Exercise:  Improve your health, mood, and cognitive function

Through millions of years, movement was part of our biological necessity..  Movement was necessary to hunt, to escape predators, to explore and to find a mate. Organisms developed a brain (nervous system) to coordinate movement as eloquently explain by neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert in his 2011 TED talk, The Real Reasons for Brains.

It is only recently that we limit movement by sitting, driving, taking the escalator, or controlling equipment that performs the actual physical labor. We interfere with our evolutionary developed physiology when we reduce or even eliminate movement for the sake of efficiency. Lack of movement, “sitting disease”, is a significant contributor and causal factor in illness. It also increases the stress response, negative mood and depression and reduces cognitive activity. Take charge and reduce illness when you integrate purposeful exercise (walking, running, dancing, etc.) into your life style.

we fucked up

Exercise is the most effective behavioral technique for self-regulation of mood in healthy people as summarized in the superb article, The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review, Dr. Julia C. Basso and Wendy A. Suzuki of the  Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA.  The robust research findings show that acute exercise improves mood, significantly reduces depression, tension, anger, fatigue, and confusion.  In addition, acute exercise improves symptoms associated with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Exercise decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stress-related blood pressure response by inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system response to stress. For a detailed summary, see the blogs, What is the best single thing we can do for our health and Healthy movement is the new aging.

Finally, the authors also review the relevant neurophysiological, and neurochemical processes that are affected by exercise. What is most interesting are the findings that “acute exercise primarily enhances executive functions dependent on the prefrontal cortex including attention, working memory, problem solving, cognitive flexibility, verbal fluency, decision making, and inhibitory control. These positive changes have been demonstrated to occur with very low to very high exercise intensities, with effects lasting for up to two hours after the end of the exercise bout.”

As the authors state, “We show that the three most consistent cognitive/behavioral effects of a single bout of exercise in humans are improved executive functions, enhanced mood states, and decreased stress levels.”

Even though the findings are clear that movement/exercise is a powerful “drug” to improve our health, most health professionals focus on sitting treatment and prescribing pharmaceutical agents. Possibly, a treatment session should start with fun physical exercise and followed by therapy. Remember, if you feel blah, have lower energy, feel frustrated or irritated, get up and move.  Movement and exercise will change your mood. You will experience what Peper and Lin (2012), have shown that less than minute of skipping in place will significantly improve your subjective energy level and mood. Get up and skip in place, then observe how much better you feel. Then sit again read the article by Dr. Julia C. Basso and Wendy A. Suzuki, http://content.iospress.com/download/brain-plasticity/bpl160040?id=brain-plasticity%2Fbpl160040

 


Millennials and the impact of technology

Technology connects us 24/7. Like a drug it provides instantaneous reinforcement when searching for information and sending or receiving social messages.  Millennials are the first generation of digital natives who are always connected–from being jarred awake by their cellphone alarm to checking email or Facebook just before sleep. They are unlike their parents who are digital immigrants and have experienced face-to-face communication instead of virtual/digital communication. The video below, Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace, offers an interesting insight of in the lives of millennials.


Your body “tells” of your emotional state

Sweating, finger temperature, muscle tension, breathing, heart rate, posture and other body signals covertly and overtly display your emotional state. The feedback from these signals can facilitate awareness and control to promote your health. Watch my presentation, The skin you’re in and other signals “Tells” of emotional state,   presented at the  TransTech-Transformative Technology Conference, Sofia University, Palo Alto, CA, Oct 14, 2016.

 


Evolutionary approach to return to health

Many  illness may be prevented or reversed when we life in harmony with our evolutionary origins such as diet, movement, and circadian rhythm. The focus is to teach skills and not pills; since, many medications have long term negative side affects. By applying behavioral life style changes that supports our evolutionary patterns, we may be able to prevent or even reverse numerous illnesses such as epilepsy, eczema, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, allergies, ADHD, depression, anxiety,  cancer, stress related symptoms.

Enjoy the wide ranging lecture presented at the 2012 meeting of the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research.


