Every morning, Marina Abramović, the world-famous performance artist, gets out of bed and puts on a pair of slippers. One reads “fuck” and the other “negativity”. “That is how to start the morning with a smile on your face,” she says. Then she will make breakfast to tango music and will spend a few minutes contemplating the woods by her house in upstate New York.
Welcome to Issue 6. Here we will review new ways to stay happy and positive as well as to connect the mind and the body into a coherent system that maintains our well-being. We will review the benefits of stretching, cognitive training, and book content curation. At the end, I offer a daily schedule of practices which you can adjust to your own needs.
Stretching is an extremely important practice to add to your daily routine to be on your way to better health. Even if you are not planning on exercising vigorously, it is still important to stretch in order to receive multiple benefits for your body and your mind.
I've been doing basic stretching every morning for close to thirty years and can't imagine to start my day without it. It makes me feel good, improves my functionality, and gets me going on a high note. I reviewed the existing research on stretching and the benefits are clear. Stretching is easy and a little of it can take you a long way. Make a part of your daily life and you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
BENEFITS OF STRETCHING
Stretching has multiple benefits for both your body and your mind. Incorporating stretching into your daily routine allows muscles to be well circulated and ultimately healthier.
1. Relief from Stress
Have you ever noticed how your body tenses up when you’re feeling stressed? It’s usually in the shoulders and across the top of the back. One of the really satisfying benefits of stretching in the morning is an opportunity to relieve that stress, wherever you hold it in your body.
2. Blood flow.
Stretching improve circulation and increases blood flow to the muscle.
Stretching improves flexibility. The more you stretch, the more you move your muscles, and the more flexible you become. Over time, stretching will become easier for your body which results in improved flexibility.
Improve your performance in physical activities
Decrease your risk of injuries
Help your joints move through their full range of motion
Enable your muscles to work most effectively
Stretching is also beneficial to improve your posture. Poor posture—a common and increasing problem—can easily be reversed and healed with daily stretching. Because stretching strengthens your muscles and encourages proper alignment, your body posture will be less slouched and more vertical.
5. Injury prevention
The more you prepare your muscles for any exercising movement, the more your likelihood of injury is decreased. When your muscles are warm and stretched, movement becomes easier and more fluid-like which helps with injury prevention.
6. Increased nutrients
Most people know that stretching increases blood supply, but they do not realize that it also increases nutrient supply to muscles. Because stretching allows blood to flow through your body, the nutrients in the blood are being carried and spread out all throughout your body as well. An increased blood and nutrient supply also helps reduce soreness.
7. Improved Balance
Maintaining our balance can become a challenge as we get older. Our vision and reaction time can both be reduced with age. Muscle strength and flexibility are affected, too, with the passing of time. So, when we put our strength and aerobic training at the top of our healthy lifestyle priority list, and include stretching in the morning, our bodies will thank us in a number of ways, including improved balance.
STRETCHING ESSENTIALS from Mayo Clinic
Before you plunge into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere, proper technique is key. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good.
Use these tips to keep stretching safe:
Don't consider stretching a warmup. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.
Consider skipping stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching immediately before an event weakens hamstring strength.
Also, try performing a "dynamic warmup." A dynamic warmup involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.
Strive for symmetry. Everyone's genetics for flexibility are a bit different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.
Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides.
Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use.
Don't bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds.
Don't aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you've pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.
BEST TIME TO STRETCH
Stretch as soon as you wake up and before your little tootsies hit the floor! When you’ve been in bed all night your muscles are already on the warmer side, so just a few preliminary flexing exercises are all you need.
Here are some simple suggestions for flexing your joints in bed before you stretch. The pictures make it easy to understand the movements.
While you’re still lying down, flex your lower limbs: put your knees and feet in the air; with your knees in the air, raise and lower your feet; roll your ankles and move them back and forth.
Next, sit up in bed. Slowly look left and then right. Roll your shoulders a few times; work your elbows by holding both arms in front of you and doing biceps curls; flex your wrists up and down; open and close your hands several times.
Another effective way to stretch in the morning is to give yourself a little bit of time to wake up, then do a simple warm-up like walking for a few minutes while gently swinging your arms. Simple and easy, but it will warm up your body and prepare it for a proper stretch.
Here is a video providing a simple and effective morning routine.
You can complement it with some really good stretches from this video (some overlap)
For those of you who want to commit more time to this, here is a video with basic yoga stretches that I've used for over 15 years and find very simple and effective.
Here is and article including a very useful video on stretching for women over 50.
These are 12 great exercises for fat reduction but the first four and number 9 are great for strengthening your lower back and stretching your spine. I have used them for many years and enjoy the benefits.
This is a funny TED Talk on the benefits of stretching for pain relief by a physical therapist.
Finally, I'd like to share with you an amazing practice that I've been doing for many years. It is called the Five Tibetan Rites. Below is are two videos that explain the details. I suggest you combine the rites with five basic stretching exercises. Do that in the morning for a few weeks and you will be amazed how it can change your day.
Lumosity (www.lumosity.com) is a system of internet-based games that provides ways to develop and train baseline cognitive skills. Many games are based on traditional psychological tasks and all are designed to be engaging. Lumosity is being used as a platform technology for investigating the impact of cognitive training in diverse populations. Results indicate that this training can improve a wide variety of core cognitive skills – from attention and memory to fluid intelligence and math skills. These improved abilities can help people do better in school, perform more effectively at work, and live a more productive life.
We are much more likely to engage in exercise if it is fun and feels good. All Lumosity games are designed with engagement and reward as critical components. These games are amusing and entertaining, making users much more likely to stick with the training over time.
