Archives for August 2013

Lack of Sleep Leads to Less Stamina In The Gym.

The length of an individual’s sleep appears to influence their participation level in exercise the next day, according to a small study published in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

So if you’re laying awake at night listening to the crickets and night owls, you may be a bit off of your game the next day.

Night Owl 2

Flickr Night Owl photo by Vince LoPresti

In reality, I didn’t need a study to tell me this.  On days when I don’t get to bed on time, or have a restless night I don’t have the stamina that I need for my workouts or training, or for that matter, anything else I need to accomplish the next day.  If I have several of those nights in a row, my motivation to get up to go to the gym vanishes.

The Effects of Sleep On Exercise Duration

The study cited in the Clinical Sleep Medicine Journal was conducted by Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H. from Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.  Baron and her colleagues relied on self-reported data from 11 women with insomnia who engaged in 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.

During the 16 week study, sleep quality was assessed at the start and end of the timeframe.  Sleep and exercise logs and wrist activity were collected continuously. The study made the following determinations:

  • Sleep quality improved significantly from baseline to 16 weeks.
  • There was a significant, negative correlation between baseline ratings of sleepiness and exercise session duration.
  • Participants had significantly shorter exercise duration on days following longer sleep onset latency.
  • Daily exercise was not found to influence sleep.

Just knowing that we need more sleep can lead to anxiety that can keep us awake.  We all know that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night, looking at the clock, and not being able to go back to sleep.  Sometimes the stress of knowing I need to get back to sleep right away keeps me awake.

There are numerous tips and strategies for practicing good sleep hygiene that are supposed to ensure you will get a good night’s sleep.  I provided  10 sleep strategies from The American Sleep Association in the article One Way To Combat The Muffin Top Is With More Z’s. But when you’re laying awake in the middle of the night tossing around, it’s too late to put any of those strategies into play.

Don’t Lay There. Get Up! 

So what do you do if you can’t stay asleep at night? Lay there. Count sheep. More than likely, count on your fingers how many hours of sleep you can still get if you fall asleep right now.

Researchers and sleep analysts say if you can’t get to sleep or wake up and can’t get back down, you have probably missed the open ‘sleep gate’ and will have to wait for it for to re-open before you can go back to sleep.  The brain goes through several repetitive sleep cycles each night that last from 90 minutes to two hours. It is only at the beginning of the cycle that the ‘sleep gate’ is open.

If you are trying to fall back to sleep once the sleep gate is closed you should get up out of bed and engage in a relaxation activity.  This does not mean getting on the lap top, iPad, Smartphone or watching television.  The flashes of light and brain stimulation that these devices create will make it even harder for you to get the proper amount of rest.

Reading, meditating, journaling, and listening to soft music are a few things that might help you regain sleepiness so you can catch the next ‘open gate’ cycle and fall back to sleep.

If you suffer from chronic insomnia, you may have Sleep Apnea, a serious and debilitating health condition that can raise your risk of heart problems and stroke. If sleeping issues persist, check with your doctor to eliminate this or other serious causes.

What’s keeping you up at night?

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Oven Roasted Tomato Recipe

There is not a lot that can compare to a home grown tomato.  They are firm, sweet, juicy and loaded with antioxidants.

Home Grown Tomatoes

 

There are hundreds of different tomato varieties.  The beautiful garden tomatoes in this picture are larger than a cherry tomato and are one of my favorites.

Tomatoes are known for their antioxidant content, and research shows that they are good for heart health, help total cholesterol and triglycerides, and prevent unwanted clumping together of blood platelet cells.

Tomatoes are abundant in Vitamins C, A, K, as well as potassium, manganese, fiber and vitamin B6. According to WH Foods, tomatoes are ‘off the chart’ when it comes to phytonutrients.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

There are hundreds of ways to prepare tomatoes, but one of my favorites is this very simple slow-roasted tomato recipe. The only ingredients you need are fresh whole tomatoes, olive oil, salt and a pinch of sugar.

Start with a bowl of fresh, ripe tomatoes of a color and variety of your choice. Wash and cut in half. Place in a large bowl and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  I used an olive oil infused with basil. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of sugar.

Tomatoes smothered in olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place the tomatoes basted in olive oil on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for two hours.

Tomatoes ready for the oven.

Tomatoes ready for the oven.

After two hours of slow-roasting, take the tomatoes out of the oven and eat as a side dish or snack. They are delicious in pasta salad and can be gently pureed and used as a sauce.

