HACKS FOR HEALTH & WELLBEING
Coffee could add years to your life.
A study by Imperial College London of more than half a million people in Europe found men were 18% and women 8% less likely to die from any cause than non-coffee drinkers (based on 3 cups of coffee a day.) Similar results were recorded by American scientists who studied 185,885 people.
It makes no difference whether the coffee contains caffeine or is decaffeinated because it’s the antioxidant compounds in coffee that are responsible for life-extending effects – particularly circulatory and digestive diseases. Previous studies have suggested coffee can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and certain cancers.
Caffeine keeps us awake, improves our mood, reaction time, vigilance, memory and general thinking ability.
Caffeine raises metabolism and improves athletic performance by more than 10%.
Coffee reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by between 23 and 67%.
Coffee protects your brain in old age by reducing the risk of dementia by 60% and Parkinson’s disease by 32 to 60%.
It also lowers the risk of liver cancer by 40%.
Both UK and US studies were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
A better cure for depression?
A daily dose of over-the-counter magnesium tablets significantly improved depression in patients in just two weeks! Magnesium combats inflammation linked to the condition, but without side effects, whereas antidepressants frequently cause nausea, weight gain and insomnia.
University of Vermont researchers studied 126 adults with mild to moderate depression. Some were given 248mg of magnesium – generally considered a low dose – every day for six weeks while others received no treatment. Participants were assessed twice a week over the phone. Symptoms improved regardless of their age, sex or antidepressant use. 61% of the study’s participants said they would use magnesium supplements to manage their depression in the future.
According to study author Emily Tarleton ‘the results are very encouraging, given the great need for additional treatment options for depression, and our finding that magnesium supplementation provides a safe, fast and inexpensive approach to controlling depressive symptoms.’
This is the first clinical trial examining the effect of magnesium supplements on depression in adults. The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
For further information, read Dr Irving Kirsch’s book The Emperor’s New Drugs. It’s a serious indictment of the antidepressant drug industry – I promise you will be shocked!
Chocolate is good for you after all!
Dark chocolate in particular is a rich source of flavanol, a natural compound found in cocoa beans that boosts memory and improves brain function.
The benefits of eating chocolate are well known. After a sustained chocolate enriched diet over an extended period of time, test subjects showed that memory, attention, brain-processing speed, visual processing skills and fluency of speech all improved in the hours after eating chocolate – especially in older adults with symptoms of memory decline or other mild brain impairments.
Dark chocolate is also an effective appetite suppressant, but the downside – it also contains calories, some milk and sugar – and caffeine, which is why it can also counteract the effects of sleep deprivation.
Stop trying to be happy!
Celebrities present a false version of life and happiness gurus try to sell you their latest emotional quick fixes.
Happiness as a goal in itself will always be elusive, because the message that we should maximise our positive emotions and avoid our negative ones doesn’t work! Feeling down from time to time is normal – one in five people experience depressive symptoms at some time in their lives, yet society is constantly demanding that we should be happy all the time.
Depression rates are higher in countries that place too high an emphasis on happiness.
A study of 112 patients who were pressurised to feel happy actually experienced worse symptoms.
We need to change our attitude to depression if it’s to be tackled effectively. Anti-depressant drugs often don’t work and many people have been prescribed anti-depressants when they didn’t really need them! [Read Dr Irving Kirsch’s book The Emperor’s New Drugs.]
The best way to achieve real happiness is to seize every opportunity and live for the day. Oh, and care about those close to you and spend time with them.
Research from the University of Melbourne / Published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
Calm down, calm down…
You can beat stress, anxiety and panic attacks just by controlling your breathing. Here’s how…
Be very conscious of your breathing. Take slower breaths and slowly relax your body bit by bit. Imagine your body becoming numb, from your fingertips to your toes, until every muscle, every joint, every nerve, every sinew, every fibre becomes completely relaxed.
Deep and slow breaths can induce a powerful state of calm, lower blood pressure, sharper and more focussed thinking.
The end result is just like the totally relaxed feeling you get after yoga or a massage.
Breathing exercises have been around for hundreds of years. Controlling breathing can shift your consciousness from anxious to meditative and is a core component of all types of yoga.
Scientists at Stanford University have discovered that the idea of slow breathing is not new-agey nonsense after all, but actually helps the brain to create a sense of calm.
