How to trick your brain into thinking you are happy

Yes, you can “fake out” your own brain.

Smiling fools your brain into thinking you are happy, then this creates actual happiness.  A smile spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin*.

Now here’s the fake-out:  Our brain isn’t good at telling the difference between a smile because you are happy and a fake smile.

Smiles by Peggy

But wait . . . there’s more

A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”

“And there are plenty more studies out there:  Researchers at the University of Kansas published findings that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another suggests that smiling leads to longevity.”

Smiling enhances our Immune system

“More than happiness is at stake.  Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist looks at the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system. He asserts that it has been found “over and over again” that depression weakens your immune system, while happiness boosts your immune system.”

“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”

Smiles are contagious

“This is because we have mirror neurons that fire when we see action,” says Dr. Eva Ritzo, As its name suggests, mirror neurons enable us to copy or reflect the behavior we observe in others and have been linked to the capacity for empathy.”

“Try smiling into the mirror. Dr. Ritzo recommends smiling at yourself in the mirror, an act she says not only triggers our mirror neurons, but can also help us calm down and re-center if we’re feeling low or anxious.”

So SMILE and pass on a dose of neurochemical happy

*Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression.  Low levels of dopamine are also associated with depression.

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On the fly: Catch on to these Lessons and you’re Hooked for Life

Most people don’t realize I’m an outdoor person at heart.  I bike, hike, kayak and fish.  I just returned from fly fishing with my cousin Kate in the Catskill Mountains in southeast New York.  We had perfect weather and I was in my element with the tall green, green trees,  flowers in bloom, blue, blue lakes and country roads winding through low hills and picturesque towns.

Judy asked me what life lessons I learned form fly fishing.   I thought and thought but NOT while I was fly fishing. NO, never when, you are fly fishing which is the first lesson.

Life Lesson #1: Attention must be paid.  Pay attention to what you are doing.  Focus on the task at hand so you can do it well and improve your skills.  Know where you’re casting your efforts . . . You get the drift.

Fly Fishing:  To catch fish, I must pay close attention to what I’m doing:  Watch where to throw my line, watch if I’m getting a nibble.  Fly fishing requires lots of concentrated attention, similar to meditation . . . and life. 

Lesson #2. Be prepared. Have a plan for unwanted but foreseeable events.  If you fall in the water make sure it’s shallow but learn how to swim before you take the plunge.

Fly Fishing:  When wading in a moving river, it’s possible I could fall in.  My wading stick helps me avoid that, but I still keep a whistle to call for help,and have learned what to do (like positioning my feet downstream).

Lesson #3. Pack the essentials first.  You have a limited amount of resources.  First determine what is needed and then, if room, add what’s wanted.  Clutter weighs you down.

Fly Fishing: I pack the essentials first, then add the frills:  The most important is a net to catch the fish.  Since I want to carry just a FEW pounds of equipment, I’m careful about what I put in my vest pockets. In one pocket I have what I need to change flies (in case the fish don’t find the fly I’m using tasty, or replace a fly when I invariably lose them to an aggressive bush, grabby tree, deep rock or floating log). Another pocket holds nippers to undo messy tangles of line (especially those that wrap around my body).

If there’s room, I add things that are not essential but handy – extra flies, line, goo that help a fly float, gadgets to help flies sink, and indicators that help me know when a fish has taken my fly.

Lesson #4. Have a big netBe ready to capture the good things that come your way.

Fly Fishing:  Most of the time I catch small fish but I’m ready for the biggest fish.   I carry a BIG net because I can put a small fish in a big net, but can’t put a big fish in a small net.   When I “land” my catch I look to make sure it’s a fish before cradling it back into the water to join his other fishy friends.  

Lesson #5.  Water-proof yourself.   When you do fall down most of you will stay dry . . . otherwise you’ll get moldy.