Health: Belonging to a tribe

How come rampage killings occur in affluent or upper middle class communities and in rural towns with low crime rate and not in high crime urban neighborhoods?

How come that most rampage shootings by a lone gunman continue to increase since the 1980’s?

How come suicide is extremely high in most modern societies (e.g., USA) while extremely low  in traditional tribal societies?

How come the depression and anxiety rates in wealthy countries are eight times that of poor countries?

How come people in countries with the largest income disparity such as the United States have the highest lifelong risk of develop depression as compared to countries with the smallest income disparity?

How come babies feel scared at night?

How come when people reflect back at their suffering during war it was simultaneous the worsts and the best of times?

How come after 9/11 or other major crisis, suicide and crime rates went down?

How come post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is significantly higher for the rear based troops who suffer relatively few casualties as compared to the front line troops who engage in actual combat?

How come Israel Defense Forces have a very low PTSD rate compared to the USA military forces?

How come the elderly and so many people feel isolated, lonely and sad?

How come the streets and parks are covered with litter and buildings and surfaces are covered with graffiti?

The answers may not reside within the individual but in our pathological individualistic culture.  Through millions of years of evolution, we were a clan–a tribe.  And, as a tribe, we were mutually dependent and supportive. This is our biological and social DNA–we are social interdependent beings. The common theme underlying the questions above is that we are disconnected from others and our community. We are living apart from our evolutionary background where living together as tribe allowed us to survive and prosper for  thousands of generations. When we are part of a community and are welcomed back after  experiencing trauma, depression, anxiety, violence, PTSD,  and even littering is significantly lower.

The importance of community, being part of tribe, is superbly described by New York Times bestselling author, Sebastian Junger, in his book, Tribe-On Homecoming and Belonging.  This is a must read book to understand the hidden pathology created by our modern economic inequality American culture that worships the individual affluence over the common good. It suggests that we must return to our evolutionary origins, radically reduce economic inequality, work on community wide projects to enhance the common good, and actively participate in rebuilding our tribe. Being a meaningful part of a tribe can be much more healing than ingesting a profit based pharmaceutical drug for depression and PTSD. Let us support the common good over the individual increase in wealth.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

As the poet John Donne wrote in 1624:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 


The surprising and powerful links between posture and mood

Enjoy Vivian Giang’s superb blog, The surprising and powerful links between posture and mood,  published by Fast Company and reprinted with permission.   It summarizes in a very readable way how posture affects health and well being.

The Surprising and Powerful Links between Posture and Mood

Why feeling taller tricks your brain into making you feel more confident and why your smartphone addiction might be making you depressed.

The next time you’re feeling sad and depressed, pay close attention to your posture. According to cognitive scientists, you’ll likely be slumped over with your neck and shoulders curved forward and head looking down.

While it’s true that you’re sitting this way because you’re sad, it’s also true that you’re sad because you’re sitting this way. This philosophy, known as embodied cognition, is the idea that the relationship between our mind and body runs both ways, meaning our mind influences the way our body reacts, but the form of our body also triggers our mind.

In large part due to Amy Cuddy’s widly popular 2012 TED talk, most of us know that two minutes of “power poses” a day can change how we feel about ourselves. This isn’t just about displaying confidence to others around; this is about actually changing your hormones—increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of cortisol, or the stress hormone, in the brain.

“The brain has an area that reflects confidence, but once that area is triggered it doesn’t matter exactly how it’s triggered,” says Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “It can be difficult to distinguish real confidence from confidence that comes from just standing up straight … these things go both ways just like happiness leads to smiling, but also smiling leads to happiness.”

When it comes to posture, Petty explains that the way we ultimately feel has a lot to do with the associations we have with being taller. For example, if you take two people and you put one on a chair that’s above the other person, the one that’s looking down will feel more powerful because “we have all these associations” with height and power that “gets triggered automatically when certain movements are made,” he says. The function of your body posture tells your brain that you’re powerful, which, in turn, affects your attitude.

