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A Connection Between a ‘Calm Mind’ and Better Capacity for Self-Control

Summary: People with greater self-control have calmer minds, which in itself generates fewer distractions from stimuli.

People who have a “calmer mind”—that is, their neuronal processes take longer on average and whirl around less than others—have greater self-control.

This was the finding of Dr. Tobias Kleinert, Prof. Dr. Markus Heinrichs and Dr. Bastian Schiller from the Department of Psychology at the University of Freiburg, together with Prof. Dr. Kyle Nash and Dr. Josh Leota from the University of Alberta/Canada, and Prof. Dr. Thomas König from the University Hospital of Bern/Switzerland.

Their research is being published in the journal Psychological Science. The paper has been accepted and is already available online as a preprint.

“Self-controlled behavior is important to achieving long-term objectives—for example when we do without high-calorie food to lose surplus pounds,” explains Schiller.

Why is this easier for some people than for others? Are these individual differences based in a fundamentally different organization of the brain?

To find answers to these questions, the Freiburg researchers recorded the electrical activity in the brains of over 50 relaxed yet wakeful participants in the laboratory.

The scientists also recorded the participants’ capacity for self-control in other ways: self-evaluation reports, behavioral tasks and the brain activity recorded while they did these tasks. The results of the study carried out at the University of Freiburg were confirmed in a second cooperative study that took place at the University of Alberta/Canada, with more than 100 subjects.

“On both sides of the Atlantic we were able to prove a robust connection between non-task-dependent neuronal processing and the capacity for self-control,” explains Kleinert.

Schiller says, “Our results indicate that people with greater self-control have a calmer mind, which in itself generates fewer distracting stimuli.”

Heinrichs adds that “these findings are hugely significant to a better understanding of clinical disorders associated with deficient self-control processes.”

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Abstract

A Self-Controlled Mind is Reflected by Stable Mental Processing

Self-control–the ability to inhibit inappropriate impulses–predicts economic, physical, and psychological well-being. However, recent findings demonstrate low correlations among self-control measures, raising the questions what self-control actually is.

Here, we examine the idea that people high in self-control show more stable mental processing, characterized by fewer, but longer lasting processing steps due to fewer interruptions by distracting impulses.

To test this hypothesis, we relied on resting EEG microstate analysis, a method that provides access to the stream of mental processing by assessing the sequential activation of neural networks.

Across two samples (N1=58 male adults from Germany; N2=101 adults from Canada [58 females]), the temporal stability of resting networks (i.e., longer durations and fewer occurrences) was positively associated with self-reported self-control and a neural index of inhibitory control, and negatively associated with risk-taking behavior.

These findings suggest that stable mental processing represents a core feature of a self-controlled mind.

 

University of Freiburg    August 15, 2022

Original Research:  A Self-Controlled Mind is Reflected by Stable Mental Processing” by Tobias Kleinert et al. Psychological Science

source: neurosciencenews.com


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4 Ways To Boost Your Well-Being And Happiness 

These are the four psychological pillars of well-being-being.

Awareness, connection, insight and purpose are the four pillars of psychological well-being, a study concludes.

In the face of rising mental health problems, made worse by the pandemic, these pillars can help everyone improve their emotional well-being.

The researchers focus on areas that can be improved with training or other effortful practice:

  • Awareness: being attentive to ones’ environment and one’s own body.
  • Connections: experiencing kindness and compassion.
  • Insight: increasing curiosity and self-knowledge
  • Purpose: understanding one’s motivations and values.

 

Dr Cortland Dahl, the study’s first author, said:

“There are qualities of a healthy mind that many people don’t know are even trainable.

We don’t think of them as skills.

Many of us have thought we are hardwired to be like this or that, but the reality is these qualities are much more trainable and malleable than we think.

It’s a very empowering view of the human mind — we can learn to be in the driver’s seat of our own mind.”

Increasing awareness, for example, helps increase positive emotions and reduce stress.

Awareness also helps to reduce mentally damaging habits like distraction.

A common way to improve awareness is through meditation.

 

Meditation, though, describes a huge range of different practices, Dr Dahl said:

“Different types of meditation do different things for your brain, just as different sports trigger different changes in your body.

You can train your mind in different pillars that go beyond mindfulness or even gratitude practices.”

happiness

Cultivating insight, meanwhile, explained Professor Richard Davidson, study co-author, is…

“…about getting curious about your own preconceived thoughts and opinions.

Your brain is not set.

You can question your own assumptions and biases, and this has tremendous potential to heal the division and ‘othering’ that we see in today’s society.”

 

Even if our circumstances are difficult to change, our minds can be trained, said Dr Dahl:

“This work is parallel with what we’re learning about human biology.

We’re just at the beginning of understanding that our biology is also malleable.

We are not born a certain fixed way.

Our brains and nervous systems and biology can be shaped.

That’s such a hopeful view to have — there are many ways we can influence our minds, brains and bodies for the better.”

 

A few resources to get you started

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Dahl et al., 2020).

About the author

Psychologist Jeremy Dean, PhD, is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. 

