WHAT DO THE HOLIDAYS HAVE TO DO WITH THE LONELINESS EPIDEMIC?

It is thought that the holidays are spent with loved ones and friends. From gift-giving to sharing fine meals, the holidays are synonymous with festive and happy gatherings across the world. However, not everyone looks forward to the holidays. Especially folks that are alone or isolated from their families and friends. This is a season that is supposed to be about happiness and the human spirit. However, for many loneliness gets worse during the holidays. Feelings of isolation deepen when it seems everyone else is surrounded by family and friends. Dealing with loneliness around this time can lead to depression, obesity, and more. It does seem like the loneliness epidemic does get worse during the holidays, but there may be some good news when it comes to treating loneliness.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Whether due to family issues, work-related problems, or society in general, loneliness is rapidly becoming an epidemic across the nation and globe. In fact, a recent study by the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly half of Canadians find themselves alone around the holiday season. Similarly, the number of Americans who feel alone and isolated has tripled since 1985. Industry experts have stated that while praying to God is an ideal solution, it does not negate the growing existence of loneliness for people from all walks of life. With persistent loneliness on the rise, alcoholism and binge-eating seem to be on the rise as well.

>READ: WHAT FACTORS DRIVE WOMEN TO BINGE EATING AT NIGHT?

This is because lonely people tend to feed their emotional problems with food or alcohol. This provides temporary happiness and a break from the norm — loneliness. The rise of social media has also contributed to this mess. We as humans have become digitized and de-sensitized in many ways, which has led to increased feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

Is There a Cure?

The loneliness epidemic is all too real. Whether the blame falls on social media, western politics or the rise of populism/individualism, more people are alone today than ever before. Several case studies and surveys cement the signs and symptoms of isolation. As mentioned earlier, overeating and alcohol abuse is a way for some folks to substitute feeling good for feelings of being alone, neglected or unwanted. However, did you know that researchers are working on a pill to combat loneliness?

What Does the Study Show?

The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Library conducted the study over an eight-week period with placebo or pregnenolone. The latter is a hormone naturally produced by the body’s adrenal gland. The research team monitored participants who consumed both placebo and pregnenolone. Two hours after swallowing the tablets, participants looked at photos of emotional faces and neutral images.

>READ: FEELING LONELY? YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE

Study volunteers conducted tests measuring the scale of loneliness. They found that many respondents had no one they could speak to in times of crisis. Many of their relationships felt superficial, forced and unreal. These respondents also stated they feel alone, isolated, and can no longer hold meaningful relationships with loved ones or friends. Similar studies in animals showed that pregnenolone can reduce threat responses and reactions to feelings of isolation. The latter is one of the main reasons for increased anxiety and panic attacks in humans. It also comes down to fear of the future, death or the unknown.

What Does This Mean for Loneliness and the Holidays?

While the drug cannot formally cure loneliness, developers believe it will reduce feelings of loneliness in human brains. The lead researcher on the project, Stephanie Cacioppo, a reputable neuroscientist, and her team have found that loneliness is not so much about self-preservation or ego. It is simply a desire to connect with others. The idea of the drug is to help people see and accept things as they are — rather than being skeptical of everyone and everything.The drug is still in the study and testing phase so we will have to see how it turns out in the near or distant future.

This holiday season if you are alone there are some things you can try.

Check out our guide for making friends in the digital age.
Consider volunteering. This will allow you to meet new people and increase good feelings since you will be helping others.
If you are dealing with feelings of self-harm this season or if you are self-medicating please reach out to a help group or counselor today.
Take care of yourself and be willing to ask for help if you feel you need it.

BEAT HOLIDAY LONELINESS AND HOST FRIENDSGIVING

We love our holidays in the U.S. so much we are creating informal ones to give us more to celebrate! Friendsgiving is a day where friends come together to eat and enjoy each other’s company. From the combination of the words, you can tell it is a blend of ‘friends’ and ‘Thanksgiving.’ Usually, the participants will share a large meal near or on Thanksgiving day. Some people are serious about Friendsgiving celebrations: there are how-tos, sample menus, and even “rules” for Friendsgiving. However, the day can be as involved or as simple as you would like! Pick and choose from our Friendsgiving ideas below to host a fabulous Friendsgiving event this year.