The system makes useful suggestions about your strong and weak areas and gives you the option to train your weakest areas if you want to improve them, but doesn't force you to play the games you dislike or are weakest at - you can always switch out to a different game. The system is also useful for developing a mindful approach to your mental and emotional health. It asks you to log your mood and how tired you are. Most users find it “very interesting, helpful and informative”.
Each person gets a "training plan" designed to fit their needs. The first step is to tell Lumosity exactly what you want to work on. There are five key areas you can focus on. These include Memory, Attention, Speed (with many games designed to help the user find the balance between speed and accuracy), Flexibility, and Problem solving. Within each area, things get very specific.
Once your personal program has been set up, the first thing to do — and you can do this part without paying — is take some quick tests to establish a baseline in each core area. That way, Lumosity can track your progress as you play. As you train, you will certainly see yourself improve.
Lumosity also lets you see how you stack up to others (a random user is shown here). One 2013 study found that this social element might be key: Lumosity-like games could "positively impact one's sense of social connectivity and self-efficacy."
An important feature of the Lumosity training experience is the course framework. Courses are clusters of games set to prearranged schedules. These tools are there to guide users through a training experience with a particular goal and timeframe in mind. The courses are organized into a four groupings – Core Brain Training, Peak Performance, Student, and Medical Conditions.
The usual recommended time is 15 minutes a day of brain training.
Here is some feedback from an objective reviewer. He specifically discusses the Math training that Lumosity provides: “I actually enjoyed the mathematics games as well, which is interesting because when I was younger I abhorred mathematics. Now I actually find the time based mathematics games pretty fun. I found certain smart drugs noticeably improved my mathematics aptitude.”
Developing and improving primary cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and speed of processing.
Boosting cognitive development in children.
Slowing down cognitive decline in people over 50.
Sharpen highly needed daily skills such as the ability to accurately process multiple streams of visual information simultaneously and the ability to ignore distractions.
Enhance your fluid intelligence (the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems).
Improve central processing function that is the basis of planning and monitoring your cognition.
The Lumosity program has been shown to improve performance on tasks measuring memory, cognitively flexibility, problem solving, and response inhibition to a greater extent than crosswords puzzles (Hardy et al., 2015).
Like the literature on training paradigms that specifically target working memory, previous findings regarding broad-based cognitive training are mixed, with some reports of significant improvements (Schmiedek et al., 2010; McDougall and House, 2012; Nouchi et al., 2013; Hardy et al., 2015) and some notable null results (Owen et al., 2010).
In a groundbreaking study using healthy young adults ((Jaeggi, et al., 2008), participants who completed the training called Dual N-Back showed improvements in working memory and fluid intelligence that were statistically significantly larger than those seen in the control group. The more participants trained, the larger the improvements in fluid intelligence were. This research shattered the view that intelligence could not be changed in adults, and showed the potential for brain training to help even those who are already near the peak of cognitive performance.
Lumos Labs has worked closely with Martin Buschkuehl and Susanne Jaeggi to make a version of the Dual N-Back task available on the Lumosity website.
Another study that did not test Lumosity in particular but rather brain training in general found that it seemed to curb cognitive decline somewhat in older adults.
Regular video game players may have improved visual attention skills, one study in Nature notes, and there's reason to believe that Lumosity could have this effect as well.
At Lumos Labs, they have created a research platform that allows them to facilitate the exploration of the benefits of cognitive training in collaboration with the top researchers and institutions around the globe. Completed and ongoing research using Lumosity is described in greater detail here:
In sum, with more than 50 million users — many paying $15/month or $80/year for full access — Lumosity seems worth checking out. The good thing is that it is developed by cognitive scientists. Lumos Labs has developed a model of open innovation, in which the best researchers in the field are invited and encouraged to contribute to the brain training products through ongoing testing and contribution of the best ideas for novel brain training solutions.
Furthermore, most users are rabid fans who love it and swear it has boosted their attention and memory.
The negative side is that studies on its effectiveness show mixed results. Several studies found no positive effects of Lumosity training on executive processing and cognitive functions such as memory.
As someone who played it for years, and from the position of a doctor in psychology, I believe that the issue of its effectiveness is too complex for a straightforward answer and that you should try it for yourself (there is a free version with limited access). The program has many useful features and definitely provides a workout for the brain. How much this transfers to long-lasting effects on unrelated activities is probably a function of commitment and prolonged practice. No study has researched the effects of training for more than ten weeks.
I strongly recommend playing the free version first. If it is fun and wakes up your mind, then get the paid subscription. I bought the lifetime access for something like $250 about nine years ago.
Book Content Curation
As a medical professional, you are probably too busy to read books extensively and consistently, or only do it to relax before bedtime. Thus, you miss the amazing benefits regular reading can offer to your mind and heart. Here I mean not just any reading but reading for knowledge. In recent years, a new model of reading emerged, that fits well the busy schedule of hard workers like yourself. It is called book content curation.
Curators have traditionally been found in museums and libraries where, relying on their expertise in a specific field, they acquire, organize, and present selections of works with something in common. Maria Popova, a fellow Bulgarian from my hometown of Sofia (which means “wisdom” in Greek), started a groundbreaking blog that quickly turned her into one of the top 50 most influential cultural icons in the US.
Her model is to present to you a nonfiction book in 5-7 pages, using quotations that give you the gist and main ideas, along with her own commentaries that point to other similar works of literature, art, science, and philosophy in a hypertext format. One feature that helps make Ms. Popova’s work so popular is the visual style of her entries, with catchy graphics, abundant photographs and whimsical illustrations. It is important to note that she has no adds on her page, making the reading smooth and unobstructed by distractions (she relies on donations). Thus, in just a few pages and in a short amount of time, you can gain the wisdom of the ages and the jewels of literature in a way that will inevitably expand your mind. She will reach your heart too with her warm humanistic style that always links knowledge to our greater humanity.