‘Transformational breathing’ is set to be one of the health trends of 2017. Shallow breaths send messages to the brain that the body is in survival mode, increasing production of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to chronic anxiety.
The Stanford study is published in the journal Science.
Coffee could help with weight loss.
Caffeine helps to burn calories by boosting the release of oxytocin, which affects both appetite and metabolism. Researchers have found caffeine significantly reduces food intake and increases energy expenditure.
Caffeine is safe for consumption in doses of up to 400mg (approx. 4 cups) per day for adults.
Studies suggest caffeine may also have a variety of health benefits, including combating liver disease, type 2 diabetes and could even help people live longer. A Dutch report earlier this year showed that drinking more coffee may help to stave off liver cancer – people who drink just one cup of coffee a day are 20% less likely to develop the most common form of the disease.
Coffee is the world’s most widely consumed stimulant and is reported to boost daily energy expenditure by around 5%. Combining 2 to 4 daily coffees with regular exercise is even more effective at keeping the weight off! A 2015 study showed just a couple of cups a day could help millions of dieters stay trim once they have achieved their desired weight.
LESS exercise is the key to weight loss.
Want to lose weight? – Believe it or not, LESS exercise is the key to weight loss because intense exercise actually prevents your body from burning fat! Strenuous exercise causes cortisol levels to spike because your body can’t tell the difference between exercise stress and normal stress. High cortisol stops your body burning fat.
WALKING is the best and most natural exercise, but swimming, dancing, gardening & cycling are just as good. Just 20 minutes a day of any of these is all you need.
Your energy levels will be higher – you’ll sleep better and feel refreshed in the morning and not tired from exercising.
A mindful way to lose weight?
A new study carried out by North Carolina State University has found that mindfulness helped people lose seven times more weight than people on standard diets and that mindfulness is more effective than simply trying to eat healthily.
80 people took part in the study – half designed their own diet – they lost 0.6lbs – while half engaged in daily meditation – and they lost 4.2lbs, seven times the first group’s average weight loss. The researchers say this is a staggering testament to the power of meditation.
A ‘small changes approach’ is a weight management strategy that emphasises a combination of diet and physical activity. In other words, eat less – exercise more!
Mindful eating means:
1) Paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness,
2) Planning meals and snacks,
3) Eating as a singular activity as opposed to eating while doing other activities,
4) Paying special attention to how food tastes and having just one or two bites of special higher calorie foods,
5) Savouring the flavour.
The results suggest a beneficial association between mindful eating and weight loss. They are currently studying mindful eating as part of a diabetes prevention program. Being overweight or obese means risking hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
This has got to be better than saving up for the liposuction. Nonetheless, and cutting through the jargon, it might just be a case of being ‘mindful’ that you need to exercise a bit of will power.
Thinking about a time when you were happy is one of the best ways to beat stress.
Remembering the good times can cut your stress response by 85% because it fires up the reward centres in the brain. Remembering or thinking about happy times, visualising positive things or even dreaming about a happy future works better than simply trying to distract yourself.
The ability to reminisce about the past is important for happiness – the opposite of ruminating on negative memories that can lead to depression.
Researchers tested the effectiveness of pleasant memories on stress on 134 volunteers. The results showed that those who thought about happy times felt calmer, and that the expected rise in stress hormone cortisol was on average only 15% of that of a neutral control group. When their brains were scanned, the participants who thought about happier times showed activity in the circuits linked to reward processing and emotion regulation.
The technique seems most effective for people who were already emotionally resilient, but the study concluded that thinking about good memories is the opposite of [fashionable] mindfulness, which encourages people to focus on the present, rather than the past or the future.
Research by Dr Mauricio Delgado and Megan Speer at New York’s Rutgers University – reported in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
Scientists at the University of Georgia have found that just 10 minutes of walking – not running! – up and down stairs every day will help you lose weight and stay fit. AND it will increase your energy levels – even more than drinking coffee or soft drinks. It will also result in small improvements in attention, memory and motivation.
If you work in an office, chances are you won’t have much time for exercise and won’t feel like going for a walk if it’s raining – but you might have access to stairs.
About 700 steps (equal to 30 floors) will do the trick and it takes just 10 minutes.
