Do you meditate, practice yoga or tai chi, or do another mind-body practice? If so, you have probably noticed that these types of activities help reduce stress. Recent research from Coventry University has identified one way that such mindfulness practices help your body.
This study is from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. Lead investigator Ivana Buric says,
These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, [Mind-Body Interventions] cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
People who practice a mindful activity experience changes in their bodies. These changes benefit health by decreasing the production of proteins that cause inflammation. Inflammation is useful in the short term to boost the immune system and fight infections. However, chronic inflammation is linked to a higher risk of some diseases and mental health conditions.
Are you ready to experience the physical and mental benefits of a mind-body practice for yourself? Community education, faith communities and online resources are all ways to access classes and videos to guide your efforts. You may want to try several options to find the activity that is right for you.
Does your brain produce a lot of negative internal chatter? If so, it may be because the part of our brain that is the center for emotions, the amygdala, uses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences or threats. This can result in our focusing more on the negative, even if we are experiencing as many – or more – positive things. This tendency is part of the human condition. While it still has usefulness in modern life, for many of us this system is over-active.
Our inner critic is looking for problems. However, we don’t need to listen to it. Being nicer to ourselves is a good strategy to improve our well-being and reduce stress. We can learn how to do this even if it is not our natural tendency.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher who specializes in self-compassion, says it has three parts:
- Self-kindness: “Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”
- Recognizing our experiences are part of the shared human experience
- Being mindful or non-judgemental
Learn more tips, watch videos and find additional resources at Dr. Neff’s Self Compassion website.
Negativity also has an impact on the people around us. For tips on how to counter this in the workplace, see this blog post from Psychology Today: Are We Hardwired to be Positive or Negative?
A strong set of core muscles in your torso helps keep your back happy and allows you to do the movements and chores of daily living. I’ve written before about the importance of the transversus abdominus muscle as a key to your core support.
Many people can benefit from core work – such as office workers, new moms, and athletes. For example, I discovered that I could do certain yoga poses better after I took up Pilates. I thought I wasn’t flexible enough but it turns out I wasn’t strong enough.
This set of exercises recommended by coach Timothy Bell will help build your foundation for balanced core support and strength.
5 Fundamental Core and Abdominal Exercises for Beginners
Kale and other leafy greens have been popular for a while because they are nutritional powerhouses. They are tasty, high in fiber and contain many beneficial vitamins and minerals (for details, see WebMD Top 10 Leafy Green Vegetables). They are also low in calories. One way I get my daily greens is in a green smoothie, as I wrote about previously.
A recent study from the University of Illinois provides even more incentive to keep leafy greens – along with other green vegetables – on your menu routinely.
Farm share photo by my share partner.
A study of older adults links consumption of a pigment found in leafy greens to the preservation of “crystallized intelligence,” the ability to use the skills and knowledge one has acquired over a lifetime.
You might think of bad air days as a summertime issue when smog levels or smoke from wildfires can be greater. Here in Minnesota; however, fine particles can also be a concern during the winter heating season. Breathing air with high levels of fine particles can be troubling for people with asthma or heart conditions, among others.
To find out about the day’s air quality or to learn more about indoor and outdoor air pollution, visit the Be Air Aware Minnesota website. Along with current conditions, there are monthly feature articles, health data and ways to take action to help keep Minnesota’s air clean.
When you feel stressed, anxious or just have tight muscles, how do you approach improving how you feel? What about when your mind is busy or you can’t fall asleep? One option that can be beneficial in many situations is to work with the breath. By changing the pattern of your inhalations and exhalations, you can recruit the calming part of your nervous system. This is the parasympathic, or rest and digest, system.
A technique that I like is to extend the length of the exhalation compared to the duration of the inhalation. First, see what your normal breathing pattern is. Simply observing your breath, breathe in and out through your nose. Count to yourself or time how long the inhalation takes, then the exhalation. Now you know your baseline.
If the exhalation is already the longer portion, you have a good start. If not, the initial step will be to increase the length of the exhalation just slightly. The long-term goal is for the exhalation to be twice as long as the inhalation. It will probably take some time with consistent practice to achieve that 1:2 ratio.
Extend the exhalation exercise
Note: Stop and return to your normal breathing at any time if you feel uncomfortable.
- Sit upright or lie in a comfortable position.
- Take a normal breath in through the nose, counting or timing its length.
- Allow your breath to gently go out through the nose, counting or timing its length.
- If metering the breath out through your nose is difficult, then breathe out through pursed lips or through a straw instead (you will need to hold the straw with one hand). As you become more adept at this exercise, it is likely you will be able to shift to breathing out through the nose.
- At first, just try to have the exhalation a little longer than the inhalation. Eventually, work up to a 1:2 ratio. Do not extend the exhalation any more than twice the length of the inhalation.
- Repeat this pattern a total of 5 times. When you are confident in being able to maintain the pattern, you can gradually increase your practice time to 3-5 minutes.
- Return to normal breathing and observe how your body and mind feel.
For many people, the fast pace of daily life contributes to stress. In that case, slowing down – such as single tasking – can be beneficial. When it comes to walking, though, most of us probably need to speed up. Recent research from Oregon State University indicates that walking more briskly is better for your health than a leisurely stroll.
The study looked at the number of steps people took as well as how quickly they walked during their fastest 30 minutes of the day. Those 30 minutes did not have to be all at once – they could be broken up into smaller increments.
People who walked at a moderate to vigorous pace in their top 30 minutes had better health data. Their numbers were better for their chances of having common conditions like diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
Ideally, the study suggests walking for a total of 30 minutes per day at a cadence of 100 steps per minute or more. The next time you take a walk, consider checking your pace to see how close you come to this guideline.