September 5, 2022

source : PsyBlog


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Nine benefits of antioxidants: From disease prevention to healthy aging

We explore the well-known — and the lesser-known — benefits of antioxidants

What are the benefits of antioxidants? From blueberries to pumpkin, and beyond, there are many antioxidant-rich foods. Although the word antioxidant may be a bit of a mystery, what antioxidants do in the body is straightforward. An antioxidant is a compound that inhibits oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce chain reactions and free radicals, and therefore has the potential of doing damage to the body’s cells.

You may already be familiar with some of the most important antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids like beta-carotene. Most of the antioxidant rich foods in which you find them – especially in high quantities – are fruits, vegetables and other naturally occurring plant foods. Berries, carrots, coffee, red grapes, green tea, turmeric, onions, peppers, avocados, radishes, kale and lemon are all great foods to consume in order to get your daily dose.

But what does your daily dose do? Even the knowledge that antioxidants are good for you and how they function in the body to benefit you isn’t enough to say precisely what sensations and improvements they are responsible for. So here are nine benefits of getting your daily serving of antioxidants.

1. THEY REDUCE OXIDATIVE STRESS

Oxidative stress is a form of physiological stress caused by an imbalance between the production and accumulation of oxygen-reactive species in the cells and tissue. This can result in a gap in a system’s ability to detoxify reactive products. While this may seem abstract, research shows that oxidative stress can be responsible for the onset of diseases like cancer, diabetes, metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. By consuming antioxidants you can prevent that state of oxidative stress, which can set you up for success in many areas of your health.

2. THEY SUPPORT DISEASE PREVENTION

Most of the disease-prevention capabilities associated with antioxidants are also related to oxidative stress. A report in Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences shows that by reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants can support normal cellular function and offer additional protection against diseases. Antioxidants have been linked to lower rates of cancer, tumors, diabetes, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders in many cases. Although research is ongoing, the outlook on their impact is positive.

3. THEY SUPPORT EYE HEALTH

Introducing more antioxidant rich foods into your diet can have a particularly effective impact on your risk for certain major eye concerns, specifically, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. In fact, a 2013 study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging(opens in new tab) found that it may also slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Beta-carotene and vitamin E are also quite well known for these properties.

antioxidents

4. THEY AID IN BRAIN FUNCTION

Did you know that due to the amount of oxygen the brain uses in daily functioning through naturally high metabolic activity, it is more susceptible than most of the body’s other systems to free radical attack? One of the major ways you can protect your brain against this attack is by consuming antioxidants. Specifically, antioxidants have the potential to delay various forms of cognitive decline, like memory loss. This is all related to oxidative stress, too, which can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss and decline in cognitive function.

5. THEY CAN CONTRIBUTE TO MENTAL HEALTH IMPROVEMENTS

Brain health and mental health are different from one another, but antioxidants can lend both a helping hand. Research in Current Neuropharmacology shows that oxidative stress is often related to anxiety and depression. Although eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes a rich array of antioxidants isn’t a replacement for proper mental health medication or care, it is among the lifestyle changes that can be of help to plenty of individuals.

6. THEY CAN REDUCE INFLAMMATION

Inflammation often gets a bad rap, but it’s not always negative or concerning. In fact, inflammation serves an important purpose in the body, within reason. Inflammation is the process of your white blood cells protecting you against infections from outside the body, such as bacteria. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable, or necessary.

Inflammation can manifest in a variety of symptoms, including headaches, joint and muscle pain. The way that antioxidants prevent inflammation is relatively simple; as they protect the cells from damage, they can prevent those unwanted inflammatory responses from occurring at all.

7. THEY SUPPORT HEALTHY AGING PROCESSES

Amid claims that a diet rich in antioxidants can slow, prevent or even reverse the aging process, it’s time to set the record straight. There’s nothing that can scientifically disrupt the aging process. However, there is evidence to suggest that antioxidants can support a healthy aging process. From the mental elements of improving memory and preventing Alzheimer’s, to general disease prevention (and even playing a vital role in the bone remodeling process), antioxidants can work to keep the body protected and agile throughout the aging process.

8. THEY CAN KEEP THE SKIN HEALTHY

Antioxidants can contribute to healthy aging on the inside, and they can also do the same on the outside. By helping to fight free radical damage, antioxidants can offer extra protection for the skin. Not only can the prevention of inflammation help to ward off things like redness, puffiness, and premature aging, but antioxidants can also protect against UV sun damage (which causes premature aging and wrinkles).

One of the most common and effective antioxidants for skin care is vitamin C. Vitamin C can help reverse and prevent discoloration, as well as aid in collagen production. And one of the best ways to use vitamin C for the skin is to apply it topically. This is why so many skin and face products contain vitamin C. In skin care products, you’ll often see it listed as L-ascorbic acid and/or ester-C.

9. THEY PARTICIPATE IN A HEALTHY GUT MICROBIOME

Your gut health has the potential to impact your body from head to toe. Everything from your mental health to your skin can be affected by the state of your gut microbiome and it really is a microbiome — complete with healthy bacteria that keeps everything in balance.

Research in the journal Antioxidants shows that antioxidants can reduce intestinal oxidative stress levels by modulating the composition of beneficial microbial species within the gut. This can help to provide a strong and balanced foundation for your gut health. Antioxidants are just one part of a healthy, balanced diet and they can give you a boost from the inside out – as if you needed another reason to eat your fruits and veggies!