You can drop 2lbs per week doing this – that means losing 1.5 stone in time for the summer holidays!
Being more resilient helps to prevent future setbacks.
But it means being tough on yourself. Resilience is an acquired skill and not a fixed character trait, so it can be LEARNED.
According to the journal Frontiers in Psychology, those who learn from their mistakes develop better confidence, determination, coping strategies and tolerance for negative situations. So be prepared to overcome adversity!
Here’s the important thing – teaching young people to set goals, even after failure, will help them to do better in school and generally in life. The importance of working on strengths beyond academic or technical achievement will help you cope positively with all the adverse situations you encounter in life.
Worried about your memory? Here’s some good news…
Forgetting stuff makes us smarter because it allows us to make more intelligent and informed decisions. In an ever changing environment, we forget redundant information so we can better adapt to new situations.
Memory holds on to valuable information, but by forgetting irrelevant stuff, the brain can generalise information about both past and present events so we can focus on the things that will help us make decisions in the future.
Multiple conflicting memories make it harder to make informed decisions, but remembering the general gist of an experience creates simple memories that are more efficient at predicting future experiences.
There are mechanisms in the brain that store information and mechanisms that promote memory loss. New neurons and connections integrate into the hippocampus and overwrite existing memories.
This is why, when we are children and our brains are still developing, we forget so much stuff. But it’s our ability to collate important memories that makes us into the people we are today.
Research from the University of Toronto
There’s a connection between happiness, wellbeing, your immune system, a contented life, and improved health.
Conversely, chronic unhappiness is a threat to health – stress and depression can negatively affect your immune system, cardiovascular health, and your ability to fight off disease and heal injuries.
The extent to which a happy, cheerful disposition supports good health is unclear because it varies from person to person, so researchers analysed numerous studies that investigated the link between happiness and health.
Happier people are more inclined to exercise regularly and not smoke. Generosity and altruistic acts also makes people happier because they trigger areas of the brain linked to feelings of contentment. Even small acts of kindness are enough to create changes in our brains that make us happier.
The magnitude of generosity does not influence levels of contentment – even small acts of kindness produce a sense of wellbeing. Generosity and happiness improve individual wellbeing and can facilitate social success. This is why people feel gratification from giving, even when it exacts a cost to themselves.
Research by the Universities of Utah, Virginia and the University of Lubeck, Germany, published in the journal Health and Well-Being.
Doing crossword puzzles can develop sharper brains and stave off dementia.
There are significant links between keeping the brain healthy in old age and reduced risk of dementia. Researchers at Exeter University and Kings College London analysed data from more than 17,000 participants and found direct relationships between the frequency of doing crosswords and the speed and accuracy of performance in cognitive tasks that assessed a range of functions including attention, reasoning, speed and memory. Performance was consistently better in those who regularly did crosswords and generally improved the more they did them.
It has long been known that keeping an active mind can help to reduce decline in thinking skills. The Alzheimer’s Society recommends adults do a daily crossword to reduce their risk of developing dementia. Solving crosswords – especially cryptic crosswords – involves several different brain regions working in unison, including memory and visual imagery.
A recent study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital showed that although keeping body and mind active doesn’t affect the suspected underlying cause of Alzheimer’s (a build-up of protein deposits on the brain) keeping mentally fit and doing crosswords can ease the symptoms and still help brains function.
In the meantime, the best way to reduce the risk of developing dementia is to keep physically active, avoid smoking and enjoy a healthy balanced diet.
Having a good weep is just like giving yourself a hug.
Weeping triggers the release of natural anti-stress endorphins that create a feeling of wellbeing. Weeping is distinct from crying (usually a response to pain) while weeping –unique to humans – is an emotional expression of both grief and happiness.
It can also be an appeal to others for empathy and can also stabilise mood. It can occur during intense positive emotional experiences such as watching a romantic film, seeing grandchildren for the first time, or making an Oscar acceptance speech. Women weep up to four times longer than men.
There are several different historical theories about the origins and purpose of weeping. For instance, it’s possible that when prehistoric humans used fire in farewell cremation rites, tears triggered by the smoke became associated with sadness. It’s equally possible that people feel better after weeping because tears actually remove chemicals built up as a result of emotional stress.
[Research from Siena University Hospital, Italy, reported in New Ideas In Psychology.]