Beautiful Slow Roasted Tomatoes

These roasted tomatoes are super easy and delicious. If you don’t have home-grown tomatoes, you’ll find plenty of choices at your local farmer’s market or market at this time of year.

What’s your favorite tomato recipe?

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Eight Motivational Web Sites To Help You Find (Or Keep) Your Mojo

Having a little trouble with motivation? Was the resolution you made on New Year’s Eve forgotten by the first of February? Maybe you continue to make a monthly donation to the local gym but never use the facility.

Or you decide that you’re going to take a healthy lunch to work every day, but by Thursday you’re sleeping too late to put something together.

Life's Plan

It’s not easy keeping all of the balls in the air.  The job, family, financial worries, stress and lack of time all contribute to burn out.  Burn out dampens our enthusiasm and our ability to accomplish our dreams. It might seem like a no-win situation but it’s not.  While winning the lottery, spending a week at the beach or hiring a trainer to come to the home might help us reach our goals, for most of us, these aren’t realistic solutions.

But there is plenty of inspiration out there just waiting for you to tap into it.  I’ve  found eight resources to help you do just that.

Eight Motivational Web Sites You Need To Bookmark Now 

  1. Pick the Brain – Pick The Brain is one of my favorite websites.  It has four main sections:  Motivation, Productivity, Health and Self improvement.  Articles are updated daily, if not more often.  Pick the Brain, started in 2006, is one of the most popular self-help sites and has over 52,000 Facebook fans.  If you are a writer and would like to submit an article pertaining to one of these topics, Pick the Brain is actively seeking guest bloggers. For daily motivation, check out the site here.
  2. Sources of Insight – Awhile back I based one of my posts on a Sources of Insight article by J.D. Meier:  What You Can Learn From Chris Cardell, J.D. Meier, and Pink. Sources of Insight’s purpose is to “share patterns and practices from the great books, great people and great quotes” that J.D. Meier finds.  J.D. believes that life is not a spectator sport, and that success if a journey, not a destination.  There’s a lot you can learn from this site.  Access the site here.
  3. Advanced Life Skills – Jonathan Wells will work with you to recreate your reality and help you make rapid progress on your goals.  Jonathan isn’t a psychologists or ‘motivatonal superstar’.  He is a Certified Personal and Breakthrough Strategy Coach and dedicates Advanced Life Skills to helping people live the extraordinary life. Check out Advanced Life Skills here.
  4. Positively Positive – With a focus on optimism and inspiration this web site has oodles of contributors that make Positively Positive a pretty amazing place to land. You’ll find short videos, quotes, posters and articles to keep your motivation high and, for lack of a better word,  positive. Find the positivity you’re looking for here.
  5. Tiny Buddah.com – Tiny Buddha is all about reflecting on simple wisdom and learning new ways to apply it to our complex lives.  It covers a variety of topics: happiness and fun, love and relationships and change and challenge.  And while it has its roots in Buddhism it’s not a sight about religion but rather about wisdom and life. Check it out here.
  6. The Change Blog –  The Change Blog is a comminuty site that publishes stories from people of all ages and backgrounds from around the globe.  Since 2007 The Change Blog has published more than 500 posts on topics related to personal change.  If you’re a writer and would like to learn more about getting an article published at The Change Blog you can read about the guest post guidelines here.  If you just want to peruse the 500+ change articles, click here.
  7. Life Optimizer – Life Optimizer’s author, Donald Latumahina, believes many people exist without ever realizing their full potential.  This site lets you explore ways to unleash your ‘underdeveloped potential’ to fully optimize your life.  Get started reaching your full potential by clicking here.
  8. The Positivity Blog –  Henrik Edbert has been publishing articles at the Positivity Blog for seven plus years and shares his own experiments and experiences that have helped him figure out how to build a better life. Henrik’s focus is to stay positive and productive and practice mindfulness.  You can access The Positivity Blog here.

Go ahead and browse around the sites, subscribe or book mark your favorites.  While you’re at it, go ahead and bookmark, subscribe or follow Put That Cookie Down Now!, another source for motivation and inspiration.

What’s your go-to source or web site for motivation?  Be Social! Share! 

 

What You Can Learn from Food Network Chef Chris Avtges

Losing 140 pounds hasn’t just given Chris Avtges a new lease on life.  Chris has dropped his “fat is flavor” philosophy and has found a completely new way to cook.

As a recent contestant on a special weight-loss episode of the television show Chopped, Chris took park in the “Cook Your Butt Off” episode that highlighted four chefs from around the country who revamped their cooking styles to achieve significant weight loss.  The Cook Your Butt Off episode also included a cook-off competition where the chefs had to use surprise ingredients.

