change it up

A new study shows people are capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes.

Let's say you've decided to make some changes in your life. You're out of shape, your mind wanders, your self-esteem is wavering, and you have no idea what you just read. So you decide to focus on one thing -- losing weight, maybe -- and tackle the other issues later. You don't want to take on too much at once, right?

A new paper by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, however, suggests you're selling yourself short. "Pushing the Limits: Cognitive, Affective & Neural Plasticity Revealed by an Intensive Multifaceted Intervention," published this week in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, strongly suggests that we have seriously underestimated our ability to change our lives for the better.

Michael Mrazek, director of research at UCSB's Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential and lead author of the paper, said the six-week study from which the paper is drawn demonstrates that simultaneous, significant improvement across a broad range of mental and physical functions is possible. Participants in the intervention all showed dramatic improvements in more than a dozen different outcomes, including strength, endurance, flexibility, working memory, standardized test performance, focus, mood, self-esteem, mindfulness and life satisfaction.

"Part of what distinguishes this work is finding such broad improvements across so many different domains, particularly given that the effect sizes were so large," Mrazek explained. Large effect sizes signify that the results were not only statistically significant but also indicative of substantial changes. "Many of these effects were very large -- larger than you tend to find in studies that focus on changing only one thing."

In the study, 31 college students were recruited for an intensive lifestyle change program; 15 participated in the intervention and 16 were in the waitlist control group. Those in the intervention put in five hours a day each weekday for six weeks. They did 2.5 hours of physical exercise (including yoga and Pilates), one hour of mindfulness practice and 1.5 hours of lecture or discussion on topics such as sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, compassion, relationships or well being. The were advised to limit alcohol consumption to one drink a day, eat a diet of mostly whole foods and sleep 8-10 hours a day.

Throughout the study, the participants were tested on a variety of factors, including physical fitness, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, working memory capacity, reading comprehension and more. They also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brains to examine areas known to be associated with a range of cognitive functions.

"The neuroimaging findings help us understand and contextualize the other significant results," Mrazek explained. "For instance, participants made dramatic improvements in their mindfulness, their reading comprehension, their working memory capacity. So we look to the neuroimaging data to understand what's happening in the communication between brain networks that's allowing for these changes."

Overall, the results were clear and striking, Mrazek said. Even six weeks after the intervention, participants continued to show improvement in all areas. "We predicted that the intervention would lead to substantial improvements in health, cognitive abilities and well-being, but we didn't know how long they would last. It seemed possible that some of the benefits wouldn't extend beyond the training. So I was surprised that even without any contact and support, participants maintained significant improvements at the six-week follow up."

Determining exactly why all these changes were possible will require future study, Mrazek noted, but he suspects that a comprehensive approach allows each area of improvement to reinforce the others. "Recent research suggests its often more effective to make two or more changes simultaneously, especially when those changes reinforce one another. It's easier to drink less coffee if at the same time you get more sleep. Our intervention extended this logic by helping people make progress in many ways, which can create an upward spiral where one success supports the next," he said.

Mrazek said conventional thinking about changing one's behavior focuses on working on one thing at a time. This is also the way most science is done -- manipulating just one thing and observing the effect. He and his team, however, decided to try a fresh approach. "It occurred to us that real changes in people's lives don't occur in a vacuum. We wanted to see how much change is possible if you help someone improve all these dimensions of their life simultaneously."

The study could have wide applications beyond the college campus, Mrazek noted. Although the subjects were college students, they weren't extraordinary in any way. "People showed up with all sort of different challenges, including in some cases mental illness and physical limitations. These were just college students, some of whom were doing great and others who were really struggling," he said. "More research is necessary to know if these results generalize to other populations, but there may eventually be opportunities for similarly modeled programs to be integrated into education, medicine, or social services."

Students in K-12 schools might particularly benefit from programs similar to the study's intervention, Mrazek said. "Many students spend nearly all day in school for 10 or more years of their lives," he observed. "Our intervention was fairly intensive in spending six weeks with these participants, but that's nothing in comparison to how much time kids spend in school. If future research can show similar benefits among middle school or high school students, then multifaceted programs like ours could help schools advance their priorities of improving both academic achievement and student well-being."

At the other end of the age spectrum, new retirees might also benefit from a program to kick-start the next phase of their lives, Mrazek said. "My intuition is that these things can be very helpful at any age," he said. "I think there's a big opportunity for people who are finishing up their careers and hopefully have decades of life still to enjoy. They have time, wisdom and in some cases resources to contribute to the world. Could something like this help them avoid cognitive decline and find an exciting new way forward as they transition into a later stage in their lives? I think it might, and that's something we would like to assess in future research."

