
source: www.cnn.com

 

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Study Finds Link Between Dementia And Lack Of Sleep

A growing body of research suggests poor sleep is tied to impaired thinking and dementia in older adults. Now a new study may shed light on why.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found a potential explanation of what disrupted sleep does to the human brain. They studied 685 adults older than 65, who participated in two large U.S. studies, and looked at their sleep patterns, their performance on thinking tests and, later, their brain-tissue samples after the participants died.

The researchers’ findings, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, indicate disrupted sleep may contribute to changes in a type of immune cell in the brain called microglia, which in turn appear to be related to poorer cognitive functions, such as memory and the ability to reason.

While further research is needed to determine whether fixing people’s sleep problems can prevent or reverse cognitive decline, Andrew Lim, one of the authors of the study, said fragmented sleep should not be ignored.

Many people believe “having bad sleep is just part of aging, and it’s something that’s annoying but to be tolerated, rather than aggressively managed or aggressively investigated,” said Dr. Lim, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Toronto and sleep neurologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “This adds one more reason to take sleep [problems] seriously and to look for your treatable causes and to address them.”

This study builds on previous research, including studies on rodents and genetic studies, that suggest microglia play a role in the link between poor sleep and cognitive impairment and dementia. Microglia normally help fight infections and clear debris from the brain. But dysfunction of microglia appears to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Lim said.

In the study, researchers recorded participants’ sleep disruptions by having them wear wristwatch-like actigraphy devices, which could detect subtle signs of them awakening at night, even when participants themselves were unaware. The participants were asked to wear these devices for 10 days, once a year, for a median period of two years.

Participants also performed a series of cognitive tests annually. They agreed to donate their brains for research after their death, and researchers were able to examine their microglia in two ways. First, since activated and resting microglia differ in appearance, researchers were able to determine the density and proportion of activated microglia by looking at participants’ brain tissue under a microscope, Dr. Lim said. Then, they examined patterns of gene expression to identify “older” versus “younger” microglia – that is, whether the microglia appeared as though they came from an older person from a genetic perspective.

The researchers found connections between all three variables. Individuals who had higher levels of sleep fragmentation had a higher proportion of activated microglia and gene expression characteristic of older microglia. This was the case both for participants who had Alzheimer’s disease and those who did not. Those with poorer sleep also performed worse on their cognitive tests. And participants who had a greater proportion of activated microglia or genetically older microglia also had poorer cognitive test results.

Professor Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia, who was not involved in the study, said the findings align with what researchers know thus far about the importance of sleep and the possible contribution of poor sleep to Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Liu-Ambrose, the Canada research chair in physical activity, mobility and cognitive neuroscience at UBC, said good-quality sleep is believed to allow the brain to clear itself of toxic beta-amyloid protein, the buildup of which is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. And, she said, there is also good evidence to suggest an accumulation of beta-amyloid can further contribute to disrupted sleep.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” she said.

“What [the new study] really does show is that it’s important to protect your sleep overall,” she said. “[Sleep quality] does seem to have very direct effects on the brain, both acutely, but also chronically.”

 

WENCY LEUNG    HEALTH REPORTER     DECEMBER 11, 2019
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Should You Go Gluten-free? The Benefits Of A Gluten-free Diet

Ever wondered about the benefits of a gluten-free diet? We give what is a popular trend for some and a necessity for others, an evidence-based overview

Wondering about the benefits of gluten-free foods? And whether you should make a fairly big change to your diet? Gluten-free options are becoming more and more mainstream in restaurants and supermarkets, which is great news for people with coeliac disease and for those diagnosed with another form of gluten intolerance. But can going gluten-free benefit the rest of us?

There are lots of different claims around the wellness community which state that giving up gluten reduces bloating, improves mood and even helps fight acne. But is there any real evidence to back up these claims and prove that it’s not just anecdotal? We’re not doctors, but we take a closer look…

SHOULD YOU GO GLUTEN-FREE?
In a word, maybe. To be more precise, even if you don’t have any diagnosed gluten intolerance, you may find that reducing your gluten intake (without necessarily going completely gluten-free) may help you with a whole range of health concerns.

The jury is still out on why exactly this may be, but the most likely explanation actually hasn’t got much to do with gluten itself and it’s more to do with the fact that high gluten intake typically goes hand-in-hand with a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats.

Think of it this way: if excess weight, bloating, and fatigue are your concerns, then it’s likely that your gluten intake comes in the form of highly processed white bread high in sugar. People who go gluten-free tend to replace whole meals consisting of processed foods with healthier options high in vegetables and fibre, and that’s what contributes to weight loss and improves wellbeing.

There is some evidence, however, that wheat is an unusual food that our bodies may not have quite evolved to process, despite humans consuming wheat for millennia. Gluten contains proteins that the human digestive tract cannot digest fully, lacking the enzymes to do so. Moreover, recent studies have found that gluten has such a complex biological structure that it’s very difficult to pinpoint which compound may be contributing to a sensitivity in an individual person.

