Dancing: How It Can Help Our Brain

In an article entitled “Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain” by Frontiers and featured on Medical Xpress, we read about a study out of Germany that looked at the benefits of exercise in the elderly to determine what type of effect it can have on the brain:

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”

Rehfeld goes on to explain that by constantly changing the dance routines and introducing different genres of dance, the seniors in the study were constantly engaged in a learning process.

We know that music it itself can greatly affect our mood and can be an important element in our emotional health; just putting on music while I am cleaning the house always makes the task that much more enjoyable. Now I have a reason to put some swing in my step!

Bottom line? Find some time to dance 🙂

To read the full article: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-reverse-aging-brain.html

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Get a Little Green

In an article entitled “Kids surrounded by greenery may grow up to be happier adults” by Katherine Schwab and featured on Fast Company, Schwab writes about a new study coming out of Denmark that shows that “children under 10 who had greater access to green space had 55% less risk of mental health disorders in adulthood.”

55%. That is quite a high number considering they came to that conclusion after having controlled for such factors such as urbanization, family history, socioeconomic status/factors and parent’s age. 55% less risk of mental disorders in adulthood.

Although the article features how these types of studies can affect urban planning, it would seem the message we can take from it is much simpler. Let’s get outside.

In many ways, we have lost the comfort of “just sending our kids out to play.” Gone are the days of our childhood where we donned our sneakers and play clothes, left the house to explore the back fields and forests – without cell phones – and returned when we instinctively knew a meal was close to being on set on the table. But perhaps we can still create enough space for our kids to get the green space they need with an emphasis on taking walks after school or supper, grabbing a soccer ball and heading to the park, fishing at the dock or setting up a tent in the backyard.

55%. That’s enough of a reason to get green 😊

To read the full article: https://www.fastcompany.com/90313598/kids-surrounded-by-greenery-may-grow-up-to-be-happier-adults

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Interesting Facts About Walking

We all know that walking is good for us. In an article entitled “The benefits of walking and how to get the most out of it” by RJ Skinner and featured on CBC Life, Skinner includes some interesting facts about what is considered our most natural form of exercise:

  • “Regular walking has been shown to fight genetic weight gain, curb cravings, ease joint pain and strengthen your immunity.” I especially liked hearing that “walking can help tame your sweet tooth; even a 15 minute walk can help to alleviate sugar cravings.”
  • A 2015 study found that going from a sedentary lifestyle to taking 10,000 steps per day could lower your risk of mortality by 46 per cent.”
  • “Walking can be used as part of a greater regimen as it can work well with other forms of exercise such as strength training or flexibility type exercise programs.”

What I appreciate most about this article is the focus on the simplicity of walking. We don’t need a lot of equipment, it is a four season activity, and it feels natural to our body. Walking in nature is also good for our peace of mind, reducing our overall stress levels and increasing our feeling of calm. “One step at a time,” literally 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.cbc.ca/life/wellness/the-benefits-of-walking-and-how-to-get-the-most-out-of-it-1.5145418

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Important Facts About the Teenage Brain

I recently read a meme that made me laugh: The book we really needed was “What to Expect 17 Years After Expecting.”

The teenage years can be some of our most challenging as parents, but also some of our most rewarding. In an article entitled “The teenage brain: Seven things parents should know about adolescent behaviour” featured on Women’s Hour, BBC Radio, we can read about some of the characteristics that affect our teenagers. A few that I appreciated:

  • “The teenage brain undergoes a huge transition. Contrary to what was believed for many, many decades, the teenage brain in fact undergoes really substantial amounts of development, both in terms of its structure and its function throughout childhood, throughout adolescence and it only stabilizes around the mid-20s.” This can certainly explain how I saw much maturity from my oldest daughter by the age of 21.
  • “There is a biological reason why teenagers find it hard to get up. Essentially, their circadian rhythm is changing. We know that melatonin, which in humans is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy at night, is produced in the brain about two hours later during the teenage years, than during childhood or adulthood.” Gee, so I guess they aren’t just lazy 😉
  • “Long term health risks don’t scare teenagers. When we are worrying about the kinds of risks that adolescents take, research shows that focusing on the long-term health risks, or the long-term legal risks of decisions, does not work as well as focusing on the social consequences of those risky decisions. This is because the social world is really paramount to teenagers. They care very much what their friends think.” 

Knowing some of these facts can help to temper the frustration we sometimes feel when our teenagers are making impulsive choices or pushing back as a way to gather their independence. We are much better served to be flexible in our attitude towards what is proving to be a very important time in our children’s lives –  I still would have appreciated that book though 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/29h0HQPw8L8xJmyNh1Ss7Qb/the-teenage-brain-seven-things-parents-should-know-about-adolescent-behaviour

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The Facts Behind a Smile

In an article entitled “The Science Behind Smiling” featured on “Pick the Brain: Grow Yourself,” we learn some interesting facts about smiling:

  • -“When it comes to happiness, children clearly have an advantage over adults—they smile 400 times a day on average, as compared to 20 times a day for adults.” Well, that explains a lot doesn’t it?
  • -“Research shows that when you smile, people treat you differently. Smiling instantly makes you appear more reliable, relaxed, sincere, and attractive.”  Sign me up!
  • -“When the smiling muscles in our face contract, it sends a signal to the brain to stimulate the reward system that further increases our levels of endorphins, or happiness hormones. This triggering of the reward system can have the same effect on our happiness as eating chocolate or receiving a monetary prize.” Chocolate? Really? 🙂
  • -“The natural response to happiness is smiling. And according to science, the reverse is also true: smiling can actually create happiness. Smiling tricks our brains into believing we are happy, and one way it does this is by making us think of happier memories, which boost our moods.” Awesome!