Jonathan Schooler, senior author on the paper and a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences and director of the Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential, also observed that the research has both scientific and societal relevance. "This work advances society in demonstrating a straightforward route toward realizing people's full potential, and science in elucidating the brain mechanisms that may underpin such gains," he said.

Ultimately, Mrazek said, he'd like the study to be a source of optimism. "I hope this research raises a sense of possibility, and maybe even sense of expectation, about what is possible for someone who wants to improve his or her life," he said. But he also doesn't think we have all the answers yet. "As encouraging as these results are, I think this is only a preview of what will ultimately be achieved through future interventions that draw on continual advances in science and technology," he said. "The true limits of how much a person can change is a mostly unexplored frontier of scientific understanding."

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of California - Santa Barbara. The original item was written by Jim Logan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Michael D. Mrazek, Benjamin W. Mooneyham, Kaita L. Mrazek, Jonathan W. Schooler. Pushing the Limits: Cognitive, Affective, and Neural Plasticity Revealed by an Intensive Multifaceted InterventionFrontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2016; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00117

University of California - Santa Barbara. "Change by the bundle: Study shows people are capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes: Study shows people are capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 March 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160325093732.htm>.

 

hard cell

From Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: "Eyes turn into skin: How inflammation can change the fate of cells." 

EPFL scientists have found that chronic inflammation can cause regenerating cells to grow into new, aberrant types; this is called metaplasia, and is a disorder linked to prolonged inflammation. The study highlights a new concept of chronic inflammation and could lead to better treatments.

Chronic inflammation turns the immune system on for prolonged periods of time. As a result, it underlies many disorders that are associated with chronic inflammation, including cancer and abnormal wound healing. EPFL scientists have now discovered an additional component: chronic inflammation can cause cells to actually change type -- here, eye cells turned into skin. The study is published in Nature Cell Biology.

Many tissues contain a reserve of stem cells that help them heal and self-renew after injury or inflammation. Wanting to understand what happens under chronic inflammation conditions, a team of researchers led by Freddy Radtke at EPFL's Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) studied stem cells in the corneas of mice. To do this, they used methods that simulate chronic inflammation, and analyzed the data with techniques that light up specific cells with fluorescent stains.

The scientists found that in the cornea, the environment of stem cells changed -- specifically, it became stiffer. The reason for this is both the presence of immune cells but also an increase in a substance that helps cells stick to each other and form structures and organs.

Eye cells become skin cells

The corneal stem cells, like many other cells, have sensors that measure the stiffness of surrounding tissues and allow the cells to adapt accordingly. In short, if stiffness changes, the cells react. In the cornea, the researchers found that the cell environment became so stiff that the stem cells began to turn on wrong differentiation programs: the "software" package that tells a stem cell what cell to turn into.

As a result of bad programming, the stem cells proliferated and made skin instead of cornea, causing the mice to go blind. In humans, this kind of abnormal change in the nature of a tissue is called "metaplasia," and is associated with chronic inflammation. "Our study demonstrates an important mechanism by which chronic inflammation induces abnormal stem cell behavior," says Freddy Radtke. "This is relevant to a variety of diseases associated with chronic inflammation, including cancer, and could yield new therapeutic targets."

*     *     *

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. "Eyes turn into skin: How inflammation can change the fate of cells." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 December 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151221133627.htm>.

PSYCH!

Long gone are the days when psychedelic drugs were relegated to shoeless hippies donning daisy chains and ample fringe. Today research is being done on these substances with surprising and groundbreaking results. From easing anxiety to coping with trauma, reducing pain to kicking addiction, there are answers at our fingertips that could facilitate relief for millions of people. Below are some articles that shed light on some incredible progress in this area.

Image by  Alex Grey

Image by Alex Grey

A history of psychedelic drug use is associated with less psychological distress and fewer suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts, according to new research from Johns Hopkins and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In a national survey of over 190,000 U.S. adults, lifetime use of certain psychedelic drugs was associated with a 19 percent reduced likelihood of psychological distress within the past month, a 14 percent reduced likelihood of suicidal thinking within the past year, a 29 percent reduced likelihood of suicide planning within the past year and a 36 percent reduced likelihood of attempting suicide within the past year. These results were published in theJournal of Psychopharmacology.

The findings suggest that some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs, while illegal, may hold promise for depression, and that these psychedelics' highly restricted legal status should be reconsidered to facilitate scientific studies, says study author Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins.

While the study authors are not encouraging the illicit use of these substances, "these could be breakthrough medical treatments that we've been ignoring for the past 30 years," Johnson says. "We need to carefully examine these cautiously and thoroughly."