Jamie Kahn        August 26, 2022

source: www.livescience.com


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Stretching, range of motion and aerobic exercise all slow cognitive decline, study says

Cheer up couch potatoes! Regular stretching and balance and range of motion exercises are as good as aerobic exercise in slowing the progression of mild cognitive decline, a new study has found.

“My worry in the beginning of the study was ‘What if only aerobic makes a difference? Good luck getting the majority of Americans to do aerobic exercise on a regular basis!’ It’s not sustainable,” said study author Laura Baker, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, via email.

“But we found that cognitive function did not decline over 12 months for either intervention group — the people who did aerobic exercise or the people who did stretching, balance and range of motion,” Baker said.

Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, welcomed the findings that a modest amount of exercise – 120 to 150 minutes per week for 12 months – may slow cognitive decline in sedentary older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Tanzi, who was not involved in the study, has examined the role of exercise in mice genetically bred to have Alzheimer’s disease and found exercise induces the birth of new neurons in the section of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s while also boosting beneficial growth factors that improve neural activity.

“So often, the benefits of interventions observed in Alzheimer’s mouse models do not translate to human patients. It is nice to see that in this new study, the benefits of exercise perhaps do translate from mice to human,” said Tanzi, who directs the genetics and aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Tai-Chi-in-Park

WHAT IS MILD COGNITIVE DECLINE?

The study, presented Tuesday at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, followed 296 participants who were completely sedentary at the beginning of the experiment. All had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment – the earliest stage of the slow slide into dementia.

“Individuals who have mild cognitive impairment are not cognitively normal, but they don’t have dementia,” Baker said. “They’re fully capable of taking care of themselves, but what they have to go through to do so is exhausting.

“‘I can’t remember where I’m supposed to be. Let me check my calendar. Oh, I forgot to write on this calender. Let’s check another calendar. Oh, I can’t find that calendar. I’ve lost my phone. Where is the key? I can’t find the key.’

“They’re able to regroup in the early stages and accomplish things,” Baker said, “but the toll is immense.”

Participants in the study underwent cognitive testing and then were randomized into two groups. One group did moderate-intensity aerobic training on treadmills or stationary bikes, striving for a goal of 70% to 85% of heart rate reserve: “That’s about 120 heartbeats per minute for about 30 to 40 minutes for a standard 70-year-old,” Baker said.

The other group did stretching, balance and range of motion exercises designed to allow them to move their body in ways that would help them navigate in real life.

“Folks in the balance-range of motion group said they were thrilled – they could go to soccer games with grandchildren without being concerned about tripping, or they could drive and turn their neck to see the back, which they had not been able to do before,” Baker said.

IMPORTANCE OF SUPPORT

Both groups exercised twice a week with a personal trainer and then two other times weekly on their own for the first 12 months. Combined, the groups completed more than 31,000 exercise sessions during that time, Baker said.

At the end of the 12 months, cognitive function had not declined in either group. That’s impressive, Baker said, because a control group of equally matched people with mild cognitive impairment – who did not exercise – did decline.

Studies have shown that social support is also key to improving brain health. So is it possible the results of the study were due to an increase of social support and not the exercise?

“Well, we don’t know for sure,” Baker said. “But there is enough science showing the benefits of exercise on brain health alone. So this is not something to sweep under the carpet.

“And our recommendation would never be for people with mild cognitive impairment to do this alone,” she added. “They are going to need support. So exercise alone is not a prescription. Exercise with support is a prescription, and that is going to be our recommendation.”

Sandee LaMotte     Published Aug. 2, 2022 

source: CTV


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Moderate Drinking Linked To Brain Changes And Cognitive Decline

Summary:

Consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week is associated with higher iron levels in the brain, according to a study of almost 21,000 people. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.

FULL STORY

Consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week is associated with higher iron levels in the brain, according to a study of almost 21,000 people publishing July 14 in the open access journal PLOS Medicine. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.

There is growing evidence that even moderate alcohol consumption can adversely impact brain health. Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues explored relationships between alcohol consumption and brain iron levels. Their 20,965 participants from the UK Biobank reported their own alcohol consumption, and their brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Almost 7,000 also had their livers imaged using MRI to assess levels of systemic iron. All individuals completed a series of simple tests to assess cognitive and motor function.

Participants’ mean age was 55 years old and 48.6% were female. Although 2.7% classed themselves as non-drinkers, average intake was around 18 units per week, which translates to about 7½ cans of beer or 6 large glasses of wine. The team found that alcohol consumption above seven units per week was associated with markers of higher iron in the basal ganglia, a group of brain regions associated with control of motor movements, procedural learning, eye movement, cognition, emotion and more. Iron accumulation in some brain regions was associated with worse cognitive function.

This is the largest study to date of moderate alcohol consumption and iron accumulation. Although drinking was self-reported and could be underestimated, this was considered the only feasible method to establish such a large cohort’s intake. A limitation of the work is that MRI-derived measures are indirect representations of brain iron, and could conflate other brain changes observed with alcohol consumption with changes in iron levels.