Why Host a Friendsgiving Meal?

Many women over 50 may wish to spend time with their family on holidays. Sometimes, their children or other family members can live far away though. It may be their year to spend with their spouse’s family. This makes it difficult to get together during the holidays. If this is the case the holidays may be lonely. However, hosting Friendsgiving can benefit mature Americans in many ways including:

  • Gathering with friends that they may not have seen in years
  • The chance to meet new people and make new friends in their community – invite “strays” in your office, neighborhood or groups
  • Learn new cooking skills and taste new meals
  • Indulge in recapping old memories
  • Those who may otherwise be alone for the holidays will get to spend time with people they actually like and start new traditions

Friendsgiving Ideas for Hosting

Friendsgiving celebrations are a day to focus on friends! Especially for people who may be missing family, you will want to wow them so they won’t feel like they’re missing anything. You can unleash the recipe you have been working on and invite some of your friends to showcase their skills. Food is a vital part of any Thanksgiving, and so should be vital to Friendsgiving as well. Traditional foods such as turkey and mashed potatoes can be an option. But remember the essence and value of all of you being together, so spend time celebrating instead of cooking elaborate dishes. It is advisable that you go for easy recipes, have ready-made food, and ensure you spend most of your time sharing the moments precisely as these Friendsgiving ideas indicate. Or, invite everyone early and cook all the dishes together (while maybe drinking wine and playing some danceable/singable music.)

If the thought of cooking at all seems too stressful, so many places offer catered feasts these days…from your local grocery stores, to restaurants, to the group off nextdoor that sells fried turkeys. Order in and laugh at how easy it all is.

>READ: THE MEANING OF FRIENDSHIP: SMALL CIRCLE, BIG SUPPORT

Friendsgiving Activities to Entertain Guests

When planning this celebration, many activity ideas come to mind. Have some fun, research and learn what will be appealing to the people you are inviting. You need ideas that will work with all your friends attending. Some of these unique ideas may include:

  • Make the meal a potluck! Ask everyone to bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish and a story about why it is their favorite. This will be a sweet way to think of Thanksgiving pasts.
  • Have a cookie decorating contest. Provide plain Thanksgiving-themed sugar cookies and some decorations then vote on the best cookie.
  • Volunteer for a few hours as a group. Serve food in a food kitchen, walk dogs at the local animal shelter, or spend time volunteering at a children’s hospital. Everyone will be hungry for a great meal after an afternoon spent giving back.
  • Make your own party favors. Provide some small gourds and craft supplies so people can create their own Friendsgiving masterpiece or set up a photo station and send people home with instant photos of the day.
  • Plan a wine pairing and tasting to try new types of wine and encourage conversation among guests about their favorite combinations.
  • Host after hours or a day later and serve the leftovers – If your friends are spending the big day with family, host it after and let people bring whatever’s left from that feast, including all ready open bottles of spirits. It’s the ultimate in casual fun.

>READ: 12 TIPS FOR HOSTING A DINNER PARTY AND WINE PAIRING

Add an Extra Touch with Friendsgiving Decor!

You may want to be creative with the décor you set up for this day. For example, you can choose a unique color theme. Fall colors can be monotonous. You can break away by setting up totally a different theme color, like copper and green or navy and trendy rose gold. There is no standard Friendsgiving color, and you are free to try anything! Or purchase potted plants for a nice table centerpiece, either synthetic or live. Besides this, you can also purchase additional items to add a special touch of celebration for this day, like candles, name cards and fall-themed napkins. We’ve included some of our favorite options below!

