Category: Habits

Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments

One of my biggest inspirations was my late father, Laurence Sisson. He supported our family as a painter, primarily water color paintings of New England nature scenes. His work ethic was insane as was his creative genius. But my most salient memories of him are not those spent in the art studio watching beautiful representations of nature’s glory appear before my eyes. No, what I remember most are the evenings spent around the piano. He was also a great jazz pianist, and often took paying work as a musician when the times demanded it. During holidays, he’d play the classics. On quiet afternoons, he’d noodle on the keys. Piano music was the backdrop of the house. And, I’m convinced, playing that piano kept his brain nimble to the very end. Music and Brain Function If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve probably seen the videos of otherwise unresponsive Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease patients lighting up when a favorite piece of music from their younger days plays. There’s this one, where an old man in a nursing home on his last legs comes to life. After listening to some of his favorite music, he becomes incredibly responsive, answering questions about himself and his life. Music gives him access to the parts of his brain that were previously shut out, at least for a brief moment. The most recent one I saw is of a former New York City prima ballerina with Alzheimer’s disease. When she hears “Swan Lake,” she motions to raise the volume and then launches into the choreography from her chair—the same dance she mastered and performed over 50 years prior.  Even as I’m writing this and picturing it, I feel tears welling up from the beauty of the moment. Most of you reading this aren’t in that dire of a cognitive situation, but you can probably relate to the effect music can have on our brains. We’ve all felt the power of music. When that song comes on and catapults you back to some bygone era of your youth. When you hear an album and actually smell the smells, taste the tastes, and feel the emotions it evokes in you. Something powerful is happening in the brain, and we shouldn’t wait til degeneration sets in. If we know there are certain lifestyle, dietary, and behavioral modifications that can improve the outlook of a patient with dementia, then enacting those changes before dementia arises will be even more powerful and effective at staving it off. Music is one possibility. And if merely listening to music can have that effect on cognitive function, even severely degenerated cognitive function, what can playing music—creating it with your own mind—do for it? Playing an Instrument for Brain Health We actually have evidence that playing an instrument is protective of brain health and function. In one recent study, researchers asked 23 former orchestral musicians if they or any musician they knew had dementia. Dementia rates among the queried musicians were nonexistent, … Continue reading “Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments”

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Having a Growth Mindset Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Health

Ever heard the quote, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work?” Originally said by NBA all-star, Kevin Durant, this is a perfect example of utilizing a growth mindset — meaning your success can be cultivated by your efforts. When you operate from the opposite perspective (called a fixed mindset) you believe your talents and abilities are predetermined. Either you’re good at something or you’re not. End of story. Maybe you believe you’ll always have a layer of fluff around your middle because you never stick with anything. Or you avoid working out because everyone in your family is uncoordinated. Or you’re “so intelligent” but can’t seem to figure out how the heck to lose those last ten pounds. If that’s you, congratulations, you have a fixed mindset. When you start viewing things through a more optimistic lens, you move into growth mindset territory. And that’s where the magic really happens. Let’s Define Growth Mindset You can’t talk about this term without acknowledging the famous Stanford University psychologist who coined it. Decades ago, Carol Dweck published research that kind of changed the world. In the study, Dweck and one of her colleagues gave puzzles to 400 fifth graders. After completing the first puzzle, the children were either praised for their effort or praised for their intelligence. The group who was praised with statements like “you must have worked so hard!” ended up choosing a more demanding puzzle next time around than the ones who were told “you must be so smart!” Years later, Dweck and other researchers tested the theory again, following 373 seventh graders to find out whether or not mindset could predict their grades over the course of two years. In this study, they taught one group about the brain and how intelligence can be developed, while the other group had no intervention. As you might expect, students who adopted a growth mindset were more motivated and got better grades than their fixed-minded counterparts. Students with a growth mindset not only believed that their abilities could improve through effort and persistence, they actually made it happen. Examples of a Growth Mindset I’d like to get better at this Mistakes help me learn This has been a challenge, but I’m working on it I haven’t figured out how to do this yet This might take some time Dweck’s research proved that changing a key belief about yourself can make a big difference. But clearly, it’s not just students who can benefit from this concept. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella uses growth mindset tactics with his management teams to create an environment of constant learning… Michael Jordan (who was initially cut from his high school basketball team and was passed up during the first two NBA draft picks) used it to persevere and become uber-famous… I use it in my own health coaching practice to help my clients overcome their previous, self-described failures… And you can too. You just need the right tools to shift your mindset. So, What Causes a … Continue reading “Having a Growth Mindset Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Health”