For the study, researchers pooled data from five years of results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2008 to 2012) to evaluate the relationship between a history of using certain nonaddictive psychedelic drugs and psychological distress and suicidality. The annual survey, administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, estimates the prevalence of substance use and mental illness in the general U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population. The study focused on respondents with a history of using nonaddictive psychedelic drugs, which interact with certain serotonin receptors in the brain.

Of 191,382 respondents, 27,235 reported lifetime use of one or more of these psychedelics, primarily psilocybin and LSD. Lifetime use was concentrated among 26- to 64-year-olds and was more common among men; non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans/Alaska Natives; those with greater education and income; individuals who were divorced, separated or who had never married; those with greater self-reported engagement in risky behavior; and those who reported lifetime illicit use of other substances. Among users of these psychedelic drugs, only 240 said they never tried any other illicit drug.

In addition, 12,657 respondents reported psychological distress within the past month, 10,445 reported suicidal thinking within the past year, 3,157 reported suicidal planning within the past year and 1,716 reported suicidal attempt within the past year. Continue reading...

***

Medical Marijuana: Benefits, Risks & State Laws

by Kim Ann Zimmermann, Live Science Contributor   |   January 14, 2015 10:26pm ET

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam, and recreational use of the drug is legal in Washington State and Colorado.

Marijuana's medicinal uses can be traced back as early as 2737 B.C., when the emperor of China, Shen Neng, touted cannabis tea as a treatment for gout, rheumatism, malaria and even poor memory, writes Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany who researches drugs and addiction, in "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence" (Oxford University Press, 2005). The drug's popularity as a medicine spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and then to Africa and India, where Hindu sects used it for pain and stress relief.

William O'Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor, popularized medical use of cannabis in England and America after noting its effects in India.

But by the late 1800s, with morphine addiction rampant in the United States, attitudes towards drugs such as marijuana shifted dramatically. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration was formed in 1906. While marijuana wasn’t specifically mentioned in the original FDA guidelines, the move to control chemical substances curtailed its use as treatment.

By 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act [sic] imposed such high taxes on physicians prescribing cannabis, retail pharmacists selling cannabis, and those cultivating medical cannabis that it essentially fell out of favor as a treatment. Keep reading for Health Benefits...

***

Image by  birdmach

Image by birdmach

First LSD Study In 40 Years Shows Promising Medical Uses 

By Emily Thomas

After a decades-long pause on LSD medical research, the results of the first LSD study approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 40 years have put the drug's potential medical benefits back in the spotlight.

Picking up where the medical community left off in the '60s, scientists recently investigated the effects of LSD-assisted therapy on 12 terminally ill patients approaching death. The findings of this controlled study, published Tuesday in thepeer-reviewed Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, showed that LSD paired with psychotherapy alleviated end-of-life anxiety in patients suffering from terminal illnesses.

Conducted in Switzerland, where scientist Albert Hoffman first synthesized LSD in 1938, the study separated the 12 patients into two groups that underwent two preparatory therapy sessions before being administered LSD. For the trial, patients stopped taking any anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications and avoided alcohol for 24 hours prior to the study. One group was administered 200 micrograms of LSD and the other group 20 micrograms (a barely noticeable dosing). Each individual underwent two dosing sessions separated by a few weeks and were assisted by therapists, who walked them through their experiences with the psychedelic's effects. No prolonged negative effects of the drug were reported.

The low-dosage group reported that their anxiety got worse, while the higher-dosage group said their drug-therapy sessions had profound positive effects on their anxiety -- a clinical indication that psychedelic therapy may have potential as a medical treatment. In follow-up sessions, patients reported their reduced anxiety levels were maintained. Keep reading...

***

MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy

From MAPS: We are studying whether MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can help heal the psychological and emotional damage caused by sexual assault, war, violent crime, and other traumas.

Our highest priority project is funding clinical trials of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as a tool to assist psychotherapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Preliminary studies have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome PTSD, and possibly other disorders as well. MDMA is known for increasing feelings of trust and compassion towards others, which could make an ideal adjunct to psychotherapy for PTSD.

In MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, MDMA is only administered a few times, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are often taken daily for years, and sometimes forever.

MDMA is not the same as "Ecstasy" or "molly." Substances sold on the street under these names may contain MDMA, but frequently also contain unknown and/or dangerous adulterants. In laboratory studies, pure MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses.

***

Even more interesting links:

Ibogaine Therapy for Drug Addiction

Ayahuasca Treatment for Addiction

***

And just for fun... Here is Terence McKenna presenting his controversial Stoned Ape theory:





YOUR ASS NEEDS GRASS (FED BEEF)

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away...

