Science proves: positive thoughts, faster recovery

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Body & MindPositive thinking really can make you healthy, it seems. An optimistic attitude can do wonders for patients’ recovery, according to researchers who reviewed 16 studies that looked at patients’ attitudes toward health. The studies spanned 30 years and looked at patients’ attitudes after surgery. The review appears in a recent issue of Canadian Medical Association Journal. “In each case the better a patient’s expectations about how they would do after surgery or some health procedure, the better they did,” said author Donald Cole, of the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto.

The review says that the power of positive thinking is real, said ABCNEWS’ Medical Correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman on Good Morning America today. “This mind-body connection that we have been toying with for the past couple of decades really does have hard science behind it,” Snyderman said. Across a wide range of clinical conditions, from lower back pain to heart surgery, patients who felt they would do well in recovery did, according to Cole. Patients who were scared or pessimistic about their recovery did not recover as quickly as the optimists or as well.

“Less pain [after surgery] was directly associated with better expectations, positive expectations,” Cole said. Cole says the findings suggest several things that employers as well as physicians and family members can do to help a person’s recovery. “If an employee is going off for surgery it could be helpful to ask that employee, ‘What do you think is going to happen to you?’” said Cole. “If a person has fears or is feeling pessimistic then it is time to think, ‘We better deal with those fears.’” Dealing with those fears not only helps a person recover but also means a healthier work environment and the ability of that person who is going to surgery to come back to work quicker, said Cole.

“Clinicians should talk to their patients and find out what their hopes and fears are before a procedure,” Cole said. “If this were part of the process, recovery expectations could be talked about and then, according to the results of this study, at least, recovery could be better.” But can you decide or make a person have a positive attitude? Can a pessimist become an optimist? “You can’t blame people for their diseases,” Snyderman says. “But how you go through your life with the grit and determination to make it through, that you do have control over and that makes a difference.” –ABC News

3 Rules for Happiness Sapientia

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Sapientia: the 40 Principles of Wisdom by Alvin Conway

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Five ways obesity may affect the brain

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Obesity and the Brain

DIET & HEALTH The obesity epidemic is not only bad for our waistlines, but it could have a significant effect on our minds, as well. “Obesity not only impacts how you look … or physical health, it also impacts your brain,” says Ranjana Mehta, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health in College Station, Texas.

Putting on the pounds not only transforms your belly, but it also alters your brain, a number of studies suggest. These brain changes may, in turn, fuel overeating, leading to a vicious cycle that makes losing weight and keeping it off challenging. Here are five ways obesity changes the brain:

Desensitizes the brain:

Gaining weight may desensitize the brain to the pleasure we get from sugary and fatty foods, prompting us to eat more cookies and cake than we did when we were leaner, research shows. A similar effect is seen in drug users, who eventually require more cocaine or heroin in order to achieve their original high. In a study published Sept. 29 in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers scanned the brains of women as they drank a milkshake. They saw the sugary drink activated an area known as the striatum.

Half a year later, the researchers repeated the experiment on the same women some of whom had gained some weight. The more weight the women had put on in the interim, the less their brains responded to the milkshake in the second experiment. Research on animals has also shown rats fed a diet rich in sugar and fats are less sensitive to the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.

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Obesity makes us more impulsive:

In obese children, a region of the brain in charge of controlling impulsively, called the orbitofrontal cortex, appears to be shrunken compared with that of lean children, according to a study presented this year at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry meeting in New York. Moreover, the smaller this brain region was, the more likely the adolescents were to eat impulsively, the researchers said.

Increases the risk of dementia:

Having more belly fat is associated with a decrease in total brain volume in middle-aged adults, according to a study published in May in the journal Annals of Neurology. It’s possible that the extra fat triggers inflammation, which puts stress on the body and perhaps impacts the brain, the researchers said. The finding suggests something particular about belly fat, also known as visceral fat the fat located between organs in the abdominal cavity may play a role in reducing brain size.

Visceral fat releases a unique profile of hormones, which may impact the body in a manner different from the hormones released by subcutaneous fat, or fat under the skin, the researchers said. Previous studies have found that people with smaller brain volumes are at higher risk for dementia, and tend to do poorer on cognitive tests.

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Yo-Yo dieting may prompt binge-eating under stress

Dieting may change how the brain responses to stress , so that the next time we find ourselves in a bind, or just plain frazzled, we eat more, according to a study published Dec. 1 in the Journal of Neuroscience. In the study, researchers put a group of mice on a diet so that they lost 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. Then, the mice were allowed to put the weight back on, similar to the way human dieters often see the pounds creep back. When the mice were exposed to stressful situations, such as hearing sounds at nighttime, they ate more food than those who had never been placed on a diet.