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12 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin

Serotonin is a funny one. Although the prevailing sentiment is that we want to “increase serotonin,” it’s not that simple. There’s no indication that more serotonin is necessarily better in every situation, or even generally. The link between serotonin and “happiness” or “mood” isn’t so clear-cut as the experts would have you believe, either. So while I am going to tell you how to “boost” serotonin levels because serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter, I plan on sticking to foods, supplements, and behaviors that promote physiological levels of serotonin. Boosting serotonin beyond what the body is designed for may not help you, and it may have unpleasant and unwanted effects. Is Serotonin a Mood Booster? Yes and no. For evidence, I submit two items. The first is clinical research and the second is pure anecdote, albeit personal anecdote. Everyone has heard of SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The most common form of antidepressants, their purported mode of action is to reduce the re-absorption of serotonin by neurons which increases the circulating concentration of serotonin in the brain. They increase brain levels of serotonin so it’s able to act longer. The evidence in favor of SSRIs in treating depression is mixed. Not everyone benefits, and it often takes several months to take effect. But they do help some people. In recent years, depression studies have pitted SSRIs against another drug—tianeptine—that does the opposite: increases the absorption of serotonin by neurons and decreases the concentration of serotonin the brain. If the “serotonin=happy” hypothesis is correct, tianeptine shouldn’t improve depression. It should worsen it. But that’s not what happens. Both tianeptine, which lowers brain serotonin, and SSRIs, which increase it, have been shown to improve depression symptoms in patients with clinical depression. If anything, tianeptine might even be more effective. This doesn’t mean that serotonin has nothing to do with depression, or that it’s bad for depression. It just means that the story is a little more complicated than we thought. Now the anecdote. Back when I was doing some research for a new probiotic supplement, I tried one that had been shown to increase serotonin levels: B. infantis. This is how I do things usually. Most all my products are created to solve a problem in my own life. I figure that if something appeals to me or fixes an issue affecting me, it will help others too. So this time, I added the powder to a smoothie and down the hatch it went. About half an hour later, I got the distinct sense of what I can only describe as emotional numbness. There was just this big blank emptiness in my heart and mind. I felt robotic, except I was a robot who had memories of what it was like to feel. It was a very uncanny, unnerving feeling that I don’t ever want to feel again. Maybe the dosage was too high. Maybe I shouldn’t have been taking a probiotic strain meant for human infants (B. infantis is present in infant guts … Continue reading “12 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin”

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How to Deal with the Pressure of Never Having Enough Time (and Why It’s Total BS)

If you’ve read Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, you can just jump to the end of this post. For everyone else, I invite you to take a closer look at your relationship with time. Especially those of you who are too busy to spend, oh, I don’t know, 5 or so minutes reading this. Somehow, “I’m busy” has become the new “I’m fine” in response to being asked how you are. I get it thought — I know you actually ARE busy, but stay with me here. Whenever I’m working with new clients, they’ll typically tell me they don’t have time to sit down for a satiating, nutrient-dense breakfast, so they just grab a “quick toast and coffee.” Or they have too much going on and can’t get to bed on time. It’s not just a once-in-a-while-thing either. It’s day after day after day. Sound like your life? If so, let me ask you this: why do some people seem to effortlessly crush their to-do lists and others find theirs growing out of control? Seriously, There’s Not Enough Time I never like to say “We all have the same 24 hours in the day,” because that logic is fundamentally flawed, and can come off sounding privileged. In truth, all of us are filling our 24 hours in different ways depending on our jobs, lives, families, hobbies, obligations, and unique life goings-on. Sometimes I choose to be busy during my 24 hours because I have lots of things that are important to me — family, friends, my clients, my home life, my role at the Primal Health Coach Institute. And *usually* I like that because I enjoy my work and I like being productive. I’m choosing to be busy because it leaves me feeling fulfilled. The problem arises when it leaves you feeling like a victim, like you can’t keep up, or like you just want to bury your head in the sand. Lack of Time = Lack of Priorities It all comes down to priorities. If better health or a leaner waistline was really important to you, you’d make it a priority. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you unknowingly put other, less important priorities in their place (everything from stewing over a mean comment on social media to worrying how you’re going to get it all done). Whenever you catch yourself having an I-don’t-have-enough-time moment, remember that what you’re spending your time on is a choice — and you always have options. This is the perfect time to take a step back and ask yourself these four questions: What’s important here? What’s not important? Am I wasting time on things that aren’t important? What else could I be doing with my time? Go ahead and do this exercise with me for a sec. Get out a piece of paper (or the notes section on your phone) and jot down your daily schedule. What time do you typically get up? When do you go to bed? How much time do you … Continue reading “How to Deal with the Pressure of Never Having Enough Time (and Why It’s Total BS)”