In a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Petty along with other researchers instructed 71 college students to either “sit up straight” and “push out [their] chest” or “sit slouched forward” with their “face looking at [their] knees.” While holding their assigned posture, the students were asked to list either three positive or negative personal traits they thought would contribute to their future job satisfaction and professional performance. Afterward, the students were asked to take a survey where they rated themselves on how well they thought they would perform as a future professional.

The researchers found that how the students rated themselves depended on the posture they kept when they wrote the positive or negative traits. Those who were in the upright position believed in the positive and negative traits they wrote down while those in the slouched over position weren’t convinced of their positive or negative traits. In other words, when the students were in the upright, confident position, they trusted their own thoughts whether those thoughts were positive or negative. On the other hand, when the students sat in a powerless position, they didn’t trust anything they wrote down whether it was positive or negative.

However, those in the upright position likely had an easier time thinking of “empowering, positive” traits about themselves to write down while those in the slouched over position probably had an easier time recalling “hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative” feelings, according to Erik Peper, professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University.

In a series of experiments, Peper found that sitting in a collapsed, helpless position makes it easier for negative thoughts and memories to appear while sitting in an upright, powerful position makes it easier to have empowering thoughts and memories.

“Emotions and thoughts affect our posture and energy levels; conversely, posture and energy affect our emotions and thoughts,” says one of Peper’s studies from 2012, and two minutes of skipping versus walking in a slouched position can make a significant difference on our energy levels. Like Cuddy, Peper’s research finds that it only takes two minutes to change your hormones, meaning you can basically change the chemistry in your brain while waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave.

Since posture affects our mood and thoughts so much, the increase of collapsed sitting and walking—from sitting in front of our computer to looking down at our smartphones—may very much have an effect on the rise of depression in recent years. Peper and his team of researchers suggest that posture is a significant contributor to decreased energy levels and depression. Slouching is also known to result in frequent headaches and neck and shoulder pains.

With so much research proving the influence posture has on our mind, Peper suggests hanging photos of people you love slightly higher on the wall or above your desk so that you have to look up. Also, adjust your rear view mirror slightly higher so that you have to sit up taller while driving. If you need reminders, Petty advises setting reminders on your phone, computer, or even a Post-It note. When you do have negative thoughts, instead of validating them by slumping over or bending your head, Petty says that you should write them down on a piece of paper, then throw that piece of paper away in the trash.

“People who throw those negative thoughts into the trash can are less affected by them then people who had the same thoughts but symbolically put them in their pocket,” he says. “It’s this idea that it’s not what we think that’s important; it’s how much we trust what we think.”

Reprinted by permission from Vivian Giang


Go for it: The journey from paraplegia to flying

After a catastrophic event occurs a person often becomes depressed as the future looks bleak. One may keep asking, ”Why, why me?” When people accept–acceptance without resignation— and concentrate on the small steps of the journey towards their goal, remarkable changes may occur. The challenge is to focus on new possibilities without comparing to how it was in the past. The limits of possibility are created by the limits of our beliefs. We may learn from athletes who aim to improve performance whereas clients usually come to reduce symptoms. As Wilson and Peper (2011) point out, Athletes want to go beyond normal—they want to be superb, to be atypical, to be the outlier. It is irrelevant what the athlete believes or feels. What is relevant is whether the performance is improved, which is a measurable and documented event”. They have described some of the factors that distinguish work with athletes from work with clients which includes intensive transfer of learning training, often between 2 and 6 hours of daily practice across days, weeks, and months. This process is described by the Australian cross-country skier, Janine Shepherd, who had hoped for an Olympic medal — until she was hit by a truck during a training bike ride. She shares a powerful story about the human potential for recovery. Her message: You are not your body, and giving up old dreams can allow new ones to soar. Watch Janine Shepherd’s 2012 Ted talk, A broken body isn’t a broken person.

Reference:

Wilson, V.E. & Peper, E. (2011). Athletes Are Different: Factors That Differentiate Biofeedback/Neurofeedback for Sport Versus Clinical Practice. Biofeedback, 39(1), 27–30.

Shepherd, J. (2012). A broken body isn’t a broken person. Ted talk. http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_shepherd_a_broken_body_isn_t_a_broken_person