Posted by: tk729 | September 20, 2013

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I have always wondered what effects nature had on your health.  Being from Pennsylvania where rolling green hills reign supreme, coming to Utah was a shock to my system.  The simple drive from Salt Lake City to Provo made me feel deprived of the green foliage I was accustomed to from the East.  Fortunately, the beautiful mountains made up for what my body was denied in greenery.

According to a study, just 5 minutes doing something in the park, in the woods, or even in your backyard can boost mental health.  Humans have a deep-seated need for contact with nature, which researchers theorize provides relaxing time for a brain that is otherwise overtaxed by modern pressures.  No wonder that we crave the beach, the mountains, or just solitude in the wilderness from civilization.

Below is an article that speaks of how nature can help close the gap between the rich and poor.

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Study Finds Access to Nature Improves Health

Proof at last: living near parks and woodland boosts health, regardless of social class. Access to green spaces, whether they be rolling chalk downs or simple playing fields, has an independently beneficial impact on health and health-related behaviour which counteracts the effects of poverty and inner-city deprivation, the research by scientists found.

The links between serious illnesses and poverty are well established, but this is the first time scientists have systematically shown that the health gap between rich and poor can be halved with the help of green spaces.

When all deaths were analysed, the gulf in health between the rich and the poor in the greenest areas of Britain was roughly half of that observed in the least green parts of the country, according to the findings published in the medical journal The Lancet.

The difference between those living in the greenest and least green areas was largest when looking at deaths from circulatory diseases.

However, the scientists found that living near green space had little effect for death from lung cancer, which is only weakly linked with exercise; or for death by self-harming.

The authors of the study, Richard Mitchell, of Glasgow University, and Frank Popham, of the University of St Andrews, believe that the findings are strong enough for planning authorities to consider making green spaces available on grounds of health and wellbeing.

“Populations that are exposed to the greenest environments have the lowest levels of health inequality related to income deprivation,” they said.

“Evidence suggests that contact with such environments has independent salutogenic effects, for example, green spaces independently promote physical activity.

“However, the effect of green space is not solely based on promotion or enhancement of physical activity. Several studies have shown that contact (either by presence or visual) with green spaces can by psychologically and physiologically restorative, reducing blood pressure and stress levels and possibly promoting faster healing in patients after surgical intervention.”

They conclude: “The implications of this study are clear: environments that promote good health might be crucial in the fight to reduce health inequalities.”

Posted by: tk729 | November 12, 2010

Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health

People have always understood the value of family, but it turns out that the value of good friends may be more significant.  Good friends discourage unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and heavy drinking.  Friends also ward off depression, boost self-esteem, and provide support.  Close relationships with relatives in contrast had no effect on longevity.  They are still important, but have little effect on survival.

Women are better at maintaining friendships than men.  According to Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, a psychology professor at UCLA, “… women seemed more geared to empathy, while male friendships are more geared to companionship and altruism.” “Male friendships are more about helping each other — mending the lawn mower, that sort of thing. Women’s friendships tend to have a more emotional content — listening to friends’ stories and coming up with helpful solutions.”

Looks like men can learn a few lessons on friendship from women.

Below are some ways to actively seek out friendships.  Learn more about the benefits of friendships from the Mayo Clinic.

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Meeting new people
Here are some ways you can develop friendships:

1)       Get out with your pet. Make conversation with those who stop to talk on your daily neighborhood jaunts.

2)       Work out. Join a class through a local gym or start a walking group.

3)       Do lunch. Invite an acquaintance to join you for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

4)       Accept invites. Resist the urge to say no because you may not know everyone there. You can leave if you get too  uncomfortable.

5)       Volunteer. You can form strong connections when you work with people who share a mutual interest.

6)       Join a cause. Get together with a group of people working toward a goal you believe in, such as an election or the cleanup of a natural area.

7)       Join a hobby group. Find a nearby group with similar interests in such things as auto racing, music, gardening, books or crafts.

8)       Go back to school. Take a college or community education course to meet people with similar interests.

9)       Hang out on your porch. If you don’t have a front porch,  pull up a chair and sit out front with a  good book. Making yourself visible shows that you are friendly and open.

10)   Join a church or faith community.

Posted by: tk729 | November 12, 2010

Giving Thanks Can Make You Healthier, Happier

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us take the time to express gratitude about the blessings in our lives.   However, we shouldn’t limit this attitude of gratitude to just this time of year with researchers discovering that gratitude is really good for your health. Listed below is a list of strategies to show thanks from an article from USA Today.