 

DEALING WITH POST 9/11 PTSD

Do you remember where you were or what you were doing in the early morning on September 11, 2001? I do. And, I will never forget. After dropping my boys off at school, I’d gone to the nearby gym and was running on a treadmill. I almost stumbled over my own two feet when I saw the first tower go down. I had no idea what had happened, but was in a state of disbelief. This was in Dallas, Texas.

The terrorist attacks that took place in New York City on September 11, 2001, dealt an unrecoverable blow to many. Commonly referred to as 9/11, the planes that flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon claimed thousands of lives, not to mention the aftermath victims of cancer or respiratory-disease that passed due to exposure to the area known as Ground Zero. Many people faced dealing with PTSD as a result of the September 11th attacks. PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, is a psychological disorder that can occur after someone is exposed to trauma.

People who lost a loved one, such as the family members who received a call from someone on the planes, often developed PTSD even though they weren’t at the actual event. First responders who were there to witness the chaos and tragedy first-hand also were susceptible to PTSD. Survivors of the attacks at the sites experienced the disorder through survivor’s guilt and the horror of losing friends and colleagues while witnessing what occurred.

What Exactly is PTSD?

PTSD is one of those terms we’ve all heard, but most of us have a vague idea of what it entails. The triggering traumatic event can include a number of circumstances in which the person affected has a hard time recovering from what they saw or experienced. PTSD can actually change the way a person’s mind functions and manifests itself with a number of symptoms.The Pentagon also has a memorial for 9/11 victims. PTSD is a common post-9/11 diagnosis for many Americans.

Every case of PTSD is different. A number of factors involving the individual impact the level of the disorder: age, pre-existing mental and physical health, event that caused the PTSD, support system and help received.

PTSD can last months to years or can affect a person for the rest of their lives. Depending on the severity of the event that triggered it and factors mentioned above, people’s ability to deal with the disorder in day-to-day life has a lot of variables.

Common symptoms of PTSD

People who suffer from PTSD describe it as a feeling of not being themselves.

  • Some who return to their regular existence, daily routines, family life and responsibilities after surviving or witnessing a traumatic event can find it challenging or even impossible to reintegrate.
  • PTSD sufferers describe the feeling of being uncomfortable in their own skin.
  • Loud noises can trigger flashbacks that heighten their fight-or-flight response, characterized by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, difficulty breathing and a deep sense of panic.
  • Panic attacks are a common symptom of PTSD, as sufferers can suddenly become overwhelmed by anything that triggers their condition.

>READ: DO YOU HAVE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS?

Post 9/11 PTSD

Due to the extremity of 9/11, the cases of PTSD that developed after were significant. Not only did the event impact individuals on a personal level, it had a catastrophic impact on a national level. Americans were dealt a huge blow. It threatened their feelings of safety and wellbeing.

People who developed PTSD because of losing a loved one in such a traumatic, senseless and tragic way had grief-related triggers. These people were commonly triggered by airplanes, phone calls that reminded them of the last call they received from their loved one, crashes and threats of terrorism. For these people, memories of their loved one could trigger panic attacks and anxiety.

For people who were at the scene as first responders or who survived the 9/11 attacks, they developed PTSD from what they witnessed or from survival guilt. Witnesses saw awful things: people dead, massive destruction, a national symbol toppled, people wounded and suffering, crying and screaming.

The survivors struggling to justify why they survived, while so many other people didn’t, often report the hardest thing to deal with is the feeling of overwhelming pressure to do something worthy with their lives.

Ways of Dealing with PTSD

One of the best known ways to combat the effects of PTSD is to prevent it from developing. Counseling immediately after a traumatic event is one of the best known ways to stave off the development of the disorder. When victims of trauma have a healthy outlet and place to voice their feelings and concerns, it helps preserve their mental health. Professional mental help is a necessity for many dealing with PTSD related to 9/11 or other traumatic events.

Therapists are finding a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be particularly helpful to move beyond the “stuck” phase of trauma’s impact.

Medication such as anti-depressants is the drug-related way of dealing with PTSD. For some, talking it through and leaning on a support system is not enough, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are needed to calm the mind and minimize the symptoms.