Food Network

Flickr photo by Karen Horton

Chris’ Journey

Chris began on his weight loss journey in 2010 when his son, Hunter 10, was diagnosed with celiac disease. With Hunter’s diagnosis, Chris began to take a closer look at the ingredients he was using and discovered ways to add flavor to foods without adding fat.

In 2011Chris was laid off from his job as a food service director for the public school district.  With extra time on his hands he and his wife, Tabatha, decided to join the YMCA where they worked with personal trainers and established an intense workout schedule.

Six Tips From Chef Chris

After a few weeks of working out at the Y Chris started using the iPhone app Lose It!.  Using the calorie tracker motivated him to re-evaluate his approach to cooking and he really began to drop the pounds. As part of his new lifestyle Chris made six significant changes to the way he cooked.

Here are Chris’ six simple tips that you can incorporate into your meal plans to reduce calories and fat:

  1. Use fresh herbs and boldly flavored vinegars for marinades.
  2. Substitute yogurt for cream or milk when making mashed or sweet potatoes.
  3. Grill. Grill. Grill
  4. Instead of thick sauces use homemade broths. He recommends using a vegetable base and adding flavor with lemon grass and other seasonings.
  5. Replace ground beef with turkey or chicken when making burgers, meatloaf or other dishes.
  6. Control portion with pre-plating.  Don’t eat family style.

Although Chris didn’t win the Cook Your Butt Off competition, he achieved his main goal which he says was “to have an opportunity to get my story out and to show the stereotypical obese American, that with some effort and determination, they can turn their health around.” As a result of his weight loss he has been taken off medications for diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Chris plans to use his newly developed culinary skills to work with students in K-12 to show them what healthy eating and exercise can do.

For more inspiration from Chris, check out his Chopped My Butt Off blog at http://chefchrisa.wordpress.com/.

 

Ice Baths and Leg Drains For Faster Post Workout Recovery

The past few summers I’ve attended a women’s running clinic which has helped me improve my technique and speed plus I’ve received some good tid-bits from the trainers.

All of the coaches at the clinic are experienced runners.  One of them is a women’s cross-country coach and she has an abundance of tips to share. There are two post-workout recovery tips that she shared that I’ve been intrigued with:  Ice baths for muscle soreness and leg drains for fresher legs.

Are ice baths good for humans too?

Are ice baths good for humans too?   (Flickr photo by Tambako the Jaguar)

Beyond personal experience, is there any real evidence that these work?

Ice Baths

I’ve never been a fan of the ice bath.  I prefer heat on my sore muscles, but there is some research that shows that taking a dip in ice water will reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that Australian sports scientists found that, compared to doing nothing, cold water immersion reduces inflammation DOMS in the few days following the workouts.

Other research from the University of Ulster in Ireland shows that when participants sat in an ice bath for several minutes after cycling, running or lifting weights, muscle soreness was reduced by 20%.  The conclusion was based on data from 17 studies involving 366 people.

However, a word of caution came from both studies.  The Australian scientists believe the ice bath treatment should be used sparingly because the inflammation that occurs after a hard workout is part of the training process and if eliminated will reduce the benefits of the training.

The Ireland researchers warns that immersion in ice water can cause shock and increase the heart rate and the long-term safety of this method has not been thoroughly studied.

An occasional portable ice bath in place of full immersion might do the trick, especially when you feel muscle soreness is going to get in the way of your regular training program. You can learn how to make one at Runner’s World.com. 

Leg Drains

My running buddy and I have been consistently doing leg drains after our runs since our coach told us about them.

Leg Drain

A leg drain simply means that you lay in front of a wall that you can prop your feet up on so that your legs are over your head.  The theory is that this drains the used blood and lactic acid out of the legs and replaces it with fresh blood making for a quicker recovery.

Leg drains are a yoga pose that David Good over at Lulumon.com is passionate about.  He sees leg drains as an opportunity to take a moment to relax and let your creative juices flow while you restore your legs.  Beyond the brief period of reflection and relaxation that comes with the leg drains, Good says they help with digestion, regulate the thyroid, are good for your lower back, and will help cure insomnia if done before bed.

He doesn’t have to convince me.  I’m a believer in leg drains and agree it may be as much about the mental aspect as it is the physical.

What Else?

What tips do you have for faster workout recovery?

(*Leg drain photo compliments of Pinterest.)