In an experimental comparison, people who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Young adults who practice a daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to the group that focused on hassles or thinking of how they were better off than others.  The list doesn’t stop there.  To learn more, read here.

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1)  Keep a gratitude journal, listing the gifts in your life, daily, twice-weekly or weekly. Try to be specific. And don’t repeat the same things each time.

2) Make a list of people or circumstances in your life that you take for granted — and then consider what your life would be like without them ( “the George Bailey effect,” from It’s a Wonderful Life).

3) Write a letter of thanks to someone who made a difference in your life. Consider delivering and reading it in person.

Posted by: tk729 | October 29, 2010

Smiling: The Natural Drug


This post has a lot to do with why I want to be a dentist in the future.  I can’t express enough the impact a smile can have on people’s self-esteem and their outlook on life.  Think about the people you like to be with.  Are they usually smiling or carrying a grimace on their face?

Smiling isn’t necessarily a way to show off your teeth, but expressing yourself that you are in a good mood, which will make any human interaction a more pleasant experience.  Don’t have something to smile about? Here is an article on the little things that can make you smile.  The article below talks about the health benefits of a smile.  By the way, smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin.  Together they make us feel good, which is why smiling is one natural drug that you can have no reservations of having.

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1. Smiling Makes Us Attractive

We are drawn to people who smile. There is an attraction factor. We want to know a smiling person and figure out what is so good. Frowns, scowls and grimaces all push people away — but a smile draws them in.

2. Smiling Changes Our Mood

Next time you are feeling down, try putting on a smile. There’s a good chance you mood will change for the better. Smiling can trick the body into helping you change your mood.

3. Smiling Is Contagious

When someone is smiling they lighten up the room, change the moods of others, and make things happier. A smiling person brings happiness with them. Smile lots and you will draw people to you.

4. Smiling Relieves Stress

Stress can really show up in our faces. Smiling helps to prevent us from looking tired, worn down, and overwhelmed. When you are stressed, take time to put on a smile. The stress should be reduced and you’ll be better able to take action.

5. Smiling Boosts Your Immune System

Smiling helps the immune system to work better. When you smile, immune function improves possibly because you are more relaxed. Prevent the flu and colds by smiling.

6. Smiling Lowers Your Blood Pressure

When you smile, there is a measurable reduction in your blood pressure. Give it a try if you have a blood pressure monitor at home. Sit for a few minutes, take a reading. Then smile for a minute and take another reading while still smiling. Do you notice a difference?

7. Smiling Lifts the Face and Makes You Look Younger

The muscles we use to smile lift the face, making a person appear younger. Don’t go for a face lift, just try smiling your way through the day — you’ll look younger and feel better.

Posted by: tk729 | October 29, 2010

Religion, Spirituality can be Good for Your Health

How much of a role can religion or spirituality have on your health? When it comes to physical health, there are no significant findings.  However, when it comes to mental and emotional health, there are benefits in beating depression, shortening hospital stays, and overcoming alcohol or substance abuse. The article below discusses the health benefits of religion.

Interestingly though, there are also negative effects.  A study published showed that people who attend religious services were more likely to be obese.  In addition, another study found that just changing churches may be harmful to your health.  This article specifically mentions the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witness.

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Power to Heal

Going to church doesn’t guarantee you a disease-free life, and praying for someone won’t always make them get better faster.But there’s growing evidence religion and spirituality are good for your health, several local health experts said.

“Absolutely, there’s a link between people’s grounding in religious or spiritual feelings and their wellness,” said Tom McGovern, professor of psychiatry at Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center.

McGovern broached the topic recently at the Health Sciences Center’s Community Medical School, a series of lectures presented to the public by distinguished faculty.

People use their spirituality to navigate life, McGovern told his audience of about 100. Religious people cope better under stress, heal faster from their illnesses and experience benefits to their mental health, he said.

“If a person’s community is built around a religious or spiritual quest, that can be a powerful mediator of healing,” McGovern said.

More than 90 percent of McGovern’s audience believed religion and spirituality are beneficial to their health, according to interactive responses collected and displayed at the talk. Ninety-three percent of the audience said prayer or meditation helped them reduce stress.

Despite the role of spirituality in wellness, many health care providers are still reluctant to incorporate it into care, said McGovern. The professor directs a humanities and ethics committee at the Health Sciences Center and helps medics develop a sensitivity to patients’ beliefs.

That’s because medical professionals — often seen as an authority — might fear inflicting their own beliefs on patients, said Sharmila Dissanaike, an assistant professor of surgery at the Health Sciences Center.

“I don’t think the topic has been avoided, it just hasn’t been brought to the forefront,” she said. “Physicians are unsure about whether they are overstepping the boundaries.”