Given the prevalence of moderate drinking, even small associations can have substantial impact across whole populations, and there could be benefits in interventions to reduce consumption in the general population.

alcohol

Topiwala adds, “In the largest study to date, we found drinking greater than 7 units of alcohol weekly associated with iron accumulation in the brain. Higher brain iron in turn linked to poorer cognitive performance. Iron accumulation could underlie alcohol-related cognitive decline.”

Journal Reference:

Anya Topiwala, Chaoyue Wang, Klaus P. Ebmeier, Stephen Burgess, Steven Bell, Daniel F. Levey, Hang Zhou, Celeste McCracken, Adriana Roca-Fernández, Steffen E. Petersen, Betty Raman, Masud Husain, Joel Gelernter, Karla L. Miller, Stephen M. Smith, Thomas E. Nichols. Associations between moderate alcohol consumption, brain iron, and cognition in UK Biobank participants: Observational and mendelian randomization analyses. PLOS Medicine, 2022; 19 (7): e1004039 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004039

Story Source: Materials provided by PLOS. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

July 14, 2022

source: www.sciencedaily.com


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Having a ‘Life Purpose’ Is Linked with Better Brain Health, Study Shows

  • New research shows that positive mental well-being may help protect brain health as we age.
  • The findings strongly linked having purpose and meaning in life with a reduced risk for mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
  • Meaningful activities that engage the mind, body, and spirit may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The meaning of life might just be about finding meaning in life itself.

A new meta-analysis in Ageing Research Reviews suggests that a life lived with purpose and meaning is good for brain health, offering implications for cognitive impairment in older adults..

According to the National Institute on Aging, people over 65 will account for 16% of the world’s population by 2050 — a 50% increase from 2010. The global prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is expected to triple by 2050Trusted Source, from about 57 million to 152 million.

While prior evidence shows that a healthy lifestyle — such as keeping your brain active, regular exercise, and a balanced diet — reduces the risk of dementia, the new research offers insight into how psychological well-being may also play an important role in slowing cognitive decline.

How does having a sense of purpose improve brain health?

Older adults with dementia face increased risks for mental health conditions like depression.

Prior research has shown a strong link between positive psychology and physical health outcomes, while healthy aging research shows that mental well-being may play a role in longevity.

To better understand how mental well-being is associated with cognitive function and dementia risk, researchers at University College London examined data from 62,250 people across three continents with an average age of 60.

The systematic review of 11 studies observed the link between positive psychological constructs (PPCs) like purposeful living and the risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in older adults.

The results indicate that having purpose and meaning in life is significantly associated with a 19% reduced risk for dementia. This was more statistically significant than other positive constructs like optimism and happiness.

Still, the mixed findings for different PPCs highlight a need for further research to explore the causal relationship between positive psychological factors and cognitive health.

Purpose vs. happiness: What’s the difference?

Georgia Bell, a PhD student at University College London and lead author of the study, told Psych Central that purposeful living may be more impactful for reducing MCI risk than happiness due to the differences between eudemonic (e.g., purpose or meaning) and hedonic (e.g., positive affect or pleasure) well-being.

“People with higher eudemonic well-being may be more likely to engage in other protective behaviors, such as exercise and social interactions,” Bell said by email.

“Whilst an individual may gain happiness from these, the goal-oriented pursuit to live in a way that is purposeful [or] meaningful may act as motivation to live a healthier lifestyle.”

Hedonic pursuits

David A. Merrill, MD, an adult and geriatric psychiatrist, and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center in Santa Monica, California, explained that hedonic activities that bring you happiness are often fleeting, satisfying needs or urges.

“The hedonistic pursuit of happiness can involve mindless or unhealthy behaviors, like overindulgence, at times,” Merrill said by phone.

Eudemonic pursuits

According to Merrill, eudemonic pursuits meet a certain human need through purpose or meaning.

Older adults may find meaning in strengthening interpersonal relationships, especially for those who’ve lost loved ones or have become estranged from other family members.

“If you can find a purpose in deepening your relationships with others, that may end up promoting all these other health behaviors that protect your brain and your body,” Merrill said.

hugs

The science of living with purpose

If having purpose or meaning in life leads to better brain health, it’s possible that biological and neurological factors play a role.

For instance, a study published in April 2022 in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience shows that life satisfaction increases with age due to the increased release of oxytocin.

According to Bell, it’s possible that purpose and meaning are also associated with key dementia-related biomarkers, such as neuroinflammation and cellular stress response.

“Whilst we offer possible explanations, we would like to emphasize these are only speculative and largely based on mechanisms for depression and dementia risk,” Bell said. “More research is needed to better understand this.”

Merrill agreed that having a purpose could play a protective role in decreasing the stress response. “If you have lower levels of cortisol, then hopefully it’s dampening any chronic neuroinflammation response or cellular response,” Merrill said.

What lifestyles can improve brain function?

Exercise is good for the body and the brain. Research shows that lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and social connectedness, may be helpful for preventing cognitive decline.

An April 2022 study published in The BMJe suggests that a healthy lifestyle is associated with a longer life expectancy and a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Meanwhile, a March 2022 study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia suggests that managing cholesterol and glucose in early adulthood can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

If purposeful living is indeed a protective factor for memory loss, Merrill suggested modifying your behaviors to pursue meaningful activities.