If you or someone you know is still struggling from 9/11 PTSD, please reach out for help.

>READ: THE STORY OF LEIGH RICHARDSON: FROM TRAUMA TO BADASS MAMA

>READ: GRIEF HAPPENS IN THE BRAIN: HEALING AFTER LOSS

 

May National Stroke Awareness Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds about 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke every year. You have better odds of surviving if you get emergency treatment right away.

Ischemic strokes are caused when a blood clot blocks a vessel in the brain and stops blood flow. Doctors need to quickly restore that blood flow because your brain cells are dying. You can get a clot busting drug in the Emergency Room to reduce complications and improve survival odds. Researchers at Harvard Medical School say high blood pressure can quadruple your stroke risk. Try to relieve stress, lose weight and exercise to get it under control. Your heart health is also important. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots that travel to the brain.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. For stroke signs, the CDC says remember the acronym, F.A.S.T. for face drooping, a numb or weak arm, slurred speech and time to call 911. Other symptoms can be trouble seeing, dizziness and sudden severe headache. So what happens to your brain during a stroke? White matter changes in the brain show up in 44 percent of stroke patients, which can lead to higher risk of death, another stroke, brain bleed, heart attack or dementia. White matter is a pathway that connects one region of the brain to another. Research in the National Institutes of Health has shown as long as neuron cell bodies stay healthy, axons can regrow and slowly repair themselves, restoring neural networks. Neurofeedback has been utilized in studies as a form of cognitive rehabilitation therapy with patients following a stroke.

In fact, a five-year UCLA study tested animals and found their brains can be repaired and brain function recovered after a stroke. Researchers found the brain sent replacement cells to the damaged site but then the process stalled. They identified a molecular receptor believed responsible for stalling the repair. When they blocked that receptor, the animals began to recover from the stroke. According to Dr. Thomas Carmichael, this finding could lead to new therapies to prevent more brain damage and improve recovery from a white matter stroke, which is a major factor in dementia. Damage happens in tiny blood vessels deep in the brain, where they’re blocked and oxygen can’t get through. They can go unseen with damage increasing over time.

Doctors say diet and how often you eat affects brain cell regeneration. A sedentary lifestyle can add to brain blood flow problems. If you’re sitting at your desk all day without the right posture, it can restrict blood flow to the brain. Even coffee and caffeine can further decrease blood flow.

Many stroke patients have long-term neurological problems and trouble with speech, confusion, visual field loss and balance. Recovery is like a roller coaster. They can experience a wide range of emotions and may need psychological counseling. They can be triggered, talking to friends and family, who remind them of their life before, when they felt normal. They may also cry easily. Stroke victims can have brain fog as the day progresses, and by night, they can’t carry on conversations or do tasks.

Writing and reading can also be difficult. Some stroke patients describe it feeling like they’re blocked, struggling to remember words and make their point. They may have to read the same sentence over and over to comprehend it. Speech therapy is crucial along with physical therapy to gain more muscle control. Occupational therapy can help with daily tasks like getting dressed and cooking. A stroke victim may wonder will it ever get better? It will. It just might be a long road to recovery.

A Fox News Radio contributor, Richardson has spent her educational and professional career learning human behavior. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Texas and is working to integrate cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment programs for many clients. In April 2009, Richardson opened The Brain Performance Center.

Chocolate and the Brain – What a combination!!!

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the places where the most Nobel Prize recipients live have the highest chocolate consumption.  Yes- it could be a weird coincidence, but it begs the question: Is it possible that intelligence or other measures of high brain function are actually improved by the consumption of chocolate? A new study looks at the evidence and concludes with a resounding “maybe!”

When it comes to preserving and improving brain function, we need all the help we can get.   Aging causes diseases such as dementia, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.  Experts predict dementia will become much more common in the near future. Yet despite decades of research, there are no highly effective treatments for dementia.

So, what’s the scoop on chocolate and the brain?