Scientific studies looking for a link between health and religion show mixed results, said Stephen Cook, director of Tech’s Psychology Clinic and a researcher on spirituality and health.

“A lot of times there are no significant findings between religion and physical health,” Cook said.

But recent studies, particularly on mental and emotional health, have shown benefits of religion and spirituality, he said. Scientific research has shown its benefits in beating depression, shortening hospital stays, and kicking alcohol or substance abuse, Cook said.

There are fewer links between spirituality and a person’s physical wellbeing, Cook said. But studies have shown a link between attending religious services and living longer, and Harold Koenig, a Duke University doctor and researcher, found elderly people who rarely or never attended church had a stroke rate double that of regular attendees.

It’s easy to pass such benefits off on lifestyle differences, Cook said, but many studies have controlled for factors like smoking and drinking and still show the benefits of spirituality.

Several factors help explain why a person’s beliefs might impact their health outcomes, the experts said.

“A lot of it is because of the social support system it provides,” Dissanaike said. Such a system can provide strength, nurturing and other coping strategies such as self-efficacy and self-esteem, Cook said.

The support of a “higher power” might also help, the researchers said. While some studies measured religiousness by church attendance, recent studies have shown the health benefits might come when a person collaborates — or draws support — from a higher being.

“At least with mental health, more cooperative types of religious coping — when you’re in collaboration to deal with a problem — tend to have better outcomes,” Cook said.

As for the physical health benefits, behaviors associated with religious people — such as drinking less and having fewer sexual partners — might contribute to some of the health benefits, Cook said.

Posted by: tk729 | October 29, 2010

Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

Think about the typical conversations you have with your friends, peers, and acquaintances.  What percentage of those conversations would you consider to be deep and meaningful conversations? Because we live in a society that has become increasingly fast-paced, it has become more difficult to step back and savor the one-on-one time we have with those we trust.

This is a great article that I came across this past year from the New York Times.  One of my favorite activities is having a great conversation with someone that is beyond the typical chitchat.  Many of my greatest growing and learning moments have taken place when I have shared a substantive conversation.  Perhaps you can relate, but it seems that they often take place in the wee hours with those you are closest with.

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Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.

“We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you’re happy, and if you go into the existential depths you’ll be unhappy,” Dr. Mehl said.

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

Dr. Mehl’s study was small and doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the kind of conversations one has and one’s happiness. But that’s the planned next step, when he will ask people to increase the number of substantive conversations they have each day and cut back on small talk, and vice versa.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved 79 college students — 32 men and 47 women — who agreed to wear an electronically activated recorder with a microphone on their lapel that recorded 30-second snippets of conversation every 12.5 minutes for four days, creating what Dr. Mehl called “an acoustic diary of their day.”

Researchers then went through the tapes and classified the conversation snippets as either small talk about the weather or having watched a TV show, and more substantive talk about current affairs, philosophy, the difference between Baptists and Catholics or the role of education. A conversation about a TV show wasn’t always considered small talk; it could be categorized as substantive if the speakers analyzed the characters and their motivations, for example.

Many conversations were more practical and did not fit in either category, including questions about homework or who was taking out the trash, for example, Dr. Mehl said. Over all, about a third of all conversation was ranked as substantive, and about a fifth consisted of small talk.

But the happiest person in the study, based on self-reports about satisfaction with life and other happiness measures as well as reports from people who knew the subject, had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the unhappiest, Dr. Mehl said. Almost every other conversation the happiest person had — 45.9 percent of the day’s conversations — were substantive, while only 21.8 percent of the unhappiest person’s conversations were substantive.

Small talk made up only 10 percent of the happiest person’s conversations, while it made up almost three times as much –- or 28.3 percent –- of the unhappiest person’s conversations.

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”

Posted by: tk729 | October 29, 2010

Take it to the Dance Floor

Next time you feel the music taking over, let go, and express yourself.

Various studies have learned that dancing is both great for the body and mind. Whether you dance to country, pop, hip hop, or latin sounds, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says that dancing can:

  • Lower your risk of coronary heart disease
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Help you manage your weight
  • Strengthen the bones of your legs and hips

Many of us aware that dancing is a great physical activity, but the following article highlights the significant impact dancing has on our mental health.

In addition, I want to mention that dancing is a unique because it allows people to engage in a social activity.  This allows for positive relationships and stimulating the mind to benefit from healthy interactions from others.

I have also found that creating and developing your own style of dance is very fulfilling to say the least.  For me, it’s any style of dance that has urban roots.  There are many dancers out there that have inspired me to learn what I am capable of with motion and movement.  Always appreciate the dance of others and see how that influences you.

