How to change your own neurochemistry to feel happier

There is power in positive thinking–and the power comes from you.  and what you can do to have more “happy” neuro-chemicals. 

SEROTONIN & POSITIVE THINKING

As far back as 2007 scientists* measured how positive thoughts change brain serotonin levels which is another key neurotransmitter in happiness. Professional actors were used since they could keep up an intense emotional state.   Using a PET scan researchers found that focusing on happy memories resulted in increased uptake of the serotonin building blocks. Focusing on sad memories resulted in lower uptake. This supports the since replicated conclusion that we, by choosing to focus on happy thoughts, can self-regulate our brain’s neurotransmitters and change our brain’s chemical balance to support happiness.

DOPAMINE & MEDITATION

Another study shows why meditation makes monks among the happiest people on earth,

Dopamine is also crucial for happiness and relaxation, Researchers examined the changes in dopamine during meditation using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning on meditators.  The dopamine increased significantly in an area called the basal ganglia during meditation. This is the first evidence that by focusing our thoughts, we can alter how the neurons in our brain fire, and increase dopamine release.

No prescription needed, no side-effects from medications.  Your only cost is a bit of practice focusing on positive memories and thoughts or, if you are more ambitious, a bit of your time to learn to meditate. 

The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

 

Owls, Larks & then there’s Me (Parenthetically Speaking)

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  Maybe there would be more validity if I had taken it when I was middle-aged and had the energy to rebound and peak.  As a seenager I seem to be in the slowdown phase, perpetually.)

Let me explain . . .  

What’s the best time to Think?

Daniel Pink* (born in 1964 and he’s NOT a seenager) says our ability to think changes throughout the day, consequently we function better, smarter and even more creative at various times.  Research suggests these effects can be as large as 20%.

Generally, we have a peak, a slowdown and a rebound during the day.

  • Most people are at their peak function during the late morning, till about noon. We think and focus the best then.  We don’t get distracted as easily.
  • Early to mid afternoon we are less alert and focused-this is the time for “busy work”.
  • In the late afternoon to early evening we rebound. We are more easily distracted though, which turns out to be good for creativity – problem solving and creative thinking. Our mood tends to be up and we are alert. Note that night owls have this time in the morning.

One in 5 people is a night owl, then the order is reversed–rebound, slowdown, peak.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  I’m a night owl person.  My morning rebound lasts until about 3 pm, followed by a slowdown until 11 pm when I go to bed.  My peak performance occurs undoubtedly while I’m sleeping.)

What’s the best time to Exercise?

When is best time to exercise? Depends on your goals-here is Pink’s guide:

  • Morning exercise is best for losing weight –since blood sugar is low before we eat, we will burn fat – even 20% more fat than later exercise
  • Cardio in morning will boost your mood, and doing this in the morning lets you enjoy the boost longer
  • It is easier to have a routine in the morning that later in the day.
  • Late afternoon exercise is best for avoiding injury, since your muscles are warmed up
  • You also perform your best in the afternoon ( one study by Elise Facer-Childs and Ronald Brandstaetter at U. Of Birmingham  in 2015 showed a 26% difference. Lung function is highest and strength peaks at this time, reaction time is quick and eye hand coordination is at its best. This time of day is when athletic records tend to be set-late afternoon to early evening.  You tend to enjoy your workout more at this time.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this.  I’m a night owl person.  Since my morning rebound lasts until about 3 pm, followed by a slowdown until 11 pm when I go to bed.  I should be exercising while I’m sleeping which will ensure I enjoy it more.)

How to stay happy and productive

Take short breaks-this helps keep you able to focus, especially when you move during the breaks.  Taking a 5 minute walk every hour will increase your energy, focus and mood,  lessening afternoon fatigue.  It’s better than one 30 min. walk. Researchers at Stanford found motivation, concentration and creativity went up with short walking breaks.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this. Peggy told me this is how we evolved – pick some food from a plant, walk a bit, pick more food . . .   I tried this and gained 10 pounds which depressed me and now I’m going to bed to sleep at 3 pm when my slowdown starts.)

Pink says social breaks are the best as they increase mood and decrease stress. The best breaks may be ones in nature, people feel happier and more rested.

(Frankly, I’m not sure about any of this. I could take a social break but I don’t think my husband would appreciate my asking anyone else to bed)

(jw)

Peggy made  Mood Tracker charts to help me pinpoint my daily energy swings.