Brain Pickings is an attempt to create a 21st-century library, as Maria put it. “I want to build a new framework for what information matters,” she said. In effect, she is recreating the classic portals of library science and encyclopedia.
Each article on www.brainpickings.org is a stunning hidden gem that would take the average netizen hours to track down. You get the benefits of precious knowledge in a nutshell and the instant way of delivery that saves a ton of time. If you read systematically, in several months you will discover that your vocabulary have expanded, that literature and art mean so much more to you (you’ve become more cultured), and that your thinking has changed so you view of the world through a different, more sophisticated lens.
I will end with a quote from Maria Popova that give insight into her way of thinking:
“I always believed that creativity is our ability to take interesting pieces of stuff that we carry and accumulate over the course of our lives—knowledge and insight and inspiration and other work and other skills—and then recombine them into new things. That’s how innovation happens, and that’s how ideas are born. So, when I started Brain Pickings, the idea of five diverse, multidisciplinary items in one email, that was the fundamental vision for it: that you enrich people with creative resources, and over time, these Lego bricks that end up in their heads eventually build this enormous, incredible castle.”
You can check out some of her popular posts for The Atlantic here:
If you are into audio, here is an interesting interview with Maria.
Sample Daily Routine
Every time you use a product, remember that your life as a health care provider serves a higher purpose. You help people heal and provide them service and support on a daily basis. Remind yourself that you deserve to feel good and that the better you feel, the better you can serve others
The most important time is the beginning of the day. The saying goes, If you win the morning, you win the day.
The first 30 minutes determine how your body will react to stress for the rest of the day. If you activate the relaxation response of the body and set a low base stress response, you will be more resilient and functional at work. How to do that:
Stay in bed for 10-15 minutes after you wake up.
Feel the pleasure of lying in your bed, of being relaxed, alive, and having a whole day full of opportunity ahead of you.
Do a mindfulness exercise. Feel each major part of your body and focus on the sensation of it touching the sheets. Start with your feet, then calves, hips, bottom, back, and head. Thank each part for serving you well.
Do a gratitude exercise. Remember something you are grateful for. Hold it in your mind for a minute with gratitude and appreciation. Say thank you.
Do a breathing exercise. Inhale counting to four, hold counting to seven, and exhale counting to eight. Repeat seven times.
Do your morning routine mindfully. Wash your face with presence. Apply your morning cream slowly with a focus on touching your skin. Appreciate the touch, aroma, softness. Say, “I care for myself every day”.
Do a few stretching exercises for 5-10 minutes. I will send you model videos.
Spend a minute greeting the sun with your eyes closed. Feel the warmth on your face and imagine it as energy that charges your being.
DURING THE DAY
Take a break every two hours and do a quick relaxation. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and take a deep breath. If you are sitting, feel the touch of the chair where it connects to your body. If you are standing, feel the touch of your feet to the ground.
Do a breathing exercise. Relax and breathe deeply for one minute. Make sure that your breath starts from the belly and then fills up the chest. Do it slowly with a focus on the breath. Say to yourself, “This is my minute and I won’t think about anything else. I appreciate myself and care for myself. I am present.” If you need to energize, for one minute breathe quickly like a dog through your mouth (you can try with your tongue out). Breaths should be moderately deep with a focus on speed. This will fill your body with oxygen and give you energy.
If you feel tired, massage your ears. They have a lot of blood vessels and will increase the blood flow in your brain. You will feel vitalized immediately.
Remind yourself to be present in everything you do. Sometimes we forget that and do things automatically which affects the quality of our work and wastes precious moments of our life. If we are not present, life passes us unnoticed.
Remind yourself that you have a strong and noble life purpose. You help people in need, and this gives you a meaningful life.
During those moment of relaxation, try to bring art and beauty in your life by reading a short poem or listening to an inspiring song.
Take a power nap, 15-20 minutes. The important thing here is not so much to fall asleep but rather to fully relax your body and mind.
Take a shower. Start with hot water and finish with 30 seconds cold water. Do it for seven days. During the second week, start and finish with 30 seconds cold water. During the third week, increase to one minute. Cold showers have multiple benefits for your health. They boost your immune system, increase your tolerance for discomfort and resilience, and function as a workout (blood vessels contract) so this can help you lose weight/stay in shape.
Do a breathing exercise. Inhale deeply (belly and chest) and exhale 70%. Repeat 30 times. Then fully exhale and hold it like that for as long as you can. Do another set.
Do a few stretching exercises for 5-10 minutes.
Mentally rewind the day with an emphasis on all the things that align with your life purpose of helping others. See if there was something to be grateful for and say thank you.
Dim the lights one hour before going to bed. Light affects our circadian rhythm and the quality of our sleep.
Don’t watch TV or be at the computer/phone one hour prior to going to bed. Instead, read a book or write in a journal. Journal writing has been shown by research to have powerful positive effects on our mental health and overall well-being.
Do a Perfectio LED session for 30 minutes. Focus on the gentle sensation on your face. Feel the warmth. Say, “I care for myself. I deserve to feel good.” You can do a gratitude or self-compassion exercise as well (see the document including a list of exercises with instructions).
Do your evening routine mindfully. Wash your face with presence. Apply your night cream slowly with a focus on touching your skin. Appreciate the touch, aroma, softness. Say, “I care for myself every day”.
When in bed, do a mindfulness exercise. Feel each part of your body and focus on the sensation of it touching the sheets. Start with your feet, then calves, hips, bottom, back, and head. Thank each one for serving you well.
Focus on your heart. Scholars have found that the heart is our second brain with more than 40 000 neurons. Some experts say that the heart gives orders to the brain which is confirmed by the much larger amount of signal that go from the heart to the brain than the other way around. Oxytocin, called the “love” hormone, is manufactured in the heart. When we care for others or for ourselves, our body releases oxytocin, endorphins and over one thousand healing biochemicals.