I was a vegetarian - and an extremely strict one at that. I blame Morrissey ;)

It was solely for ethical and environmental reasons rather than health. And with the general consensus being that too much red meat was unhealthy for us anyway, I figured that was a bonus. Meanwhile, I was eating just about anything else that was around - including pasta, pizza, and burritos. When my workouts and dance/circus training gained intensity, I realized I needed more protein in my life and my beloved tofu just wasn't going to cut it. 

In the days of old, it was much more difficult to get the quality meat that we have today. Yes, I still cringe at the idea of an animal dying and landing on my plate, but I decided that if I was going to eat meat, that I would do it in the most responsible way possible. My reasoning is this: I would much rather spend my money on farmers raising animals ethically and humanely, than withhold my money from the horrible mainstream meat producers like Purdue. That $20 is going to mean MUCH more to a small, local farmer doing the right thing; MainstreamMeat USA won't even notice my spending strike. Most nutritionists up to snuff on the current research will agree that red meat is actually quite good for us - but it needs to be GRASS FED. This is key. Happier, healthier animals lead to happier, healthier people. It might be a bit pricier, but if it helps me kick ass during the day and sleep well at night, it's worth the extra dough. 

INCREDIBLE, EDIBLE?

Eggs are a straight-up POWERHOUSE when it comes to nutritional density. And since there are roughly a gajillion ways to cook them, it's almost impossible for your tastebuds to get tired. But not all of these yolky gems are created equal. Here's an infographic from takepart.com to help you navigate your next supermarket egg sweep.

When an egg is produced by a healthy hen: 

From:&nbsp;http://just-making-noise.blogspot.com/2013/05/6-ways-to-eat-more-raw-egg-yolks.html

From: http://just-making-noise.blogspot.com/2013/05/6-ways-to-eat-more-raw-egg-yolks.html

Here's a li'l guide to cooking your eggs juuuuuuust the way you like:

HEY, SWEETIE.

There's nothing worse than a low down, dirty sneak. (Unless you're into that sort of thing, but I'm not judging.) Forget your ex. SUGAR is not only bad for you, it can down right ruin your life. This surreptitious sweetie has a way of slithering back into your arms, whether you like it or not. But once you know what it's been up to, maybe you can finally put your pretty, pedicured foot down, and give it the ol' finger waggle. 

According to Appetite for Health, here are some of the biggest sugar-laden creepers on the block:

Barbecue Sauce & Ketchup, commercial coffee drinks, "sport" drinks, flavored yogurt, and pasta sauce.

And if you read this blog on the regular, I bet you can name at least one reason other than sugar to stay away from all of the above. Come on, make me proud. 

MAGNIFICENT Mg

It's been a while. I've missed you. Things have been incredibly productive and exciting of late - but also hectic. When that swirling vortex of busy bee doom has it's sights set on your soul, it can be easy to let parts of your life slip. Whether it's a relationship, or your workouts or your job. One thing that I make sure to focus on is staying on top of my food. If you haven't noticed, I'm a real big fan of the eats. And what one puts in their body effects everything from energy levels to sleep cycles to inflammation - and the list goes on. One important yet often overlooked player in the food game of life is Magnesium. Check out the article below by Dr. Mercola to learn more about this vital unsung hero.

Magnesium—The Missing Link to Better Health

Magnesium is perhaps one of the most overlooked minerals. This is especially important because, an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in it. The health consequences of deficiency can be quite significant, and can be aggravated by many, if not most, drug treatments.

In the featured video, Carolyn Dean, a medical and naturopathic doctor, discusses the importance of this mineral.

Dr. Dean was the lead author on the seminal paper “Death by Medicine” back in 2003, showing that modern medicine is in fact one of the leading causes of death in the United States. She also authored the book Death by Modern Medicine.

Last year, she was awarded the Arrhythmia Alliance Outstanding Medical Contribution to Cardiac Rhythm Management Services Award 2012. It was given by the Heart Rhythm Society of the UK, which is a major allopathic organization.

Dr. Dean has studied and written about magnesium for about 15 years. In January, 2003, she published the first edition of The Magnesium Miracle, and she’s currently working on the third edition of this book.

“What I want to convey today is the importance of magnesium, how you can get it, how you can know how much you require in your body, and the incredible benefits from using this simple mineral,” she says.