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Don’t Cancel Your Gym Membership Just Yet

The day is coming when the doors of fitness centers will be shuttered because people will no longer need to bother with exercise.  There will be a pill that you can take that will do the work for you.

Zumba

If an exercise pill comes on the market will these days be over?

The closing of fitness centers because of the exercise pill might be an exaggeration but scientists are working on a compound that mimics the benefits of exercise and once it’s perfected it could take the place of your regular workout session.

The Exercise Pill

In a study from Scripps Institute in Jupiter, FL, overweight mice were injected with a compound created by the researchers.  Results show that the injected substance increased the activation of Rev-erb, a protein involved in controlling circadian rhythms and biological clocks.  As a result, the mice lost weight and improved their cholesterol, despite eating a high fat diet.

In addition, the mice used more oxygen during the day and 5% more energy than the control group. What’s most surprising is the mice that were injected with the compound did not exercise any more than the other group of mice and in some cases were more inactive than they were before their injections.

After seeing the results, the Scripps researchers took their study one step further.  In this study the researchers developed mice that had very low levels of mitochondria.  Mitochondria are the cell’s power producers and convert energy into a form that can be used by the cell.  Regular exercise, and specifically cardio exercise, increases the amount of power the mitochondria are able to generate.

These specially developed mice had oxygen capacities that maxed out at 60 percent lower than normal, showed poor endurance, and were physically exhausted more quickly than the mice with normal mitochondria levels.

When the mitochondria deficient mice were injected with the compound, their cells began producing mitochondria and the Rev-erb protein at higher rates. In no time, the mice were able to run longer and farther than the control group mice.

Don’t Worry. You’ll Still Want To Go To The Gym 

Researchers agree we are a long way away from an actual exercise pill or drug that replicates exercise. These preliminary studies do show that as scientists continue to seek to find ways to help inactive people achieve the benefits of exercise, an exercise pill may one day be the solution.

For people that look forward to their morning or afternoon trip to the gym for a workout or out to the pavement for a run, an exercise pill doesn’t have much appeal.  These folks know that the benefits of exercising go well beyond improvement in muscle strength and cardio endurance.

A pill won’t be able to deliver those things that push us up and out while other people are sleeping.  The endorphin rush, social connections, friendly competition, and sense of achievement won’t be in the pill. Nor will a dripping, hardcore session of boot camp, Cross Fit or spinning.

But, for people that have a debilitative condition or illness that prevents them exercising, a supplement that provides the benefits of exercise may go a long way towards improving their quality of life. That in itself is a good reason for scientists to keep working on the magic pill.

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What You Can Learn From Sheldon Silverstein

Listen to the Mustn’ts, child,
Listen to the Don’ts
Listen to the Shouldn’ts
The Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves
Then listen close to me —
Anything can happen, child,
Anything can be.

Anything Can Be

I remember as a child I would lie for hours outside in the grass under big white cumulus clouds and dream that they were alive. One cloud was a pig that effortlessly morphed into an angel. Another was a gentle giant that dissipated into a small mouse. As the clouds floated across the sky they would take on shapes and lose them just as quickly creating a world that I could escape in.

It was very make-believe, yet at the same time, very real.

Dreams and make-believe are a big part of childhood. But as we grow up, our dreams begin to change shape. We become so busy and are under pressure from unending obligations that we’re no longer able to find the time to dream.

Or worse, our dreams have been squelched because we’ve allowed ourselves to be affected by the mustn’ts, shouldn’t’s and won’ts.

Learning to dream again is a big part of goal setting and achievement. If you’re stuck and are finding it impossible to push through a weight-loss plateau, can’t seem to find the motivation to exercise, and are finding it hard to be excited about life in general, the only way to get unstuck is to start dreaming again.

Take a step back and start creating a vision for your future self that looks just like you wish it did. Ask yourself the question, “If I rubbed a magic bottle and a genie came out and granted me three wishes, what would they be?”

Now, rub the bottle again and pick three more.

Write your dreams down and start putting a plan in place to make them happen. You might even want to start a Dream Jar where you can stow away your written down dreams. Keep the jar in plain sight and it will be a reminder to stay focused on achieving your goals.

Go ahead and dream big dreams.  There’s no need to set boundaries for your ideas.

Anything can happen, friend.  Anything can be.

The poem the Mustnt’s is included in a collection of children’s poetry, “Where The Sidewalk Ends” by Sheldon Silverstein. Silverstein’s poetry resides somewhere between written for children and loved by adults.

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Work Out Smarter, Not Longer.