Fly Fishing:  I dress for success. That means waterproof clothing and boots, so I can stand in a stream trying not to fall in.   But nice accessories are important, such as a cute vest with all the flys, and my wading stick  (form and fashion all in one).

Lesson #6.  Keep Casting.  It takes a LOT of practice to know where and how to make a catch.

Fly Fshing  I practiced casting first and a lot (because I couldn’t  practice landing a fish until I caught one). Practice means noticing where my fly lands (in the water is definitely desirable), and learning were it is likely there’s a fish waiting.  Practice means reading the currents and . . . improving my aim

Lesson #7. Tie down what’s important.  When you find yourself in the wilderness you don’t want to “lose it” downstream.

Fly Fishing:  I keep what I value close by and tied down.  Standing in a moving stream and dropping something I need  (like my fishing rod) means it’s GONE. Finding a way to attach important stuff -like my “nippers” that are on a “zinger”  (a retractible string with a pin on the end) is what makes a good fly fisher person . . .  which brings me back to Lesson #6.

   . . . Kate and I caught a 6 fish and released them to swim free.

Peggy

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Forest Bathing: Shinrin-yoku Can boost Immunity, reduce stress & elevate your mood

You don’t need to take off your clothes or use soap or water for that matter. Forest bathing isn’t a bath – it’s a sensory immersion. Forest bathing isn’t a hike, it’s a meander.

Taking a Forrest Dip by Peggy

The idea is to go slow and let yourself take in nature – the sights, smells and sounds of the forest – notice things you might ordinarily miss.  It’s a meditation which helps clear your brain, and see your surroundings with fresh eyes. 

The practice began in Japan. Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku — which translates roughly as forest bathing.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health,” says Philip Barr, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University.”

One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones.

“Researchers were able to document a decrease in blood pressure among forest bathers. As people begin to relax, parasympathetic nerve activity increases — which can lead to a drop in blood pressure.”

“On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest.  This might not sound like a big difference, but it can be clinically significant. Most doctors these days agree that people younger than 60 should aim to keep their blood pressure under 140.”

“There’s another factor that might help explain the decline in blood pressure: Trees release compounds into the forest air that some researchers think could be beneficial for people. Some of the compounds are very distinctive, such as the scent of cedar.”

  • “Back in 2009, Japanese scientists published a small study that found inhaling these tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and enhanced the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells .”
  • “Another study found inhalation of cedar wood oils led to a small reduction in blood pressure. These are preliminary studies, but scientists speculate that the exposure to these tree compounds might enhance the other benefits of the forest.”

“The idea that spending time in nature is good for our health is not new. Most of human evolutionary history was spent in environments that lack buildings and walls. Our bodies have adapted to living in the natural world.”

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What on earth is a “Nappuccino”?

I always have more than one book in progress:  One for when I’m tired and need mindless entertainment; one for when I’m alert, is informative and grows my neuro-connections.  

I found a book* that addresses both and surprised me with a tip on napping. When I was younger naps were a waste of time.  Now, I appreciate the “restorative power” of catching a mid-day snooze.  Here is a good recipe for a…

 “Nappuccino”

Want to maximize your Nappuccinos? Here is what you do:

  • Find the best time for your nap. When is your energy low point? Your mood low point? For most of us, it is about 7 hours after we wake up. 
  • Create your nap environment – someplace comfortable: the floor, bed, couch, bathtub (EMPTY) –  definitely low lights and NO cell phone.
  • Set a timer, nap 10 to 20 minutes, you will feel more alert and function better, without waking with that groggy feeling.

Here’s the kicker that surprised me:

The  Nappucino

Drink a cup of coffee! That’s right, drink coffee before you nap. It takes the caffeine about 25 minutes to kick in, so you’ll get the perfect amount of napping time and then you’ll wake up with the caffeine boost.  Who woulda thunk it?

There’s also evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers. Practice makes perfect – I’m taking a Nappacino every day until I am an expert.

(PA)

*”WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink 

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WINE On!  

