By Dr. Mercola
The date typed on store-bought food containers often refers to either a “sell by” or expiration date. However, if the food in question happens to be eggs, and you throw them out based on the assumption they’re no good past that date, you’re likely pitching perfectly good eggs. With a little experience, you can hone your skills at determining by sight and smell whether or not foods such as meats, vegetables and herbs are still fresh and healthy to eat as opposed to past their prime.
With eggs, though, it’s a little more challenging. The date on egg cartons is often a tactic food manufacturers use to get you to buy them more often, so knowing how to test your eggs at home to determine their freshness save you quite a bit of money. The Food Product Dating section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says state-by-state egg laws may prohibit “sell by” dates, and adds:
“Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the ‘pack date’ (the day that the eggs were washed, graded and placed in the carton). This number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a ‘sell-by’ date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 30 days from the date of pack.”
To clarify, the date on cartons indicates when eggs were laid, not the date you bought them. You might be surprised to find that eggs you may have assumed by carton dates to be “expired” are more often than not still perfectly good to eat.
Assess Your Eggs With a Float Test
The float test for egg freshness is very simple: Simply place your raw eggs into a bowl of cold water and watch what happens. Here’s what the eggs will tell you:
According to Food Hacks: “To give you an idea of (how) old an egg actually is, look at the ‘packed by’ dates on the carton, which are in Julian date form by the ‘sell by’ dates. Julian dates range from 1 to 365 days, and since most companies pack their eggs shortly after they’re laid, it’s a good indicator.”
Giving eggs the float test for freshness works because eggshells are porous, meaning a tiny bit of air can get through, so fresh eggs, which have more air in them, sink to the bottom of the bowl. But there’s a little more to that story. What’s Cooking America explains further: “Eggs that tilt so that the large end is up are older, and eggs that float are rotten. The tilting is caused by air pockets in the eggs that increase in size over time as fluid evaporates through the porous shell and oxygen and gases filter in.”
Other Ways to Test Eggs’ Freshness
While some will tell you that holding a raw egg up to your ear and shaking it will reveal whether or not it’s fresh (as a sloshing noise may mean it’s no good), that’s probably an unreliable method. Many egg producers recommend a technique called “candling,” which the University of Illinois Extension Incubation and Embryology explains:
“Eggs are candled to determine the condition of the air cell, yolk and white. Candling detects bloody whites, blood spots or meat spots, and enables observation of germ development. Candling is done in a darkened room with the egg held before a light. The light penetrates the egg and makes it possible to observe the inside of the egg.”
To reiterate, candling is simply shining a bright light — a flashlight will work just fine — next to an egg to observe its contents. It can also detect spoilage, which would necessitate removing it immediately to ensure it doesn’t explode and contaminate other eggs. Experienced candlers in egg hatcheries can ensure the proper development of an egg before it produces a chick.
Fresh eggs have a tiny amount of air space and a barely visible yolk. An older but still good egg has a larger air space and slightly darker yolk. It’s nearly bad when the yolk is much darker and spotty, with slight striations through the entire egg. In spoiled eggs, the yolk is mixed in with the white and is no longer round.
Another simple DIY candling system described by 104 Homestead involves a solid-color wastebasket with a bright light inside it. Over the top, place a piece of cardboard with a hole cut into the middle (smaller than an egg). When an egg is placed over the hole and the light, it becomes somewhat translucent.
The ‘Plate and Sniff’ Test
As fragile as they are, some eggs can crack slightly, and you may not know how long it’s been that way or if it might be spoiled. One way to tell is to break the (slightly) cracked eggshell onto a plate. Fresh eggs contain a rounded, bright yellow egg yolk and the white part stays firm and fairly contained without spreading much.
Older eggs have a flatter yolk and the white, known as the albumen, is quite a bit more fluid, so it spreads more. That detail is a hint to why older eggs are better to use when hard-boiling eggs; the shell is easier to remove because the membrane separates from the eggshell easier. If you can’t tell by looking at it, a good sniff will reveal its freshness as fresh eggs don't smell much like anything. Eggs on the not-so-good side may be detectable right away, and a spoiled egg may have you holding your breath.
What Makes Differences in Egg Color?
So, what makes some raw eggshells brown, white or even greenish? The difference between brown and white eggs, as the featured video explains, is simply a matter of the color of the hen laying them. White eggs are generally laid by white hens. Brown eggs are most often laid by red, brown or otherwise dark-feathered hens.
Here’s another little-known fact: Look at the hen’s earlobes. That, too, helps indicate the color the eggs will be. White earlobes on a chicken usually indicate white eggs; red earlobes usually indicate you’ll get brown eggs. That said, not all brown chickens produce brown eggs.
According to Michigan State University’s Extension site, all eggs start out being white. Eggs that are something other than white (on the outside) have pigments deposited on them as they travel through the hen’s oviduct, which takes approximately 26 hours, and the shell takes about 20 hours to form completely.
Ameraucana chicken eggs have the pigment oocyanin deposited on them as they travel through the oviduct, which permeates the eggshell and results in a blue egg. Brown eggs have had the pigment protoporphyrin deposited on them as their shells were formed, so only the surface of the egg is tinted. In Olive Egger chickens, a brown pigment overlays a blue eggshell, which produces a green egg.
In addition, hens that produce brown eggs are often larger than the white hens that lay white eggs. Dark-feathered chickens often produce larger eggs simply because they tend to eat more, especially when compared to chickens of any color raised in CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations.
Many people who run home-grown egg-producing operations choose darker-feathered chickens for their backyard flocks because they reflect the “heritage” or “heirloom” breeds your ancestors may have raised. They’re also fed what CAFO chickens are not: a natural diet of green plants, seeds, insects and worms.
What Factors Influence the Nutritional Value of Eggs?
It’s generally not the color of the chicken that determines whether or not its eggs will be nutritious, but the way the chicken is raised. You may have noticed that the cheaper the egg, the more anemic-looking the yolk is and the thinner the shell. It’s not surprising that the eggs of free-range pastured chickens have much darker yolks and the eggs have a richer, more delicious taste. The cheapest eggs to buy are usually white, and white chickens are cheaper to feed when they’re raised in CAFOs, which:
Sadly, package labeling does little to help consumers buy the most nutritious eggs. In fact, packages may use phrases like “pasture-raised,” “free-range” and “cage-free,” but be aware that current laws allow these terms even if the chickens never saw the light of day or stepped foot in a pasture. If you can find a local store offering high-quality, pastured, local eggs, even if you have to pay a little more or drive a little further, it’s worth it.
You’ll get more nutrition from pastured eggs and avoid the residual effects of undesirable substances CAFOs typically use to increase production. While growth hormones are banned in U.S.-based chicken operations, specially formulated feeds and pharmaceuticals bulk up fast production along with the chickens.
Is Eating Eggs Healthy?
There still may be doctors out there telling you to avoid eating eggs, maintaining they contain dangerous cholesterol that may increase your risk for heart disease. It’s based on the faulty premise that fat is bad for you, but it depends on the type of fat. Healthy fat from eggs (as well as olive and coconut oil, almonds and avocados, for instance) is actually essential for health. In addition, healthy egg nutrients include lecithin, folate and vitamins A, D, B2, B6, B12 and K, which are important and powerful antioxidants.
Eggs are versatile, tasty and healthier for you by far than if you cut them out of your diet. Studies show that rather than causing high cholesterol, eggs actually help maintain normal levels.
Arguments between individuals who didn’t understand that egg whites and their accompanying yolks were meant to be eaten together have focused on eating the whites only because the yolks (supposedly) can raise your cholesterol, or to eat the yolks only because the whites (supposedly) offer negligible nutritional value. A good explanation comes from Time, which states:
“Scientific research has vindicated dietary cholesterol, finding that eating cholesterol has no real impact on cholesterol metabolism. That is, eating foods high in cholesterol does not mean you’ll develop high cholesterol … Egg yolks contain a vibrant mix of saturated and unsaturated fat — another nutrient that, when it comes from a healthy whole food source, is unfairly slandered. Yolks have a good helping of vitamin E, one of the nutrients Americans eat too little of.
But the real case for egg yolks can be made by their abundance of carotenoids, nutrients in plants and animal fats that give things like egg yolks (and even autumn leaves) their yellow color. Egg yolks are rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which help eye health and protect against inflammation.”
Numerous and Novel Ways to Use Eggshells
You can even gain valuable health benefits from the eggshell. The Secret Yumiverse8 lists a number of great ideas, from powdering baked and bacteria-free eggshells in a food processor to add to foods for increased calcium intake, to:
By Dr. Mercola
About 50 years ago, nearly 42 percent of the population smoked cigarettes. Between 2005 and 2014 those numbers dropped from 20 percent to 17 percent and then again to 15 percent by 2015. Public health officials are hoping that that number will drop below 12 percent by 2020.
However, while the number of people smoking traditional cigarettes is steadily dropping, the number of teens using smokeless electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, is steadily rising. Since 2011, teens have been smoking less and vaping more, and research demonstrates that teens who vape may also smoke.
If you smoke, quitting is an essential strategy to return to good health. However, I strongly recommend that you first get your diet under control as the implications of a poor diet may outweigh those from smoking and those who are in the process of quitting may turn to food to help alleviate their cravings.
Smoking is linked to a number of chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. However, your bones, brain, teeth, eyes and even fertility may all be damaged by smoking. Fortunately, your body has an amazing ability to heal. Once you stop smoking, your body will undergo changes over the following days, weeks and years, all of which move toward clearing your body of the damage done by nicotine, smoke and the hundreds of chemicals included in tobacco during the manufacture of cigarettes.
Smoking Rots You From the Inside Out
Ongoing exposure from toxins in the cigarettes you may be smoking begins to damage and breakdown tissue in your body. These changes happen on a microscopic level, so it may be years before you notice the changes in your body, outlined in a report from Public Health England (PHE). While you may be aware that smoking damages your heart and lungs, the PHE report identified other damage to your body that happens slowly through the years you’re smoking:
Much of the damage to your body happens when you undergo some of the same biological processes that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and stroke from smoking cigarettes. The following pathological processes trigger changes to your arterial system and the development of disease:
The Risks of Secondhand Smoke
The smoker is not the only person who may be harmed by tobacco smoke. Those in the immediate vicinity, many times partners and children, are unintended casualties. Even when you’re careful, it’s difficult to protect those around you from the effects of smoking, as much of the smoke is released into the atmosphere and even the smoke you exhale contains toxins.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 41,000 people die each year in the U.S. after exposure to secondhand smoke triggers heart disease or lung cancer. There is no risk-free exposure to secondhand smoke and even short-term exposure may increase your risk of a heart attack. Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of different toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic and cyanide.
Although secondhand smoke increases your risk of lung cancer, there is also some evidence that it may increase your risk of brain, bladder, breast and stomach cancers.
Children may also experience increased risks of middle ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as an increased risk of leukemia, liver cancer and lymphoma. Those exposed to secondhand smoke also experience an improvement in health risks when their exposure is exposure is eliminated. This is among the reasons smoking is banned in many public places and work environments.