A new review analyzed the evidence to date that flavanols (found in dark chocolate and cocoa) may benefit human brain function. Flavanols are a form of flavonoids, plant-based substances that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Dark chocolate and cocoa are not the only foods that contain flavanols. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in flavanols, including apples, red grapes, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, beans, kale, and onions.

Here’s what they found:

Short-term consumption may be helpful. A study of young adults found that two hours after consuming dark chocolate (with high flavanol content), memory and reaction time were better than among those consuming white chocolate (with low flavanol content). However, other similar studies showed no benefit.

Long-term consumption may be helpful. One study found that among adults ages 50 to 69, those taking a cocoa supplement with high flavanol content for three months had better performance on tests of memory than those assigned to take a low-flavanol cocoa supplement.

Some studies demonstrated evidence of improved brain blood flow, oxygen levels, or nerve function as measured by imaging tests or tests of electrical activity in the brain after the consumption of cocoa drinks. The down-side was the changes did not improve performance on cognitive tasks, so it hasn’t connected the improved results directly to better brain function.

While these findings are encouraging and intriguing, more research is needed, especially since most studies so far have been small and many were unable to eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect.  Many people are more than willing to accept any suggestion that chocolate is healthy (if only to justify their high consumption of chocolate). But, it’ll take more than the evidence we have now to prove that chocolate or flavanols can truly preserve or improve brain function.  And don’t forget, not all chocolate is the same. Dark chocolate and cocoa have high flavanol levels, while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels. Also, many types of chocolate are high in sugar, fats, and calories.

So, even if dark chocolate turns out to be good for the brain, it’s unlikely that doctors will recommend a Godiva bar a day……bummer!  One can still hope.

How to Have Some Fun and Increase the White Matter Integrity in the Brain

People have been obsessed with reversing the aging process since the days of Ponce de Leon and his ‘fountain of youth’. In the last few decades, we’ve seen huge shifts in longevity in developed countries.  More people are not only reaching old age, they’re reaching very old age.  Researchers have been focusing their studies on finding new strategies to meet the concept of ‘successful aging’ – the avoidance of disease and disability and the maintenance of physical and cognitive functions with an engagement in social and productive activities.

During aging, sensorimotor, cognitive and physical performance all decline, but new research indicates that they can improved by training and exercise, indicating that age-related changes are treatable. Dance therapy is increasingly used because it combines many diverse features making it a great tool for increasing physical performance – as well as brain performance!

For years, studies have been focused on programs aimed at improving aerobic capacity and cognitive functions in elderly individuals through physical exercise programs since there is a close relationship between physical fitness and cognitive performance.  But new research finds the benefits of dancing may go well beyond physical exercise therapy because dancing provides increased sensory, motor, and cognitive demands. Dancing is an activity that emerged from a need for social interaction and non-verbal communication, and it is a universal human expression consistent across generations, cultures, and social classes throughout the world. Compared to activities such as physical exercise or playing an instrument, dance comprises rhythmic motor coordination, balance and memory, emotions, affection, social interaction, acoustic stimulation, and musical experience apart from its requirements for physical activity.  This unique combination of properties makes dance a powerful interventional approach to aging. For these reasons, dance has also been established as a therapeutic tool for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, dementia, overweight children, and patients with serious mental illness.

Research has found that dancing is a promising neuro-plasticity tool that elicits activity in multiple brain regions.  A recent study compared the effects of dancing, walking and walking combined with a nutritional intervention to an active control intervention (stretching and toning) on the brain’s white matter integrity (WMI). WMI is a reliable marker of aging in the brain, and lifestyle interventions that promote maintained or improved WMI may be a key ingredient in protecting against cognitive decline and dementia.

Subjects who participated in the dance therapy, which offers a more challenging complex ideo-motor “workout” for the body and the brain, saw significant levels of increased WMI in the fornix, a pathway area of the brain associated with the hippocampus, a key location for learning and memory.  The conclusion was that a proactive program that combines physical, cognitive and social engagement may be a “best bet” for maintaining or improving white matter integrity across the aging process.