FIVE healthy supplements to add to your daily diet in ONE glass:

It’s National antioxidant, phenol, silicon, resveratrol, procyanidin Day

1. “Attacks” FREE RADICALS.

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Google On! My brain grows younger while my body grows old

The bad news: I fractured my foot weeks ago and little did I know it might be causing my brain to shrink (read about it here).  

The good news:  I’ve done little but sit with my foot up, doing internet searches (and blog posts)

It was good to read (on the internet of course) that all my “googling is helping brain (even though it may now be the size of a pea) grow younger as my body grows older.

judy & Peggy dualalties: Internet vs Books

A study at UCLA showed that simply using search engines such as Google triggered key centers in the brains of middle-aged and older adults, areas that control complex reasoning and decision-making, according to a press release. Researchers involved said the results suggest that searching might help stimulate and possibly improve the function of the brain.

“Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function”*

Study volunteers were between the ages of 55 and 76; half of them had search experience and half of them did not. Gender, age and education level were kept similar between the two groups, which performed web searches and book-reading tasks.

While all the participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, internet searches were another matter. All the participants showed the same brain activity as in the book-reading task, but those familiar with online searches also showed activity “in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning,” the study revealed.

“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior internet experience.”*

“What does this mean? In addition to helping seniors keep up with ever-developing technology, being actively engaged with the internet can help stimulate brain activity as we age.”

*Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Before you get too excited and spend all day on Google, read this:

Sitting Possibly Makes My Brain (Yours Too) Thinner?

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The Longer Your Telomeres, The Longer You Live

“Telomeres – the caps at the end of our chromosomes – protect the DNA within our cells. The longer our telomeres, the less our likelihood of chronic disease and signs of aging.”

“Have you wondered why some sixty-year-olds look and feel like forty-year-olds and why some forty-year-olds look and feel like sixty-year-olds? While many factors contribute to aging and illness, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn discovered a biological indicator called telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, which protect our genetic heritage.”

“Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel’s research* shows that the length and health of one’s telomeres are a biological underpinning of the long-hypothesized mind-body connection. They and other scientists have found that changes we can make to our daily habits can protect our telomeres and increase our health spans (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free).”

“THE TELOMERE EFFECT* reveals how Blackburn and Epel’s findings, together with research from colleagues around the world, cumulatively show that sleep quality, exercise, aspects of diet, and even certain chemicals profoundly affect our telomeres, and that chronic stress, negative thoughts, strained relationships, and even the wrong neighborhoods can eat away at them.”

Lifestyle factors known to modulate aging and age-related diseases might also affect telomerase activity and have all been linked to shorter telomeres.

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Cardio-vascular disease processes (related to oxidative stress and inflammation)
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Lower physical activity
  • Psychological stress
  • Unhealthy diet

You can counteract your “biological clock” by reactivating telomerase through diet and lifestyle interventions

With intensive lifestyle modification, a low fat diet, regular physical activity, and mental stress reduction (by yoga and meditation), telomerase activity increases significantly in peripheral blood mononuclear cell.

Specific nutrients provide all the necessary building blocks to support telomere health and extend lifespan like:

  • Folate 
  • Vitamins (B, D, E, C) 
  • Zinc
  • Polyphenol compounds such as resveratrol 
  • Grape seed extract 
  • Curcumin

Rich in those vitamins and minerals and a good source of antioxidants are foods like: Tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, cat-fish, grouper, flounder, flax seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes and olives.  “These, combined with a Mediterranean type of diet containing fruits, vegetables and whole grains would help protect our chromosome ends [6270].”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4761710/

*The Telomere Effect,  A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Dr. Elissa Epel “A groundbreaking book coauthored by the Nobel Prize winner who discovered telomerase and telomeres’ role in the aging process and the health psychologist who has done original research into how specific lifestyle and psychological habits can protect telomeres, slowing disease and improving life.”

 

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