The mice also had what are known as epigenetic changes changes in the way genes are expressed that don’t involve changes in the gene sequences themselves particularly in genes involved in regulating responses to stress. The researchers said these modifications may have altered the animals’ eating behavior during stress.

Obesity may impair memory

Obesity may impair memory, at least for women after menopause. A study published July 14 in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society looked at memory test scores for 8,745 women ages 65 to 79. The researchers found a 1-point increase in a woman’s body mass index (BMI) was associated with a 1-point decrease on a 100 point memory test. Hormones released by fat could impair memory, the researchers said. These hormones can cause inflammation, which may affect cognition.  –Live Science

Making the most of those life experiences

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Life ExperiencesThe purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

If you ask anyone what the purpose of life is, you’ll likely receive wildly different responses. The answer to this question is subjective and deeply personal. Different things are important to us throughout the course of our lives. Yet one thing stays with us no matter where we go: our experiences. Finding ways to make the most of our experiences is a challenge that we face every day. As humans we ascribe value to the things we do, and it’s understandable. We like to feel that what we are doing has purpose. It’s important to find fulfillment in our relationships and careers. Cultivate your friendships and find company cultures that fulfill you. It’s from those experiences in life that we learn and grow. In this process of pursuing what we love, we can learn valuable lessons about ourselves and the world around us.

Pursue what you love

There’s a maturity that comes with the experience of pursuing your dreams. Before you can do that, it’s important to take inventory of your priorities. What are you passionate about? What makes you feel alive? Where do your talents thrive? Not everyone values the same things or thinks the same way, and that’s OK.

The number one way to live a life free of regret is to pursue those interests after you’ve identified them. Passion and drive can wither and die without actions supporting them. Your time is precious. It’s common to struggle with feelings of futility of when you don’t make immediate progress. We can’t choose the outcome of our actions, but we can choose everyday to keep pursuing. Every day take an action, no matter how small, to achieve your goals. Write in your blog, do those push-ups, and practice your singing. Build upon your momentum. Each day is a step forward and none of it is wasted.

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Learn from your mistakes

You’ll stumble and you’ll fall, and that’s okay. I’ve taken jobs I shouldn’t have and moved for the wrong reasons. Though that time spent may seem like a waste, I learned a lot from those experiences. It takes time to gain confidence in yourself. It takes time to learn how to stand on your own. Building connections and making friends is a process like anything else. You might fail sometimes, but you’ll learn new ways to achieve your goals in the process.

Guy Kawasaki discusses this in his book, “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.” He highlights how to pursue your goals, how to project your authentic self, and how to overcome opposition. All of these can be achieved through self-awareness and discovery. His business advice is widely applicable to the many challenges we face in life

If you want to change the world, you need to start by changing yourself. Making mistakes is the surest path to grow and mature as a person. The knowledge you gain will empower you to succeed in the future. Many of my strongest memories come from the times I’ve failed, and those lessons have stayed with me. There is virtue in failure. Time and perspective allows me to see the value of even the most painful situation.

Take care of yourself

Difficult and painful experiences shape our character but can also weigh us down. These frustrations burden and prevent us from moving forward. Much of our progress in life relies on willpower and a healthy emotional state. There is a strong connection between physical and mental health – and for these reasons it’s important to address mental health first. If you’re under immense stress and anxiety, your body and mind both require time to recover. It’s best to rest, recover, and slowly build back up your strength. –Huffington Post

5 Super-foods you’re probably not eating, but should be

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Diet & HealthThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that in 2000, partially because of a surge in meat consumption, the average American ate almost 20 percent more calories than he did in 1983. The problem isn’t only that we’re eating too much, but that we’re eating a lot of bad stuff: According to the CDC, more than 11 percent of the American diet comes from fast food. Could the gloomy 2050 predictions be averted? A hopeful sign is the growing interest in healthy diets and in particular, super-foods.

New research by Mintel, a market research firm, has found that between 2011 and 2015, the number of new food and drink products to hit the marketplace containing the terms “super-food,” “super-fruit” or “super-grain” increased more than 200 percent worldwide. Just a cursory glance at your local Whole Foods will give you a sense of how ubiquitous the word has become to sell various foods and drinks. And while the term super-food has been used aggressively as a marketing tactic, it’s a real concept. The Oxford Dictionary defines a super-food as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.”