“Excessive amounts of resting or inactivity aren’t really promoting physical health or brain health,” Merrill said.

“Just because you’re happy that you’ve obtained or achieved something, it may not necessarily reinforce any of the positive biological effects that are related to behaviors that improve physical health or brain health.”

Purpose-driven tips to promote brain health

Pursuing purpose protects against depression, and depression is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

“When people are not depressed, they take better care of themselves overall — from their general physical health to their mental well-being, social connectedness, and activities.”

Merrill recommends goal-directed activities that are cognitively stimulating and help you stay physically active and engaged.

“There’s a chain reaction of positive events when you’re pursuing purpose,” Merrill said. “You’re boosting your mood, which boosts how well you take care of yourself.

Try engaging in volunteer work

If volunteering gives you purpose, you might prioritize a good night’s sleep and nutritious breakfast to hold yourself accountable for the job you need to do. You’re also socializing and connecting with others who are passionate about the same cause.

Spend more time outside

A large body of research shows that being outside in nature is beneficial for mental and physical health and improves cognitive function. Outdoor activities also tend to inspire social connections with others.

Prioritize your relationships

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest studies of adult life for more than 80 years, found a strong link between longevity and meaningful relationships.

According to Merrill, nurturing our relationships with our family, friends, and community, may also help protect us against depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Well-being and health are related to the success of our relationships,” Merrill said. “Purposefulness can decrease the pain that comes from disconnect, shame, and isolation.”

Takeaway

While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a healthier lifestyle combining diet, exercise, and purpose may help prevent cognitive impairment in older adults.

Still, adults of all ages may wish to consider how we could make our lives more meaningful now.

Remember, there’s a distinct difference between hedonistic pleasures and purposeful activities.

Engaging in what gives you purpose and meaning may also make you more inclined to choose other healthy behaviors.

“It’s kind of futile to just chase after pleasure,” Merrill said. “Purposefulness, by happy coincidence, activates these other behavioral changes that are healthy for your body and your brain.”

source: psychcentral.com


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What You Focus On Is What Becomes Powerful – Why Your Thoughts and Feelings Matter

What you focus on is what becomes becomes powerful. The message is real and comes fortified with some serious science. It’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. The research around it has caught fire and the findings are powerful. The implications for all of us are profound.

At the heart of the research is the finding that experience changes the brain. Just think about that for a minute: You have incredible capacity to change your brain through your experiences. Up until the last decade or so, it was thought that the brain stayed fairly much the same and wasn’t open to influence or change. We now know that just isn’t true.

Each of us has a brain that is designed to be malleable and plastic and open to our influence. It is constantly shaping itself to be the best one it can be for us. Our experiences are the fuel for this shaping and everything we see, feel, experience, sense and do is slowly but surely changing the architecture of our brains, sending gentle instruction on how they can build to best support us.

How does it work?

Between the walls of our skulls, billions of neurons (brain cells) work together to shape us into the humans we are. Different neurons are responsible for different parts of our experience, whether it’s eating, feeling, sleeping, sensing threat, firing up, falling in love, spelling, laughing, remembering, learning, nurturing – you get the idea. Being human is complicated and our brain drives all of it – it’s no wonder we are still discovering its secrets.

Every time you have an experience, the relevant neurons switch on and start firing. As this happens, neural connections get stronger and new synapses start growing.

Even as you read this, sparks are flying in your head. About 100 billion neurons are waiting and ready to act, but not all of them will be recruited. The ones that are will depend on the experience you’re having. The neurons that are connected to your immediate experience – what you are feeling, thinking, seeing, sensing, doing, experiencing – will fire and new connections will start to form within minutes. The more connected the neurons, the stronger that area of the brain, the more responsive and effective it will be.

The neurons that aren’t as needed will eventually wither away. This withering away is normal and healthy and is one way the brain grows into its most efficient self. You can’t grow the edges of your head so your brain occupies some precious real estate. The space is reserved for the neurons that you need the most – the ones that will best support you given the life you’re living.

Every time we have an experience, the corresponding neurons are activated. Every time they are activated, they are elevated a little in the order of importance. Repeating or prolonging an experience will keep the connections between neurons strong and ensure that they stay. This is why, for example, we can recite the alphabet without thinking. It’s not because we were born baby geniuses with a cute alphabet jingle imprinted into our brains. It’s because throughout our childhood, we sing the alphabet song and have it sung to us so many times, that the relevant neurons are repeatedly activated enough to eventually form rock solid connections.

Experience doesn’t just effect change by creating new connections and strengthening existing ones. It also seems to reach into our genes (the tiny atoms in the DNA inside the nuclei of neurons) and change the way they function. A regular practice of mindfulness, for example, will increase the activity of genes that have the capacity to soothe a stress reaction in the heat of a moment, ultimately making you more able to deal with stress.

Everything you experience will alter the physical structure of your brain in some way. The things you do, the people you spend time with, every feeling, thought, and automatic experience will influence the wiring of your brain to make you who you are and to influence who you can become.