Magnesium—One of Your Most Important Minerals

Magnesium is a crucially important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions, including but not limited to:

  • Activating muscles and nerves
  • Creating energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
  • Helping digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
  • Serving as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis
  • It’s also a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin

As mentioned, few people get enough magnesium in their diet these days. Meanwhile, calcium tends to be overutilized and taken in high quantities. This can cause more harm than good, as it’s very important to have a proper balance between these two minerals.

If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to go into spasm, and this has consequences for your heart in particular.

“What happens is, the muscle and nerve function that magnesium is responsible for is diminished. If you don’t have enough magnesium, your muscles go into spasm. Calcium causes muscle to contract. If you had a balance, the muscles would do their thing. They’d relax, contract, and create their activity,” she explains.

Magnesium is perhaps critical for heart health, as excessive amounts of calcium without the counterbalance of magnesium can lead to a heart attack and sudden death. According to Dr. Dean, your heart has the highest amount of magnesium in your body, specifically in your left ventricle. With insufficient amounts of magnesium, your heart simply cannot function properly.

While not addressed specifically in the featured video, I want to remind you that calcium and magnesium also needs to be balanced with vitamin D and K2. Many of Dr. Dean’s blogs address this issue and her concern that high dose vitamin D can overwork magnesium and lead to magnesium deficiency. 

These four nutrients perform an intricate dance together, with one supporting the other. Lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, and why some people experience vitamin D toxicity.

Part of the explanation for these adverse side effects is that vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its appropriate place. If you're K2 deficient, added calcium can cause more problems than it solves, by accumulating in the wrong places. 

Similarly, if you opt for oral vitamin D, you need to also consume it in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2 and more magnesium. Taking mega doses of vitamin D supplements without sufficient amounts of K2 and magnesium can lead to vitamin D toxicity and magnesium deficiency symptoms, which include inappropriate calcification.

Magnesium and vitamin K2 complement each other, as magnesium helps lower blood pressure, which is an important component of heart disease. So, all in all, anytime you're taking any of the following: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, since these all work synergistically with one another.

Dietary Sources of Calcium and Magnesium

You can typically get enough calcium from your diet by eating nuts, seeds, deep green leafy vegetables, and dairy products. Homemade bone broth is another excellent source. Simply simmer leftover bones over low heat for an entire day to extract the calcium from the bones. Make sure to add a few tablespoons of vinegar. You can use this broth for soups, stews, or drink it straight. The "skin" that forms on the top is the best part as it also contains other valuable nutrients, such as sulfur, along with healthful fats. Magnesium, on the other hand, tends to be a bit scarcer in our modern food supply.

“Magnesium is farmed out of the soil much more than calcium,” Dr. Dean explains.  ”A hundred years ago, we would get maybe 500 milligrams of magnesium in an ordinary diet. Now we’re lucky to get 200 milligrams. People do need to supplement with magnesium.”

I agree with Dr. Dean on the supplement issue, as industrial agriculture has massively depleted most soils of beneficial minerals like magnesium. If you find biologically-grown organic foods (grown on soil treated with mineral fertilizers), you may still be able to get a lot of your magnesium from your food. Chlorophyll has a magnesium atom in its center, allowing the plant to utilize the energy from the sun. Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium. Juicing your vegetables is an excellent option to ensure you're getting enough of them in your diet.

However, most foods grown today are deficient in magnesium and other minerals. Herbicides, like glyphosate also act as chelators, effectively blocking the uptake and utilization of minerals. As a result, I believe it would be highly unusual for anyone to have access to foods that are rich in magnesium, which is why I believe it is prudent to consider a magnesium supplement. This is my personal strategy even though I have access to highly nutrient dense foods.

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

Unfortunately, there's no easily available commercial lab test that will give you a truly accurate reading of the magnesium status in your tissues. Only one percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a simple sample of magnesium from a serum magnesium blood test highly inaccurate. Some specialty labs do provide an RBC magnesium test which is reasonably accurate. This leaves you with looking for signs and symptoms of deficiency. Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, headache, nausea, fatigue, and weakness. An ongoing magnesium deficiency can lead to more serious symptoms, including:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle contractions and cramps
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Coronary spasms

SNOOZE FEST

Getting a restful night's sleep is an essential part of optimal health and fitness. It seems increasingly more difficult these days to shut off our brains - and all of our fancy devices. Here is an article called "Why We Need to Sleep in Total Darkness" that might make you think twice about falling asleep to flickering infomercials for the Face Bra.

The modern bedroom is full of lights, from glowing computer monitors and clock radios to any number of blinking and glimmering electronic devices. Trouble is, chronic exposure to light at night leads to a host of health problems.