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Developing our Empowering, Energizing Morning Routine

Starting your day with a deliberate movement routine that you repeat every single day can be life changing, because it creates the leverage and the power to become a more focused and disciplined person in all other areas of daily life. Contrast this with the disturbing stat from IDC Research that 80 percent of Americans reach for their phones as the first act upon awakening. Numerous studies confirm that once you activate the shallow, reactionary brain function in the frontal cortex with a smartphone engagement—especially first thing in the morning when you are locking habit patterns into place—it’s difficult to transition into high-level strategic problem solving mode. Julie Morgenstern, renowned productivity consultant and author of Never Check Email In The Morning, explains that when you reach for your phone first thing, “You’ll never recover. Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless… there is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes.” The Dope On Dopamine The reason you’ll never recover is because your morning foray into hyperconnectivity is creating a dopamine addiction. When work gets either challenging or boring over the course of the day, you are hard-wiring a reliable method of escape into the realm of instant gratification and instant relief from cognitive peak performance. As detailed in the excellent book by anti-sugar crusader Dr. Robert Lustig called, The Hacking Of The American Mind, we are chasing the dopamine high today like never before. We are doing this in assorted ways that are strongly driven by marketing forces behind Internet fodder (social media, pornography, click bait, and even email and text messaging), prescription drugs, street drugs, alcohol, processed sugar products, overly stressful exercise patterns,consumerism, and other sources of escape and instant gratification. As a healthy living enthusiast reading this blog, you can acknowledge the great sense of self-satisfaction and peace of mind that comes from implementing self-discipline and persevering through challenges and setbacks to achieve meaningful goals. These behaviors stimulate the serotonin and oxytocin pathways in the brain, triggering feelings of contentment, connection and love. Bestselling author Mark Manson asserts that self-discipline is a key to a happy, fulfilling life. Alas, when you hijack the dopamine pathways too often with the aforementioned folly, you down-regulate the serotonin pathways in your brain so you become wired for quick-hit pleasure at the expense of long-term happiness. The Magic Of Morning Movement Extricating from this mess starts first thing in the morning! Since most of us have tons of sedentary influences during the day (commute, office work, evening screen entertainment), I’m going to suggest a mindful routine of exercises, poses, and dynamic stretches that build flexibility, mobility, core and muscle strength. Your morning routine will help you naturally awaken and energize (especially if you can do it outdoors), improve the fitness base from which you launch formal workouts, help prevent injuries, and boost your daily movement quota especially if things get hectic and you don’t have time for formal workout. I’m … Continue reading “Developing our Empowering, Energizing Morning Routine”

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Ask a Health Coach: Is Eating Healthy Even Worth It?

Hey, folks. If you’ve ever wondered if watching what you eat is really worth it, you’ll want to check out today’s post. PHCI Coaching Director, Erin Power is here answering your questions about managing macros, weighing the pros and cons of meal prep, and the value of paying more for your food. We love getting your questions, so keep them coming in the comments below or head over to our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group.
Debbie asked:

“I don’t know what to eat anymore. I was following a strict macro split of 56% fat, 28% protein, and 16% carbs, but I’m worried that my protein is too high. My goals are to maintain my weight, build muscle, and control my blood sugar since I am pre-diabetic. I know higher protein isn’t good for diabetes as it converts to glucose and then you get an insulin dump and gain weight. Can you point me in the right direction?”
Feels stressful doesn’t it? All the measuring, weighting, counting, and adding — just to get your macros to line up and reach some magical equation that you’ve decided will make everything work out perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, I love that you’re committed to doing what you can to prevent diabetes and reverse your current diagnosis (I wish more people followed your lead here), but I have a hunch it’s sort of ruling your life right now. And it doesn’t have to.

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