Brains can change. Let me tell you a true story …

A bunch of neuroscientists wanted to explore how brains can change. To do this, they called on London cab drivers and some serious brain imaging.

In order to become a London taxi driver, would-be cabbies have to pass ‘The Knowledge’. This is a test of memory and is one of the most difficult tests in the world to pass. It involves memorising at least 320 basic routes, 25,000 streets within those routes and about 20,000 landmarks and places of interest. It usually takes about 4 years of committed study and at the end of it, those who have done the work end up with what amounts to a roadmap of London imprinted onto their brains.

A series of brain scans conducted on a group of drivers after their training revealed that their brains had actually changed to support their learning. Prior to the learning, the part of their brains responsible for spatial memory (the posterior hippocampus) was much the same as everyone else’s. Fast forward to the end of training, and it was found to be significantly larger. The longer a cabbie had been in the job, the bigger that part of their brain. Learning and repeated experience had changed the brain according to the job it was needed for.

stop complaining“The quality of your thoughts
creates the quality of your life.”

Why it’s SO important to be deliberate about who you’re with and what you do.

Experiences matter. They matter in the moment and in the way they can change the brain beyond the immediate moment.

Your brain will build and change whether you like it or not.  It’s so important to build it in the direction you want it to build it. Think of it as a mark on a page. At first, the mark might be so faint as to not even be noticeable, but keep going over the mark, even with the slightest of pressure, and that mark will get more defined and more permanent. Your attention and focus will always be somewhere – maybe many places – which means there are wirings and firings happening all the time, strengthening what’s there or creating something new.

If you aren’t deliberate and conscious in shaping your brain, other people and experiences will do this for you. Experiences, situations and people – positive or negative – will leave lasting traces on your brain by way of strengthened neural pathways.

By being purposeful about your experience, and the experiences you repeat or spend longer doing, you can have a direct influence over how your brain strengthens and grows and the pathways that are most likely to endure – but it does take a deliberate and conscious effort.

What you focus on will determine the parts of your brain that fire, wire and strengthen. Then, as those parts of the brain switch on and the neurons start firing, lasting connections will be made, strengthening memories and influencing what the brain will attend to in the future (positive or negative).

If you let your mind settle on self-criticism, self-loathing, pain, distress, stress, worry, fear, regret, guilt, these feelings and thoughts will shape your brain. You will be more vulnerable to worry, depression, anxiety, and be more likely to notice the negatives of a situation, frame things in a negative way, and be barrelled off track by what you could have or should have done.

On the other hand, if you focus on positive feelings and frame situations with a tilt towards the positive, eventually your brain will take on a shape that reflects this, hardwiring and strengthening connections around resilience, optimism, gratitude, positive emotion and self-esteem.

The power to change your brain. We all have it. Here’s how to use it.

We are wired to notice threat and bad feelings. This is  completely normal and healthy and it’s what has kept us alive for thousands of years. We humans are brilliant when it comes to noticing the bad, analysing it, and hanging on to it until we learn something from it. It’s called the negativity bias and it’s powerful.

The problem is that while it is our very human way to notice the bad, it is also human to let the good slide right of us. It’s not unusual that in a day of good conversation, fabulous people and enriching experiences, your mind will stick with the one argument, the one bad phone call or the one jerk that crossed your path. Imagine if it could be the other way around, with the good sticking and the bad sliding away into the ‘doesn’t matter’ zone. Because we humans are powerful creatures, we can go one better than imagining it – we can do it, but it takes a hard and deliberate push, which is okay – because we all have that in us.

First, we have to switch on to the good and be deliberate in noticing positive experiences. This might be more difficult than it sounds, particularly if you have a brain that, like many beautifully human brains, is well-trained in noticing the bad.

When you have the good in your radar, let your mind settle on it for long enough to start the neurons firing in your brain. Don’t just notice it, feel it. Hold on to it for at least 20 seconds. After this time, the experience will be hardwiring into your brain, firing neurons and strengthening the connections that will ultimately shape your experience.

This will start to grow these parts of your brain and shape a brain that is able to notice the good, respond to the bad and move forward, rather than stay stuck.

If the positive experience isn’t ready and waiting in front of you, do what you can to create it. It doesn’t have to be monumental. Try calling on a memory, listening to a song, making a phone call, organising a catch-up, playing or doing something that makes you feel nurtured. When you do, make the feeling stay. It might want to fade away, but don’t let it, not straight away.

Like any habit, noticing the good takes time to become automatic. Notice how quickly you notice the bad and let go of the good. Be deliberate in balancing things up and gradually, this in itself will also change your brain.

Does this mean negative feelings are a no-go?

Negative feelings are never a no-go. Being deliberate in focusing on the positive doesn’t mean that we have to pretend the negative doesn’t exist. Negative feelings are important too and deserve to be there. They guide us to withdraw when we need space to heal, they alert us to problem people or situations and they act as a warning sign. Negative feelings should be honoured as much as positive ones but they will come with a cost if they are allowed to take over.

The neurons that fire together, will wire and cause lasting changes in the brain. Staying in bad feelings beyond their usefulness is will do damage. It’s like going over and over the mark that serves no useful purpose but to keep a wound open. Every time you go over it, you’re making it a little heavier, a little stronger, a little harder for you to exist without its influence.