To understand why chronic exposure to light at night is so bad, we need to consider human evolution. Prior to the end of the stone age, humans were exposed to two different kinds of natural light responsible for regulating circadian rhythmicity. During the day we had the sun, while at night we had the moon and the stars, and perhaps the light from campfires. The binary day/night pattern was unrelenting, and our biological programming followed suit.

Today, we have artificial lighting at night (LAN), and it's a different case altogether. Indoor lighting is considerably less powerful than sunlight, but many orders of magnitude greater than star and moonlight. Check out this chart to see what I mean:

 

Keep in mind that this is a logarithmic scale, so the difference between sunlight and moonlight is considerable — a difference that influences a series of critical biochemical cascades tied to light periodicity, including the production of cortisol and melatonin levels.

Light is a Drug

Melatonin suppression is key to understanding much of why LAN is so crappy for us. This workhorse biochemical is produced by the brain's pineal gland at night — when it's dark — to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. It lowers blood pressure, glucose levels, and body temperature — key physiological responses responsible for restful sleep. As neurologist George Brainard puts it, "Light works as if it's a drug, except it's not a drug at all."

The part of your brain that controls your biological clock is the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), a group of cells in the hypothalamus. These cells respond to light and dark signals. The optic nerves in our eyes senses light and transmits a signal to the SCN telling the brain that it's time to wake up. It also kickstarts other processes, like raising body temperature and producing hormones like cortisol. Our cortisol levels are relatively low at night, allowing us to sleep, and higher during the day, allowing for the stabilization of energy levels and the modulation of immune function.

But LAN unnaturally elevates cortisol levels at night, which disrupts sleep and introduces a host of problems relating to body-fat levels, insulin resistance, and systemic inflammation. It also contributes to sleep debt and a disruption the neuroregulation of appetite. If our rooms are dark at night, there's no optic signal to the SCN, so our bodies pump out the much needed melatonin. Moreover, our melatonin levels are regulated according to the amount of exposure we had to light during the previous day.

The Light Before You Sleep

Indeed, studies have shown that exposure to room light before bedtime shortens melatonin duration by about 90 minutes compared to dim light exposure. In addition, exposure to room light during usual hours of sleep suppresses melatonin levels by more than 50%. That's significant.

So, even before you hit the hay, the light in your bedroom is causing you problems. With the introduction of tablets, smartphones, and energy-efficient light bulbs, it's an issue that's only getting worse.

And just to add insult to injury, many modern devices emit blue light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) — light that's especially good at suppressing melatonin. This is because melanopsin — a photopigment found in specialized cells of the retina involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms — is most sensitive to blue light.

Recently, scientists warned college students about the impact of light from computer monitors on melatonin levels. They found that computer light at night — particularly blue light that was scanned by wearing different wavelength-blocking glasses — reduces college students' melatonin levels. A related study found that backlit tablet displays suppress melatonin, disrupting sleep. But the researchers write: "[It] is important to acknowledge that usage of self-luminous electronic devices before sleep may disrupt sleep even if melatonin is not suppressed. Clearly, the tasks themselves may be alerting or stressful stimuli that can lead to sleep disruption." Which is a very good point.

The Cancer Link

Regrettably, all this hormone and biochemical disruption is creating downstream effects — cancer being one of them. Scientists aren't entirely sure why, but studies consistently show a correlation.

For example, a 10-year study found that a sample group of over 1,670 women exposed to higher intensity light in their sleeping environment had 22% higher odds of developing breast cancer than those who slept in total darkness. The researchers blamed it on hormone disruption caused by melatonin suppression.

In another study, researchers implanted nude rats with breast cancer xenografts and then gave them perfusions of blood from different women. Rats receiving blood from women who were exposed to dim light at night had their tumor growth reduced — but those with blood from women who were exposed to bright light at night weren't granted this beneficial effect.

Troublingly, this has grim implications for workers who do shift work. Case-controlled studies have shown that nurses who work rotating shifts at midnight are more at risk for breast cancercompared to nurses with permanent day work.

Low Light, Blue Light, Depression and Immune Response

Disturbingly, the light at night doesn't even have to be bright to cause problems. Chronic exposure to dim light at night leads to depression-like symptom in hamsters, such as exhibiting less interest in drinking the sugar water that they normally love. But by returning them to a normal, non-lit day/night schedule, the researchers were able to reverse the depression. Scientists suspect that this dim-light depression may be the result of a protein called tumor necrosis factor. Chronic dim light at night also detrimentally affects the immune system.

You might want to think about this next time you leave even the dimmest lights on in your bedroom — including your clock radio and the light that bleeds in from street lights.