Click HERE to get a PDF and print your own chart and instructions.

Mood Chart

 

Sample Mood Chart & Tracker

References:

Wall Street Journal article Feb. 16, 2018,

*“How to be Healthier, Happier and More Productive: It’s All in the Timing” by Daniel H. Pink

 

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Frankly Freddie, THE MENTAL BENEFITS OF WALKING (Parenthetically Speaking)

Dear Humans,

I hate to say “I told you so”  but I told you so – Walking is good for you.  It’s my preferred form of exercise.  Peggy and judy have found lots of studies on the benefits of walking. They asked me to promote it since I’m an expert walker:

Walking (preferably with me)

  • Gives you a creative lift.  A study at Stanford showed a 60% increase in creative output. Researches called the kind of creativity “divergent thinking”, thinking out of the box, looking at many different possibilities. Walking lets out minds wander and this puts us in a good mental state for generating new ideas.  (My Human Judy is already a “divergent thinker” . . .  to a fault.  Her brain hasn’t ever been able to walk a straight line)

  • Boosts your mood. In one study scientists saw increased energy, good mood, attentiveness and confidence with 12 minutes of walking compared to 12 minutes of sitting.  (I like my human to be attentive and obedient)

  • Walking in nature also reduced repetitive negative thoughts (ruminating).

  • Improves memory.  (You’ll remember that walking helps you)

  • Just 10 minutes of walking may relieve anxiety and improve mood as well as a workout lasting 45 minutes. (I prefer long walks but I’m all for anything that gets my human in a better mood)

If it’s raining or snowing or blowing you can use a treadmill for a walking workout.

Walking on a treadmill gives you the most benefit if you vary the speed and incline so that your heart rate is raised and lowered. Sort of like walking up and down hills, going fast some times, slow some times. Setting a high incline makes you use more energy to walk, and you can get a good cardiovascular workout without as much strain on your knees (For those of us who have 4 knees that’s important)

Interval training is a way to get the most from a workout. So whether you are outside on a trail or inside on a treadmill here’s how to do intervals. Start with a warm up warm up 5 minutes, then do an incline  or speed for 3 minutes a few minutes, then back to level then 1 minute level at a walk, and repeat for about 20 minutes total.  (I do interval training with Judy – I run, stop, raise my leg, run some more, stop, sniff, saunter, stop, raise my leg, run, stop, sniff, trot . . .)

Another protocol I often follow, and you can too, is to go as hard as I can for 1 minute, then sniff and walk until I recover, then go again. 

Finding your target zone

My target zone is most often a tree or a post.  For humans it may be different and here’s how you do it:

Find an online calculator for your target heart rate zone, or use this:

For vigorous exercise, use 70 to 85 percent of your heart rate reserve or HHR

Here is Mayo Clinics formula:

  • “Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as first thing in the morning. (For the average adult It’s somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute.)
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) – subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • These two numbers are your training zone heart rate for vigorous intensity exercise. Your heart rate during exercise should be between these two numbers.”

For example, I’m 6 dogs years old.

220-6= 114, my maximum HR
My  resting heart rate is resting
Then I subtract my resting heart rate from my maximum heart rate gives my heart rate reserve (HHR), (which is very confusing).

Multiply that by 0.7, then add my resting heart rate,

Multiply my heart rate reserve (HHR) by 85%  so 82×0.85=69.7 then add resting heart rate so 69.7+65=134.7 which is the high end of my target heart rate or training zone . . .

(I’ve computed my target zone to be 6 trees a minute.)

Frankly,

Freddie Parker Westerfield, CDWE

Canine Dog Walking Expert 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise

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You can outsmart your brain – Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that the brain didn’t change after childhood. While it is true that our ability to learn new things is greater in our early years, it turns out our brains reorganize, physically change, and alter the function of different parts through our lives.

Each time we learn a new skill, make a new memory, rethink, respond, react, interact our brains change. Your brain is changing right now reading this post.

Why is this important?

Exercising and strengthening our brains is as important as keeping our bodies strong and limber.  The way you keep your brain in good shape spends on what you pay attention to, what you think, what you feel, and how you react to your environment.  You can change your brain with purpose by understanding how neuroplasticity works.

