Today most children use a keyboard. Research has found that practicing handwriting may be a key to actually learning to write correctly. There is a strong connection between brain development and writing letters on a page. Whether it be in printed or cursive form, it seems that in later years there is a strong connection between children who are able to present a neatly written paper and academic achievement. Children who have difficulty writing neatly spend more time worrying about the appearance of what they have written as opposed to the content. Tests have shown that after a child is taught to print there is activation of reading networks in the brain. Cursive writing takes it a step further. It increases a child’s ability to connect and spell words and compose intelligent sentences. College students who take hand written notes also seem to have better retention during exams. So sit down and write a letter every now and then instead of pounding away at the keyboard.
Whether we agree or not about global warming or threats to the environment, all of us need to step out and take a walk in nature. Getting away from it all and taking time to smell the trees (or roses whatever turns you on) can do so much for us both physically and psychologically. As far back as 2,500 years ago, it is recorded that Cyrus the Great built relaxation gardens in the busy capital of Persia. Being able to focus and avoid distractions is critical both to creativity and for solving problems. Modern life stresses make this process more and more difficult. Taking a break, and taking in the surroundings can restore our mental performance. Nature can improve creativity by as much as 50%. The stimuli of natural environments, trees, water, mountains etc. does not take any effort. The process disengages the brain and in turn restores its capacity to direct attention to a particular task. Forest walks can reduce stress hormones by as much as 16%. Caring for a simple, small garden can become a source of mindfulness meditation. Even just walking barefoot on grass can reconnect you with the world around us that we sometimes take for granted. Scientific studies have discovered that people living near a green space have reported less mental distress. This is across the board regardless of income, education and employment. In fact even just having a view of greenery from a person’s window, seems to encourage faster recovery from illness, better performance in school and less exhibition of violent behavior. Our connection to nature runs so deep that the idea that we are so co-dependent may be overlooked. We cannot exist without vegetation which provides us with glucose for energy and oxygen so we may breathe. On the other hand vegetation cannot exist without us. We provide carbon dioxide and at times water for them to thrive. It has not been determined if living near a green space is a stimulus because of the pleasing visual aspect or whether it just encourages people to get out and exercise more. There is an old South Korean proverb “Shin to buy ee” which means “ the Body and Soil are one”. Just get out there, shut down the electronics, take a 40 minute walk in nature and feel it for yourself.
An article in The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that sitting and too little exercise can speed aging by as much as eight years. A group of 1,481 women, average age 79, wore motion sensors for one week, after which a white blood cell count was taken. Those that were more sedentary with little exercise proved to have shorter telomeres. Telemeres are caps at the end of our DNA strands. The shorter and more frayed they are the more susceptible a person may be to to heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and shorter life expectancy.
More then fifty studies have been done on the beneficial effects of beetroot juice. It has been shown to enhance blood vessel health, improve neuro-muscular efficiency and endurance, boost oxygen delivery and help control blood pressure. A new study conducted at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom has concluded that it can reduce recovery time following intense exercise. Results were published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. After Intense exercise of 100 drop jumps, 30 active males were given beetroot juice or a placebo. The group given the Beetroot juice proved to have less soreness and a faster recovery time.
Processing speed, the measure of how our brains absorb and respond to information, seems to be especially hard hit as we age. The fraying of white matter, the specialized cells of the brain that communicate messages between neurons, are greatly affected after age 40. A study conducted at the University of Illinois and published in “the Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience” showed a difference in brain scans of older, healthy yet sedentary adults before and after they had incorporated dancing into their lifestyle. Participants were divided into three groups. One group was assigned brisk walking, another stretching and balance training and the final group intricate choreography in country dancing. After six months, the three groups were retested and the group that was assigned to learn new dancing techniques had a remarkable increase in the density of the white matter. It seems that the choreography, which involved fluid lines and squares along with continually changing partners was responsible for the increase in processing speed. New activities that include movement and socializing seem to be the key in retaining mental acuity.
When running forward, runners hit the ground near the back of the foot and roll onto the front. Backward runners use a completely different set of muscles to complete the activity. Studies have found that backward runners use more leg muscle and in so doing require 30% more energy resulting in burning more calories. Just the act of walking backwards can increase a level of physical performance. Backward running is now being used in physical therapy due to the amount of decreased stress it places on the knees. This is especially useful for older adults. Studies done at the University of Milan show that, although there is a danger of falling, there is tremendous benefits to a person’s balance. Best to start slowly on a track and with a partner who can guide you.
Studies at the University of Alabama worked with men and women in their 60s and 70s. Under supervised weight training programs they developed muscles that had a mass and strength of people 20 to 30 years younger. Unlike younger men and women who can build new muscle fibers, with age a portion of the muscle fibers in older people dies. The remainder of the muscle fibers suffer from shrinkage do to underuse. However these remaining fibers do respond and will grow with proper and consistent training. Progressive weight training until the muscle are exhausted seems to be the way to go.
According to a new statement released by the American Heart Association, aerobic fitness should be considered as a vital sign. In other words it should be given the same attention and importance as body temperature, blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates. It is now felt that aerobic fitness is a better indicator of heart disease more so than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Cardio-respiratory fitness, another name for aerobic fitness, is an indication of how well the body can deliver oxygen to all the tissues of the body especially the heart. However, most doctors are still reluctant to give aerobic fitness the attention it deserves. Some are unaware that a treadmill is not necessary. There are now simple equations and calculations that can give accurate levels of aerobic fitness. It is advised by the heart association to request a test for aerobic fitness the next time you go for an examination.