Tag: mental health

Sleep More to Forget Less

A study presented this week at the Forum of European Neuroscience conference in Geneva, Switzerland suggests that a good night’s sleep can improve memory.

For the study, researchers from the University of Geneva in Switzerland enlisted 32 volunteers to each learn a new skill, such as following a moving dot on a computer screen using a joy stick. Participants were then divided into two groups: the first was allowed to sleep for eight hours and the second was deprived of sleep or only permitted to take a short nap.

To assess the impact of these sleep patterns on the brain, researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brain activity of participants as they repeated the tasks that they had learned the previous days.

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Epigenetics and Depression

We just can’t help it. This epigenetics stuff really floats our boat. The last few weeks we’ve brought you a Dear Mark primer on gene expression as well as news on recent studies examining the role of lifestyle/environment on genetic expression. Diabetes, heart disease, even lung function are impacted by external factors like nutrition, exercise, and pollution exposure. But mental health is part of the epigenetic picture as well: chronic stress and even early emotional experiences, it turns out, may be significant enough to alter our genes’ expression.

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Dear Mark: Decline in Mental Energy

Dear Mark,

Have you noticed a decline in mental energy or focus since not doing “cardio”? I have read several reports that indicate that aerobic exercise is best for mental performance. Any thoughts?

Thanks to reader Phillip for his question on the comment boards. I’ve talked a lot over the course of the last few months about chronic cardio and the very real disadvantages of this type of training (higher cortisol levels, oxidative damage, systemic inflammation, depressed immune system and decreased fat metabolism, etc.). However, just because I don’t do chronic cardio anymore doesn’t mean I don’t get huge cardio benefits from the high intensity sprints and other interval exercises I do. This high intensity part of my workout is short compared with the hours I used to used to spend training. I choose to consider efficiency as a factor in my training program, and (as I’ve said on a number of occasions) I’ve never felt better than I do now.

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Move Your Body for Your Brain

A study presented Wednesday at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting suggests that regular physical exercise may offer a protective benefit against mild cognitive impairment.

How cognitively impaired are we talking here? Think forgetting where you left your keys, remembering events, appointments, or to check Mark’s Daily Apple every day (as if you could ever forget that!) or recalling the details of a conversation.

Conducted as part of an ongoing study of aging, researchers from the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic surveyed 868 people ages 70 to 89 about their exercise habits between ages 50 and 65. Researchers also screened all participants for signs of mild cognitive impairment.

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Caffeine Talk

Got your morning (or afternoon) joe in hand? For many readers, this would be a yes. Even if you said no, it might just be because you’ve joined ranks with the tea crowd. And, while cultural practice (a mug on the work desk being as American as apple pie) and taste are undoubtedly big draws, for many of us it all boils down to that rousing, invigorating, motivating little substance: caffeine.

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A Salad With Your Sorrow?

A pint of Ben & Jerry’s. That whole freaking bag of potato chips. A box of donut holes. No, it’s not the MDA trifecta of evil (although it could be). Sure, they’re among the proverbial symbols of “mood food,” and the saying about Ben and Jerry’s is true: ice cream tops the list, according to Brian Wansink, professor and author on the subject of emotional eating. (Wansink found that beyond top honors, gender determines what we drown our sorrow in. Women turn to chocolate – surprise – and cookies, while men hunt down heartier fare like pizza, steak and casserole.)

But even if these kinds of products have never seen the inside of your kitchen let alone your stomach, that doesn’t mean you’re immune from turning to food for more than nutrition. Yes, even innocent carrots and grape tomatoes can be used for deleterious purposes. No food is safe from the scourge of mindless, emotionally driven eating.

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Chronic Pain and the Brain

Last week we brought you news that the costs of treating neck and back pain had gone through the roof in the last several years but patients were actually getting less relief. As many of you wrote, the constantly lingering pain is enough to encourage patients to give multiple therapies a try. And research out of Northwestern University supports this strong motivation.

Using functional MRI, researchers compared the brain activity of those suffering from chronic back pain with that of a control group.

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10 Things You Can Do Today to Feel Better Tomorrow

Rough day? Here’s 10 simple things you can do to unwind, recharge and give yourself a boost!

1. Laugh it Off:
According to experts, laughter really is the best medicine. Not in the mood for a giggle? Consider this: In several studies, laughing – even for a few minutes – can lower stress hormones, boost blood flow, shore up your immune system and even reduce allergy symptoms. Better yet? The effects of a hearty chuckle can last for up to an hour!

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Orthorexia Nervosa and Dietary Obsession

I talk a lot around here about honing self-discipline, avoiding temptation, and the like. Yet, I also (let the record show) merrily encourage the importance of “sensible vices,” those splendid morsels (culinary or otherwise) of personal indulgence. We at MDA approach the pursuit of health as, undoubtedly, a worthy and wise endeavor. The pursuit of perfection, however? Well, that’s just no fun, is it?
For an increasing number of well-intentioned, health conscious individuals, some researchers say, the pursuit of healthful eating is taking an ominous turn toward clinical obsession, an as-yet unofficial eating disorder condition labeled Orthorexia nervosa. I thought it was time to explore the subject and ask you to weigh in with your thoughts.

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Anxiety Relief

Anxiety Culture has a great piece on worry that really stirred my pot. Anxiety is a persistent problem in our culture, and it seems to strike the affluent and poor, healthy and unhealthy, male and female, young and old alike. Anxiety is a particular breed of that umbrella term we toss around, stress, and it’s really insidious for a number of reasons. For one thing, as the piece notes, we’re sort of acculturated to be worriers. Worrying is seen as a really responsible, adult thing to do. If you’re nonchalant and fancy free, something surely must be wrong with you. Just as we give great credit to being overworked, underpaid, stressed, tired, busy, and overwhelmed, we give worrying a lot of authority.

It’s not natural, it’s not healthy, it’s not even moral (our Puritan ancestors are turning in their graves). There is no great moral imperative or increased value that worrying can confer upon you, yet we all act as if this were the case. In fact, I think worrying is a pretty immature reaction to life’s challenges. And because worrying – anxiety – is so self-perpetuating, it can quickly derail into a vicious, even neurotic cycle.

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