Thank your heart. Wash it with love and light, then say a prayer for the well-being of our planet and all living creatures on it. Generate a sense of an intense emotion – joy, gratitude, extasy. Research indicates that intense emotions paired with a strong intention produce heart-brain coherence that has enormous benefits for our mental and physical health.
Coherence is healing. Living systems have the capacity to self-heal. Multiple studies show heart self-regulation lowers blood pressure, improves hormonal balance, and gives better recovery from heart attacks. More coherence means more health. It facilitates the body’s natural regenerative processes.
Start your day with lemon water. Squeeze half or a whole lemon (depending on the size) and mix it with warm water. Don’t eat anything for 10 minutes afterwards.
Avoid sugar in the morning. Protein breakfast is the best.
Eat regularly during the day.
Drink lots of water. Green tea and Matcha tea are great for energy and have tons of antioxidants. Kombucha is also amazing in terms of hydration, energy, and healthy probiotics. Coconut water works well for quenching your thirst and supplying your body with electrolytes. Avoid soda drinks and anything with added sugar as well as iced drinks whenever possible.
Be like a cat and stretch regularly for 2-3 minutes, especially if you work on a desk (do it every hour).
Get a set of aromatherapy essential oils and use a few drops in a diffuser at home. There are great relaxing or vitalizing options. Keep a small bottle in you purse and smell it a few times during the day.
Get well-researched supplements such as Curcumin, Ashwagandha, Astaxanthin, Omega-3, Vitamin D, enzymes, and probiotics.
Start using powdered fruit & veggie supplements in smoothies. I will send you several options.
Avoid dairy products except butter, kefir, and plain yogurt (look for organic options with sugar under 10 grams). Milk and most other dairy products promote inflammation in the body. There are great non-dairy milk options such as almond or oat milk.
Use plenty of organic extra virgin olive oil. It is rich in polyphenols that have an amazing effect on our health.
Avoid alcohol one hour before bed.
Exercise with weights (at home or at the gym) three times a week. Even 30 minutes can have a powerful impact. Combine with 30 minutes cardio when possible.
The Power of Telomeres
Here we will review a topic that has received extensive attention by researchers in recent years and can dramatically change your understanding of health and aging. It is called the telomere effect and although it sounds a bit scientific, it boils down to the power of a healthy lifestyle and our capacity to program our body for a healthier life.
A Telomere is a compound structure at the end of a chromosome that protects it from unraveling (much like the plastic tips at the end of your shoe laces). Telomeres shorten with each cell division. They help determine how fast your cells age and when they die.
A recent discovery from multiple research labs is that our telomeres can actually lengthen with proper environmental stimuli such as positive emotional response and stress reduction. Telomeres don’t simply carry out the command from your genetic code. They are literally listening to you and absorb the instructions you give them. The way you live can in effect tell your telomeres how to program your cells. Thus, aging is a dynamic process that can be slowed and even reversed.
Factors that promote healthy telomeres:
Whole foods (vs processed foods)
Safe environment (neighborhood)
Thus, our life choices can significantly affect the life span of our telomeres.
A useful analogy. When we are driving in the fast lane by working too much, stressing out and not taking care of ourselves, we are on the fast track to premature aging. On the other hand, if we choose the slow lane, taking time to enjoy the weather, the music, and ourselves, we enjoy good health. In other words, a balanced life low in stress and filled with self-compassion and self-care can keep us young beyond the limits of our biological age.
YOU CAN SWITCH LANES AND REVERSE THE AGING PROCESS
Consider the science of telomeres in light of everything we have covered so far. Now we have well-established research findings that give you the appropriate tools of mindfulness, self-compassion, life purpose, gratitude, and self-care so that you can positively affect your telomeres.
TELOMERES AND AGING
Aging can be defined as the cells’ progressive functional impairment and reduced capacity to respond appropriately to environmental stimuli and injuries. Aged cell can no longer respond to stresses normally (physical and psychological).
Telomeres play a role in how quickly you develop aged appearance (whether you age well or not).
The skin’s outer layer, the epidermis, is made up of proliferating cells that are constantly replenishing themselves. Some of these cells make telomerase so they don’t wear out but most slow down in their ability to replenish. Underneath this visible layer of skin is the dermis, a layer of skin cells, skin fibroblasts, that creates the foundation of healthy, plump epidermis by producing collagen, elastin and growth promoting factors. With age these fibroblasts secrete less collagen and elastin which makes the outer layer of the skin look old and loose. Aged skin becomes thinner as it loses fat pads and hyaluronic acid which acts as a natural moisturizer for the skin. This makes skin more permeable for the elements. This also leads to the appearance of age spots and paleness.
INFLAMMATION increases with age and causes the diseases of aging. It is so important that scientists have a name for it – inflamaging. Telomere damage causes chronic inflammation.
AGING AND LIFE SATISFACTION
Having a younger felt age and appearance is associated with more life satisfaction, personal growth, and social connections.
Short telomeres increase the chance of cancer.
The more stress you are under, the shorter your telomeres. When the body is in stress mode, it produces more cortisol and epinephrine, the heart beats faster and blood pressure increases. This causes shortness of breath and a sense of losing control and impeding disaster. Such physiological responses shorten our telomeres and accelerate biological aging.
Studies have found that lifestyle changes can have an effect on telomeres as soon as three weeks to four months.
Mental health is not a luxury. If you want to protect your telomeres, you need to protect yourself from the effects of depression and anxiety.
Take the test below to assess your response to stress.