Nicotine is not the only ingredient in cigarettes with an addictive property. Using neuroimaging technology, scientists observed a marked decrease in monoamine oxidase (MAO) in the brain, an enzyme that breaks down dopamine. The increased amount of dopamine in the brain may contribute to the unique addictive qualities of cigarettes, as in order to sustain the levels of dopamine in the brain, you must smoke another cigarette.
Researchers from New Zealand published a study that showed how rats were more willing to get a dose of smoke from a non-nicotinic tobacco than from a dose of factory-made cigarettes with nicotine. This indicates there is another chemical additive in the cigarettes that makes the product more difficult to give up.
Penelope Truman of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research presented the study at the SmokeFree Oceania conference in New Zealand, saying:
“This extra chemical is an additional thing that makes smoking harder to give up. This is a formal proof that some tobacco substances are more addictive than nicotine is.”
However, what that particular substance is has not yet been determined and may be different from the chemical causing a marked increase in MAO in the brain.
It’s Never Too Late to Quit Smoking
If you have had a history of smoking but don’t currently smoke, the risks of heart disease, stroke and cancer are less predictable, suggesting that if you stop smoking later in life, you’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of reduced health risks and lower your overall mortality.
In one study, researchers analyzed 9000 German people between ages 50 and 74 years for 10 years. They found that even those well into their 70s could reverse some of the damage of a lifetime of smoking after quitting. The researchers found the individuals slashed their risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly 40 percent five years after quitting.
Researchers found the greater the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you smoke, the higher your risk potential for all diseases associated with smoking. The researchers recommended that based on their results demonstrating the elderly also benefit from smoking cessation, programs that are often designed specifically for younger people should also be addressing the needs of seniors.
Researchers from the German Cancer Research Center reviewed previous studies and found similar results. Their analysis of the previous research determined that smokers over age 60 who quit would enjoy a 28 percent reduction in risk of premature death. The study included participants from Japan, England, China, Australia and Spain, some of whom were tracked for over 50 years.
Former smokers age 50 and older report that one of their major reasons for quitting was to improve their health or after their doctor advised them to stop. Another reason people over 50 stated they quit was so cigarettes would no longer control their lives. These same people said support from loved ones was helpful in increasing the potential of their success.
DNA Damage May Continue for Decades
While it is never too late to experience the benefits of eliminating toxic chemicals from your body, some damage may linger for decades. Scientists once believed the genes you were born with were the ones you were stuck with for the remainder of your life. However, research has demonstrated a process called methylation can affect how your genes are expressed.
Although scientists are still working to understand the complexities of how DNA methylation and genetic expression are connected, they have identified this connection in the development of cancer (although, as explained in previous articles, genetic changes that contribute to cancer are typically downstream effects of metabolic dysfunction, not the original cause).
Research has demonstrated that smoking alters your DNA methylation, but a recent study now shows these changes may last longer and be more widespread than originally anticipated. Lead researcher Dr. Stephanie London, chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, told Reuters:
"We don't really know whether it means 'damage' to the DNA. That requires more study, using data outside what we have here. What we're saying is that it's a change to your DNA that can have a downstream effect on what genes are expressed at what levels."
However, you may consider anytime a toxic substance changes your DNA, it is damaging. The amount of damage and the consequences from the change will be the focus of further study. In this study, the researchers combined data from participants in 16 studies and used samples from over 15,000 people. Comparing the samples from current to former smokers and those who said they had never smoked, researchers found over 2,500 genetic changes in those currently smoking.
After quitting they also found that much of the DNA changes would revert to their original state, but some remained damaged, even decades later. The researchers found 185 genetic locations that were significantly different between people who formerly smoked and those who had never smoked.
What Happens in the First Weeks You Stop Smoking
Your body has an amazing ability to heal and repair damage when supported with good nutrition, adequate quality sleep and consistent movement. Healing from the damage done from smoking cigarettes is not different. Here is what happens to your body in the first weeks you stop smoking.
One Year and Beyond Your Body Continues to Recover
As much damage as your body has repaired in the 12 months after you quit smoking, there is still more to do. This short video demonstrates many of those changes.
By Dr. Mercola
Drinking sufficient amounts of pure clean water is vital to achieving optimal health. Water and proper hydration are particularly important for athletes and anyone else who exercises.
During times of high-intensity exercise or other strenuous activities, your body needs plenty of pure, clean water. When your body sweats out important electrolytes and minerals through intense activity, you need to replenish them. One of the best ways to do this is in the form of a rehydration drink.
Your first inclination may be to reach for one of the neon-colored sports drinks that appear on store shelves and in vending machines worldwide. These products are hard to miss because they are promoted nearly non-stop on television and in web-based and print advertisements.
As a result, the global market for bottled sports drinks has exploded and is approaching $5 billion in sales annually. Regardless of the hype, these drinks are highly toxic and I recommend you avoid them. In my opinion, pure clean water should always be your No. 1, go-to beverage. If your workouts or sports activities cause intense sweating and you need to replace electrolytes, you might consider making your own rehydration drink.
How to Read the Signs for Your Body's Water Needs
Once your body has lost between 1 to 2 percent of its total water content, it will signal its needs by making you feel thirsty. Using thirst as a guide to how much water you need to drink is a good way to ensure your individual needs are met, day-by-day.
The video featured above is designed to help you determine if you are getting enough water. Unfortunately, by the time your thirst mechanism kicks in you may already be a bit dehydrated. Most studies indicate about two-thirds of us are dehydrated on a regular basis and need to drink more water.
This is particularly true the older you get. Therefore, you'd be wise to learn some of the subtler signals your body sends to let you know it needs more water, including:
Drinking Water Before and After Exercise Is Vital
As you know, pure, clean water is essential for your survival, regardless of your activity level. If you are an athlete or exercise regularly, however, you must get your fluid-replacement issue right to avoid the possibility of becoming dehydrated.
On the other hand, you also do not want to overhydrate. As a general rule, "drink to thirst." While severe dehydration can be life threatening, even mild dehydration is problematic — causing cramping, headaches, irritability and impaired cognition. Lack of adequate hydration will most definitely affect your sports performance and diminish the effectiveness of your workouts. As reported by CNN, sports dietitian Amy Goodson said:
"A 2 percent dehydration level in your body causes a 10 percent decrease in athletic performance. The more dehydrated you become, the worse performance gets."
A lack of proper hydration during exercise diminishes blood circulation, which can make muscles cramp up. If you've ever had them during exercise, muscle cramps can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. Keep in mind changes in your potassium and sodium levels due to sweat loss may also contribute to cramping.
Although you may be tempted to drink sports drinks before your workout to boost your energy, or afterward to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes, you're better off skipping them due to the massive amounts of sugar and other harmful ingredients they contain.
Why Sports Drinks Are Bad for You
Despite their ever-increasing market share and tremendous popularity, sports drinks are a terrible substitute for water. In my opinion, they are among the worst beverages you can consume. Seriously. Below is a list of ingredients from one popular brand:
Many sports drinks contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of a comparable serving of soda. In addition, as reflected above, they are filled with toxic ingredients which can damage your health, such as artificial flavors, artificial colors and high-fructose corn syrup. On top of that, the low-calorie and sugar-free versions most likely contain artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for you than fructose.
It should be of immediate concern to you if you are in the habit of consuming any beverage (or more than one!) on a daily basis resulting in the intake of an entire day's worth of sugar at one time. One sports drink containing 29 grams of sugar amounts to nearly TWICE the daily recommended fructose allowance for people with insulin resistance, and it's 4 grams over the limit for non-insulin resistant folks!
Because your liver has to process all that sugar, you put yourself at risk of chronic metabolic disease and insulin resistance when you overconsume sugar. Unchecked, insulin resistance can progress to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. The metabolism of fructose by your liver also creates a number of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout.
Even Pro Athletes Avoid Sports Drinks for Health Reasons
Elite American football quarterback Tom Brady, of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, is one of the elite pro athletes who eschews bottled sports drinks.
Brady, age 39, is well known for his healthy anti-inflammatory diet, which some believe has fueled his longevity in a sport that is physically grueling and replete with injuries. Another key to Brady's success may be the special electrolyte drink he consumes during games. Although you may often see Brady on the sidelines holding a Gatorade cup, what he is drinking is not Gatorade. Team trainers make a custom beverage just for Brady, but he claims he does not know what's in it. Brady says:
"I have this lemon drink with a ton of electrolytes in it. It doesn't have any sugar. I just load up on electrolytes and ... it just keeps me right where I need to be."
Coconut Water Is a Powerhouse of Natural Electrolytes
Did you know coconut water is one of the best rehydration drinks on the planet? Because coconut water is such a well-known source of natural electrolytes, there's a good chance Brady's drink may contain it. Due to its outstanding nutritional profile, coconut water was believed to be used intravenously, short-term, during World War II to help hydrate critically ill patients in emergency situations. Some suggest this practice continues today in some remote areas of the world.
Coconut water is particularly beneficial if you engage in activities resulting in profuse sweating. You can drink it plain or add citrus juice — such as lemon, lime or orange — for flavor. As a result of the rich volcanic soils and mineral-rich seawater in which coconut palms grow, coconut water's nutritional benefits are quite impressive. Coconut water is:
Coconut water also has an alkalizing effect on your body, which can help correct the cumulative effects of the acidic foods popular in most Western diets. For a complete nutritional profile, visit our Food Facts page. For all these reasons, and more, coconut water is a great choice for post-exercise rehydration.
Experts Suggest Water Is Healthiest Choice for Young Athletes
Sports medicine specialists at Penn State University suggest most children would benefit more from drinking water than bottled sports drinks during athletic events. They say most young athletes do not sustain sufficient intensity or duration of exercise to merit the extra salt and sugar contained in sports drinks. States Dr. Matthew Silvis, director of primary care sports medicine at Penn State Health Medical Center:
"Sports drinks can replenish some of what you lost during exercise, but you really need to be exercising for more than 45 minutes to an hour before you would consider [them]. Many of our kids are not doing enough to warrant it."
Silvis and his colleagues noted the high sugar content of sports drinks has the potential to cause weight gain and tooth decay in children. These beverages, some of which contain caffeine and other stimulants, also have the potential to cause blood-pressure problems, headaches, heart palpitations and upset stomach.
As such, Dr. Katie Gloyer, primary care sports medicine physician at Penn State Medical Group, said, "Kids and adolescents really should not be using these drinks. Water is the best method of hydration." The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also considers sports and energy drinks to be inappropriate for youngsters. Dr. Marcie Beth Schneider, pediatrician, member of the AAP committee on nutrition and co-author of a 2011 report on the subject, stated:
"There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products. Some kids are drinking energy drinks — containing large amounts of caffeine — when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. …
In many cases, it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label. Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda."
Due to these concerns, it's best to avoid giving bottled sports drinks to your children, at least not on a regular basis. You can easily mix up a comparable beverage at home that will safely satisfy the thirst needs of any young athlete.
How to Make Your Own Electrolyte Sports Drink Using Natural Ingredients
In its simplest form, you can make your own rehydration beverage by adding a pinch of natural, unprocessed salt to a glass of water. I recommend Himalayan salt, which, unlike processed salt, contains 84 unique minerals and trace minerals your body needs for optimal functioning.
If you prefer a drink enlivened with more flavor and color, Wellness Mama shares a homemade recipe for electrolyte replacement that you may find helpful.
For Optimal Health, You Need Sufficient Amounts of Pure, Clean Water
There's no doubt you need pure clean water for optimal health. Changing out any sweetened, bottled beverages in which you regularly indulge for water can go a long way toward improving your health — and helping you maintain an ideal weight. The amount of water you need daily, however, is something you must fine tune based on your individual needs and circumstances.
Remember to listen to your body. Thirst is an obvious signal it's time to replenish your fluids. Fatigue and moodiness can also indicate you need to drink more water.
Probably the best way to gauge your water needs however, is to observe the color of your urine and how frequently you urinate. The color of your urine should be a light, pale yellow. (If you take vitamin B supplements, your urine will be bright yellow, which is normal.) On average, a healthy number of bathroom visits is around seven or eight per day.
By Dr. Mercola
Balance is extraordinarily important in your life. Whether you're older than 65 years or younger, both your body and mind require balance to achieve optimal health. Unfortunately, many spend hours behind a desk each day, increasing their risk of impairing muscle development and losing strength and balance.
Many exercise programs engage the use of machines for cardiovascular work without improving balance and coordination. The elderly experience more risk from poor balance, as it increases the potential for falling and a subsequent bone break.
It can be easy to take your ability to walk, move and balance for granted. But, like all things in life, without practice your skill level diminishes. Going up and down stairs, getting up from a chair, and picking up something off the floor are all everyday activities that require balance.
To successfully train your balance requires performing movements that closely approximate these activities, or activities that commonly result in falls. In new research, participants who engaged in the practice of tai chi had a significantly reduced risk of falling and demonstrated improved balance.
How Do You Balance?
What may seem like a simple task is actually a complex coordination of several different bodily systems. Your sensory systems give your brain accurate feedback about your relative position in space; your brain processes the information, and your muscles and joints coordinate the movement necessary to stay upright.
Inner ear infections, inability to sense the ground or loss of eyesight are just a few of the conditions which may significantly impact your body's ability to sense the environment and react appropriately. For the most part, balance is on "auto-pilot," or done subconsciously without significant effort.
If you experience a balance problem, focusing on staying balanced may increase fatigue and shorten your attention span. With age, some people find they get dizzy or unsteady when in motion. This can be a combination of environmental sensory integration and muscle strength.
The list of disorders that trigger balance problems includes positional vertigo, Meniere's disease and vestibular neuronitis, to name a few. Balance problems are among the more common reasons the elderly seek a physician's advice. While a disturbance in the inner ear is one common cause, so are loss of neuromuscular integration, muscle tone and strength.
Tai Chi May Reduce Your Risk of Falls
In a meta-analysis of 18 different studies involving over 3,800 participants who were 65 years and older, researchers determined those who practiced tai chi at least once weekly had a 20 percent lower chance of falling than those who did not practice tai chi.'
The researchers compared senior students against how much time they spent practicing tai chi, the style and the falling risk for the individuals. They found any amount of tai chi exercise was associated with a lower risk of falling as compared to control groups. As the frequency of the sessions increased from once weekly to three times weekly, the risk reduction jumped from 5 to 64 percent.
The researchers felt performing tai chi improved the participant's knee extension strength, flexibility and balance, and reduced the risk of falls. As this was a meta-analysis, the researchers were only able to measure the variables previous studies had included. Dr. Chenchen Wang, director of the Center for Complimentary and Integrative Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, commented on the results:
"Many important components include: exercise, breathing techniques, awareness of the body, focused attention, mindfulness, balance and function, visualization and relaxation. These components also positively impact health by improving self-efficacy, psychosocial functioning, and depression and can help patients bolster self-confidence, which also helps balance and coordination to avoid falls."
Preserving Independence and Cost
Nearly 40 percent of people over 65, and half of those over 80, will fall in any given year. Falling is the leading cause of injury death in people over age 65 and 1 in 3 Americans over 65 will fall each year.5 Over 800,000 older adults are hospitalized each year after a fall, many because of a broken hip or head injury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls in older adults cost nearly $31 billion in direct medical healthcare costs. As the number of aging people in the U.S. is rising, the CDC estimates both the number of falls and the total health care cost to treat individuals will only continue to rise.
These cost estimates do not account for out-of-pocket family expenses to care for the individual after hospital release, time away from work, or homecare expenses not covered by Medicare or insurance. The total cost of a fall and subsequent injury in the elderly is significant, but not inevitable with practical lifestyle adjustments and balance training.
The National Council on Aging developed a Falls Free initiative to address public health issues, injuries and death from falls in the elderly. The initiative includes a coalition of over 70 organizations working toward educating older adults on fall prevention. A fall is one of the greatest risk factors for the elderly to lose their independence, which in turn is associated with the development of depression.
Moreover, depression often complicates other health conditions the elderly may suffer, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and is associated with an increase in healthcare costs. Even living at home, but being unable to drive, doubles the risk the elderly may suffer depression.
The longer individuals are able to stay independent, both physically and cognitively, the lower the risk of depression, which in turn has an impact on healthcare costs and the burden on the family. Implementing effective preventive strategies may reduce falls and improve quality of life.
Benefits of Tai Chi
This short excerpt from MSNBC's "The Mind-Body Connection" describes some of the benefits you may experience from tai chi. Tai chi originated in China and is often thought of as an alternative to yoga. It is a form of fluid exercise designed to relax the body and refresh the mind through muscle toning, balance, coordination and flexibility. As you watch someone perform tai chi, it appears they are making fluid dance-like movements and poses.
One of the benefits of tai chi is that it is non-competitive, non-aggressive and a self-paced program that doesn't require physical strength, agility or flexibility to begin. Participants gain strength and flexibility through practice. Some of the essential principles are fluidity of movement, breath control and mental concentration. The practice of tai chi encompasses cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and strength.
The combination of these three factors may also help improve your posture, as good posture is part of good tai chi form. Sitting and standing with good posture relieves stress on your lower and upper back, reducing back pain,14 and may reduce your potential for tension and neck-related headaches. Good posture opens your chest and improves your ability to breathe and builds a stronger core.
Research has associated the practice of tai chi in adults between 60 and 80 years with an increase in upper and lower body muscle strength, balance, endurance and flexibility after both six weeks and 12 weeks of a 60-minute class, three times a week. The researchers recommended including tai chi in public health initiatives to reduce disability and enhance physical function in the elderly.
Peter Wayne, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, has studied the clinical effects of tai chi on patients with Parkinson's disease and other balance disorders. He comments:
"The focus of our work is to take advantage of traditional exercises in which it's implicit that the mind and body are connected more efficiently. Tai chi is one such exercise that we focus on because of its benefits for both balance and mental function. Practicing mindful movement may help compensate for some of the motor deficits that are common in Parkinson's and aging."
One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found tai chi improved balance and prevented falls in individuals who had mild Parkinson's disease. The researchers found those who practiced tai chi fell less and had a much slower rate of physical decline related to their disease than those who did not practice tai chi.
Mental Improvements in Elderly Who Practice Tai Chi
Research also demonstrates the practice of tai chi may improve mental attention and executive control in the elderly when the participants were motivated to pursue the practice.
Age associated cognitive decline is a growing public health issue. In the U.S. alone, researchers estimate over 5.4 million elderly are cognitively impaired without dementia and another 3.4 million suffer from dementia. Cost of care continues to increase as the number of individuals suffering from these conditions also rises.
However, findings from several studies suggest the practice of tai chi may enhance executive functioning in the elderly, especially those without current significant deficits. Further study also links tai chi with improved verbal working memory. Cognitive impairment is a major risk factor for reduced independent living, and therefore increases the risk of depression and rising healthcare costs.
Tai chi participants have also demonstrated an increase in brain volume, which is significant as this indicator often declines with age. In this study participants practiced tai chi for 40 weeks, being tested at 20 weeks and 40 weeks, demonstrating improvements at both testing periods. Another study from Harvard Medical School demonstrated similar results in an even shorter time span.
Tai chi may also improve mental balance and reduce stress. Chronic physical health problems, often found in the elderly population, are associated with stress, anxiety, poor mood and depression. Tai chi has been found to reduce blood pressure and anxiety. Some authors were unsure if the benefits from stress reduction were due specifically to tai chi or related to participating in an enjoyable activity.
However, the authors did note that all studies involving tai chi in their meta-analysis demonstrated positive results for the participants. The meditative movements of tai chi are associated with improvements in neuroplasticity, or an improvement in your ability to learn through reorganization of neural pathways. Research demonstrates these connections help to reduce your stress levels.
Other Types of Balance Training
While tai chi is very effective in improving your balance, strength and flexibility, having additional choices helps to add variety to your balance training. In this short video, personal trainer Jill Rodriguez works with my mother on balance exercises, starting in a chair and moving to a standing position.
You can never start improving your balance skills too early in life and it's never too late either. Balance is necessary in most competitive sports and will help improve performance. Below are several other exercises you may want to include in your balance training routine.
Avoid quick movements. Instead, concentrate on posture and keeping your weight over your ankles while moving slowly and deliberately. Don't close your eyes while balancing and be sure you use a chair or the wall to stabilize yourself as you begin. Wear smooth bottom shoes that won't catch on the carpet or floor.
Remember, you are not racing or competing with anyone but your own last performance. Take it slowly, learn the moves and stay safe. If you lose your balance and fall during balance training you may set your progress back weeks or even months.
By Dr. Mercola
How many hours do you sit each day? If you're not sure, do a quick tally. For most people, cutting this number in half, or even in quarters, would go a long way toward improving their health.
Sit less, move more. It's a motto worth repeating, especially as research accumulates showing just how detrimental prolonged sitting is for your body.
Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer and premature death are just some of the chronic conditions linked to sitting too much, and a new study hints at why: Being sedentary for long periods of time each day appears to accelerate aging at the cellular level.
Among close to 1,500 older women included in the study, those who sat the longest were, on average, eight years older, biologically speaking, than women who moved around more often.
Too Much Sitting Makes You Age Faster
Your daily lifestyle makes a difference in how fast your cells age — what you eat, the quality of your sleep, whether or not you smoke and, the latest, how long you sit all play a role.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine gave activity trackers to a group of 64- to 95-year-old women and questioned them about their activity. Those who sat for more than 10 hours a day and got less than 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had shorter telomeres.
Telomeres are caps on the end of DNA strands that are sometimes compared to the plastic caps on the end of shoelaces; they help protect your chromosomes from fraying or sticking together, which would damage their genetic information.
Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter, which is why they're used as a measure of biological aging. Eventually, the telomeres become so short that the cell can no longer divide and dies. For this reason, telomeres are also sometimes compared to a lit bomb fuse.
In the women who sat for 10-plus hours a day, the telomere shortening was equivalent to about eight years of aging. In other words, too much sitting accelerated the aging process by about eight years. Short telomeres have also been linked with chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
"Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age does not always match biological age," lead study author Aladdin Shadyab, Ph.D., UCSD School of Medicine, said in a news release.
Interestingly, women who exercised for at least 30 minutes a day did not have shorter telomere length, even if they also sat for long periods, which suggests the exercise yielded anti-aging effects that may help counteract prolonged sitting.
This is in contrast to previous research, which has found exercise cannot undo the health damage caused by an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
Every Hour You Sit Decreases Your Life Expectancy by Two Hours
In 2016, I interviewed Kelly Starrett, who has a Ph.D. in physical therapy and is the author of "Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World." In "Deskbound," Starrett quoted research from Dr. James Levine showing that for every hour you sit down, your life expectancy decreases by two hours.
For comparison, every cigarette smoked reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes, which explains why some are now calling sitting the new smoking. For all intents and purposes, prolonged sitting may actually be far worse for your health than smoking.
Starrett even mentioned a study that found office workers who smoked to be healthier than non-smokers simply because they got up every 30 minutes or so and walked outside to have a cigarette. "That activity was enough to be a considerable change in the function and health of the human being," he said.
Another study found that excessive sitting increases lung cancer risk by 54 percent, uterine cancer risk by 66 percent and colon cancer risk by 30 percent, with researchers noting:
"Sedentary behavior contributes to an interrelated network of increased body fat, altered production of sex hormones, metabolic dysfunction, leptin, adiponectin and inflammation, encouraging cancer development."
Separate research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, further found that sitting for more than three hours a day causes 3.8 percent of all-cause deaths in the 54 countries surveyed.
Cutting your sitting time to less than three hours a day could increase your life expectancy by 0.2 years, the researchers concluded. More than 60 percent of people globally spend more than three hours a day sitting.
Have You Tried the Sitting-Rising Test?
There have long been indications that regular movement is linked to longevity, and the sitting-rising test is one such example. The more you move, the more your body stays flexible, strong and able to carry out your daily functions.
The more time you spend sedentary, on the other hand, the faster your muscles atrophy and functional movements, like rising from a seated position, become more challenging. The sitting-rising test (SRT) involves a score of 0-5 for each movement (sitting and rising), with a combined 10 being the highest score, awarded for those who can sit and rise from the floor without any assistance from their hands or knees.
While appearing simple, it actually gauges a number of important factors, including your muscle strength, flexibility, balance and motor coordination, all of which are relevant to your functional capability and general fitness.
To perform the test, sit down on the floor and then get up, using as little assistance from your hands, knees or other body parts as possible. For each body part that you use for support, you'll lose one point from the possible top score of 10.
For instance, if you put one hand on the floor for support to sit down, then use a knee and a hand to help you get up, you'll "lose" three points for a combined score of 7. Research shows the numbers strongly correlate with your risk of death within the next six years. For each unit increase in SRT score, participants gained a 21 percent improvement in survival. Specifically:
Ditching Your Desk May Be a Fountain of Youth
Taken together, the research is clear that sitting less is a simple, straightforward strategy to fight aging and chronic disease. If you work in an office environment, having access to a sit-stand desk is one of the most effective techniques to slash your sitting time. Research by Levine and colleagues showed that the installation of sit-stand desks reduced sitting time during a 40-hour workweek by eight hours and reduced sedentary time by 3.2 hours.
Further, the participants enjoyed having the option of a sit-stand desk, which was also associated with increased sense of well-being and energy and decreased fatigue while having no impact on productivity.
If you don't have a standing desk, it's possible to fashion one out of a regular desk by propping up your computer on a box or an overturned wastebasket. If standing isn't an option, you can reap many similar benefits by getting up from your chair every 20 minutes and taking a two-minute walk.
For times when you do sit, "sit with skill," Starrett recommends. He advises sitting on your sit bones, engaging your legs and trying to look over the chair. When you're first starting out, divide your day into optional sitting and non-optional sitting. Don't worry about the times when you have to sit, but take stock of what they call "junk sitting" and try to whittle that down.
Trading Sitting for Active Movement Is Key
When you start to work toward slashing your sitting time, you want to replace it with different types of movements and postures, not simply standing still. Fortunately, when you're standing, you're unlikely to stand completely still, at least not for long. You'll likely stretch, lean, bend and pace. You may take your foot on and off a footstool or fidget.
You can also try to work in short exercise sessions, walking and foam rolling. And for times when you do sit, ditch your chair and try something different, like sitting cross-legged on the floor. This is a healthy position that improves the range of motion in your hips.
Children, too, can benefit from immensely from less sitting. As in adults, prolonged sitting in children is linked to poor health outcomes and even affects cognitive function. A study published in the Journal of Medicine and Sport revealed, for instance, that in first-grade boys, lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of sitting time were linked to poorer reading skills.
Many U.S. kids also suffer from sitting-induced range-of-motion problems which, if not addressed, may increase their risk of injury and compromise their long-term athletic and movement abilities
Take It Slow When Reducing Your Sitting Time
It can feel overwhelming to think about giving up your chair, but it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. Rather than focusing on not sitting, think about ways to move more. You might pace while talking on the phone or check your morning emails while doing squats in front of your computer.
If you're used to sitting for six, eight or 10 hours a day, you shouldn't expect to switch entirely to a standing desk overnight. Starrett recommends first transitioning to a standing desk with a perching stool and sitting on that for 20 or 30 minutes, then gradually increasing your standing time. In addition, be sure your desk is adjusted to the proper height.
Many people also feel more comfortable having somewhere to put their foot while standing, such as a stepstool. Gradually, you'll get used to the idea of standing and will find that you don't automatically look for a chair the way you used to.
For Elderly Adults, Movement Is Also Key
Getting back to the featured study, which included older women, it was clear that those who moved more were not experiencing the accelerated aging felt by their more sedentary peers. Inactivity in the elderly can be caused by many factors, from health conditions to social isolation, so the first step is figuring out the reason for the lack of movement.
If it's simply a matter of habit, joining a new social group or starting a new active hobby, like gardening, water aerobics or volunteering to walk your neighbor's dog, can get you out of your rut. If you're chair-bound, seated exercises can also be very beneficial.
Many people, regardless of age, also find fitness trackers to be motivating and helpful for reaching increased movement goals. In one study of postmenopausal women, those who used a fitness tracker engaged in 38 more minutes of physical activity a week compared to women who carried a pedometer.
"When you can see what your activity levels are, and you know that someone is checking them, there's accountability, and you're motivated to work harder because you want to comply," Linda Arslanian, director of rehabilitation services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital told the Harvard Health Letter.
So, grab a fitness tracker, prop up your computer to standing height and get moving more often. For more information, Starrett has a YouTube channel called MobilityWOD, which stands for Workout of the Day. The interventions he suggests are not only powerful, they're also inexpensive — in most cases free. They can help you break free from many of the chronic diseases and orthopedic problems linked to prolonged sitting.
By Dr. Mercola
Short, intense workouts are all the rage in the fitness world. While it was once believed that the longer you stayed on the treadmill or elliptical machine, the better, it’s now known that you can seriously maximize your fitness results while working out for a fraction of the time, as long as you sufficiently ramp up the intensity (interspersed with periods of rest).
Very short workouts, as in seven minutes or even less, are also becoming regulars in the fitness scene, although I would stop short of calling them a trend. The fact is, humans have been exercising in very short, intense bursts since the beginning, although they didn’t call it exercise; they called it survival.
As such, your body is biologically programmed to respond to similarly intense bursts of activity. But because this is something many modern humans no longer do in the course of their daily grind, many are seeking it out via high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
In the video above, you can see one example of a full-body, seven-minute exercise routine by Hannah Bronfman, founder of the wellness site HBFit.
This workout is particularly useful because you can do the movements (a combination of jumping jacks, side kicks, abdominal work and more) virtually anywhere with no equipment required.
Short HIIT workouts can be deceptive, appearing simple on paper then surprising you with how challenging they are to complete. Still, a full workout in only seven minutes? Is it really too good to be true?
‘Maximum Results With Minimal Investment’
Brett Klika, a performance coach for the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Florida, and Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute, conducted a study to determine the health benefits of high-intensity circuit training (HICT), which for their study used only body weight as resistance.
Notably, they work with professionals and athletes with “incessant demands on their time,” many of whom also travel frequently. They pointed out that typically aerobic and resistance training are performed on two or three nonconsecutive days each week.
For resistance training, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends eight to 12 repetitions, and two to four sets, for each major muscle group.
For aerobic training, 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise for 30 to 60 minutes per session and/or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise for 20 to 60 minutes per session are recommended.
“Although these traditional protocols can be effective, they may not be realistic enough for time-conscious adults because of the amount of time necessary to complete each program, in addition to some limitations to effectiveness demonstrated in the literature,” the ACSM noted.
As such, they developed a program that combines aerobic and resistance training, is quick (seven minutes) and can be performed anywhere, without special equipment. They wrote in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal:
“Our approach combines aerobic and resistance training into a single exercise bout lasting approximately 7 minutes. Participants can repeat the [seven]-minute bout two to three times, depending on the amount of time they have.
As body weight provides the only form of resistance, the program can be done anywhere.
HICT is not a new concept, but it is growing in popularity because of its efficiency and practicality for a time-constrained society. The combination of aerobic and resistance training in a high-intensity, limited-rest design can deliver numerous health benefits in much less time than traditional programs.”
Proven Benefits of a Seven-Minute Workout
The HICT program developed by Klika and Jordan was loosely based on circuit-style training that was first developed by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson in 1953 at the University of Leeds in England.
Their program included nine to 12 exercises that were performed at moderate intensity for a specified number of repetitions or amount of time. Improvements in muscle strength, endurance and aerobic fitness were noted. The featured study also explained multiple benefits for their HICT workout, including:
Fat Loss and Weight Loss
HICT involves using multiple large muscles with very little rest between sets, yielding aerobic and metabolic benefits, the latter of which may continue for up to 72 hours after the workout has been completed.
HICT may lead to greater fat loss than typical aerobics or resistance training because it increases levels of catecholamines (which increase resting energy expenditure) and human growth hormone (HGH) in your blood.
Improved VO2 Max
VO2 maxes the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in while exercising. Your VO2 max can be used as a measure of cardiovascular endurance. “When HICT protocols have been compare with traditional steady state protocols in the laboratory, HICT elicits similar and sometimes greater gains in VO2 max despite significantly lower exercise volume,” they wrote.
Decreased Insulin Resistance
Research supports the use of HICT (and HIIT) for reducing insulin resistance, which is a contributing factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Unfit but otherwise healthy middle-aged adults were able to improve their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation after just two weeks of such training (three sessions per week).
A follow-up study also found that HIIT positively impacted insulin sensitivity. The study involved people with type 2 diabetes, and just one session was able to improve blood sugar regulation for the next 24 hours. Kilka and Jordan added, “Positive changes have been observed in insulin resistance in as little as eight minutes per week when executed at an intensity more than 100 [percent] VO2 max.”
12 Exercises in Seven Minutes
You may now be wondering what, exactly, Kilka and Jordan’s sample HICT program entails. The exercises were designed to:
You can watch a demonstration of the exercise sequence in the video above, and they’re also described below. Each exercise is performed for about 30 seconds with 10-seconds allowed for transitions. This adds up to an approximately seven-minute workout, which may be repeated in its entirety two or three times. The exercises should be done in the order given, as they’re selected to allow opposing muscle groups to alternate between resting and working.
As Intensity Increases, Duration Decreases
How many times you should repeat the seven-minute workout (one to three times, max) depends on a variety of factors, including intensity. The harder you work, the shorter your workout should be.
Research has shown proven benefits, including improvements in VO2 max and insulin sensitivity in just 4 minutes of HIIT exercise. However, to achieve these benefits, you likely need to be working at an intensity that’s equal to or greater than 100 percent of your VO2 max.
This is a level of intensity that many people may not be able to achieve or maintain, especially if you’re just starting out. During a typical HIIT workout, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) notes, "Training is done at a submaximal level; around 80 to 95 percent of maximal aerobic capacity."
In other words, on an exertion scale of 1 to 10, a typical moderate-intensity workout (such as running or stair climbing) would be an exertion level of 5 to 6. A typical HIIT workout is done at an exertion level of 7 or higher. Very short HIIT workouts, such as Tabata Training, are an exertion level of 10.
The good thing about HIIT is that you can tweak it to your needs. You can still get benefits from working out at a slightly lower intensity; you simply increase the time you work out to make up for it. You’ll still be working out very intensely, remember, so your total workout will still be short, relatively speaking.
I typically recommend an HIIT session of 20 minutes. If you were using the protocol above, you could therefore repeat it three times. According to the featured study:
“More moderate protocols (90 [percent] to 100 [percent] of VO2 max) have been examined for various total exercise durations. Although these protocols seem to require slightly more total exercise time to be effective, they still are well below the steady state exercise time requirements.
Because most individuals may not be able to execute the program at an intensity significantly greater than 100 [percent] of their VO2 max following the established ACSM guidelines for high-intensity exercise of at least 20 minutes is recommended. This may require multiple repetitions (or circuits) of a multistation exercise circuit.”
If You Think You’re Too Busy to Exercise, HIIT Is for You
Lack of time is one of the most common excuses used for not exercising. HIIT removes this hurdle, because virtually everyone can squeeze in seven minutes. If you have a bit more time, and you’re performing the workout at less than 100 percent, try repeating it two or three times.
With this minimum time investment, you’ll likely enjoy decreased body fat, improved insulin sensitivity and muscle strength, and increased VO2 max. As Kilka and Jordan noted, “Individuals who previously believed that they did not have the time for exercise can now trade total exercise time for total exercise effort and get similar or better health and fitness benefits.”
By Dr. Mercola
Worry may well be one of the most common causes of suffering in America. Besides being troublesome in and of itself, worry is also a contributing factor for overeating, alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse and many other compulsive disorders.
In this interview, Dr. Martin Rossman, author of "The Worry Solution" book and CD set, provides simple and practical tools for addressing chronic worry. Rossman has a long-standing interest in the practical importance of attitudes, beliefs and emotions in mind-body medicine.
His awareness of the impact of worry came early in his career. After graduating from medical school in 1969 and finishing his internship at a county clinic in Oakland, California, he ran an urban house call practice for about a year and a half.
He initially started doing house calls in order to find out why people were having such problems implementing healthy lifestyle changes.
"I saw the effects of poverty, ignorance and lack of opportunity, which creates a great deal of stress, depression and anxiety," he says.
"People are trying to get through the day and manage their stress. All of these things, be it cigarettes, sugar, alcohol or drugs, temporarily relieve the pain of depression and anxiety. The trouble is, one, they're short-acting so they tend to be addicting, and they don't address the cause or solve the problems …
The second thing is that over time, the toxic effects of these medications, alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, start to override the beneficial effects. It's what I call 'toxic coping efforts'
Anyhow, I was treating all these people that were really creating their diseases by the way that they were coping, either through junk food, or sugar, or too much food, or alcohol, or drugs, cigarettes and so on.
Deciding I needed to get better at helping people learn how to change their lifestyle, I started to study motivational psychology and ways to help people care better for themselves and learn how to change habits that were costing them in terms of their health. That's been my passion for the rest of my career."
His investigations led him into the holistic health movement. In time, he incorporated a number of different complementary strategies, including acupuncture, Chinese medicine, nutrition and a variety of mind-body healing strategies, all of which led to the creation of "The Worry Solution."
Science has repeatedly shown that anxiety and stress take a profound toll on health, and may even be a more significant influence than poor diet. Some studies suggest as much as 75 to 90 percent of illnesses have some sort of emotional underpinning.
"It's pretty amazing," Rossman says. "When you look at it, there are the direct effects of stress, which are significant. When I talk to physicians, I sometimes say 'A huge part of the job of a primary physician is to try to tell what isn't anxiety and stress' …
Then there are the indirect effects, which are the biological and physical manifestations of the poor choices in eating, the excessive alcohol, smoking of cigarettes, the taking of drugs and so on.
Including the fact that when you don't make those good lifestyle choices, you end up on a half a dozen different medications …
Then you start treating the side effects of the medications. They don't really cure those diseases. That's why they're chronic diseases. The cure, if there is one, is really, for many people, a pretty radical change in lifestyle and that often begins in the mind."
The Power of Visualization
Imagery is the natural language of your brain, which is in part why visualization and guided imagery exercises are so powerful for changing thoughts and behavior.
Most successful people, be it actors, business people or athletes, have learned — either through instinct or training — to use their imaginations on purpose. According to Rossman:
"Imagery, which seems so invisible and ethereal and airy-fairy, is one of the most powerful faculties we have as human beings for not only changing our behaviors, but changing our minds, which changes our physiology. It changes our body. It changes our health."
Your imagination can also be employed to help you set goals, stay on track and develop a deeper self-awareness about what and how you think.
"I teach people how to use imagery on purpose, for the sake of better health and healing, as well as being successful in life," Rossman says. "The very first skill I teach in 'The Worry Solution' — and I think this is very important — is how to turn it off.
Because the default position of the imagination is to worry, to look for danger, to look for problems. The human brain has a decidedly negative bias. The reason it has that is because the very first and most important job of the brain is to keep you alive."
Indeed, imagination allows us to remember and learn from our own and others' mistakes, and it allows you to imagine what MIGHT happen. However, this strength can easily become our own undoing if left unchecked.
Rossman's book is not about stopping worrying altogether, which may be impossible, but rather learning to separate out what's useful to worry about and what's not.
Finding Your Way Back to Neutral
First, however, you need to learn to "put your mind in neutral," using what Rossman calls the three keys to calmness: breathing, relaxation and visualization.
To do this, simply breathe and relax your body part by part; then imagine being in a beautiful, peaceful place where you feel safe. This could be either a real or imaginary place. Spend 10 or 20 minutes there to interrupt the stress response.
This will disengage your fight or flight response, allowing your physiology to return to equilibrium, or what is also termed "the relaxation response." This is a compensatory repair, renew and recharge state that brings you back to balance. As noted by Rossman:
"So-called primitive people don't live in a constant state of arousal like we modern people who have so much input, so much news, so much social media … They might get attacked, they might run into a dangerous beast, they might get stressed for a while and then they go back into neutral.
We almost never go back to neutral unless we adopt a practice: a yoga practice, a mountain mindfulness meditation practice, a deep-relaxation practice or a guided imagery practice. We really need that. The first thing I teach people is how to interrupt their imagining and then use your imagination to go into neutral.
Then I teach them a series of skills beyond that to solve problems to stimulate healing in the body, to access their inner wisdom … [T]he book is complete in itself but I also made a set of two CDs where I give people nine guided imagery processes that I describe in the book.
It was my attempt to provide a home study course for people. How can I learn to reduce my stress, manage my stress, get to sleep more easily? How can I use this tool? The book gives you the science and the explanations of the case histories, but the CDs will actually lead you through the processes that will make it pretty easy for you to learn how to do this."
Most Americans Are Too Busy for Their Own Good
Rossman stresses the importance of allowing more time for relaxation, communication, relationships and taking it easy. "There's almost no other country in the world that works like we do in the United States. It was just startling to me," he says.
About two decades ago, statistics revealed Americans work more days and longer hours than the Germans and the Japanese — two countries well known for their hardworking cultures. "We overtook them about 25 years ago and it hasn't slowed down," Rossman notes.
Most European countries also have six to eight weeks of vacation every year — vacation that employees MUST take. This is virtually unheard of in the U.S., and those who are allowed a certain amount of vacation often do not take it for one reason or another. In some countries, mid-day siestas are also the norm, and everything simply shuts down for a few hours.
"We're way off the spectrum. We try to do more and more. We try to know more and more. We try to be involved more and more. We have to learn to go the other way, at least some of the time. Turn it off. Because now what we're doing is we're missing sleep. The daytime stress has gone into the nighttime …
This just compounds the stress response and the toll of stress. This ends up getting seen in the doctor's office. Ninety percent of the time — because the doctors are also highly stressed and are being compressed into an unrealistic mode of practice — the answer is pharmaceuticals. We can do better than that," Rossman says.
What If Your Body Could Speak?
One of the least effective ways to initiate change in someone is to tell them what to do. One of the most effective is to allow the answers to rise into conscious awareness from the inside. This is one of the great powers of guided imagery. For example, if you're having heart trouble, imagine that your heart could speak to you. What would it say? What does it want? If you have chronic headaches, imagine your head or brain speaking to you. What does it need in order to not hurt so much?
"It's quite remarkable what comes from people. That knowledge is actually inside the body or in the unconscious," Rossman says. "If people will get quiet and listen, they very often know what they need in order to get back into a more comfortable and healthier kind of lifestyle.
I find that when I work with people that way, and in that relationship, I'm honoring the wisdom that's built into their body and I'm showing them how to access it … When it comes from the inside out, people treat it differently than when they're being told to do it by someone else … It has an authenticity and people are often willing to listen to that and start to change."
How to Implement the Serenity Prayer
Another essential core of Rossman's program is the serenity prayer: "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." This mantra-like prayer, which goes back to Roman times, can be used whether you engage in other prayer practices or not. It's essentially just a call for wisdom, courage and serenity.
"When I show people how to list their worries, how to separate them into those things that they could possibly change if they acted on it, and those things that no matter how badly they'd like to change, there's nothing they can do to change them … it's a way of actually activating and using the serenity prayer very actively," he explains.
To do this, create three columns. In column one, mark down things you worry about that you can change if you do something. In column two, put the things you cannot change, no matter what you do, and in column three, the items you're unsure whether you can influence the outcome of or not. Rossman then uses the following processes to address the items in each column.
• Effective action planning process: For worries in the first column, where you know you can avoid a certain outcome by taking a specific action, Rossman uses a planning process to help you take the necessary steps that will alleviate your worry.
• Positive outcome imagery: For worries in the second column, i.e., things you cannot change, Rossman uses positive outcome imagery to turn the worry into a positive intention or prayer. In a nutshell, you take your worry and imagine how you would like it to turn out. In other words, you're creating an intention that is hopeful and positive.
• Inner wisdom meditation: For the third category of worries, where you don't know whether you can do something about it or not, the answers may be gleaned through meditation.
"We all have an internal guidance system," Rossman says. "When push comes to shove, when you're in a tough situation and you have to make an important decision … what is it that you eventually come to lean on? Everybody that I've ever talked to says 'You know, I get the facts straight.
I make the best analysis I can. But then I've got an inner voice that tells me which way to go … When I don't listen to that voice, I get in trouble. When I listen to that voice, it's a reliable guide.'"
Get Your Worries Out of Your Head and Onto Paper
Another helpful strategy to clear your mind of worries is to write them down, either on paper or electronically, depending on your preference. By writing it down, it's easier to let go of it mentally. An analogy can be made between your mind and a computer. Now and then, you need to defrag the hard drive. Your brain also needs to clean out periodically and reorganize the information in order to not get bogged down with unnecessary bits of data. Writing things down can be surprisingly effective.
"First thing that I have people do is write down everything that you're worried about: the big things, the little things, the petty things [and] the huge things. See if you can just do a mind dump and write everything down that you're worried about. That itself is very useful," Rossman says.
"The next step is to divide them. Take those worries and divide them into the things that you could possible do something about, something you can't possibly do anything about on a practical level, and things you're not sure about. Then we go into the steps of how to deal with the ones you can, how to deal with the ones you can't and how to deal with the ones you're not sure about. But that writing process is surprisingly helpful for a lot of things …
One of the things that writing it down always does is it takes it out of the invisible and it makes it visible. When you write it down, it actually brings it out of your head and brings it out into the world where you can see it and review it."
Imagining the Future You Want
Rossman first learned about positive outcome imagery from Dr. Rachel Remen, who recommends it for cancer patients. A cancer diagnosis raises a lot of fears and worries, even when the cancer is known to be relatively curable. When images of death, dying and side effects come up, recognize these thoughts and feelings as fear. Your fears are legitimate, but they do not necessarily mirror reality, and this is an important distinction to make.
"It's only a fear. It doesn't mean that's what's going to happen, because over 50 percent of cancers are even now curable … I teach people how to create an image of the outcome they would rather have. It might be an image of them five or 10 years down the line, enjoying their grandchildren or being in their doctor's office, seeing that they have very good results and that they're healthy and they're doing the things they love to do," Rossman says.
"When the fear comes up, you sort of mentally … use a red circle and a slash, like a no smoking sign … You kind of stamp at that fear with that mental image of the red circle and slash. You move it out like it's a slide. You move in the slide of the outcome you would prefer to see. What you're doing is you're kind of voting.
You're saying 'Here's my fear; here's my hope. Which one do I want to put my energy into?' Given that you're making the choices, you're doing the treatments and so on, it doesn't behoove you to invest your energy [into] your fears.
When your fears come up and you learn how to recognize them, say 'Yup. Those are my fears. I'm not going to concentrate on that. I'm going to move it out. I'm going to move in my image of what I hope will happen.' Energize that. The anxiety level [then] goes down very, very quickly."
The interesting thing is that the more your fears come up, the more positive imagery you end up doing, which often ends up having a very positive effect. You can also raise the impact of these visualizations by adding other sensory components, such as using your hands to wipe the fear away, putting your hand out as a stop signal or verbalizing "No!" in addition to visualizing the "no-go" sign followed by your positive outcome.
There's no doubt in my mind that worry — and the stress and anxiety it causes — can have a significant influence on your health. In fact, recent research even shows that worrying about your health can make you sick if you weren't before. If you struggle with persistent worries, or have cancer or other chronic illness and resonate with this material, I strongly encourage you to pick up Rossman's book, "The Worry Solution," and the accompanying CDs.
You can find additional resources on his website, TheHealingMind.org, including guided imagery audios that can help you prepare for surgery and childbirth, reduce anxiety, help you get better sleep and more.
Another book and CD set by Rossman called "Fighting Cancer from Within" specifically addresses the emotional stress-related and mind-body issues surrounding cancer. His first book and CD set, called "Guided Imagery for Self-Healing" also teaches you how to respond to your body in a way that helps with healing that you can apply with virtually any illness.
These are all resources that, for a very inexpensive price, can change your life for the better. And to be clear, I personally reap no financial benefit for promoting these kinds of materials — only the satisfaction of knowing I played a part in helping people get better.
"That's what it's about really," Rossman says. "[Guided imagery] is inexpensive. It's non-toxic. It's compatible with every other form of treatment. It's something that we should have been learning in kindergarten, but we don't."
By Dr. Mercola
Music predates language and speaks to us on a primal level. Thinking back to your adolescence, you probably associate key memories with the soundtracks that played during these formative years.
Before this, music likely began shaping your reality during infancy — there’s even evidence that babies respond to music while still in the womb. At the other end of the spectrum, elderly people, too, including those struggling with degenerative conditions, come alive again when they hear their favorite tunes.
“What is it about music that moves us so intensely and directly, and how can it be employed in the treatment of neurological and physical disorders?” Such are the questions answered and explored in the above documentary, “Music on the Brain.”
Miraculous Results Simply by Sharing Music With Dementia Patients
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, patients often become moody and withdrawn. They may forget events as well as their own personal history, leading to a loss of identity and self.
The simple act of listening to music may help people with Alzheimer’s to reconnect with the people around them and even remember past life events, which is why the non-profit organization Music & Memory has made this their mission.
The organization works with nursing home staff and elder care professionals, along with family caregivers, to create and provide personalized music playlists using digital audio systems like iPods to people with dementia.
When executive director Dan Cohen first thought of the idea in 2006, he was surprised that none of the 16,000 long-term care facilities in the U.S. used iPods for their residents.
He spearheaded efforts to change that, and today personalized music programs are available in thousands of nursing homes and other facilities in the U.S., Canada, Europe and beyond.
In the video below you can see a clip of nursing-home resident Henry, who was “reawakened” by listening to his favorite musical artist, Cab Calloway.
As Music & Memory put it, “These musical favorites tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring participants back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present … The results can be nothing short of miraculous.” The video below speaks for itself.
Personalized Music May Reduce Agitation and Use of Drugs in Alzheimer’s Patients
It’s interesting to note that some of music’s benefits appear to be rooted in its familiarity. That is, a person’s favorite music or songs they associate with important events can trigger a memory of the song’s lyrics, the related event and even the feelings and experience of it.
In many cases, listening to individualized music appears to be more effective than listening to a random song.
In one study of 39 people in a long-term care facility in Iowa, for example, listening to individualized music led to a significant reduction in agitation (such as anxiety, shouting and irritability) both during and after the session — more so than occurred when residents listened to generic classical relaxation music.
Other research has shown individualized music may calm agitated patients and lead to significantly lower anxiety scores.
The success of the technique depends on nursing staff being able to figure out a patient’s musical preferences, which is why you may want to ask your aging relatives about their favorite songs now (or relay yours to your caregivers) just in case.
It’s also dependent on a person’s interest in music throughout life. You needn’t be overly musical to appreciate music emotionally, as virtually everyone does, but as written in the World Journal of Psychiatry (WJP):
“ … [I]t would not be appropriate for a person who did not have an appreciation for music prior to the onset of cognitive impairment. A positive correlation is expected between the degree of significance that music had in the person’s life prior to the onset of dementia and effectiveness of the intervention.”
However, listening to music is a simple, inexpensive and risk-free intervention that has the potential to benefit many.
The response from nursing homes that have implemented Music & Memory’s individualized music program has been overwhelmingly positive, with many even reporting reduced drug use as a result. Margaret Rivers of Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital & Nursing Facility in New York City told Music & Memory:
“One of the more positive results we’re seeing is a reduction in the need for psychotropic medication. Music soothes the residents to the point where they actually may not need all of the medications that they needed prior to going on [Music & Memory’s] program.”
Familiar Songs May Help Alzheimer’s Patients Recall Memories
When you listen to music, a broad range of neural networks become engaged, including those linked to autobiographical memories and emotions. The brain region behind your forehead, known as the medial prefrontal cortex, is one of the last to atrophy among Alzheimer’s patients; it’s also the hub that music activates.
Petr Janata, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at University of California (UC) Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain, conducted a study to map the brain activity of subjects as they listened to music. He said in a press release:
“What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head.
It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye … Now we can see the association between those two things — the music and the memories.”
Janata is among those who believe providing Alzheimer’s patients with digital music players and customized playlists could improve their quality of life. In some cases it may also help them to share those memories as well.
When Alzheimer's patients sat in rooms filled with music and were asked to tell a story about their life, their stories contained more meaningful words, were more grammatically complex, and conveyed more information (per number of words) than stories told in a silent room.
The findings suggest that exposure to music may help people with Alzheimer's disease to overcome neurolinguistic limitations. This makes sense, the study's co-author noted, because "music and language processing share a common neural basis." In the video below, the late Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,” explained how listening to familiar music may allow Alzheimer’s patients to access personal memories that have otherwise become inaccessible.
Your Brain Is Hard-Wired to Respond to Music
Music on the Brain discusses that music may have evolved from an earlier form of emotional communication, an emotional proto-language of the sort you may hear between a mother and a baby. Tone of voice and pitch are incredibly important before language emerges, and it’s thought this early form of communication eventually split into language, which conveys more information, and music, which conveys emotion.
When you hear music, many areas of your brain light up. Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of your brain that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and is involved in forming expectations.
At the same time, the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, and the prefrontal cortex, which makes possible abstract decision-making, are also activated. Meanwhile, oxytocin, the bonding hormone that’s released when we interact with our loved ones, is also released by music, specifically by singing together.
Many evolutionary biologists believe that music was fundamental in our ability to function as humans and hold together large communities of people, as music is capable of producing oxytocin, i.e., bonding and sharing emotions, on a massive scale.
Music Helps People With Parkinson’s Disease Move More Freely
Even brain areas that control movement are affected by music. This may seem strange until you consider that movement, such as drumming, was once essential to creating music. Today, music is now being used to help people with diseases like Parkinson’s to move more freely.
Slowness, tremor, stiffness and impaired balance are common in Parkinson’s patients, but emerging research suggests music may be an effective non-drug intervention. People who ordinarily are unable to control their movements are suddenly able to follow the beat of a song and dance. The music seems to provide an external rhythm that bypasses the malfunctioning signals in the brain.
A variety of neurological disorders have shown improvement from music-based interventions, including not only Parkinson’s disease but also multiple sclerosis and stroke. In fact, music-based interventions had similar or greater effects than conventional rehabilitation on upper limb function, mobility and cognition among people with neurological disorders.
Music Opens a Back Door for Memory Recall in Your Brain
By tapping areas of your brain linked to both emotions and memory, music can act as a back door to help you access past events that would otherwise be lost. As Music & Memory put it:
“Even for persons with severe dementia, music can tap deep emotional recall. For individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s, memory for things — names, places [and] facts — is compromised, but memories from our teenage years can be well-preserved.
Favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others.
Persons with dementia, Parkinson’s and other diseases that damage brain chemistry also reconnect to the world and gain improved quality of life from listening to personal music favorites.”
If you’re a caregiver to someone with dementia, creating a personalized playlist for him or her is a simple way to help them reconnect with the outside world and feel like themselves again, even for a little while.
On a larger scale, if you have a loved one in a nursing home, you may want to suggest they consider the use of individualized music for their residents. Music & Memory also accepts donations of gently used Apple music players, including iPods, iPhones or iPads. If you have one you’re no longer using, consider donating it to this worthwhile cause.
By Dr. Mercola
The average person takes about 20,000 breaths a day, and you probably don’t give them much thought. Breathing obviously yields incredible power over your health, as it supplies your body with oxygen (and removes excess carbon dioxide [CO2]) to keep you alive.
However, when harnessed correctly, breathing can do far more than supply your cells with oxygen. The way you breathe — whether fast or slow, shallow or deep — sends messages to your body that affect your mood, your stress levels and even your immune system.
So-called controlled breathing, research is increasingly showing, can influence your health for the better, and all you have to do is learn how to use it. What’s interesting about breathing is that it’s both a voluntary and an involuntary process. Much like blood flow or digestion, your body breathes automatically.
However unlike the former two processes, you cannot decide to alter the flow of your blood or your digestive process. Not so with breathing. You can make a choice to take the reins and control your breathing — the speed, the depth and even whether you breathe through your mouth or your nose.
This is perhaps the first clue that you should take back control of your breathing at least some of the time. As you change the way you breathe, you’ll also change important aspects of your health.
Controlled Breathing May Trigger Your Relaxation Response
You may be aware that your body has a “fight-or-flight” response that kicks in when you’re under stress. Lesser known is that your body also has what’s essentially an opposite fight-or-flight response called the relaxation response.
Controlled breathing is one way to trigger your relaxation response, as it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn may slow down your heart rate and digestion while helping you feel calm.
By evoking your body’s built-in relaxation response you can actually change the expression of your genes for the better, according to an associate professor and pioneer in Mind Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Herbert Benson. As stated by one study in PLOS One:
“RR [relaxation response] elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging …
RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways.”
In short, slow, steady breathing activates your parasympathetic response while rapid, shallow breathing activates your sympathetic response, which is involved in releasing cortisol and other stress hormones.
Controlled Breathing: an Ancient Technique Backed by Modern Research
Controlled breathing, or pranayama as its known in the practice of yoga, is a central part of many ancient traditions.
For instance, yogic breathing exercises are described in an ancient Tamil script called Thirumanthiram and breath meditations have long been used in Buddhism as a way to help reach enlightenment.
Modern research suggests the benefits of controlled breathing are real and may improve health conditions ranging from insomnia and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
“Breathing is massively practical,” psychologist Belisa Vranich, Ph.D., author of the upcoming book “Breathe,” told The New York Times. “It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.”
In a preliminary study presented in May 2016 at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health in Las Vegas, Nevada, researchers found 12 weeks of daily yoga and controlled breathing improved symptoms of depression similar to using an antidepressant.
Not only did the participants’ symptoms of depression significantly decrease but their levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter, simultaneously increased.
Equally intriguing was research published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which found that breathing exercises lowered levels of salivary cytokines associated with inflammation and stress in a group of healthy volunteers.
Controlled breathing exercises have also been found to modify stress coping behaviors and initiate appropriate balance in cardiac autonomic tone, which is a term that describes your heart’s ability to respond to and recover from stressors.
How Breathing Helps Relieve Symptoms of Stress, Anxiety and Depression
In a BMC journal study, breathing exercises called Sudarshan Kriya (SK) were used. SK is a type of rhythmic breathing used during the practice of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY). Such breathing practices range from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating.
For instance, during SKY you may engage in ujjayi breathing, which is slow breathing of three cycles per minute, followed by bhastrika, or rapid exhalation at 20 to 30 cycles per minute, followed by SK, which is breathing in a slow, medium and fast cycles. According to the International Journal of Yoga:
“There is mounting evidence to suggest that SKY can be a beneficial, low-risk [and] low-cost adjunct to the treatment of stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, stress-related medical illnesses, substance abuse and rehabilitation of criminal offenders.”
The breathing exercises are said to help balance your autonomic nervous system and influence psychologic and stress-related disorders through a number of mechanisms, including:
Lowered Blood Pressure, Brain Growth and Other Remarkable Benefits of Controlled Breathing
Beyond stress and anxiety relief, “Studies have demonstrated that SK can play an important role in promoting a healthy lifestyle by improving immunity, antioxidant status, hormonal status and brain functioning,” according to research published in the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine.
Yet another study in the World Journal of Clinical Cases concluded SK and other breath-based medication sequences have “the potential to help develop an individual's self-awareness and support better integration of the brain (i.e., mind) with other organ systems (i.e., body) for enhanced human performance.” More specifically, research suggests that harnessing the timing and depth of your breath may lead to the following:
Mouth Breathing Versus Nose Breathing: the Buteyko Breathing Method
Whether you breathe through your mouth or your nose also has important health implications, with the latter being far preferable. The field of breathing and breath-work has enormous potential for improvement, as most prevailing ideas about breathing promoted in yoga, Pilates and meditative methods tend to focus on taking big, deep breaths.
This may have benefits, as discussed, but according to the Buteyko Breathing Method, this is actually the opposite of what you should do. The Buteyko Breathing Method helps to reverse health problems associated with improper breathing, the most common of which are overbreathing and mouth breathing.
In the video above, Patrick McKeown, one of the top teachers of the Buteyko Method, examines dysfunctional breathing patterns associated with asthma, rhinitis and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, and details the scientific rationale for improving your breathing habits.
When you stop mouth breathing and learn to bring your breathing volume toward normal, you have better oxygenation of your tissues and organs, including your brain. Factors of modern life, including stress and lack of exercise, all increase your everyday breathing.
Typical characteristics of overbreathing include mouth breathing, upper chest breathing, sighing, noticeable breathing during rest and taking large breaths prior to talking.
Why Mouth Breathing Can Make You Feel Like You’re Not Getting Enough Oxygen
Most people believe that taking bigger breaths through your mouth allows you to take more oxygen into your body, which should make you feel better and more clear-headed. However, the opposite actually happens. Deep mouth breathing tends to make you feel light-headed, and this is due to eliminating too much CO2 from your lungs, which causes your blood vessels to constrict. So, the heavier you breathe, the less oxygen is actually delivered throughout your body.
And, contrary to popular belief, CO2 is not merely a waste gas. Although you breathe to get rid of excess CO2, it's important to maintain a certain amount of it in your lungs — and for that you need to maintain a normal breathing volume. When too much CO2 is lost through heavy breathing, it causes the smooth muscles embedded in your airways to constrict. When this happens, there is a feeling of not getting enough air and the natural reaction is to breathe more intensely.
But this simply causes an even greater loss of CO2, which constricts your airway even further. To remedy the situation you need to break this negative feedback loop by breathing through your nose and breathing less.
Clinical trials involving asthmatics show they breathe between 10 to 15 liters of air per minute and people with chronic heart disease tend to breathe between 15 to 18 liters of air per minute. On the other hand, normal breathing volume is between 4 and 7 liters of air per minute, which translates into 12 to 14 breaths. This suggests breathing less is a sign of better health. Conversely, the more you breathe, the more likely you are to experience significant health problems.
A Simple Breathing Technique to Reduce Stress and Control Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Controlling anxiety and quelling panic attacks is one of the areas where the Buteyko Method can be quite useful. If you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, or if you feel very stressed and your mind can’t stop racing, try the following breathing technique. This sequence helps retain and gently accumulate carbon dioxide, leading to calmer breathing, and reduces anxiety. In other words, the urge to breathe will decline as you go into a more relaxed state:
3 Steps to Proper Breathing
In his talk, McKeown led a group demonstration of proper breathing, summarized as follows. These steps will help your breath to become lighter, such that the hairs in your nose barely move. This type of breathing helps you to enter and remain in a calm, meditative state while lowering your blood pressure and reducing nasal congestion for easier breathing.
You may feel a slight air shortage at first, but this should be tolerable. If it becomes uncomfortable, take a 15-second break and then continue.
After three or four minutes of air hunger, you'll start experiencing the beneficial effects of CO2 accumulation, such as an increase in body temperature and an increase in saliva. The former is a sign of improved blood circulation, the latter a sign that your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated, which is important for stress reduction.
By Dr. Mercola
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 American adults (about 70 million people) have high blood pressure. About half have uncontrolled high blood pressure, which increases your risk for a number of serious health problems, including:
Globally, more than 1 billion people struggle with high blood pressure, and prevalence has nearly doubled in the past four decades.
Overall, men tend to have higher blood pressure than women, and while high-income nations have seen a significant decline in hypertension, prevalence in low- and middle-income countries, such as South Asia and Africa, is spiking. According to researchers, prevalence is "completely inverse" to national income.
Worldwide, high blood pressure is thought to cause nearly 13 percent of all deaths, or about 7.5 million deaths annually.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
According to medical physiology textbooks, as much as 95 percent of hypertension is called essential hypertension, meaning the underlying cause is unknown. From my perspective, this simply isn't true. A number of factors have been identified as contributing to high blood pressure, including but not limited to:
• Insulin and leptin resistance. As your insulin and leptin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase
• Elevated uric acid levels are also significantly associated with hypertension, so any program adopted to address high blood pressure needs to normalize your uric acid level as well
• Poor nutrition in childhood has been shown to raise the risk of high blood pressure in adulthood
• Lead exposure
• Pollution. As your insulin and leptin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase
• Insulin and leptin resistance. Air pollution affects blood pressure by causing inflammation while noise pollution asserts an effect via your nervous and hormonal systems.
Air pollution has been shown to increase your risk of high blood pressure to the same degree as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30.
Living in an area plagued by constant noise pollution (busy city streets with night time traffic) has been shown to increase the risk of hypertension by 6 percent, compared to living in an area where noise levels are at least 20 percent lower
The Importance of Diet and Insulin Sensitivity
As noted by the lead author Majid Ezzati, Ph.D., a professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London:
"The perception is that people are not getting enough calories, but the reality is, they're not getting healthy calories. Making fresh, healthy food affordable and accessible for everybody should be a priority."
One of the most important dietary changes needed to improve high blood pressure is to eliminate or dramatically reduce sugar and processed fructose from your diet. The easiest way to do that is to replace processed foods with real, whole foods. This will address not only insulin and leptin resistance but also elevated uric acid levels.
One 2010 study discovered that those who consumed 74 grams or more per day of fructose (the equivalent of about 2.5 sugary drinks) had a 77 percent greater risk of having blood pressure levels of 160/100 mmHg (stage 2 hypertension).
Consuming 74 grams or more of fructose per day also increased the risk of a 135/85 blood pressure reading by 26 percent, and a reading of 140/90 by 30 percent. To learn more about healthy eating, please see my optimal nutrition plan, which will guide you through the necessary changes step-by-step.
To ascertain whether insulin/leptin resistance is at play, be sure to check your fasting insulin level. If your hypertension is the result of elevated insulin levels, dietary intervention will be key.
Aim for a fasting insulin level of 2 to 3 microU per mL (mcU/mL). If it's 5 mcU/mL or above, you definitely need to lower your insulin level to reduce your risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular health problems.
Keep in mind that the so-called "normal" fasting insulin level is anywhere from 5 to 25 mcU/mL, but please do not make the mistake of thinking that this "normal" insulin range equates to optimal.
Do You Have High Blood Pressure?
A blood pressure reading gives you two numbers. The upper or first number is your systolic blood pressure reading. The lower or second number is your diastolic pressure. For example, a blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 (120/80) means you have a systolic arterial pressure of 120 and a diastolic arterial pressure of 80.
Your systolic pressure is the highest pressure in your arteries. It occurs when your ventricles contract at the beginning of your cardiac cycle. Diastolic pressure refers to the lowest arterial pressure, and occurs during the resting phase of your cardiac cycle. Ideally, your blood pressure should be about 120/80 without medication.
If you're over the age of 60, your systolic pressure is the most important cardiovascular risk factor. If you're under 60 and have no other major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your diastolic pressure is believed to be a more important risk factor.
According to guidelines issued by the Joint National Committee (JNC) on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure in 2014, the following blood pressure classifications are used to determine whether you might suffer from hypertension:
How to Avoid a False Hypertension Diagnosis
To avoid a false hypertension diagnosis, keep in mind that your blood pressure reading can vary significantly from day to day, and even from one hour to the next, so don't overreact if you get one high reading here or there. It's when your blood pressure remains consistently or chronically elevated that significant health problems can occur. The following variables can also affect the validity of your blood pressure reading:
• Incorrect blood pressure cuff size: If you're overweight, taking your reading with a size "average" blood pressure cuff can lead to a falsely elevated blood pressure reading, so make sure your doctor or health care professional is using the right size cuff for your arm.
• Incorrect arm position: If your blood pressure is taken while your arm is parallel to your body, your reading can be up to 10 percent higher than it really is. Blood pressure readings should always be taken with your arm at a right angle to your body.
• Nervousness: "White coat hypertension" is a term used for when a high blood pressure reading is caused by the stress or fear associated with a doctor or hospital visit. This can be a transient yet serious concern. If this applies to you, stress reduction is key.
To decrease your risk of being falsely diagnosed with hypertension in this situation, take a moment to calm down (be sure to arrive for your appointment ahead of time so you can unwind), then breathe deeply and relax when you're getting your blood pressure taken.
Measuring Pressure on Both Arms May Provide Valuable Health Info
More recently, researchers are urging healthcare providers to measure blood pressure twice, once on each arm. A number of studies have revealed that a significant difference between your right and left arm pressure may indicate circulatory problems that raise your risk for stroke, peripheral artery disease or other cardiovascular problems.
Slight variations in blood pressure between left and right is normal, but when the difference is five points or greater, it could signal trouble. A British study found that people with a five-point or more difference between arms had nearly double the risk of dying from heart disease in the next eight years.
Another analysis of 20 studies found that those with a right-to-left arm difference in blood pressure of 15 points or more were twice as likely to have peripheral artery disease in the arms and/or legs. As noted by Harvard Health Publications:
"In younger people, side-to-side differences in blood pressure can occur when a muscle or something else compresses an artery supplying the arm, or by a structural problem that prevents smooth blood flow through an artery. In older people, it's usually due to a blockage arising from atherosclerosis, the artery-clogging disease process at the root of most heart attacks, strokes, peripheral artery disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
A less common cause of a between-arm difference in blood pressure is an aortic dissection. This is a tear inside the wall of the aorta, the main pipeline of oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. At your next doctor's visit, ask to have your blood pressure checked in both arms. If there's a difference greater than 10 point, another test called the ankle-brachial index might be in order to check for peripheral artery disease."
If you're between the ages of 18 and 59 without major health conditions, or if you're 60 or older with diabetes and/or chronic kidney disease, conventional medicine recommends drug treatment if your blood pressure is at or above 140/90. In those over 60 who do not have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the panel suggests delaying drug treatment until you're above 150/90. According to the JNC panel members:
"For all persons with hypertension, the potential benefits of a healthy diet, weight control and regular exercise cannot be overemphasized. These lifestyle treatments have the potential to improve BP control and even reduce medication needs. Although the authors of this hypertension guideline did not conduct an evidence review of lifestyle treatments in patients taking and not taking antihypertensive medication, we support the recommendations of the 2013 Lifestyle Work Group."
While recommending diet and exercise is a step in the right direction, the panel didn't take it all the way. In my experience, even stage 1 and 2 hypertension can be successfully addressed with lifestyle interventions, to where drugs become unnecessary.
The key is to be sufficiently aggressive in your diet and lifestyle modifications. There are plenty of clinical success stories that vouch for this stance. That said, if you have seriously elevated blood pressure, it would be wise to be on medication to prevent a stroke while you implement these lifestyle changes.
Omega-3 Is Vital for Healthy Blood Pressure
Recent research highlights the importance of animal-based omega-3 fats for healthy blood pressure — especially in young adults. More than 2,000 healthy men and women between the ages of 25 and 41 participated in the study. Diabetics and those with a BMI over 35, which is considered obese, were excluded.
The findings showed that those with the highest serum levels of omega-3 also had the lowest blood pressure readings. On average, their systolic pressure was 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) lower and their diastolic pressure was 2 mm Hg lower compared to those with the lowest omega-3 blood levels. As reported by WebMD:24
"'This suggests that promoting diets rich in omega-3 foods could be a strategy to prevent high blood pressure,' [Dr. Mark] Filipovic said … Even a small reduction in pressure, as little as about 5 mm Hg, could prevent a great number of strokes and heart events in the general population …
Another recent study found that doses of omega-3 fatty acids as low as less than a gram a day could help those who already have high blood pressure reduce their numbers … The fish oil may work by improving blood vessel function and reducing inflammation, among other things,' Filipovic said."
Animal-Based Versus Plant-Based Omega-3s
You can obtain omega-3 fats from both plants and marine animals like fish and krill. However, it's really important to realize that these sources provide very different types of omega-3 and, as explained by Nils Hoem, Ph.D., a Norwegian scientist specializing in omega-3 phospholipids, they are NOT interchangeable.
The short-chain fatty acids found in plants are simply food — they're a source of energy — while the long-chain fatty acids found in fish and krill, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are structural elements that actually make up your cells. This is a MAJOR difference between plant- and animal-based sources.
There are specific transporters for long-chained omega-3s in your blood-brain barrier, the placenta (in pregnant women), and likely also in your liver, which transport these molecules in a very precise way into the cell membranes where they belong. No such transporters exist for the short-chained omega-3s.
So please, don't make the mistake of confusing plant-based (short-chained) and animal-based (long-chained) omega-3, as doing so could have severe health consequences. You absolutely need animal-based omega-3, and you simply cannot obtain the same benefits from plant-based sources because the conversion rate of plant-based ALA omega 3 fats to DHA is clinically insignificant.
Fish and krill also have differences worth noting. One of the most important differences is the fact that krill oil is bound to phospholipids, which allows the omega-3 fats to travel efficiently into your hepatic system; hence, they're more bioavailable. Phospholipids are also a principal compound in high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which you want more of, and by allowing your cells to maintain structural integrity, phospholipids help your cells function properly.
Finally, many vegans are using marine-based DHA supplements, which makes sense but is still less than ideal, as you not only need DHA but the whole complex of supporting fatting acids. Do your best to get your DHA from healthy, nontoxic seafood, and if that is not possible, then use a high-quality full spectrum DHA supplement like krill oil.
You can learn more about all of these differences by listening to the interview above, or reading through the accompanying article," The Critical Differences Between Omega-3 Fats From Plants and Marine Animals." A summary can also be found in the following infographic.
Beetroot Juice May Help Lower Blood Pressure
Another food that has been found to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure is beetroot juice.25 In one small placebo-controlled trial, one glass (250 milliliters or 8.5 ounces) of beetroot juice per day for one month reduced blood pressure in those diagnosed with hypertension by an average of 8 mmHg systolic and 4 mmHg diastolic pressure.
This 8/4 mmHg reduction is very close to that provided by blood pressure mediations, which typically can reduce blood pressure by about 9/5 mmHg, and for many it was enough to bring their blood pressure down to normal levels. The treatment group also saw a 20 percent improvement in blood vessel dilation capacity and a 10 percent reduction in arterial stiffness.
However, within two weeks of stopping the juice, their blood pressure returned to their previous levels, so you'd have to keep drinking it consistently. For this reason, I would advise against viewing beetroot juice as a primary solution. A better strategy would be to incorporate a glass of beetroot juice as a short-term solution while you're implementing other dietary changes and exercise.
The beneficial effects are related to the nitrate (NO3) found in beetroot juice. Your body converts the NO3 into bioactive nitrite (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO), the latter of which helps relax and dilate your blood vessels, and helps prevent blood clots. Other vegetables high in NO3 include:
Garlic Is Also Helpful
Two other foods known to dilate blood vessels, albeit in different ways from beetroot juice, are garlic and watermelon. In an experiment by the British BBC series, "Trust Me, I'm a Doctor," designed to evaluate which of these three foods was the most effective for lowering blood pressure, found that beetroot produced the greatest results.
It lowered blood pressure of the 28 participants from an average baseline of 133.6 mmHg to 128.7 mmHg in one week. Garlic came in second place, lowering blood pressure to an average of 129.3 mmHg. Watermelon, in last place, lowered blood pressure to an average of 129.8 mmHg. As noted by BBC:
"Our small study adds to a growing number which suggest that eating beetroot and garlic regularly may help reduce your blood pressure. But these aren't the only foods that can do this. The active ingredient in beetroot, nitrate, is present in plenty of green vegetables: celery; lettuce; watercress; rocket; spinach; chard; broccoli; for example.
And the active ingredient in garlic — allicin — is also present in onions, shallots, leeks, chives and spring onions. It turns out there are several foods which can help keep our blood pressure low."
Vitamin D Can Also Relax Your Arteries and Improve Blood Pressure
Vitamin D deficiency, associated with both arterial stiffness and hypertension, is another important consideration. According to researchers from the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute, even if you're considered generally "healthy," if you're deficient in vitamin D then your arteries are likely stiffer than they should be. As a result, your blood pressure may run high due to your blood vessels being unable to relax.
In their study, having a serum level of vitamin D lower than 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) was considered a deficiency state that raises your hypertension risk. Less than 30 ng/ml was deemed insufficient. Previous research has also shown that the farther you live from the equator, the higher your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Blood pressure also tends to be higher in winter months than during the summer. Exposing your bare skin to sunlight affects your blood pressure through a variety of different mechanisms, including the following:
• Sun exposure causes your body to produce vitamin D. Lack of sunlight reduces your vitamin D stores and increases parathyroid hormone production, which increases blood pressure.
• Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, a group of health problems that can include insulin resistance, elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, obesity and high blood pressure.
• Research shows that sun exposure increases the level of NO in your skin. This dilates your blood vessels, thereby reducing your blood pressure. (For comparison, and to show how various factors tie together, uric acid, produced when you eat sugar/fructose, raises your blood pressure by inhibiting NO in your blood vessels — the opposite effect of sun exposure.)
• Vitamin D is also a negative inhibitor of your body's renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which regulates blood pressure. If you're vitamin D deficient, it can cause inappropriate activation of your RAS, which may lead to hypertension.
• Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is thought to cause the release of endorphins, chemicals in your brain that produce feelings of euphoria and relief from pain. Endorphins naturally relieve stress, and stress management is an important factor in resolving hypertension.
Key Lifestyle Strategies for Lowering Your Blood Pressure
In summary, here are several suggestions that can help lower your blood pressure naturally.