But that doesn’t mean super-foods should be treated as panaceas. While Cancer Research UK points out that super-foods are often marketed as having the power to prevent or even cure various diseases and ailments, it warns that consumers “shouldn’t rely on so-called ‘super-foods’ to reduce the risk of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet.” But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Interested in making the most of what you eat? Try including these five “super-foods” in your diet. (And as with any change in diet, check with your doctor before trying anything new).

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Moringa: What has more protein than yogurt, more calcium than milk, more B vitamins than peanuts, more potassium than bananas and more vitamin A than carrots? Moringa. Packed with protein and phytochemicals (compounds that may reduce the risk of chronic disease), moringa also has all eight essential amino acids. And while there’s also compelling evidence that moringa can help diabetes and function as an anti-carcinogen, Singh points out that the current research is preliminary.

Turmeric: A member of the ginger family whose root is widely used as an ingredient in medicines, turmeric is a superfood that has many health properties. Since ancient times, turmeric has been used to fight inflammation, a power given to it by the compound curcumin, which has been found to inhibit several molecules that play a role in inflammation in human clinical trials. It has also been used to treat a wide number of ailments, including arthritis, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, high cholesterol, headaches, bronchitis, fibromyalgia and depression. Curcumin may also help fight cancer, as its antioxidants may help prevent free radicals from damaging cellular DNA.

Aronia: Native to the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S., aronia (aka chokeberry) have been used in many food products, from jam, salsa and syrup to ice cream, beer and wine. But this dark, sour berry that has long been prized by Native Americans as a miracle fruit has emerged as a potent super-food. “Based upon many cell-line studies, animal models and human clinical trials, it has been suggested that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control and diabetes alleviation properties, all of which are more or less associated with their potent antioxidant property,” according to a 2010 Ohio State University study.

Mung Beans: A popular food in India, China and Southeast Asia, the mung bean has a nutty, sweet flavor that complements sweet and savory dishes. While they are packed with potassium, iron, magnesium and fiber, it’s the protein content that is amazing: 24 percent. It’s no surprise that they are popular, even for breakfast, in India, where 40 percent of the population is vegetarian.

While most other legumes lose their vitamin C content after cooking, mung beans retain most of it. Also, studies have shown that fermented mung bean extracts can help lower bad cholesterol levels and also blood sugar levels, which is good news for diabetics.

Maple Syrup: New finding from a University of Rhode Island study puts maple syrup alongside such known super-foods as berries, red wine (in moderation), tea and flaxseed. “We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Seeram. “We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar. In fact, in preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries.” –Eco Watch

Exercise plus fasting may boost the brain’s neurons

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BODY & MIND Intermittent fasting and exercise may have some surprising brain benefits, research shows. Forget what you’ve heard about “brain food”…turns out, the best food for your brain may be none at all. New research on intermittent fasting and exercise show some surprising brain benefits of depriving yourself of calories — at least occasionally. “We have evidence that exercise and probably intermittent fasting increase the number of mitochondria in neurons,” said Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore.

So far, Mattson and other researchers have studied the phenomenon in animals, and are beginning to understand how intermittent fasting in rats and mice can enhance learning and memory, and how it can decrease the risk of those brain functions degenerating. The upcoming human study would seek people who are at risk for cognitive impairment — obese individuals between 55 and 70 with insulin resistance who are not being treated for diabetes. They would be put through “a battery of cognitive tests,” Mattson said, while their brains were scanned by fMRI. They’d also undergo the scan in a resting state. Then, after two months with half the group on a 5-2 diet (eating a calorie-restricted diet for two non-consecutive days a week and unconstrained eating the other five days), the researchers would repeat the evaluations and compare them to the control group.

Although exercise and fasting can produce some similar results (increased production of BDNF, for example), Eric Ravussin, Associate Executive Director for Clinical Science at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, points out that the mechanisms are very different. Still, there’s some preliminary ruminating that combining a short fast and exercise could piggyback to more quickly get the optimal results. “The thing that’s important is to dig into fat stores,” Ravussin said. “The longer the fast, the better. Or the more exercise, the better. If you could run at 6 a.m. and then skip breakfast, this would be the ideal.”  

“We haven’t connected all the dots, but we know that exercise and intermittent fasting increases BDNF and that BDNF can slow resting heart rate,” Mattson said. In a review published this week in PNAS, the authors (including Ravussin and Matson) point out that an intermittent fasting type of diet has evolutionary roots — it’s likely closer to the way our ancestors ate. But if the thought of fasting makes you cringe, there’s good news: intermittent fasting can be as simple as severely restricting your calories just two days a week. Eat what you want five days of the week, and then eat 500 or so calories twice a week. Most people have better success at that model, which is popular in some fitness circles, than its precursor, alternate day fasting. –Seeker