Bottom line? Find more reasons to smile; it will do you good!

To read the full article: https://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/the-science-behind-smiling/

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Five Fun Facts About Laughter

Consciously keeping laughter as part of our daily routine is a great self-care strategy! Here are five fun facts about the importance of keeping yourself amused:

  • Laughter is contagious. People are 30 times more likely to laugh when in the company of others.
  • Laughter has bonding qualities; when couples tackle stressful situations with humour, they are more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationship.
  • The average person laughs around 13 times per day; spontaneous laughter bringing about more instances of belly laughs.
  • Whole-hearted laughter boosts our immune system, working against harmful illness.
  • In an average day, children tend to laugh 3 times more than adults.

What do these facts tell us about the importance of laughter? They all tend to focus on the importance of working towards adopting a carefree attitude to our daily stresses; using laughter as a way to counter some of the challenges we may face in our busy lives.

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Tom Brady and a Comment to Think About

Most people know who Tom Brady is; an American Quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and winner of six Superbowl championships. I recently heard him in an interview talking about what he does to maintain a healthy lifestyle and he commented:

“My body is an asset.”

Makes sense, coming from a super athlete that makes his living in sports. But it got me to thinking about how we view our own bodies – super athlete or not, is our body not an asset? Imagine what is happening behind the scenes to keep our bodies healthy. Did you know for example that:

  • Our bodies automatically function to stabilize our body temperature.
  • Our bodies have the ability to self-heal. Regeneration of damaged cells occur as we move throughout the day.
  • The function of our heart is to pump blood throughout our body, bringing oxygen to our cells. In one day, it is averaged that our blood travels a total distance of 19,000 kms.
  • It is estimated that our brain can hold five times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannia. The memory capacity in the average adult brain can store trillions of bytes of information.

This post doesn’t even touch on what how our skin, liver, and stomach do to help keep the miraculous function of our body in tact. Without us even paying attention. 

Perhaps we can begin to view our bodies as assets; creating conscious choices in what we eat, how we move, the sleep we get. Feeding our comfort system through daily self-care, creating space for our bodies to relax and renew.

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The Benefits of Laughter

In an article entitled, “Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter” and featured on WedMD, author R. Morgan Griffin writes about the physiological benefits of laughter:

  • We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues.
  • When laughing, blood vessels expand and contract more easily.
  • Using humour may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.
  • A study of people with diabetes demonstrated that laughter lowered blood sugar levels.

Griffin goes on to say that the science of laughter is early in its stages, with more studies needed in order to back up its true effects.

Until then, perhaps we can rely on the way laughter makes us feel as our own proof that it does our body good. Laughter opens up the face, produces a warm and welcoming smile; we feel lighter, brighter, connected to others and more relaxed. Sounds like a great prescription to me 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter#1

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Just Ask Your Gut

There is mounting evidence that our gut is like a second brain. Now, this brain cannot think or express an opinion, but it can influence your mood and well being. Here are some interesting facts about your gut:

  • Serotonin (the hormone most often associated with happiness) is actually produced in your gastrointestinal tract.
  • There are close to 100 million neurons lining our digestive tract, creating an ecosystem that sends signals to our brain about our mood.
  • 90% of the cells responsible for our psychological stress response are found in our gut; explaining the feeling of nausea when anxious.
  • The second brain may be able to mediate the body’s immune response.
  • There is a higher percentage of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and functional bowel issues who also present with depression and anxiety.

Although research is continuing to uncover the deeper connection between our brain and our gastrointestinal system, this part is clear: a healthier gut leads to a healthier mind. Now that is something to get cleaned up about 🙂

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The Power of Nature

The benefits of walking are without question; not just from a health perspective but also a psychological one. A study, conducted by Stanford University entitled “Stanford Researchers find Mental Health Prescription: Nature,” addresses the increasing trend of urbanization (we have reached the 50% mark for people living in urban areas) and along with this statistic, two accompanying trends: a decrease in the amount of exposure we get to nature and an overall increase in mental illness including anxiety and depression.

For the study, participants went for a walk either in a natural setting or on a busy street, both near Stanford U campus. Their brains were scanned before and after their walk; the participants walking in nature had decreased rumination (the looped cycle of negative thinking that often accompanies the onset of depression) whereas for the urban participants, there was no change.  “These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily. 

Although the article highlights the benefits of planning green space into urban settings, perhaps this study can also encourage those of us who live in small towns or rural areas to get outside. It would seem that the very act of being in nature soothes the mind and gives us the space to slow things down, bringing clarity to our thoughts and a feeling of weightlessness to our spirit.

To read the full article (there is a 2 min video): https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/

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