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Improving Mental Health through Dance

Dance has been shown to lift mood more than exercise by itself. In a study at the University of London researchers assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four therapeutic settings – a modern-dance class, a regular exercise class, a music class, or a math class. Only the dance class was shown to significantly reduce anxiety. Cardiac-Rehabilitation patients in a recent Italian study who enrolled in waltzing classes not only ended up with healthier arteries but were happier than those who went to bicycle and treadmill training. The effects of dance are increased and enhanced by the use of music which is also a factor in mood enhancement.

MRI scans show that watching someone dance activates the same neurons that would fire if you yourself were doing the dancing. So when one dancer’s movements express joy or sadness, others often pick up on it as well, so spreading the feeling and fostering empathy. Gabrielle Kaufman, a Los Angeles dance therapist has this to say “Dance’s expressive aspects help people process feelings they have trouble dealing with in conscious, verbal terms.” “Dance allows people to experience themselves in ways they didn’t know they could” says Miriam Berger, a dance professor and dance therapist at New York University, “You can change your internal state through external movement.”

A dance teacher usually but not always teaches a specific form of dance, for example, ballet, tap, ballroom, folk, latin, etc. He or she is concerned primarily with technique and the outward appearance of the dance whilst at the same time being aware of the psychological aspects. A dance therapist on the other hand more usually employs free dance, improvisational or inspirational dance with the student or patient encouraging them to create their own personal expression.There is no criticism in dance therapy classes – no right or wrong way. This unconditional acceptance is important to the participants. At the same time the therapist is consciously working towards helping the person to find within themselves catharsis, solutions and resolution to problems through dance. The dancers find the answers without words from within themselves. Dance therapy can have immediate and unexpected results. On occasion deeply buried blockages are resolved. Dance is a right brained activity and the left brain with its critical commentary is quietened down. This allows our subconscious and intuitive levels to function.

Posted by: tk729 | October 29, 2010

Add a Soundtrack to Your Life

Do you remember the last song you played on your iPod? Was it Justin Bieber? Taylor Swift? Regardless of the artist of your choice, think about how that song affected you.  I doubt that you were thinking about what was occurring to you physically or psychologically while you were singing along.  You were probably just enjoying your favorite song because it’s pleasant to your auditory senses and how it connected with you.

On a high note, research has shown that music offers us more than just pleasant sounds that are enjoyable to listen to. The following article discusses a growing field of health care called Music Therapy, and its positive effects on the body.  After the read, take a look at this specific article on how to use music as a stress and management tool.

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Music and Your Body: How Music Affects Us and Why Music Therapy Promotes Health

How and Why Is Music A Good Tool For Health?

ByElizabeth Scott, M.S.

Research has shown that music has a profound effect on your body and psyche. In fact, there’s a growing field of health care known as Music Therapy, which uses music to heal. Those who practice music therapy are finding a benefit in using music to help cancer patients, children with ADD, and others, and even hospitals are beginning to use music and music therapy to help with pain management, to help ward off depression, to promote movement, to calm patients, to ease muscle tension, and for many other benefits that music and music therapy can bring. This is not surprising, as music affects the body and mind in many powerful ways. The following are some of effects of music, which help to explain the effectiveness of music therapy:

  • Brain Waves: Research has shown that music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats bringing sharper concentration and more alert thinking, and a slower tempo promoting a calm, meditative state. Also, research has found that the change in brainwave activity levels that music can bring can also enable the brain to shift speeds more easily on its own as needed, which means that music can bring lasting benefits to your state of mind, even after you’ve stopped listening.
  • Breathing and Heart Rate: With alterations in brainwaves comes changes in other bodily functions. Those governed by the autonomic nervous system, such as breathing and heart rate can also be altered by the changes music can bring. This can mean slower breathing, slower heart rate, and an activation of the relaxation response, among other things. This is why music and music therapy can help counteract or prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress, greatly promoting not only relaxation, but health.
  • State of Mind: Music can also be used to bring a more positive state of mind, helping to keep depression and anxiety at bay. This can help prevent the stress response from wreaking havoc on the body, and can help keep creativity and optimism levels higher, bringing many other benefits.
  • Other Benefits: Music has also been found to bring many other benefits, such as lowering blood pressure (which can also reduce the risk of stroke and other health problems over time), boost immunity, ease muscle tension, and more. With so many benefits and such profound physical effects, it’s no surprise that so many are seeing music as an important tool to help the body in staying (or becoming) healthy.
Posted by: tk729 | September 17, 2010

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