STRESS RESPONSE STYLE SURVEY
High stress and low coping resources cause chronic inflammation. In the first six issues of the Newsletter I offered you tested, easy to implement coping resources. Making them a habitual part of your daily life will help you reduce stress and toxic mental processes such as rumination and self-blame, as well as fight negative emotional patterns such as emotion suppression and ego threat (fear that pride and personal identity could be damaged).
A STRESS REDUCING TIP
Our lives are full of stressors but we often add additional stress by having unproductive thinking patterns. One example is anticipatory anxiety - imagining negative outcomes before they happen. We can avoid this by cultivating positive reappraisal - the ability to look stressful situations from a positive light.
If stressed, say to yourself I’m excited, my body is responding to get me ready to fight. My body’s responses are trying to help me, they are designed to help me focus on the task at hand, they are a sign that I care. This way you turn your stress response into a challenge response.
Social evaluative stress. Medical professionals are exposed to high levels because they are evaluated by patients, employers, and license boards. Most of them take it for granted as a normal part of their profession without realizing the gradual debilitating effects that usually work underneath.
Achievement stress involved in a constant excitement of your work and never having down time can also shorten your telomeres and damage your health. Being able to relax is the best tool to avoid that. Doctors recommend to regularly engage in activities that bring deep restoration. Meditation, chanting, mindfulness exercises.
Let’s pretend you’re at a drugstore of the future. You consult with the pharmacist, who gives you a choice between two pills. You point to the first one and ask what it does.
The pharmacist ticks the benefits off on her fingers. “Lowers your blood pressure, stabilizes your insulin levels, improves your mood, increases your calorie burn, fights osteoporosis, and cuts your risk of stroke and heart disease. Unfortunately, its side effects include insomnia, skin rash, heart problems, nausea, gas, diarrhea, weight gain, and lots of others.”
“Hmmm,” you say. “How about the second pill? What does it do?”
“Oh, it’s got the same benefits,” the pharmacist says brightly.
“And the side effects?” you ask.
She beams. “There aren’t any.”
The first pill is imaginary, a fantasy synthesis of beta-blockers to control high blood pressure, statins to reduce cholesterol, diabetes drugs to regulate insulin, antidepressants, and osteoporosis medications.
The second pill is real, sort of. It’s called exercise. People who exercise live longer and have a lowered risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. And they avoid dementia for longer.
If exercise is like a drug that pumps wondrous effects through your entire physiology, how does it work? You already know the macro view of exercise. It increases blood flow to your heart and your brain, builds muscle, and strengthens your bones. But if you could take a powerful microscope to exercise’s effects, and peer into the heart of human cells when they are regularly exercised, what would you see?
A meta-analysis revealed that the effect of exercise on the prevention of the common cold had a relative risk reduction of 27% and there was a mean reduction of 3.5 illness days compared to controls.
There is a growing scientific literature supporting a neuroprotective effect of fitness training for aging humans. Researchers have found a significant effect of fitness training on cognition and the delay of dementia.
Exercise sessions of moderate duration (30 to 45 minutes), provide the greatest cognitive benefit, trailed by longer-duration sessions (45+ minutes).
Physical exercise is associated with faster reaction times in decision-making.
Several studies found that one-hour fitness training three times a week has a beneficial influence on the neural networks that support several aspects of cognition, including attentional control and short-term memory.
A meta-analysis found that improvements in physical fitness status (whether defined by cardiovascular, strength, or flexibility parameters) or in functional capacity were associated with greater benefits for well-being.
Aerobic exercise had the largest effect on well-being, and moderate-intensity exercise was the most beneficial, adding to the growing literature suggesting that exercising harder does not always provide benefits above moderate workouts.
Calmer, Slimmer, and Better at Fighting Free Radicals: The Cellular Benefits of Exercise
Exercise causes a brief stress response, which triggers an even bigger restorative response.
People who exercise spend less time in the toxic state known as oxidative stress. This noxious condition begins with a free radical, a molecule that is missing an electron. A free radical is rickety, unstable, incomplete. It craves the missing electron, so it swipes one from another molecule—which is now unstable itself and needs to steal a replacement electron of its own. Like a dark mood that is passed from one person to another, each person feeling a little better when the bad feelings are dumped onto someone else, oxidative stress is a state that can shear through a cell’s molecular population. It’s associated with aging and onset of the disease span: cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung problems, arthritis, diabetes, macular degeneration, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Fortunately, our cells also contain antioxidants, which offer natural protection against oxidative stress. Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical but still remain stable. When an antioxidant gives an electron to a free radical, the chain reaction ends. An antioxidant is like a wise friend who says, “Okay, tell me all your bad feelings; I’ll listen and you’ll feel better, but I’m not going to let you make me feel bad, too. And I’m definitely not going to pass your black mood on to someone else.”
In an ideal situation, your cells have enough antioxidants to keep up with the need to neutralize free radicals in your body. Free radicals will never be completely eradicated from our bodies. They are continuously being made by the very processes of life—they occur normally through metabolism. In fact, very small numbers of free radicals are important for the normal communication processes in our cells. But radicals can also be created in excess when you’re exposed to environmental stresses like radiation and smoking, or to severe depression. The danger seems to occur when free radicals build up. And when you have more free radicals than antioxidants, you enter an imbalanced state of oxidative stress. That’s one reason exercise is so valuable.
In the short term, exercise actually causes an increase in free radicals. One reason is that you’re taking in more oxygen. Most of those oxygen molecules are used to create energy from special chemical reactions in the mitochondria in your cells, but an unavoidable by-product of these vital processes is that some of them also form free radicals. But that short-term response creates a healthy counterresponse: The body steps up by producing more antioxidants. Just as short-term psychological stress can toughen you up and increase your ability to handle difficulty, the physical stress of moderate-intensity regular exercise ultimately improves the antioxidant–free radical balance so that your cells can stay healthier.