If you have ongoing digestive issues, especially IBS, you may find it beneficial to cut out gluten at least for some time and see if there is an improvement. If you don’t want to cut out bread completely, try eating less of it and switching to sourdough. It’s not gluten free, but the way it’s made at least partially breaks down the gluten in the flour, making it low in gluten content. Many people report that switching to sourdough bread helps with digestive issues.

Finally, will going gluten-free help you get rid of acne? There is no reliable scientific link between the two; however, if your acne is due to an autoimmune health condition or is related to digestive problems (a telltale sign is if you get breakouts on your forehead), then you should again consider significantly reducing your gluten intake.

BY ANNA COTTRELL

 

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Are You Brain-Fogged From Bread?

If you are fuzzy-headed after a sandwich, you may have gluten intolerance.

In my twenties, I once fell asleep at noon after eating a bagel, though there was no reason to be tired. I’d often be fuzzy-headed after a meal.

“Brain-fog” is a common sign of celiac, an auto-immune reaction, and of other kinds of sensitivity to gluten, a protein in wheat and rye.

Claire Baker, who now works for the advocacy group, Beyond Celiac, was afflicted with “brain fog” before she received her own celiac diagnosis. She was a program director at another major nonprofit and the fuzziness was affecting her productivity. “I thought there was something terribly wrong with me — couldn’t concentrate. I had no idea the problem was related to my diet, and no clue that it could be a symptom of an undiagnosed disease,” she told me.

In a new survey of patients with either celiac or gluten sensitivity, more than 70 percent said they had trouble concentrating after eating gluten. Nearly 60 percent of celiac patients (and nearly 70 percent of those with gluten sensitivity) said they became groggy. About a fifth said the symptoms showed up within a half-hour to an hour, but similar portions experienced the symptoms within the next four hours, or between one and two days later. The symptoms typically lasted a day or more.

So if you’re having trouble at work after your bagel or muffin breakfast and your sandwich at lunch, experiment with eating other foods that don’t contain gluten.

Food intolerances can also make you anxious and are linked to headaches and depression.

If you find that you can link your symptoms to gluten, don’t just go gluten-free on your own. You should get tested for celiac, a serious illness that requires monitoring. Even if you don’t have celiac, you may need help figuring out your diet. Many people get some improvement when they cut out gluten but find that other foods bother them as well. You might need to be extra careful with traditional “gassy” foods like beans and dairy.

If gluten triggers an inflammatory response, it can affect any system in your body — from your skin, to your nerves, to your brain.

One man I’ll call Tony had trouble with compulsive twitches and tics for years. The neurologists he saw couldn’t find a clear cause. One said, “This is the way God made you.”

He also was prone to becoming enraged at small irritations — for example, a dinner companion eating with her mouth open.

Both the tics and the irritability dropped dramatically when he cut gluten out of his diet.

Your primary care doctor may dismiss your interest in gluten — after all, it’s clear that “going gluten-free” has become fashionable.

Not everyone who goes gluten-free really needs to.

But you might. 

Truly cutting gluten from your diet requires attention — you need to read labels on any packaged food and ask lots of questions in restaurants. Any Chinese restaurant meal with soy sauce contains gluten.

To motivate yourself, do your best to steer completely clear and then, perhaps on the weekend, you might try a portion of a bagel. (Bagels contain more gluten than other flour products). If you experience a clear reaction, it’s time to get checked for celiac and get more advice from a doctor who takes this complaint seriously.

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.
 
Jun 21, 2018


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Psychologists Explain How to Focus Your Mind

Frazzled. Confused. Stressed. Discombobulated. Scatterbrained. These are just a few ways of describing the tendencies of the human mind.

Indeed, it can be difficult to understand ourselves. It’s not altogether uncommon to wonder, “Where’d that thought come from?” It’s a fair question, too! Why do we produce random thoughts – and why are the majority of them self-defeating? To answer this question, we must look at the brain’s two modes: default and focused.

“My mind is like an internet browser. 17 tabs are open, 4 of them are frozen and I don’t know where the music is coming from.” – Unknown (source)

UNDERSTANDING YOUR MIND’S TWO MODES
By understanding your mind’s two modes, you’ll unlock the secret to better focus.

MODE 1: THE DEFAULT MODE

“A wandering mind costs you nothing but is very expensive.” – Amit Sood, M.D.

Did you know that “at rest” really isn’t resting much at all? Neurophysiologists state that the focused mind uses just five percent more than a mind doing nothing in particular. The paradox here is that your mind is always doing something – even when you’re doing nothing – and this comes at an energy cost.

It is when we’re bored that the brain enters its default mode. If the brain could talk, it would say something like this: “Is this something interesting that is worth my time? No? Leave me alone to brood.” This brooding always takes place when the brain is in default mode.