THE TAKEAWAY: Dancing is just one way to “up” the ante and offer workouts that not only challenge the body but engage the mind and offer social opportunities. This study confirms the added value of such complex ideo-motor activities over simple motor workouts such as walking, as well as the boost of social-based training for better brain health.

So don’t just sit there – get up DANCE!

 

Turn Summer Brain Drain into Brain Gain!

While summer break is a fun time packed with family activities it’s also when a phenomenon strikes that teachers know all too well—the “summer slide” or “Brain Drain” – the loss of knowledge and ability that occurs when formal education stops during the summer.

Research shows that all young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer. In fact, the average student loses approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in math computation skills over the summer months. This learning loss affects children when they begin their new school year in September because teachers typically spend four weeks re-teaching or reviewing material that students have forgotten over summer break. Playing ‘catch-up’ as the school year begins can also negatively effect your child’s self esteem.

While your brain is not a muscle, the adage ‘use it or lose it’ certainly holds true for your brain too. Mental exercise can keep the brain strong, just as physical exercise can keep the body strong.

Here are some ideas to help your child get their brain “exercising” before school starts:

Tips for Grade Schoolers:

20 Questions.  Think of a person or thing and give your child 20 chances to guess what it is by asking yes or no questions. Sharpens memory, logic and reasoning skills.

Rhyme Time.  Have your child choose four rhyming words and use them to create a poem. For younger kids, simply say a word then take turns coming up with words that rhyme with it. Builds auditory analysis, verbal rhythm and memory.

Needle in a Haystack.  Take a page from a newspaper and time your child as she circles all occurrences of a specific letter or word. Improves visual processing speed and sustained attention.

Counting Counts.  Encourage your child to count by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s etc. when they go up stairs, dribble a basketball, swing on a swing set or jump rope.  Builds math fluency, processing speed, divided attention and memory.

Play Time is Gain Time.  Play is crucial to healthy brain development. Prioritize play with your kids to keep their creative juices flowing and minds working.

Pick a Pen Pal.   It doesn’t matter whether it’s a family member or friend, near or far, writing letters  will give kids a chance to rehash and share their summer adventures and practice their writing in the process.

Teach mini-lessons.   Transform everyday activities into learning opportunities. Children can count change, read directions for a trip, write a shopping list, or calculate a recipe’s measurements.

Gather activity books.   Give children their own activity book with crossword puzzles or number games customized for their specific age group.  Set a “due date” to keep them on track, but let them work at their own pace.

Strategize screen time.  Educational computer games or apps can engage students’ minds, but make sure your child is spending enough time away from the screen.  Assign a daily block of time for family members to turn off phones, computers, and the TV, and instead play a board game or read together.

Talk to your child.  So many conversations between parents and kids during the school year are directional: “Get up; get in the car; do your homework.”  Before you are back in the grind make some time to chat. Spend time getting to know how your child feels about going back to school, any concerns they may have.

Have Kids’ Dinner Night.  Once a child is 10 or 11, have him be fully responsible for dinner one night.  That means coming up with the shopping list (Mom or Dad still has to pay), setting the table, preparing the meal, deciding on the dinner conversation topic and cleaning up afterward. It involves math, organizational and, perhaps most importantly, life skills.

Tips for Middle-schoolers:

Middle school is a huge transition and, for many kids, can be fraught with academic and social insecurity.  But it’s also a time when kids are discovering different ways to learn, and that can make summer learning especially important.

Do something new. Middle school is all about exploring new interests. Your child may discover an interest that you never imagined. So expose them to a new sport, a new hobby, a new class.

Be nontraditional. If you want your child to start reading before school starts, great. But don’t force him to do the reading you think he should be doing. Going online to read something and having a discussion about it can be just as educational as reading a novel from a book list.

Help make connections. For middle school kids, relevancy is so important; if they have experienced something, then they can understand it better. So go downtown, visit a museum or an art gallery. Social learning is important for kids this age.