Your cells soak up the benefits of exercise in other ways, too. When you exercise regularly, the cells in your adrenal cortex (located inside your adrenal glands) release less cortisol, the notorious stress hormone. With less cortisol, you feel calmer. With regular exercise, cells throughout your body become more sensitive to insulin, which means your blood sugar is more stable. If you want to avoid the common midlife trifecta of stress, belly weight gain, and high blood sugar, you need to exercise.
Compared to couch potatoes, people who exercise regularly have lower inflammatory cytokine levels, respond more successfully to vaccinations, and enjoy a more robust immune system.
As the exercise and immunology researcher Richard Simpson has said, these and other signs “indicate that habitual exercise is capable of regulating the immune system and delaying the onset of immunosenescence.” Consider exercise an excellent bet for keeping your immune system biologically young.
STRESSED OR DEPRESSED? EXERCISE IS RESILIENCE TRAINING FOR YOUR CELLS
“I don’t have time to exercise. I’m already overcommitted and overscheduled.”
“I’ll exercise when I feel better. I am so stressed right now that I can’t push myself to do one more hard thing.”
Sound familiar? Yet it turns out that the most important time to exercise is exactly when you might not want to—when you are feeling overwhelmed. Exercise can improve your mood for up to three hours after working out and can reduce stress reactivity.
Multiple studies have shown that exercise promotes resilience to stress. Results indicate that:
Aerobic exercise (like walking, running, biking, swimming) probably has a greater effect on stress resilience than non-aerobic exercise (like weight lifting).
Exercise probably needs to be routine; completed a few times a week. Cramming in a high intensity workout or long run right before a stressful event isn't likely to be as helpful as regularly hiking or hitting the elliptical.
Details from a recent study here:
Here is a great article on why morning exercise works best:
Here is a clinically-tested cardiovascular workout that showed a significant increase of telomerase. It’s pretty straightforward: Simply walk or run at about 60 percent of your maximum ability. You should be breathing somewhat hard, but you should still be able to maintain a conversation. Do this for forty minutes, at least three times a week.
Another tested form of exercise is High-intensity interval training (HIIT), in which short bursts of heart-pounding activity are alternated with periods of recovery.
Oregano is a fragrant herb that’s best known as an ingredient in Italian food. However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that’s loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
Oregano oil is the extract and, although it’s not as strong as the essential oil, it appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Essential oils, on the other hand, are not meant to be consumed.
Oregano is higher in antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables, and it’s packed full of powerful compounds called phenols. It contains compounds that may be effective against bacterial and fungal infections, inflammation, and pain, among other conditions. Oregano oil is an effective natural antibiotic and it may help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol levels. Oregano oil extract and oregano essential oil are both relatively cheap and readily available.
Oregano contains compounds called phenols, terpenes, and terpenoids. They have powerful antioxidant properties and are responsible for its fragrance:
Carvacrol. The most abundant phenol in oregano, it has been shown to stop the growth of several different types of bacteria.
Thymol. This natural antifungal can also support the immune system and protect against toxins.
Rosmarinic acid. This powerful antioxidant helps protect against damage caused by free radicals.
These compounds are thought to underlie oregano’s many health benefits.
Here are 9 potential benefits and uses of oregano oil.
1. Natural antibiotic
Oregano and the carvacrol it contains may help fight bacteria. The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is one of the most common causes of infection, resulting in ailments like food poisoning and skin infections.
One animal study found oregano essential oil to be almost as effective as antibiotics against common bacteria.
Research has also shown that oregano essential oil may be effective against some potentially antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This includes Pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli, both of which are common causes of urinary and respiratory tract infections.
Oregano oil extract contains many of the same compounds as oregano essential oil and may offer similar health benefits when used as a supplement.
2. May help lower cholesterol
Human and animal studies have shown that oregano oil may help lower cholesterol. In one study, after 3 months, those given 25 mL of oregano oil extract after each meal had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and higher HDL (good) cholesterol, compared with those who were just given diet and lifestyle advice. The cholesterol-lowering effect of oregano oil is thought to be the result of the phenols carvacrol and thymol.
3. Powerful antioxidant
Antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. It’s thought that free radical damage plays a role in aging and the development of some diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. Free radicals are everywhere and a natural product of metabolism. However, they can build up in the body through exposure to environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke and air pollutants.
One study compared the antioxidant content of 39 commonly used herbs and found that oregano had the highest concentration of antioxidants. It contained 3–30 times the levels of antioxidants in the other herbs studied, which included thyme, marjoram, and St. John’s wort. Oregano also has 42 times the antioxidant level of apples and 4 times that of blueberries.
Because oregano oil extract is very concentrated, you need much less oregano oil to reap the same antioxidant benefits as you would from fresh oregano.
4. Could help treat yeast infections
Yeast is a type of fungus. It can be harmless,
but overgrowth can result in gut problems and
infections, such as thrush. The most well-known yeast
is Candida, which is the most common cause of
yeast infections worldwide.
In test-tube studies, oregano essential oil has been
found to be effective against five different types of
Candida, such as those that cause infections in the
mouth and vagina. In fact, it was more effective than
any other essential oil tested.
5. May improve gut health
Oregano may benefit gut health in a number of ways. Gut symptoms like diarrhea, pain, and bloating are common and can be caused by gut parasites. One large study showed that 77% of participants were cured of parasites. Participants also experienced a reduction in gut symptoms and tiredness associated with the symptoms.
Oregano may also help protect against another common gut complaint known as “leaky gut.” This happens when the gut wall becomes damaged, allowing bacteria and toxins to pass into the bloodstream. One animal study showed that oregano essential oil protected the gut wall from damage and prevented it from becoming “leaky.” It also reduced the number of E. coli bacteria in the gut.