It’s always okay to feel the bad, to sit with it and to explore the wisdom that it contains. The wisdom will always be in there somewhere. Certainly an avoidance of negative emotions will have its own costs.

To stop the negative running away and doing damage, actively work towards balance wherever you can. Take some time to focus on your resilience, your courage, your strength, your inner wisdom. If you are feeling lonely, take time to draw on memories or people who love and appreciate you. Whether it’s a ‘hey there’ text, an invitation, a photo, a memory. If you are feeling drained, take time to draw on experiences that nourish you.

When the experiences happen, let the feelings stay for long enough to let them do their important work. Notice the bad, feel it, let it bring you new wisdom, but don’t keep watching it in the rear view mirror when there are other things around you that can start to move you forward.

And finally …

By directing your focus and staying with your experience, you can change your brain and shape it towards a more positive, compassionate, resilient, kinder, happier, more empowered and contented way of being. You can turn positive experiences into positive brain changes, which will in turn change your day to day experience.

What you focus on is powerful. The brain will build around what it rests upon. Whether we view the world through a lens that is sad or happy, optimistic or hopeless, whether we are open to love or quick to close it down is all directed by our brain. What you pay attention to will shape your brain, which in turn will shape your experiences, your relationships, your life.

by Karen Young

source: www.heysigmund.com


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Mindfulness May Improve Brain Health And Cognition In Older Adults

Although mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.

Mindfulness may provide modest benefits to cognition, particularly among older adults, finds a new review of evidence led by UCL researchers.

The systematic review and meta-analysis, published in Neuropsychology Review, found that, while mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.

The study’s lead author, PhD student Tim Whitfield (UCL Psychiatry) said that “the positive effects of mindfulness-based programs on mental health are already relatively well-established. Here, our findings suggest that a small benefit is also conferred to cognition, at least among older adults.”

The researchers reviewed previously published studies of mindfulness, and identified 45 studies that fit their criteria, which incorporated a total of 2,238 study participants. Each study tested the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention delivered by a facilitator in a group setting, over at least four sessions, while excluding mindfulness retreats in order to have a more homogenous set of studies.

The majority of studies involved a certified instructor teaching participants techniques such as sitting meditation, mindful movement and body scan, generally on a weekly basis across six to 12 weeks, while also asking participants to continue the practices in their own time.

The researchers found that overall, mindfulness conferred a small but significant benefit to cognition.

Subgroup analysis revealed that the effect was slightly stronger for people over 60, while there was not a significant effect for people under 60.

elder_senior

Tim Whitfield commented that “executive function is known to decline with age among older adults; the improvement in people over 60 suggests that mindfulness may help guard against cognitive decline, by helping to maintain or restore executive function in late adulthood. It might be easier to restore cognitive functions to previous levels, rather than to improve them beyond the developmental peak.”

When they investigated which aspects of cognition were affected, the researchers found that mindfulness was beneficial only to executive function, and more specifically, there was strong evidence of a small positive effect on working memory (which is one facet of executive function).

The researchers also analyzed whether mindfulness outperformed other ‘active interventions’ (such as brain training, relaxation, or other health or educational programs) or only when compared to people who were not offered any alternative treatment. They found that cognitive benefits of mindfulness were only significant compared with an ‘inactive’ comparison, which means they cannot rule out that the benefits may have been at least partly derived from an expectation of treatment benefits, or social interactions.

The researchers say that more research is needed into which characteristics of mindfulness training may be more likely to confer cognitive benefits, or whether delivering interventions over longer periods, or in intensive retreat settings, might yield greater cognitive benefits.

Senior author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry) said that they “know mindfulness-based programs benefit mental health, and our paper now suggests that mindfulness may also help to maintain cognitive faculties as people age. Mindfulness practices do not share much in common with cognitive test measures, so it is notable that mindfulness training’s impact appears to transfer to other domains. While our review only identified a small benefit to executive function, it remains possible that some types of mindfulness training might deliver larger gains.”

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychology Review (Whitfield et al., 2021).

August 25, 2021

Story source: UCL  PsyBlog


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8 Secrets of a Healthy Mind

We would – of course – like any encounter with mental illness to be as brief as possible

and, most importantly, to be isolated and singular. But the reality is that for many

of us, the illness will threaten to return for visits throughout our lives. It will be

a condition to which we will be permanently susceptible. So the challenge isn’t to learn

to survive only a one-off crisis; it’s to set in place a framework that can help us

to manage our fragility over the long-term. Some of the following moves, practical and

psychological, suggest themselves:

Acknowledgement

Being ready for a return of the illness will help us to calibrate our expectations and

render us appropriately patient and unfrightened in the face of relapses. We fell ill over

many years – our whole childhood might have been the incubating laboratory – and it will

therefore take us an age until we are impervious. We should expect to recover no more speedily

than someone who has damaged a limb and probably a good deal more arduously, given how complicated

a mind is next to a femur or a tendon.

Mental Management

We need to be rigorous with our patterns of thinking. We cannot afford to let our thoughts

wander into any old section of the mind. There are thoughts that we need to nurture – about

our worth, about our right to be, about the importance of keeping going, about self-forgiveness.