Two Main Ways You Can Drive Neuroplasticity

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”*

Donald Hebb developed the idea that when two neurons fire at the same time repeatedly, chemical changes occur in both, so that they connect more strongly.  Because neuroplasticity follows this rule, it’s fundamentally reversible. Neurons that fire together wire together, but when neurons “fire apart” their connection becomes weaker. That means your brain works on a “use it or lose it” principle. Information and behaviors that you do not use weaken and may be completely lost. This is called called “synaptic pruning.

“It is almost just as easy to drive changes that can impair one’s memory or slow down one’s mental or physical control as it is to improve one’s memory or speed up the brain’s actions.”**

Brain change comes from external experiences

What we practice or are exposed to becomes part of our brain wiring.

Everything that happens in our life wires our brains.  What we repeatedly do becomes wired – everything from muscle patterns (remember when you first learned to walk, ride a bike?), to skills (learning a native language – when’s the last time you thought about how to form a sentence?) to smiling or frowning (do you have to concentrate on each of your facial muscles to express a feeling?).

To keep our brains growing, functioning well and avoiding decline, we need to give it challenges such as learning new skills, exploring new places, changing routines and interacting with people.

Brain change comes from internal experiences

Mental & emotional exercise changes our brains too. What we think and imagine can change our brains for the better or worse. Where we focus our attention directs the synaptic connections, the brains wiring, and develops and strengthens connections.

We can purposefully and actively create the connections we want. Thoughts and images we replay in our minds create stronger connections.  Make neuro-connections by thinking of things in sequence, create positive mental images, do crossword puzzles. (You already do this whenever you study for a test, read a book, rehearse what to say, worry about your future, ruminate on the past.)

Here are some proven ways to positively impact our brains:

 Mindfulness:

Practicing mindfulness is learning to control your thoughts and develop ability to focus where we choose.

Meditation:

By decreasing stress, anxiety and depression meditation helps encourage neurogenesis (development new brain cells). This can happen in just a few weeks.

Visualization: 

Neurons fire whether something is real or imagined. Imagining doing something is not very different from doing it in terms of  brain wiring. Athletes use this to “practice” by imagining a perfect performance over and over. It helps them actually perform better.  Research has validated that the practice influences physical changes from muscle strength to brain pathways.

Now that you’ve finished reading, give yourself a pat on the brain for all the new neuro-connections it has just made for you.

*neuro-scientist Carla Shatz

**Dr. Michael Merzenich,  author of  Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life 

Reference: https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/

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Ya “Betta” get Metta

We can’t control if we are loved. We can’t control what others think. What we all can control is the love we send out through our thoughts and actions. Metta is a name for using the energy you sent out, and it can change how you feel.

“Loving-kindness, or metta, as it in called in the Pali language, is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings.”

“There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential. We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and, ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of loving kindness.”

Metta bhavana, or loving-kindness meditation, is a method of developing compassion. It comes from the Buddhist tradition, but it can be adapted and practiced by anyone, regardless of religious affiliation. It is believed that besides our thoughts and behaviors our energy impacts everything – ourselves and others. 

Here is how it works:

  1. Focus on yourself – Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, send a good wish to yourself. It can be “May I be happy” or “May I be at peace”
  2. Imagine someone you love – Take a deep breath, and as you exhale send good wishes to them “May you be well” or whatever good wishes you want. 
  3. Think of someone you don’t like or are having difficulty with – Take a deep breath, and as you exhale,and send them good wishes.

There are many ways besides words:

  • Picture light or energy going to the other person.
  • Image the other person feeling good or happy.
  • Think of others as doing the best they can even if they are misguided.

The energy you send is in your control and can help you to feel good about yourself and how you are in the world.  Send good wishes to all.

Let us know how Metta feels.

https://www.inc.com/elisa-boxer/this-simple-technique-can-help-you-raise-more-confident-kids-according-to-neuroscience.html

http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree/loving-kindness

Scientists have figured out exactly how much you need to exercise to slow your heart’s aging process

There’s bad news good news and there’s bad news.

The Bad News:  “More than 610,000 people die of heart disease in the US each year—accounting for about 25% of total deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year more than 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and 28% of those are a second heart attack.”

The Good News:  There are steps you can take to slow your heart’s aging process, increasing the chances of living a long, healthy life.

The Bad News: The trade-off is that you really do have to go to the gym.

“New research published in the Journal of Physiology pins down the number of days a week a person should exercise to maintain the overall health of their arteries, which stiffen with age and, as they do, increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Very few people experience heart attacks before age 45, and the average age is 65. But the new study suggests a way to keep your arteries physiologically “young.”