6. May have anti-inflammatory properties
Research has shown that oregano oil may reduce inflammation. Animal studies have demonstrated that it can effectively deal with colitis and swelling.
7. Could help relieve pain
Oregano oil has been investigated for its painkilling properties. Several studies found that oregano essential oil significantly reduced pain in mice and rats, exerting effects similar to those of the commonly used painkillers fenoprofen and morphine.
8. May have cancer-fighting properties
A few studies have indicated that carvacrol, one of the compounds of oregano oil, may have cancer-fighting properties. It has been found to inhibit cell growth and cause cancer cell death. There were promising results against lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.
9. May help you lose weight
Several animal studies have shown that oregano oil may aid weight loss.
How to use oregano oil
Oregano oil extract is widely available in capsule and tablet form. It can be bought from most health food shops or online.
Because the strength of oregano supplements can vary, it’s important to read the directions on the individual packet for instructions on how to use the product.
Oregano essential oil is also available and can be diluted with a carrier oil and applied topically. There’s no standard effective dose of oregano essential oil. However, it’s often mixed with around 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of olive oil per drop of oregano essential oil and applied directly to the skin.
Like other essential oils, keep in mind that oregano essential oil should not be consumed orally.
Oregano oil extract is not generally recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
I had cancer when I was 27. Best thing that ever happened to me because it put my life on a different, more mindful and healthy path. Since then I don't consume soda drinks, eat sweets rarely, watch for added sugar in food, and make sure to get a lot of fiber. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream (that's why fruit juices are a poor choice of drink). Now at 43, I haven't been sick in more than 8 years and I don't have a single wrinkle on my face. On the other hand, I still have a six pack :)
After many years of reading health research, my conclusion is that sugar and stress are the cause of most of contemporary diseases. These killers are so ravaging, that we need to change our way of living rapidly in order to survive individually and collectively. The latest stats show that every other person is expected to have cancer and Alzheimer's disease in their lifetime. Yes, I mean both (50% chance for each). Not to mention the skyrocketing of autoimmune diseases and type 2 diabetes. That doesn't sound like a good deal to me. What's the point of a long life of suffering and medical procedures. You are probably familiar with the health facts on sugar but I don't think there's enough emphasizing them.
Sugar's effect on your health
Sugar gives the body energy. Actually, it is the only source of energy for the brain and red blood cells. Each gram of sugar contains 4 calories. Unlike complex carbohydrates, sugars are digested quickly and are easily broken down into glucose, which is then used for energy. In the last 20 years, we have increased sugar consumption in the U.S. from 26 pounds to 135 lbs. of sugar per person per year!
The average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week, which is not surprising considering that highly refined sugars in the forms of sucrose (tablesugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are being processed into so many foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and a plethora of microwave meals.
In the last 30 years, we have increased sugar consumption in the U.S. 26 pounds to 135 lbs. of sugar per person per year! Prior to the turn of this century (1887-1890), the average consumption was only 5 lbs. per person per year! Cardiovascular disease and cancer was virtually unknown in the early 1900's.
The "glycemic index" is a measure of how a given food affects blood-glucose levels, with each food being assigned a numbered rating. The lower the rating, the slower the absorption and digestion process, which provides a more gradual, healthier infusion of sugars into the bloodstream. On the other hand, a high rating means that blood-glucose levels are increased quickly, which stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin to drop blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations of blood-sugar levels are not healthy because of the stress they place on the body.
Sugar speeds up the aging process
Sugar molecules treat your body like a singles bar.
Once they get into your bloodstream, they start looking
around for things to hook up with, like attractive protein
and fat molecules. The hook-up is known as “glycation”
and like most hook-ups, the results aren’t pretty.
These glycated molecules act like drunken sailors,
careening around your body, breaking things and peeing
where they shouldn’t. They produce toxic compounds called
advanced glycation end products, or, AGEs.
That is perhaps the most poetically-just acronym in biology,
because AGEs essentially throw the aging process into fast-forward.
And much of the damage done by AGEs is irreversible.
In addition, sugar raises insulin levels.
Exposing your cells and organs to chronically high insulin levels
accelerates the aging process.
Sugar suppresses the release of human growth hormone
One of sugar's major drawbacks is that it raises the insulin level, which inhibits the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses the immune system. This is not something you want to take place if you want to avoid disease.
Sugar depresses the immune system
A study in the 1970'sfound out that vitamin C was needed by white blood cells so that they could phagocytize viruses and bacteria. White blood cells require a 50 times higher concentration inside the cell as outside so they have to accumulate vitamin C.
We know that glucose and vitamin C have similar chemical structures, so what happens when the sugar levels go up? They compete for one another upon entering the cells. And the thing that mediates the entry of glucose into the cells is the same thing that mediates the entry of vitamin C into the cells. If there is more glucose around, there is going to be less vitamin C allowed into the cell. It doesn't take much: a blood sugar value of 120 reduces the phagocytic index (the capacity of white blood cells to fight pathogens) by 75%.
For some reason, this effect has not been systematically replicated in the decades since that study. Furthermore, scholars point out that the immune system is quite complex and has many arms that fight infection, the one described above (the phagocytic index) being one among them. Currently, there is still an ongoing debate how much sugar suppresses the immune system directly. There is much more evidence on the indirect ways sugar negatively affects the immune function.
Sugar and cardiovascular disease
An influx of sugar into the bloodstream upsets the body's blood-sugar balance, triggering the release of insulin, which the body uses to keep blood-sugar at a constant and safe level. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, so that when you eat sweets high in sugar, you're making way for rapid weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels, both of which have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Complex carbohydrates tend to be absorbed more slowly, lessening the impact on blood-sugar levels.