And there are thoughts we should be ruthless in chasing out – about how some people are

doing so much better than us, about how inadequate and pitiful we are, about what a disappointment

we have turned out to be. The latter aren’t even ‘thoughts,’ they have no content

to speak of, they cannot teach us anything new. They are really just instruments of torture

and symptoms of a difficult past.

A Support Network

A decent social life isn’t, for the mentally fragile, a luxury or piece of entertainment.

It is a resource to help us to stay alive. We need people to balance our minds when we

are slipping. We need friends who will be soothing with our fears and not accuse us

of self-indulgence or self-pity for the amount of time our illness has sequestered. It will

help immensely if they have struggles of their own and if we can therefore meet as equal

fellow ailing humans, as opposed to hierarchically separated doctors and patients.

We’ll need ruthlessness in expunging certain other people from our diaries, people who

harbour secret resentments against us, who are latently hostile to self-examination,

who are scared of their own minds and project their fears onto us. A few hours with such

types can throw a shadow over a whole day; their unsympathetic voices become lodged in

our minds and feed our own ample stores of self-doubt. We shouldn’t hesitate to socially

edit our lives in order to endure.

Vulnerability

The impulse, when things are darkening, is to hide ourselves away and reduce communication.

We are too ashamed to do anything else. We should fight the tendency and, precisely when

we cannot bear to admit what we are going through, we should dare to take someone into

our confidence. Silence is the primordial enemy. We have to fight a permanent feeling

that we are too despicable to be looked after. We have to take a gamble on an always implausible

idea: that we deserve kindness.

love

Love

Love is ultimately what will get us through, not romantic love but sympathy, toleranc

and patience. We’ll need to watch our tendencies to turn love down from an innate sense of

unworthiness. We wouldn’t have become ill if it were entirely easy for us to accept

the positive attention of others. We’ll have to thank those who are offering it and

make them feel appreciated in return – and most of all, accept that our illness was from

the outset rooted in a deficit of love and therefore that every encounter with the emotion

will strengthen our recovery and help to keep the darkness at bay.

Pills

We would – ideally – of course prefer not to keep adding foreign chemicals to our minds.

There are side effects and the eerie sense of not knowing exactly where our thoughts

end and alien neurochemistry begins. But the ongoing medicines set up guardrails around

the worst of our mental whirlpools. We may have to be protected on an ongoing basis from

forces inside us that would prefer we didn’t exist.

A Quiet Life

We should see the glory and the grandeur that is present in an apparently modest destiny.

We are good enough as we are. We don’t need huge sums of money or to be spoken of well

by strangers. We should take pride in our early nights and undramatic routines. These

aren’t signs of passivity or tedium. What looks like a normal life on the outside is

a singular achievement given what we are battling within.

Humour

There is no need for gravity. We can face down the illness by laughing heartily at its

evils. We are mad and cracked – but luckily so are many others with whom we can wryly

mock the absurdities of mental life. We shouldn’t, on top of everything else, accord our illness

too much portentous respect.

We should be proud of ourselves for making it this far. It may have looked – at times

– as if we never would. There might have been nights when we sincerely thought of taking

our own lives. Somehow we held on, we reached out for help, we dared to tell someone else

of our problems, we engaged our minds, we tried to piece together our histories and

to plot a more endurable future – and we started reading about what might be up with us.

We are still here, mentally ill no doubt at times, but more than ever committed to recovery,

appreciative of the light, grateful for love, hungry for insight and keen to help anyone

else whose plight we can recognise. We are not fully well, but we are on the mend and

that, for now, is very much good enough.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su7S3hsnxuQ

The School of Life


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2 Portions Of Mushrooms Halve Risk Of Memory Loss

Any variety of mushrooms may well have the beneficial effect as they all contain an antioxidant called ergothioneine.

Two portions of mushrooms a week halve the risk of memory loss, research finds.

Mild cognitive impairment, as it is known, is frequently a precursor to dementia.

It involves forgetfulness, along with problems with language and attention.

However, the problems are normally subtle — certainly more so than dementia.

Older people eating around half a plate of mushrooms per week, though, were at half the risk of developing the condition.

Even one small portion of mushrooms a week may be enough to have a meaningful effect, the scientists think.

Dr Lei Feng, the study’s first author, said:

 

“This correlation is surprising and encouraging.

It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline.”

The study involved over 600 people over 60-years-old in Singapore who were followed over six years.

They were tested for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) along with being asked about their dietary habits.

Dr Feng said:

 

“People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities.

So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background.”

 

mushrooms

 

The study found that six commonly eaten mushrooms were linked to a 50 percent lower risk of cognitive decline.

These were:

 

  • golden,
  • oyster,
  • shiitake,
  • white button,
  • dried,
  • and canned mushrooms.

However, any variety of mushrooms may well have the beneficial effect as they all contain an antioxidant called ergothioneine.

Dr Irwin Cheah, study co-author, explained:

 

“We’re very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET).

ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesise on their own.

But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.”

The researchers will now conduct a randomised controlled trial of a pure compound of ET.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Feng et al., 2019).

 

April 30, 2021       source: PsyBlog