Another study, also on rodents, showed that blue light at night in particular is especially powerful at inducing depression-like symptoms. LAN can also impair mood and learning, again likely on account of melanopsin-expressing neurons.

Premature Aging and Heart Problems

Melatonin also has antioxidant properties, which plays an important role in anti-aging. Researchers have been able to treat artificially aged mice with melatonin, thus reducing oxidative stress. These mice models are helping scientists understand the fundamental mechanism behind aging because they're the same markers found in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.Other studies show a link between melatonin suppression and cardiovascular disease.

Weight Gain

Light at night also contributes to weight gain by shifting the time of our food intake. Mice, when exposed to LAN, gained more weight — despite exercising and eating as much as their darkness-exposed brethren. Scientists have also correlated low levels of melatonin to diabetes, though it's not clear what role, if any, LAN plays in this matter.

Pitch Black

All this research points to one basic fact: We need to keep our bedrooms as dark as possible and avoid blue light before sleep. To that end, you should turn off all your light-emitting gadgets and close the blinds. And if possible, refrain from reading your tablet computer or smartphone in the hours preceding sleep.

I know, easier said than done.

 

Additional reporting by Joseph Bennington-Castro.

Images: Africa Studio/Shutterstock, MNStudio/Shutterstock.

Follow me on Twitter: @dvorsky

 

 

STOP. IN THE NAME OF GSD.

It's all too easy to put things off until the last possible moment - only later to scramble around, crazed, rueing the day that you decided to play video games all night instead of a. working out b. doing your taxes c. setting up your 401k - and this list goes on. And on.

What might seem like tedium in the moment could be a crucial step in getting you set up to live a healthy, productive, lucrative life. Because it's always better to do things on YOUR terms rather than life's terms, here's an article by finance author Ramit Sethi on how to get off the train before you hit Procrastination Station.

How do some people seem to get a gargantuan amount of things accomplished…while some of us struggle to just get through the day?

How can you learn from the masters and apply what they know?

TRUTH #1: We all have the same amount of time. Productive people do things differently.

TRUTH #2: Learning how to stop procrastinating isn’t about super-secret tactics or fancy apps. It’s about mindset and simple, but powerful, shifts in how approach your to-dos.

Today, I want to give you a sample from my Finisher’s Formula course. These are 3 action steps you can use to stop procrastinating and feeling lazy…and start following through and being more productive instead.

Step 1: Watch what you say

We’re all highly affected by the words we use (even if we aren’t fully aware of what we’re saying).

For example, how many of us have said something like this recently…

  • “I really need to get my act together”
  • “I should stop being so lazy”
  • “I know I’m smart, I just don’t apply myself”

The words we use are powerful. There’s a subtle — but important — difference between asking “why am I procrastinating on this task?” and “why do I always procrastinate?”

In the second, procrastination becomes part of your “self-talk” and, eventually, who you are. (This is what I call an “invisible script” — and I talk in more detail about invisible scripts here.)

Even though our beliefs may be too deeply embedded to completely change overnight, we CAN start to gradually reprogram them by simply paying attention to and changing the words we use — by using a more positive “self-talk.”

If you’ve ever heard that standing up straighter makes you feel more confident over time (it’s true), this works the same way. Changing our language can gradually change how we feel about ourselves and our goals. The language we use really does matter.

ACTION STEP: For 1 week, try to catch yourself whenever you use negative language like the above examples. Then, instead of beating yourself up, think of a small tweak you could use so your negative language becomes neutral or positive.

Here are a few examples to help get you started…

  • Instead of “I’m so lazy”, try “I’m human. Everyone struggles sometimes”
  • Instead of “I’m going to fail”, try “I’ll be fine. Even if the worst case scenario happened and I do fail, I’ll be OK”
  • Instead of “I should do x”, try “I’m going to start small and do x on Tuesday at 2 pm”

Step 2: Stop blaming time

It’s easy to use time as an excuse. How many times this month have your friends (or even you!) said something like…

  • “Sorry, something came up. I’ll catch you next time”
  • “I don’t know if I can do that. I’m just so swamped at work, you know?”
  • “I’m too busy to do that right now. I’ll get to it later.”

We all have the same 24 hours in a day — CEOs, politicians, PhD candidates, mothers of 2…everyone.

It’s OK to recognize when “no time” is actually a blanket excuse for not doing something you don’t want to do. To figure out if that’s the case — and to get that time back — follow “Ramit’s Rules of Letting Go.”

Let go of “should do’s” that you actually don’t care about

Ask yourself, in the scheme of all the things you want to try, do you really care about this? When I went to my cousin’s wedding in India a few years ago, I saw one of my friends order his food in fluent Hindi, and I thought, “Hmmmm…I should take Hindi lessons.” But when I got back to NYC, I put it on my to-do list, only to skip over it for MONTHS.