Sugar promotes inflammation
Inflammation, which is part of the immune response, is not always a bad thing. But eating sugar foods can fuel excessive, inappropriate inflammation that serves no useful purpose and actually promotes aging and disease.
Sugar can increase cellular aging and literally shorten your life
Telomeres act as protective caps, preventing chromosomes from deteriorating or fusing together. As you grow older, telomeres naturally shorten, which causes cells to age and malfunction. Although the shortening of telomeres is a normal part of aging, unhealthy lifestyle choices can speed up the process.
Consuming high amounts of sugar has been shown to accelerate telomere shortening, which increases cellular aging. A study in 5,309 adults showed that regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with shorter telomere length and premature cellular aging. In fact, each daily 20-ounce (591-ml) serving of sugar-sweetened soda equated to 4.6 additional years of aging, independent of other variables.
Sugar drains your energy
Foods high in added sugar quickly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to increased energy. However, this rise in energy levels is fleeting. Products that are loaded with sugar but lacking in protein, fiber or fat lead to a brief energy boost that’s quickly followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar, often referred to as a crash.
Having constant blood sugar swings can lead to major fluctuations in energy levels.
To avoid this energy-draining cycle, choose carb sources that are low in added sugar and rich in fiber.
Pairing carbs with protein or fat is another great way to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable.
For example, eating an apple along with a small handful of almonds is an excellent snack for prolonged, consistent energy levels.
Sugar and cancer
Of the over 4 million cancer patients being treated in the U.S. today,
almost none are offered any scientifically guided nutrition therapy
other than being told to "just eat good foods." Many cancer patients
would have a major improvement in their conditions if they controlled
the supply of cancer's preferred fuel: GLUCOSE. By slowing the
cancer's growth, patients make it possible for their immune systems
to catch up to the disease.
Hence, cancer therapies should attempt to regulate blood-glucose levels through diet, supplements, exercise, medication when necessary, gradual weight loss and stress reduction. Since cancer cells derive most of their energy from anaerobic glycolysis, the goal is not to eliminate sugars or carbohydrates entirely from the diet but rather to control blood-glucose within a narrow range to help starve the cancer cells and boost immune function.
Sugar and minerals
Because refined dietary sugars lack minerals and vitamins, they must draw upon the body's micro-nutrient stores in order to be metabolized into the system. For that reason, sugar consumption in America is one of the 3 major causes of degenerative disease.
Honey is a simple sugar with 65 calories/tablespoon. Eat honey in moderation (one tablespoon per day) and make sure it is raw, unheated honey.
There are 4 classes of simple sugars which are regarded by most nutritionists as "harmful" to optimal health when prolonged consumption in amounts above 15% of the carbohydrate calories are ingested: Sucrose, fructose, honey, and malts.
Here is a list of ways sugar can affect your health:
Sugar can suppress the immune system.
Sugar can speed the aging process, causing wrinkles and grey hair.
Sugar can accelerate cognitive decline: high-sugar diets can lead to impaired memory and have been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Sugar can cause depression.
Sugar can cause hormonal imbalance.
Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines.
Sugar can upset the body's mineral balance.
Sugar can reduce helpful high density cholesterol (HDLs).
Sugar can promote an elevation of harmful cholesterol (LDLs).
Sugar can cause hypoglycemia.
Sugar contributes to a weakened defense against bacterial infection.
Sugar can damage multiple organs including the liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
Sugar can increase the risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease in general.
Sugar interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Sugar can promote tooth decay.
Sugar can produce an acidic stomach.
Sugar can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
High intake of sugar increases the risk of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Sugar can contribute to diabetes.
Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.
Sugar can increase systolic blood pressure and can cause hypertension.
Sugar causes food allergies.
Sugar can cause free radical formation in the bloodstream.
Sugar can cause atherosclerosis.
Sugar can compromise the lining of the capillaries.
Sugar can increase blood platelet adhesiveness which increases risk of blood clots and strokes.
Sugar increases bacterial fermentation in the colon and can damage the microbiome.
The CDC recommends added sugars account for no more than 10% of your daily calories. For most people, that’s about 50 grams of sugar, or the amount in one 16 ounce bottle of soda. If you’re overweight or have any other risk factors for heart disease or diabetes, it might be wise to keep it to something closer to 5%.
A single serving of Honey Nut Cheerios with one cup of skim milk, for example, contains 20 grams of added sugar, or 4% of a 2,000 calorie diet. Or, if you're a Starbucks fan, a grande caramel frappuccino contains 55 grams of sugar. That's 220 calories, or 11% of a 2,000 calorie diet — above the recommended limit.
If you're going for a sugary meal, eat a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before that. It will keep your blood sugar down.
Sugar consumed after exercise is taken up very quickly by your just-worked muscles. Plus, exercise sensitizes your cells to the effects of insulin, the exact opposite of the desensitizing effect that chronic sugar intake has. In other words, if you want to enjoy a little treat, use it as your reward after a good workout.
While fruit has sugars, it also contains fiber, which slows down the digestion rate, keeping blood sugar levels more stable. That's why eating dessert after a meal, one that preferably includes plenty of vegetables, might be better for your body and your teeth than a sweet alone. When you eat an apple, for example, it contains fiber which may counteract inflammatory effects from the sugar. But if you process that apple into juice, then you strip the fiber, and the counterbalance effect is lost.
Avoid artificial sweeteners - they may cut calories, but research has actually linked them to obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It's not clear why yet, but these additives may change the way we process food, and lead us to crave real sugar. There is also some evidence in animal studies that consuming them alters gut bacteria, with unknown health effects.
Sources: I reviewed multiple science-based articles in order to fact-check the effects of sugar. These include www.healthline.com, www.webmd.com and research by Nancy Appleton PhD, author of the bestsellers "Lick the sugar habit" and "Suicide by sugar".