The study considered that every human has different-sized arteries, and found that the smaller arteries rely on fewer days of exercise per week than larger ones to maintain overall health.

The takeaway:

Medium-sized arteries need two to three days a week of 30-minute exercising to minimize artery stiffening. But to minimize the stiffening of equally important larger arteries, people should be exercising four to five days a week.

The study

“The scientists came to their findings by examining a group of 102 people—all of them older than 60—who had exercised over the course of their lives. The researchers started by measuring each person’s artery stiffness, then grouped them into four categories depending on how much they exercised through the years. One group was for people who generally exercised less that twice a week. Another was for “casual exercisers” who were active two to three times a week. The last two groups were for people who exercised four to five times and six to seven times per week.”

“A lifelong history of ‘casual exercise’ resulted in more youthful middle-sized arteries, which supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck,” the press release states. “However, people who exercised 4-5 times per week also had more youthful large central arteries, which provide blood to the chest and abdomen, in addition to healthier middle sized ones.”

This work showed exercise training over a long period of time can slow artery damage and the aging of the heart; the researchers say the next step is to study whether it can also reverse damage and aging of the cardiovascular system.

https://qz.com/1284072/the-right-exercise-to-slow-down-heart-disease-according-to-a-new-study/

Research published in the Journal of Physiology

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What Science Says About Achieving Peak Performance

I’ve peaked . . . not in the sense I’m going downhill now . . . but rather experiencing peak performance.  My first peak experience was memorable because it was a time in my life when I was the most self-conscious and questioning – a teenager in high school. I vividly remember, during a discussion, hearing my own words coming out of my own mouth, articulate, composed, effortlessly making the points I wished to make. I was peaking and flowing.

As an adult I’ve had a few times when I felt in the flow.  Looking back, each time met the 5 criteria described by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius in their book “The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance”

The main points Hagemann and Fabricius describe as the basis for creating peak performance:

  1. Creating psychological safety
  2. Regulating negative emotions
  3. Not entering a stress state.
  4. Gender and age matter.
  5. Leaning towards rewards, not threats.

“Peaked” by Peggy

1. Psychological Safety

Hagemann emphasizes that the most important thing that underlies peak performance is psychological safety.  If you are working in a climate of respect and appreciation,  you can do your best. 

If you are trying to perform well, using energy to inhibit negative emotions will take away from your performance.  “Two systems in your brain are competing. That leads to not being focused on anything anymore.”

To regain cognitive control, recognize and ‘label’ how you feel”.

Labeling emotions by Peggy

2.  Stress

In situations where you feel threatened, your stress response increases, which makes you physically stronger, but reduces your ability to think well.  

The stress response directs blood flow to the muscles – for fight or flight – and away from your brain.  The stress response says this is the time to act not deliberate and debate.

Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.  That will send more oxygen to your brain and help you refocus.

 3.  Regulate your negative emotions 

When you try to inhibit negative emotions  — anger, frustration, disappointment — your rational and emotional systems  compete with each other.  

Name your feelings, either outloud or on paper, so your brain doesn’t have to busy itself trying to tamp down negative feelings and distract you from, consciously or unconsciously, performing well. 

4.  Lean towards rewards, not threats

In a “threat” state, “you get a rush of cortisol in your bloodstream – it’s that stress response making your muscles stronger, but and cutting off your cognitive thinking.  

Figure out what the pay-off will be in the situation and place your focus on the reward at the end (just like athletes do).   Your brain will help you “flow” toward it.

5.  Gender and age matter.

Hagemann refers to a “performance profile” as the amount of intellectual arousal needed to help an individual achieve peak performance. The amount of arousal needed to be at your peak are different for different people, and maybe for the same person at different ages. The amount of intellectual arousal makes a difference between men and women, old and young.  Some people are “sensation seekers,” and need a lot of arousal to hit their peak. That means they are often running on testosterone (he calls it “a very male thing”) while others can hit their peak with fewer stresses placed on them.

Both men and women have sensation seeking personality traits (like thrill rides, thrive on taking chances).   If you need a lot of arousal use the stress response to your advantage.  Relabel it as excitement and intently focus on the reward.

Have you ever been in “the flow”, had a “peak performance”?

What was it like for you?

(PA)

“The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance” by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-leading-brain/

 

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