In a study recorded in the Annals of Internal Medicine, yoga works as well as physical therapy in relieving back pain. There were 320 participants whose ages ranged from 18 to 64. Everyone had persistent back pain either moderate or severe. Subjects were divided into 3 groups and the experiment lasted 12 weeks. Group 1 was assigned weekly sessions of yoga. Group 2 was given 15 physical therapy sessions over that period and the last group was basically given educational material about back pain problems. At the end of the study both the yoga and physical therapy groups had similar outcomes. Half were relieved of their problems and half reduced all pain medication. The educational group had only about 20% that said they had reduced their pain level. Consistency remained higher in the yoga group which more of the participants found to be much more enjoyable. It allowed them to either do it in the privacy of their own home or be in a social situation when they felt they needed more support.
According to new research, heat may be much more beneficial for muscle recovery then ice. Researches at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden invited fit men and women to be tested on arm-peddling machines. The exercise was designed to exhaust arm muscles with periods of slow and intense intervals. Once the glycogen (carbohydrate fuel source) storage was depleted in the muscles they no longer had any strength. After which they slipped cuffs on their arms that were pre-heated to 100 degrees F or chilled to 5 degrees F by the coils within them. It turned out that the muscles recovered quicker with heat but only if it was accompanied with a resupply of glycogen. Because of this experiment researchers feel that after a long marathon it may be best to sit in a relaxing warm bath while eating a chocolate bar.
Fat is important for protecting our organs and lubricating our joints. Critical for nerve function, brain and eye operation. It supports hormone production as well as absorption of nutrients. It is not the elimination of fat from the diet but ingesting the right fats that is now what health professionals consider more important. But what about how fat is stored by the body. Why does the body store some as visceral and some as subcutaneous. What exactly is “brown” as opposed to “white” fat. Are we able to control how the body stores these fats or is it in our genes? It is important to understand how all these fats serve a positive purpose in the body and how maintenance and not complete elimination of any one of them should be the goal. Visceral fat is important in so far as it lies deep within the body and lines and protects our organs. By wrapping itself around our organs it protects the body in case of impact. However, when there is an excess it can result in abdominal weight that can result in a host of health problems. Subcutaneous fat is that which lies directly under the skin. It is home to blood vessels that supply the skin and nerves with oxygen. It lies loosely under the skin protecting the skin from trauma. Subcutaneous is that fat which is most easily reduced by exercising because it contains the energy storeage of the body. Which brings us to brown and white fat. Brown fat usually accumulates around the back of the neck and upper back. Its purpose is to burn calories and generate heat. It is usually derived from muscle tissue and especially high in hibernating animals and new born babies. As we age it is harder to maintain a good supply of this fat unless we maintain a healthy weight and exercise (especially outdoors) to allow the body to generate heat. It is rich with blood vessels which helps to give it the brown color. White fat is more abundant in the body. It is the largest store of potential energy in the body. White fat contains the receptors for insulin, growth and stress hormones. Of course the amount of each fat differs with all body types but it is important to realize that they all have a purpose in a healthy body.
Doing a flight of stairs may be the last thing you feel like doing after a meal but it may well be another minor act that can encourage weight loss. Climbing stairs can force the body to use more blood sugar instead of storing it. Lower blood sugar levels were found in people who were active immediately after a meal as opposed to those who started walking 45 minutes later. This according to results published in Diabetes Cure.
A new study from Tuft’s school of medicine reported that Tai Chi could have the beneficial effects similar to physical therapy especially for those suffering from osteoarthritis. Participants were over 60 years of age and many were considered obese. The positive effects of Tai Chi have to do with the slow, gentle, graceful movements combined with deep diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation. Two separate groups in a twelve week program were either to practice Tai Chi or receive physical therapy twice a week. The results were the same for both groups. Less pain was reported for up to one year. However, the Tai Chi group had significantly more improvement when it came to depression and the quality of life. This could be because Tai Chi integrates physical, psychosocial, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral elements making it a total mind-body experience. It is also less costly.
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.