The truth is, I really didn’t care enough to try and learn Hindi. It wasn’t important enough. When I acknowledged I wasn’t going to do it and crossed it off my list, it freed me up to focus on doing the things that I really wanted to do.

Let go of waiting for inspiration to strike

Inspiration is for amateurs. I wake up every morning, rain or shine, feeling great or awful, and I get to work. Not because I’m a machine, or a better person than anyone, but because I have systems that I depend on.

Willpower and inspiration fade quickly — for example, have you ever been SUPER EXCITED TO START SOMETHING…only to feel unmotivated 2 weeks later? But systems last.

A system doesn’t have to be a complex monstrosity that takes you 16 years and 4 PhDs to decipher either.

For example, here are some systems I use:

  • I set reminders in Google Calendar for small tasks, like sorting a box of papers in my apartment or calling my Mom (BONUS: Here’s my exact calendar system.)
  • In college, I created a scholarship system to apply to 60+ scholarships and pay my way through undergrad and grad school at Stanford
  • I keep my workout clothes in the same spot every day (right next to my bed), so I never have an excuse to miss the gym.

Depending on a “mood” or “inspiration” is what unprofitable life coaches do. Waiting for inspiration to strike is a quick way to randomly pursue something, then give up, only to yo-yo back a couple weeks later, eventually leading you to hate yourself.

Start with a small system — like my calendar system above — and you’ll spend more time focusing on what MATTERS.

Let go of feeling guilty

With so many things we could do — and so much pressure from everyone around us — it’s no wonder we feel guilty.

Think about the last time you felt like you should do something. Maybe it was a new language you thought would be “good to know.” Or, maybe you wanted to try a new sport because a friend told you to do it.

It’s easy to say “yeah, I should do that”…only to never get around to it and feel TERRIBLE.

Life is short. Nobody is making you feel guilty except YOU. We realistically have time to learn maybe three new major things per year. Make sure you want this thing to be one of them.

We’re constantly told what we SHOULD do, so it’s important to reward ourselves when we work hard and earn something. Enjoy What You Earned, Guilt-Free…

ACTION STEP: The next time someone offers you an invitation, instead of saying “I don’t have time” be honest with them and yourself. You can even use this exact script: “That sounds really interesting, but I’m going to pass so I can focus on a couple other things I really want to do.”

This will:

  1. Make others value your time and commitments
  2. Force you to be honest with yourself about what’s important
  3. Free up your mental energy to worry about things you actually care about

Step 3: Break a big “to-do” into tiny habits

Part of the reason we procrastinate is that we’re just overwhelmed with how much we have to do. Where do we start?!

One of my mentors, BJ Fogg (check out an interview I did with him on how to stop being lazy) has a program called Tiny Habits.

We’re motivated by the little wins — but demotivated by failures. Once you know this, you can design your goals to boost your confidence and start building momentum. When you’re starting out, it’s better to successfully walk one mile than to fail to run three miles.

What tiny habits can you start building today?

  • Do two pushups a day
  • Floss one tooth a day to get started
  • Drink one glass of water a day before you go to bed

And you can ramp up from there.

ACTION STEP: Think of one of your “big goals” (getting fit, learning a new language, organizing your house) and break it down to the TINIEST habit you can. And I mean tiny: 2 push ups per day, 1 new word a day, pick up one paper per day…however small you need to get started.

Do this habit for 2 weeks and then you can consider expanding.

IT'S RAINING, IT'S POURING...

Sometimes just listening to the rain can be a beautiful, meditative experience. 

Other times, your serene setting can be interrupted by the honking, yelling, and general melee of city (or any) life. Have a listen to the guided meditation below and it just might give you a new perspective on how to shift your thinking and enable relaxation mode. 

Feel better? I bet. Now have a gander at some other reasons you and meditation should become friendzies.

10-Science-Based-Reasons-To-Start-Meditating-Today-INFOGRAPHIC.png

QUICK FIX

Ever feel too swamped to get your sweat on? No more excuses! Check out this 7-minute bodyweight workout from NY Times Magazine that you can do at home (or at the office to inspire/shame your co-workers). Once you've got a handle on it, try the new Advanced Version here.

((Instructions and article below by Gretchen Reynolds.))

Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put the newest fitness research into practice.

An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

“There’s very good evidence” that high-intensity interval training provides “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time,” says Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of the new article.

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even more, he says, it’s accomplished by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.

 

 

                   © 2017 Maggie Powers