Tips for High-schoolers:

It’s very difficult for adults to understand how stressful high school is. The amount of stress high school kids put on themselves to get into college means that they are thinking about their future constantly. By the time kids are in high school, you want them to understand that learning is a lifelong pursuit.

Start a store.  Use math skills and organization to plan the store and “sell” goods.

Explore “Going Green.” Your carbon footprint and whether recycling is all it’s cracked up to be: These activities involve not only math skills, but applying research to higher level critical thinking and analysis.

Go to an outdoor movie festival.  It doesn’t feel like learning, but watching ‘Casablanca’ absolutely is.  And so is the shared experience of discussing it afterward.

Be the editor of your family newsletter.  Practice journalistic and writing skills, including interviews, news, pictures, advertisements and even cartoons.

Grow your own food.  Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as gaining knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating.

Do something that opens your world.  Not everyone can study French in Paris. But there are so many opportunities to learn by accident.  And if you’re having fun and you learn something, you’ll remember it forever.

Take some positive steps to ensure the brain is ready, willing and able when school starts!

Finally- Biological proof what texting and driving does to your brain!

text.imageIts a fact.  We’re using our smartphones as the primary form of communication in our daily lives.  Talking, texting, gaming, social media, directions, banking, taking photos, internet searches, the list goes on.   It’s become our way of life – the norm.  But how much do we really know about the neurological effects of smartphone use?

To find out more about how our brains work during textual communication using smartphones, a team led by Mayo Clinic researcher William Tatum analyzed data from 129 patients.  Their brain waves were monitored over a period of 16 months through electroencephalograms (EEGs) combined with video footage.

The researchers asked patients to perform activities such as message texting, finger tapping and audio cellular telephone use in addition to tests of attention and cognitive function.  Only text messaging produced the newly observed brain rhythm, which was different than any previously described brain rhythm.

Dr. Tatum, professor of neurology and director of the epilepsy monitoring unit and epilepsy center at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida found a unique ‘texting rhythm‘ in approximately 1 in 5 patients who were using their smartphone to text message while having their brain waves monitored.

“We believe this new rhythm is an objective metric of the brain’s ability to process non-verbal information during use of electronic devices and that it is heavily connected to a widely distributed network augmented by attention or emotion,” Dr. Tatum commented.

This ‘texting’ rhythm was also found in iPad users, leading researchers to hypothesize  that the presence of this different brain rhythm while using smartphones and hand-held devices might be caused by their smaller screens, which require more concentration.

The researchers concluded that this study could have significant implications for all brain-computer interfacing.  Although more research is needed, researchers are beginning to unravel the responses generated by the brain when it interfaces with computerized devices.

This biggest implication of this finding is driving while texting.  While it’s commonly believed that texting and driving can be dangerous, there is now biological evidence why you shouldn’t do it!

Does TV Rot Your Brain?

television--electronics_19-105647Watching TV is something virtually everyone does, but did you know that TV can actually be harmful to you?  Television viewing can, for example, increase your risk of premature death, reduce your level of intelligence, completely obliterate your ability to concentrate and increase your risk of developing neurodegenerative brain disorders.

Researchers in Australia have concluded that watching television increases risk of death from heart disease, strokes and even cancer. Every hour spent watching television each day increases the risk of dying from heart disease by almost a fifth, say scientists. Studies found that people who sat in front of the box for more than four hours a day were 80% more likely to die for reasons linked to heart and artery disease.

“Even if someone has a healthy body weight, sitting for long periods of time still has an unhealthy influence on their blood sugar and blood fats,” said the study’s lead researcher, Prof David Dunstan, from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia.

While we know a sedentary lifestyle can be dangerous to our health, few studies have  examined the effects of what watching too much TV can do to our brains. Research carried out over 25 years by California’s Institute for Research and Education has recently shown the dangers of television for our neurons, even in those who exercise regularly.