Why spend an hour or more exercising when studies have shown that short, more intense workouts can be just as effective?

Check out the new 10 minute sexy arm workout from Lionsgate’s Be Fit channel that focuses specifically on fat burning and upper body toning:

You Can Get Results With Shorter Workouts

This 10 minute on-the-go workout is all about burning fat while developing muscle strength in the arms, chest, shoulders and abs.  The Beach Body 10 Minute Home Exercise Routine: Sexy Arms blends Yoga, Pilates and plyometric body weight exercises that will help you re-shape your body.

Use Sexy Arms as a stand-alone 10 minute workout, or pair it with another 10 or 15 minute workout (like the one below) for a total body program.

Lionsgate offers a variety of workout genres that encompass all fitness levels. From power sculpt to hip hop dance and Yoga, there’s something for everyone. And the best part is they are all free and can are available to you anywhere you have access to YouTube.

To see all of the options that Be Fit offers go to: http://www.youtube.com/user/BeFit.

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What You Can Do To Prevent The Weekend Self-Sabotage

We all love the weekend, but sometimes the two days that start with ‘S’ can undo all of the healthy stuff we’ve done on the other five days.

People have no problem staying in control of their eating and exercise during the week but when the weekend comes, look out.  Often the weekend can turn into too much food and drink paired with no physical activity.

Here's to the weekend.  Let the parties begin.

Here’s to the weekend. Let the parties begin.  Flickr photo by Garden State Hiker

If you’re trying to lose weight and improve your fitness level, two days of over eating or eating the wrong foods, and being physically inactive can put you back at the starting gate on Monday morning. Keep repeating the pattern of disciplined weekdays followed by free-for-all weekends and you’ll end up discouraged and never reach your weight and fitness goals.

Here are some simple tips that you can put in place to prevent weekend self-sabotage and avoid the Monday blues.

1.  Put your game plan together on Friday.  A lot of people spend some time at work on Friday afternoon organizing their desk and writing a to-do list so that Monday morning is less stressful.  That’s a good plan.  So along with that take a few minutes to make a list of what you are going to do over the weekend to get some physical activity and keep your food under control.  People are most successful in reaching their goals when they are well thought out and written down.  You may want to include some of the following tips in your plan.

2.   Wear a pedometer – Wearing a pedometer can be enlightening.  Put on a pedometer and track how many steps you take on Saturday and Sunday.  You may find your weekend activities give you the results you need.  Or, you may find that you fall short and need to find ways to move around more.  Aim for at least 10,000 steps on both days.

3.  Do something different – Find a Saturday morning fitness class to take, invite a friend or family member to hike one of the local parks with you, or get to work on a Couch to 5K training program.  Choose an activity that provides additional exercise and make it a real treat by picking something you’ve not done before.

4.  Stock up on healthy foods – Weekends can be hectic so having plenty of high-energy low-calorie snacks as well as fruits and vegetables in the house is a must.  When you need to grab an on-the-go snack you’ll have quick and easy access to foods that are in line with your goals.

5.  Plan ahead when eating out – Phone apps make it easy to select healthy meals when you dine out.  An app recently released called HealthyOut will help you find healthy restaurants.  HealthyOut provides nutrition preferences, calorie counts, and guides for popular diets like Paleo, Atkins and South Beach. This app makes it easy to eat healthy when you eat out. (Also available for Smartphones.)

6.  Track your alcoholic beverages  – It’s not just food that gets us in trouble on the weekend.  Alcoholic beverages are a problem too.  A Saturday evening visit to a Mexican restaurant that includes a 10 ounce margarita will give you 550 empty calories.  iDrinkulator LITE is an alcohol consumption tracker that keeps you on top of the calories and costs of your drinks.  (Also available for Smartphones.)

*Tip – drinking an 8 ounce glass of water between cocktails is another good way to keep your alcoholic beverage consumption under control.

7.  Put two 10 minute workouts in your schedule – Don’t have an hour to dedicate to a weekend work out?  No problem.  A couple 10 minute workouts is all you need to bust through that weight loss plateau and undo the calorie damage of the strawberry margarita you had at happy hour on Friday.  HIIT and Tabata workouts are popular because you get a substantial calorie burn without spending a lot of time.

8.  Make productive use of down time – Parents with busy, active children have down time while they watch practices and competitions which means sitting in a bleacher at the ball park, gymnastic center, or dance studio.  Get up every few minutes to take a walking break while they practice.  If you like to watch TV or movies on the weekend, use some of your screen time to walk in place or do core and toning exercises on the floor.