Most people will recognize when their brain is in its default state, but not all. Some people feel as if their attention rarely wanders or enters default mode. Unless you are a monk or a long-time meditation or yoga practitioner, this is probably untrue. But here are a few questions to answer if you think this is the case:

  • Do my family or friends complain that I’m often too distracted?
  • Do I arrive at home with little memory of the commute?
  • Have I become more forgetful?
  • Do I experience mind racing in the shower?
  • Have I ever read a book with no idea of what I just read?
  • Do my thoughts wander when someone is talking or giving a presentation?
  • Do I wake up to a mind whirling with thoughts?

If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of the above questions, your brain was in its default state. Please remember this about the default mode: the default mode takes away from your enjoyment of life; in fact, it often contributes to the pain and suffering you sometimes feel.

MODE 2: THE FOCUSED MODE

“Concentration brings with it a natural job as the mind settles and is absent of distraction.” – Shaila Catherine (source)

The brain’s secondary mode – and unfortunately so – is the focused mode. It’s not a stretch to say that the focused mode is the answer to most of life’s ills. This mode is recognizable when you become absorbed in something and lose track of time. Activities that activate focused mode includes:

  • Eating a delicious meal
  • Reading a good book
  • Watching an enthralling movie
  • Staring at a newborn baby
  • Watching the sunset
  • Solving a meaningful problem

The focused mind is relatively free of distractions, including the inner distractions of anxiety, restlessness, boredom, and so forth. As such, the focused mind is a happy mind. The focused mind becomes activated while you are paying attention to anything interesting and meaningful.

While there aren’t any official statistics on how often a person spends their time in focused mode, it’s probably in the ballpark of 25 percent. But fret not. You can substantially increase the amount of time that you spend in focused mode by committing to do so. This process takes a bit of effort at first but quickly becomes rather effortless. More on this later.

THE HUMAN MIND IS BEAUTIFUL

How powerful is what you just read? Simply by knowing and being mindful of the brain’s two “modes,” you can live a happier, more peaceful, and more meaningful life. Your brain innately understands the differences between the two modes – and the above descriptions should help.

Remember the differences:

Default mode: anxiety, stress, depression, restlessness; internally-focused, directionless.  The majority of people spend most of their time in this state.

Focused mode: content, happy, peaceful; externally-focused, time seems to fly. Most of us only spend about 25 percent in this state.

“WHY CAN’T I STAY IN DEFAULT MODE?”

Listen up as this is a critical point: no matter how much you learn about the brain and its processes, you will never be able to remain in a state of complete focus. How often you can stay in focused mode depends upon your initial capacity for attention, as well as your willingness to learn mindful techniques like meditation.

But what are these things even required? Why can‘t you just stay in a focused state? Well, as great as being focused all of the time sounds, it would be counterproductive and even dangerous.

Our brain has evolved an autonomic system that responds to threats – real or perceived. How important is the autonomic nervous system? Have you ever involuntarily taken a breath or moved to avoid a collision with a car or person? Sure, you have – all of us do this. It’s called survival, and our brain and body are finely tuned to survive in even the most challenging scenarios.

The problem is that the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats. It is when we are prone to mind-wandering that these threats become more challenging and profuse. Biologically, the human brain in its current state is not designed to allow conscious thought to dominate. Will the brain ever reach that point? That remains to be seen.

OVERCOMING RESISTANCE IN THE MIND

“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” – Carl Jung (source)

Read and re-read the following statement as often as you’d like: to resist wandering thoughts is futile. Go ahead, reread it.

One of the first things that someone does when trying to get into a more focused state is to suppress wandering thoughts. Not only does this fail, but it actually makes things worse. Think of trying to resist negative or wandering thoughts as tightening a spring – the harder that you try, the more it recoils.

What is the answer, then? To bring the wandering mind back to the task, whatever it happens to be – whether reading a book, writing a paper, having a conversation, etc. – over and over again without denying other mental states. It is this directing and re-directing of focus that allows your attentional muscles to grow.

Remembering to redirect your attention throughout the day can be challenging, but it isn’t the most challenging part. The hardest part is resisting the urge to criticize yourself for losing focus in the first place. You must try and get over this tendency as much as possible. Not only will self-criticism drain your mental energy, but it may very well derail any efforts to become more focused and mindful.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE HUMAN MIND: A BLUEPRINT FOR FOCUS

“Everyone in your life is vying for your attention.” – Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D. (source)

Here’ s another tidbit that you may want to keep in mind: distractions (i.e. mind wandering) further depletes your brain’s energy levels. In turn, this energy depletion makes it easier to succumb to distractions.

What to do? Here’s a four-point blueprint for maximizing focus.

POINT #1 – MONITOR YOUR ATTENTION.
You must track where your attention is going to make better use of it. When do you feel the most focused and attentive? What things cause you to lose focus on the task at hand? Track these things and prepare a plan of action.

POINT #2 – MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS.
There is a correlation between mental and bodily emotions and energy. If you are feeling happy or content, your brain will be more alert and active than if you’re downtrodden and lethargic. Do the things that make you feel more of the former and less of the things that make you feel more of the latter.

POINT #3 – LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY.
While it may sound downright paradoxical to call upon tech for more focus, the right type of technology can indeed help. Try downloading an app that blocks distracting websites. Or maybe one that tracks productivity and emails daily reports. Do whatever works for you.

POINT #4 – DON’T GIVE UP.
For the vast majority, building up a cognitive reserve of focus is a timely and challenging undertaking. Don’t allow your emotions and negative self-talk (both forms of mind-wandering) to take you off track. If you put in the time and effort, you will be a more focused, happier, and productive individual!

source: https://www.powerofpositivity.com/focus-mind-psychologists-explain/ 

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Dealing with Uncertainty About What Path to Take

The amount of time we spend fretting over what path to take, when we’re feeling uncertain, can sometimes be staggering.
We’re entering into unknown territory, and we don’t know how to proceed. It happens all the time for many of us: we start a new job, launch a new venture, change careers, have to deal with incredible change, decide to write a book or create something online, put ourselves in a new social situation.
Some of the things we do in response to this uncertainty:
  • Extensive research, often to the point of very diminishing returns, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed by how much information we’ve found.
  • Buy books, courses, programs, other materials that we think will guide us — this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but in truth, none of this will give us certainty.
  • Try to find teachers or other people who will guide us, who have been there before — again, hoping that they’ll give us certainty, but often this isn’t a magic pill either.
  • Delay making a decision, putting it off over and over because it’s too hard to decide. Avoid, avoid. This might be the most common option, actually.
  • Give up because you don’t know if you can do it, don’t know what to do, don’t know what the hell you’re doing. This is pretty common too — in fact, most people give up before they even start.
  • These are very common reactions to entering into uncertainty, but usually not very helpful. They get in the way of doing the work and living the life we’d like.
So how do we deal with the uncertain path that we’d like to embark upon?
It’s not always easy, but I’ve found there to be a set of practices that can help tremendously.
The Mindset Shift
The first mindset shift to consider is that uncertainty is not bad, or something to be avoided. It’s a natural part of doing anything meaningful. In fact, feeling uncertainty is a great sign that you’re doing something challenging and meaningful.
Uncertainty can be embraced, opened up to, even loved. We can learn to cherish the uncertainty in our lives, if we shift our mindset and practice with it.
The second mindset shift is to see an uncertain path as a practice opportunity. It’s not something to run from, but a place to stay, so that we can grow, learn, and create.
Every time we feel uncertainty, it can be seen as a calling to open up and practice. To turn towards and try a new way of doing things, rather than indulging in old, unhelpful patterns.
The Uncertainty Practices
So let’s say you’re about to head down an uncertain path — starting a new job, moving into a new phase of your life, writing a book, launching a business or product …
How do you open to the uncertainty and practice with it?
Here’s what I’ve found to be useful, in writing books and launching programs, along with dealing with huge life changes:
  1. Stay in the uncertainty as a practice, and with devotion. You are staying in this place of uncertainty to practice with it, but also to serve those you care deeply about. They are worth it. Remind yourself of them, and that doing this for them is more important than your discomfort with uncertainty. Let yourself feel uncertainty in your body, staying with the sensations in the moment — and learn that it’s not a big deal to feel that uncertainty. With practice, this becomes easier and easier.
  2. Go with the gut (or the heart). If you’re unsure of what path to take (need to make some decisions), it’s easy to get frozen in indecision, because there’s not clear answer. You can ask a hundred people, and not get a clear way to make a decision. You can read a million articles and books, talk to experts, but there’s no right answer. And so, you have to learn to trust your gut. Or your heart. When I’m at a crossroads, what I try to do is sit still for a little while, contemplating the question. I feel into my heart, and decide what feels right. I don’t have any certainty, because there’s no right answer. Instead, I have to trust my gut or heart, and just go with it … the real trust is that even if it’s the wrong answer, I’ll be perfectly fine. More on that bit below.
  3. Embrace the not knowing. So you’ve used your heart to make an uncertain choice … but you don’t know exactly how it will go. That’s OK. In fact, you can embrace this not knowing … it’s like reading a book or watching a movie without knowing how things will unfold. That’s part of the fun! Not knowing is a beautiful thing, even though most of the time we really want to know. Can you take the next step without knowing, being completely open to how things might turn out? Being curious to find out more, without having a fixed idea of how it should be? Letting things be fluid and fresh? Try it and see!
  4. Let things unfold as you walk the path. As you move along this uncertain path, see how things turn out. Notice what you can notice, learn from this new information. For example, if I’m going to launch a new product, I don’t know how people will respond. I can launch it without knowing, and see how they respond, listen to their reactions, talk to them and find out more. If I’m dealing with a health issue, I can try different solutions, noticing how they affect things. I don’t know how things will unfold, but I can walk the path and find out.
  5. Get information, adjust the path. As you let things unfold, you’ll be gathering new information. You’ll learn whether things turned out as you expected or not. You’ll be open to all of this, but it might turn out that you need to make adjustments. For example, when I launched my Fearless Training Program, I didn’t know exactly what people would need in the program, or how they’d respond to the training. Listening to them has helped me to understand better, and I’ve adjusted the program a lot in the past 18 months. Over and over, I listen and learn and adjust. It’s good to build in regular reviews so you can make adjustments as you walk the uncertain path — weekly reviews are great.
  6. Learn to trust you’ll be fine. You might flop on your face — but what’s the worst-case scenario (of all likely outcomes)? Probably nothing too bad. You won’t die, in most cases. What I’ve learned is to trust that things will turn out fine. Not as I expect, but fine. I might fail, but I learn to deal with the failure. A failure is just a way to grow, learn, get better. It’s not the end of the world. Walking the uncertain path, let yourself develop trust in yourself to respond resiliently to whatever happens. With this trust, you’ll learn that you don’t need to avoid the uncertainty.
  7. Create rituals to support the uncertainty. All of this is great in an ideal world — but in reality, we’re likely to go to our old patterns. The way to work with this is through rituals designed to support these practices. For example, you might start your day with meditation, letting yourself feel the uncertainty in your body. You might set a focus session for first thing in your work day, where you let yourself push into uncertainty every day, at least once a day. You might set up a weekly review, where you make adjustments based on how things are unfolding. In that review, you might notice how things are going just fine, and let that cultivate trust in the process and in yourself to handle things. You might get a group of advisors and check in with them once a month, talking to them about your uncertainty. Figure out what rituals you need to support your practice with uncertainty, and set them up.
  8. This path of uncertainty isn’t anything you can’t handle. Many people have walked similar uncertain paths in the past, and are doing so now. You can do it just as well as anyone.
Our paths must contain uncertainty, because no one knows what the hell they’re doing. We’re making it up as we go along, learning as we go, and if we’re conscious about it, we can dance with the uncertainty with a smile on our face.
BY LEO BABAUTA
POSTED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 2020


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Doctors Now Prescribing Music Therapy

Doctors Now Prescribing Music Therapy for Heart Ailments, Brain Dysfunction, Learning Disabilities, Depression, PTSD, Alzheimers, Childhood Development and More

Music has proven time and again to be an important component of human culture. From its ceremonial origin to modern medical usage for personal motivation, concentration, and shifting mood, music is a powerful balm for the human soul. Though traditional “music therapy” encompasses a specific set of practices, the broader use of music as a therapeutic tool can be seen nowadays as doctors are found recommending music for a wide variety of conditions.

Music Helps Control Blood Pressure and Heart-Related Disorders

According to The Cardiovascular Society of Great Britain, listening to certain music with a repetitive rhythm for least ten seconds can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and a reduced heart rate. Certain classical compositions, if matched with human body’s rhythm, can be therapeutically used to keep the heart under control. The Oxford University study states, “listening to music with a repeated 10-second rhythm coincided with a fall in blood pressure, reducing the heart rate” and thus can be used for overcoming hypertension.

Listening and Playing Music Helps Treat Stress and Depression

When it comes to the human brain, music is one of the best medicines. A study at McGill University in Canada revealed that listening to agreeable music encourages the production of beneficial brain chemicals, specifically the “feel good” hormone known as dopamine. Dopamine happens to be an integral part of brain’s pleasure-enhancing system. As a result, music leads to great feeling of joy and bliss.

It’s not only listening to music that has a positive effect on stress and depression. The Namm Foundation has compiled a comprehensive list of benefits of playing music, which includes reducing stress on both the emotional level and the molecular level. Additionally, studies have shown that adults who play music produce higher levels of Human Growth Hormone (HgH), which according to Web MD, is a necessary hormone for regulating body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function.

For more on how music can be composed to benefit the brain, read about States of Consciousness and Brainwave Entrainment.

Music Therapy Helps Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Music therapy has worked wonders on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. With Alzheimer’s, people lose their capacity to have interactions and carry on with interactive communications. According to studies done in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”

Studying Music Boosts Academic Achievement in High Schoolers

Early exposure to music increases the plasticity of brain helping to motivate the human brain’s capacity in such a way that it responds readily to learning, changing and growing. “UCLA professor James S. Catterall analyzed the academic achievement of 6,500 low-income students. He found that, by the time these students were in the 10th grade, 41.4% of those who had taken arts courses scored in the top half on standardized tests, contrasted with only 25% of those who had minimal arts experience. The arts students also were better readers and watched less television.” This goes to show that in the formative stages of life, kids who study music do much better in school.

Playing Guitar (and Other Instruments) Aids in Treating PTSD

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shared a study in which veterans experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experienced relief by learning to play guitar. The organization responsible for providing guitars, Guitars For Vets “enhances the lives of ailing and injured military Veterans by providing them free guitars and music instruction.” Playing music for recovery from PTSD resembles traditional music therapy, in which patients are encouraged to make music as part of their healing process. Guitar is not the only instrument that can help PTSD. In fact, Operation We Are Here has an extensive list of Therapeutic Music Opportunities For Military Veterans.

Studying Music Boosts Brain Development in Young Children

A research-based study undertaken at the University of Liverpool in the field of neuroscience has light to shed on the beneficial effects of early exposure to music. According to the findings, even half an hour of musical training is sufficient to increase the flow of blood in the brain’s left hemisphere, resulting in higher levels of early childhood development.

The Portland Chamber Orchestra shares, “Playing a musical instrument involves multiple components of the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord) nervous systems.  As a musician plays an instrument, motor systems in the brain control both gross and fine movements needed to produce sound.  The sound is processed by auditory circuitry, which in turn can adjust signaling by the motor control centers.  In addition, sensory information from the fingers, hands and arms is sent to the brain for processing.  If the musician is reading music, visual information is sent to the brain for processing and interpreting commands for the motor centers.  And of course, the brain processes emotional responses to the music as well!”

Music Education Helps Children Improve Reading Skills

Journal Psychology of Music reports that “Children exposed to a multi-year program of music tuition involving training in increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.” In the initial stages of learning and development, music arouses auditory, emotional, cognitive and visual responses in a child. Music also aids a child’s kinesthetic development. According to the research-supported evidence, a song facilitates language learning far more effectively than speech.

Listening To Music Helps Improve Sleep

According to The Center for Cardiovascular Disease in China, listening to music before and during sleep greatly aids people who suffer from chronic sleep disorders. This “music-assisted relaxation” can be used to treat both acute and chronic sleep disorders which include everything from stress and anxiety to insomnia.

Playing Didgeridoo Helps Treat Sleep Apnea

A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that people suffering from sleep apnea can find relief by practicing the Australian wind-instrument known as the didgeridoo. Patients who played the didgeridoo for an average of 30-minutes per day, 6 days per week, saw significant increases in their quality of sleep and decreases in daytime tiredness after a minimum period of 3-months of practice. Dr. Jordan Stern of BlueSleep says, “The treatment of sleep apnea is quite challenging because there is not a single treatment that works well for every patient. The didgeridoo has been used to treat sleep apnea and it has been shown to be effective in part because of strengthening of the pharyngeal muscles, which means the muscles of the throat, as well as the muscles of the tongue.”

Written by Didge Project director AJ Block and guest author Gracy Liura.

By AJ Block – March 10, 2016

This article was created in collaboration between Didge Project director AJ Block and guest author Gracy Liura.

Author Bio: AJ Block
AJ Block is the director of Didge Project and is active as a didgeridoo teacher and performer. In addition to didgeridoo, AJ has spent years studying music traditions from all over the world including jazz (trombone and piano), western classical music, Indian Classical Music, guitar and world percussion. AJ has developed a number of programs for Didge Project including The ABCs of Didgeridoo, Didgeridoo Mastery, The Didgeridoo Musicianship Program, and Circular Breathing Mastery. AJ is a founding member of both Sacred Arts Research Foundation and Dream Seed. As a student of spiritual teacher Maestro Manuel Rufino AJ is an active member of the Golden Drum community.


Author Bio: Gracy Liura
Gracy Liura is a nutritionist based in New Delhi who actively works on the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Research portal. One aspect of Gracy’s work is based on the connection between music and the cardio-vascular system of the human body. She says “There are medical set-ups that have introduced slow and soothing music of slower-beat, just to minimize the cost incurred by providing sedatives.” As said previously, light music that flows at the rhythmic rate of ten seconds is effective in lowering the pulse rate. Such compositions also bring high systolic and diastolic pressure under the control, and thus motivate the patients into a state of sound slumber. Not only for therapeutic uses, but if you want to be more successful and more productive than your counterparts; then, you either need to play music, or become an avid listener.

source: https://didgeproject.com

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Listening to Music While Driving Reduces Cardiac Stress

Stress while driving is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as heart attack (myocardial infarction), according to studies published in recent years. Selecting suitable driving music may be one way to mitigate this risk.
A study by researchers at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Marília, Brazil, suggests that listening to instrumental music, for example, may relieve cardiac stress.
The results of the study, which were supported by São Paulo Research Foundation—FAPESP, are published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil, Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom and the University of Parma in Italy also took part in this study.
“We found that cardiac stress in the participants in our experiment was reduced by listening to music while they were driving,” Vitor Engrácia Valenti, a professor at UNESP Marília and a principal investigator of the project, told.
The researchers analyzed the effects of music on cardiac stress in five women between the ages of 18 and 23. All subjects were healthy, considered nonhabitual drivers (they drove once or twice a week), and had obtained a license 1-7 years previously.
“We opted to assess women who were not habitual drivers because people who drive frequently and have had a license for a long time are better adapted to stressful situations in traffic,” Valenti explained.
The volunteers were assessed on two days, in different situations and in a random order. On one day, they drove for 20 minutes at rush hour (5:30-6:30 pm) along a 3 km route in a busy district of Marília, a medium-sized city in the northwest of São Paulo State, without listening to music.
On the other day, the volunteers drove the same route at the same time of day but listened to instrumental music on a CD player coupled to the car radio. The use of earbuds or headphones while driving is a traffic offense.
“To increase the degree of traffic stress, we asked them to drive a car they did not own. Driving their own car might help,” Valenti said.
The level of cardiac stress was estimated by measuring heart rate variability using a heart rate monitor attached to the participant’s chest. Defined as fluctuations in the intervals between consecutive heart beats, heart rate variability is influenced by the autonomic nervous system. The more active the sympathetic nervous system, the faster the heart beats, while the parasympathetic nervous system tends to slow it down.
“Elevated sympathetic nervous system activity reduces heart rate variability, whereas more intense parasympathetic nervous system activity increases it,” Valenti said.
Analysis showed a reduction in heart rate variability in the volunteers who drove without music, indicating a lower level of parasympathetic nervous system activity but sympathetic nervous system activation.
Conversely, heart rate variability increased in the drivers who listened to music, indicating a higher level of parasympathetic nervous system activity and a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity.
“Listening to music attenuated the moderate stress overload the volunteers experienced as they drove,” Valenti said.
The study involved only women to control for the influence of sex hormones, he explained. “If men, as well as women, had participated and we had found a significant difference between the two groups, female sex hormones might have been considered responsible,” he said.
In his view, the results of the study could contribute to the creation of cardiovascular preventative measures in situations of acute stress, such as driving in heavy traffic.
“Listening to music could be such a preventive measure in favor of cardiovascular health in situations of intense stress such as driving during rush hour,” he said.
by Elton Alisson, FAPESP      NOVEMBER 12, 2019


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Study: Memories of Music Cannot Be Lost to Alzheimer’s and Dementia

The part of your brain responsible for ASMR catalogs music, and appears to be a stronghold against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Some music inspires you to move your feet, some inspires you to get out there and change the world. In any case, and to move hurriedly on to the point of this article, it’s fair to say that music moves people in special ways.

If you’re especially into a piece of music, your brain does something called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), which feels to you like a tingling in your brain or scalp. It’s nature’s own little “buzz”, a natural reward, that is described by some as a “head orgasm”. Some even think that it explains why people go to church, for example, “feeling the Lord move through you”, but that’s another article for another time.

Turns out that ASMR is pretty special. According to a recently published study in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease (catchy name!), the part of your brain responsible for ASMR doesn’t get lost to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s tends to put people into layers of confusion, and the study confirms that music can sometimes actually lift people out of the Alzheimer’s haze and bring them back to (at least a semblance of) normality… if only for a short while. ASMR is powerful stuff!

This phenomenon has been observed several times but rarely studied properly. One of the most famous examples of this is the story of Henry, who comes out of dementia while listening to songs from his youth:

Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Radiology at the Univerity of Utah Health and contributing author on the study, says  “In our society, the diagnoses of dementia are snowballing and are taxing resources to the max. No one says playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it might make the symptoms more manageable, decrease the cost of care and improve a patient’s quality of life.”

NED DYMOKE       29 April, 2018

 

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Music Therapy Can Reduce Depression in Children and Teens

Summary: A new study reports music therapy can help to reduce depressive symptoms in children and teens with emotional and behavioral problems.

Researchers at Bournemouth University and Queen’s University Belfast have discovered that music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems.

In partnership with Every Day Harmony (the brand name for Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust), the researchers found that children and young people, aged 8-16-years-old, who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy.

The study, which was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, also found that young people aged 13 and over who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those who received usual care options alone. Music therapy also improved social functioning over time in all age groups.

In the largest ever study of its kind, 251 children and young people were involved in the study, which took place between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups: 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems.

Professor Sam Porter of the Department of Social Sciences and Social Work at Bournemouth University, who led the study, said: “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs. The findings contained in our report should be considered by healthcare providers and commissioners when making decisions about the sort of care for young people that they wish to support.”

In the largest ever study of its kind, 251 children and young people were involved in the study, which took place between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups: 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Bournemouth University.

Dr Valerie Holmes, Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast and co-researcher, added: “This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group.”

Ciara Reilly, Chief Executive of Every Day Harmony, the music therapy charity that was a partner in the research, said: “Music therapy has often been used with children and young people with particular mental health needs, but this is the first time its effectiveness has been shown by a definitive randomised controlled trail in a clinical setting. The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option. For a long time, we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects. I would like to record my gratefulness to the Big Lottery Fund for its vision in providing the resources for this research to be carried out”.

The research team will now look at the data to establish how cost effective music therapy is in relation to other treatments.

Abstract

Music therapy for children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems: a randomised controlled trial

Background

Although music therapy (MT) is considered an effective intervention for young people with mental health needs, its efficacy in clinical settings is unclear. We therefore examined the efficacy of MT in clinical practice.

Methods

Two hundred and fifty-one child (8–16 years, with social, emotional, behavioural and developmental difficulties) and parent dyads from six Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service community care facilities in Northern Ireland were randomised to 12 weekly sessions of MT plus usual care [n = 123; 76 in final analyses] or usual care alone [n = 128; 105 in final analyses]. Follow-up occurred at 13 weeks and 26 weeks postrandomisation. Primary outcome was improvement in communication (Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales) (SSIS) at 13 weeks. Secondary outcomes included social functioning, self-esteem, depression and family functioning.

Results

There was no significant difference for the child SSIS at week 13 (adjusted difference in mean 2.4; 95% CI −1.2 to 6.1; p = .19) or for the guardian SSIS (0.5; 95% CI −2.9 to 3.8; p = .78). However, for participants aged 13 and over in the intervention group, the child SSIS communication was significantly improved (6.1, 95% CI 1.6 to 10.5; p = .007) but not the guardian SSIS (1.1; 95% CI −2.9 to 5.2; p = .59). Overall, self-esteem was significantly improved and depression scores were significantly lower at week 13. There was no significant difference in family or social functioning at week 13.

Conclusions

While the findings provide some evidence for the integration of music therapy into clinical practice, differences relating to subgroups and secondary outcomes indicate the need for further study. ISRCTN Register; ISRCTN96352204.

“Music therapy for children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems: a randomised controlled trial” by Sam Porter, Tracey McConnell, Katrina McLaughlin, Fiona Lynn, Christopher Cardwell, Hannah-Jane Braiden, Jackie Boylan, Valerie Holmes, and On behalf of the Music in Mind Study Group in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online October 27 2016 doi:10.1111/jcpp.12656


ABOUT THIS PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH ARTICLE

Source: Bournemouth University 
Original Research: Full open access research for “Music therapy for children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems: a randomised controlled trial” by Sam Porter, Tracey McConnell, Katrina McLaughlin, Fiona Lynn, Christopher Cardwell, Hannah-Jane Braiden, Jackie Boylan, Valerie Holmes, and On behalf of the Music in Mind Study Group in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online October 27 2016 doi:10.1111/jcpp.12656

NOVEMBER 5, 2016


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How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

A lot of so-called “positive psychology” can seem a bit flaky, especially if you’re the sort of person disinclined to respond well to an admonition to “look on the bright side.” But positive psychologists have published some interesting findings, and one of the more robust ones is that feeling grateful is very good for you. Time and again, studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits, such as feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression, that often linger well after the exercises are finished.

Now a brain-scanning study in NeuroImage brings us a little closer to understanding why these exercises have these effects. The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.

The Indiana University researchers, led by Prathik Kini, recruited 43 people who were undertaking counseling sessions as a treatment for their anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of them were assigned to a gratitude intervention; for the first three sessions of their weekly counseling, this group spent 20 minutes writing a letter in which they expressed their gratitude to the recipient, an hour in total (whether they chose to send these letters was up to them). The other participants acted as a control group, so they simply attended their counseling as usual without performing the gratitude task.

Three months after their counseling was over, all of the participants completed a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task in a brain scanner. Each was “given” various amounts of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and photos appeared onscreen to add to the realism of the task. The researchers told the participants that each benefactor said that if the participant wanted to express their gratitude for the monetary gift, they’d appreciate it if the participant gave some or all of the donation to a named third party (again, identified by photo and name), or a named charity. The participants knew this was all an exercise, but were all told that one of the transactions, chosen later at random, would actually occur — that is, they’d actually receive the cash amount offered to them by one of the benefactors minus the amount they chose to pass on (and the money they opted to pass on really would go to charity).

The researchers found that, on average, the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude they reported feeling, the more activity they exhibited in a range of brain areas in the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. Interestingly, these neural-activity patterns appeared somewhat distinct from those that usually appear when brain-scan subjects complete tasks associated with emotions like empathy or thinking about other people’s points of view, which is consistent with the idea that gratitude is a unique emotion.

gratitude

Most exciting, though, is the finding that the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as “particularly noteworthy,” and they highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity — the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people — overlaps with a key brain region identified in the only previous study on the neurological footprint of gratitude.

This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.

However, let’s not allow the warm glow of all this gratitude to melt our critical faculties. It’s important to realize this result is incredibly preliminary. For one thing, as the researchers openly acknowledge, they didn’t conduct a baseline brain scan of the participants before they started the Pay It Forward game, so it’s possible, though unlikely given that participants were randomly assigned to the gratitude and control groups, that the participants who performed the gratitude task simply had more neural sensitivity to gratitude already, not because they performed the gratitude task. Another thing: Members of the control group didn’t perform a comparison writing task, so we can’t know for sure that it was the act of writing a letter of thanks, as opposed to any kind of writing exercise, that led to increased neural sensitivity to gratitude.

Still, neurological investigations into gratitude are in their early days, and this research certainly gives us some intriguing clues as to how and why gratitude exercises are beneficial. For that we can be, well, grateful.

Dr. Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer), a Science of Us contributing writer, is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. His latest book is Great Myths of the Brain.

By Christian Jarrett   JAN. 7, 2016