The participants were divided into two groups according to their television habits: frequent viewers (more than 3 hours of television per day) and moderate viewers (less than 3 hours per day). Their cognitive function was evaluated using the DSST (Digit Symbol Substitution Test), Stroop test, and RAVLT (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test).

The results showed that the most frequent viewers over the 25 years (10.9%) were more likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests. Secondly, the participants with low physical activity (16.3%) performed poorly on the DSST. Thirdly, when compared to moderate viewers engaging in regular physical activity, frequent viewers who exercised little were nearly twice as likely to perform poorly on cognitive tests. Too much television and a lack of physical activity represent independent factors linked to a decline in cognitive brain performance.

And the worst news: Exercise can’t compensate for the harmful effects of too many hours spent watching television. If you’re athletic, you are undoubtedly maintaining your cognitive abilities better than sedentary individuals, but if you also watch television for more than three hours per day, it is likely to have negative consequences on your intellectual activity.

Television reduces your ability to think critically. When you watch TV, brain activity switches from the left side of your brain (responsible for logical thought and critical analysis) to the right side.  This is significant because the right side of the brain tends not to analyze incoming information.  Instead, it uses an emotional response which results in little or no analysis of the information.  In other words, this is like someone telling you something and you believing what they say without doing your own research.

Your brain is actually more active when you are sleeping than when you are watching television! Since the health of your brain is largely determined by how much you actively use it, watching too much television can have a detrimental effect on the health of your brain.  One of the reasons that brain activity is so low when watching TV is because you really don’t have to do anything.  When you read, for example, you have to mentally create images of what you are reading. This requires significant brainpower to do so.

So, the saying ‘TV rots you brain’ has more truth to it than you might imagine. Excessive television viewing has also been linked to degenerative brain disorders later in life such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Do you ever wonder where your mind went?

Have you ever pulled into the driveway and thought, “I’m home,” and then realized that you have no recollection of the drive? Or maybe it’s after you’ve hung up the phone after the conversation and thought, “what was it we agreed to?” This is how the distracted mind works, and we all have one from time to time.

As pointed out in the March/April Scientific American Mind article, “Being in the Now” by Amishi P. Jha, the opposite of a wandering mind is a mindful one. She goes on to explain how having a “focus in the present” can make us happier and healthier, and that being mindful improves our ability to pay attention and concentrate. While this sounds like an easy fix for everyone, there is far more too it.

Mindfulness is being engage in the here and now, without reacting to it or evaluating it. Just being. Jha reviews recent studies completed at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Medical School, and Carnegie Melon University that all demonstrate the broad application of mindfulness, and how your quality of life can be enhanced physiologically, emotionally and cognitively. Being able to direct and monitor attention can improve your performance in all aspects of your life.

The good news is, the path to becoming mindful is not as hard as you might thin. It all starts with your breath. Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breathing. Follow the movement through your body. How do you breathe? Are you breathing short, choppy breaths with the air stopping in your chest? Do you feel the air push down into your abdomen and feel your stomach expand?

When you start to find your mind wandering off – and it will – come back to your breath. Focus on the breath coming in, pause, and the breath going out. Finding focus can be hard to do, but this is training you to become mindful.

An optimal breathing rate is between 4 to 7 breaths a minute. When we are talking with our family and friends, we are breathing 12 – 14 breaths a minute, as we have to, to fuel conversation. You’ve probably never thought about how you breathe. The physiological effects of an optimal breathing rate can have profound impacts on your health. Imagine a car never getting the correct mixture of gasoline and oxygen, always running at half of it;s capacity. But once the two are synched up into an optimal mixture, the car runs like it never has before. This is exactly like your body.

Becoming more mindful can enhance your life in many ways, and the first step is to master your breathing. Block out 10 minutes a day for the next two weeks for your “workout”. Feel your whole body move with your breathe, think about what is going on around you, what you hear and smell. Be receptive to all the sensations and breathe. You are on the path to becoming mindful, improving your brain and most importantly your life.

To read the full article on mindfulness, click here: