The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this: Reducing your carbohydrate...
Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
I’m 62. I’m supposed to have a big belly. I’m supposed to be taking at least four prescription drugs a day (PDF). I’m supposed to be lining up for the early bird special at the Denny’s on Lincoln. I’m not supposed to be lifting weights, sprinting, and beating younger guys at Ultimate Frisbee. I shouldn’t be snowboarding, starting exciting new business ventures, or going shirtless in the Southern California sun without sunblock. I’m supposed to be set in my ways, not open to new evidence. I’m supposed to be remembering my younger, better days as time slips away and I descend ever more rapidly into frailty, financial insolvency, and death. Time is supposed to speed up as I age, not slow down.
From the intricacy of Japanese tea ceremonies to the ornateness of holiday dinners, food related customs hold big sway in every culture. They all reflect in some way an element of that culture’s values and common story—whether long inherited or deliberately chosen. While some of our rituals can be traced to particular religious traditions, others are more secularly instituted, family oriented or even individually constructed. Those grander social customs might evoke more conscious nostalgia, but science suggests even the small practices we enact around our eating can have surprising results.
After last week’s look at what winter does in terms of physical symptoms, I’d be lax to not address the obvious elephant in the living room: mental health in the colder, darker season. I’ll admit I don’t know too many people who look forward to this time of year past the holidays. The adventure of winter sports aside (for those who love them) and the chance for a little social hibernation (for those who prefer that), winter can take an exponential toll on people past the New Year. That said, just how much is relative inconvenience versus clinical reality? Do our moods collectively change? Why do some people experience more significant effects? What are the real hormonal influences this time of year, and what (if anything) can or should we do about them?
For today’s Dear Mark, I’m answering just a single reader question, but it’s a big one. Janice and her husband have endured their family’s light-hearted ribbing about their “caveman lifestyle” for years. Now that the paterfamilias of the clan is severely obese, almost 80 years old, and recovering from a relatively mild stroke, the family has turned to Janice’s expertise for help changing his ways. How can she convince her father that it’s never too late to get healthy? That changing your diet, exercise, and lifestyle can improve even the most unhealthy person’s trajectory and enjoyment of life? She’s confident that if she can just get through to her dad, the rest of the family—who also needs an intervention—will inevitably follow suit.
Let’s give it a shot:
No longer the sole province of the hemp-swathed sprouting enthusiast, meditation’s popularity has exploded across our collective faces. Tech companies have embraced mindfulness meditation as the ultimate productivity. Google has “mindful lunches,” complete with prayer bells and hour-long vows of silence. And as legitimate meditation researchers uncover more benefits to our brains, our bodies, and our psyches, diehard rationalists have been forced to accept the scientific merits of mindfulness.
My explanation for why interest in meditation has grown is that it’s a replacement for the nature in which we no longer reside. For hundreds of thousands of years, we spent our days in natural settings where much of the mind chatter stops and we exist in the present moment. The falling leaves sparkling overhead with sunlight. The herky-jerk scamper of a startled lizard just off the trail. The erratic brilliant butterfly fluttering through the scene that you can’t help but stop to watch. That was life for most of human history. It wasn’t special. It was home. It’s what we knew.
It’s okay to do the double take—dispositional mindfulness. How’s that?
By now most people have heard of mindfulness meditation. I’ve written a bit about it for the blog, also noting that other forms of deep relaxation practice tend to work better for me. As quiet blocks of time devoted to emptying the mind and bringing awareness to your breath as well as other body sensations, meditation can clear away conscious thought and let us rest in a deep calm, triggering the feel-good, health-promoting hormonal effects of the body’s potent relaxation response. Research has shown regular practice for even just a couple months literally changes the brain’s structure and confers a whole host of health advantages. But what about the application of a mindful approach to everyday life rather than a particular “practice”?