9.  Visit your local farmer’s market – Walking through an open market and selecting fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables isn’t just good for the waistline.  It’s good for the soul. You’ll have a chance to talk to farmers and other vendors, get tips on how to prepare unusual produce and go home with a sack full of foods that are low-in-calories and high-in-nutrition.

10.  Try a new healthy recipe – The weekend is the perfect time to try a new, healthy recipe.  One of my favorite web sites, Skinny Kitchen.com has hundreds of healthy recipes to choose from.  Try something different for breakfast one day and dinner the next.  Your family will enjoy the change of pace.

What weekend strategies do you incorporate that keep you from undoing your Monday through Friday efforts?

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Meditation Can Keep Your Anxiety From Going Off The Rails

Sweaty palms and a nervous stomach before standing up to give a presentation to a group of clients, or prior to a potentially life changing job interview is normal.

Waking up at night to worry about things that are unlikely to happen, or feeling anxious throughout the day without being able to pinpoint any real reason may indicate that you’re suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Monk Meditating

The power of meditation has been proven by studying the brain waves of monks.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with GAD worry about many of the same things that most people do:  maintaining relationships with friends and family, losing a job when the company downsizes, and having enough money to pay the monthly bills. A person with GAD takes ‘normal’ worrying up a notch.  People with GAD have intense, chronic anxiety.  They have a tendency to exaggerate their problems, worry uncontrollably, and anticipate the worst case scenario.  Often their worries are unspecific.

And the number of people suffering from GAD continues to rise. Researchers from ComPsych Corporation recently compiled data to identify the top 10 health problems of employees.  Anxiety moved up to number seven on the list with 33 percent of employees across all industries indicating that they felt tense or anxious much of the time. Twenty four percent frequently worry about their financial situation and another 16 percent always worry about money.

Chronic, unproductive worrying can take a toll on your job, your relationships and your health. Behaviors like overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and using recreational drugs are often the result of uncontrolled anxiety.

What You Can Learn From Monks

A team of researchers anxious to learn what impact, if any, meditation has on the brain, put a group of prominent Buddhist monks under MRI machines to trace blood flow to the brain during meditation.  The results were staggering.  The results of the brain scans showed that years of meditation had actually altered the structure of the monks’ brains.

The study also showed that the meditation activated the monks’ brains in a way that was significantly different than it did in a group of non-meditating volunteers.  The MRI scan showed not only a greater activation of gamma waves in the monks’ brains, but the waves were also more organized and coordinated than in the volunteers.

The study concluded that through meditation the monks had an expanded capacity for happiness, reduced tendency towards negativity, an increased sense of empathy and compassion, and a greater sense of harmony between themselves and the world.

A meditation researcher and neuroscientist with the project, Richard J. Davidson, told the Washington Post that long term practitioners of meditation showed brain activation on a scale never before seen. Davidson said, “Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance.”

“What we found is that the trained mind, or brain, is physically different from the untrained one,” he said. In time, “we’ll be able to better understand the potential importance of this kind of mental training and increase the likelihood that it will be taken seriously.”

Researchers have been looking at the ways meditation influences the brain for years. A much earlier study conducted in 1992 by the Massachusetts University Medical School Department of Medicine, sought to determine the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on patients with anxiety disorders.

Twenty-two students diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder participated in a meditation-based stress reduction and relaxation program. Assessments, including self-ratings and therapists’ ratings were gathered weekly before and during the program and for a three month follow-up period.

Significant reductions in anxiety and depression were reported for 20 of the students.  The number of participants experiencing panic symptoms was also substantially reduced.   Researchers made the following conclusion: A group mindfulness meditation training program can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic and can help maintain these reductions in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or panic disorder with agoraphobia.

Train Your Brain

The evidence showing a direct link between meditation and a greater sense of overall well-being is compelling.  Most of us don’t have hours to spend in meditation like the monks do, but dedicating a few minutes each day to mindfulness training can reduce our anxiety and improve our health.

Find a quiet spot each day where you can sit and focus on nothing other than your own breath. Work on keeping your thoughts centered on your breathing.  If you find your thoughts begin to dart around, gently pull them back to your breath.

Over time, as you practice, you’ll be able to increase the length of time you spend focusing on a single object or thought.  The non-meditating volunteers in the monk study maintained an average thought for 2.6 seconds. One meditation practicing monk was able to maintain a constant visual for 723 seconds which proves it is a learned behavior and one that is worth taking a few minutes a day to acquire.

What meditation strategies do you use to deal with anxiety?

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