Mindfulness meditation and relaxation response have different effects on brain function – Study

 

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There are two widely used meditation-based stress reduction courses. One is based on the relaxation response – first described by Herb Benson, MD, director emeritus of the MGH-based Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine – which focuses on eliciting a physiologic state of deep rest, the opposite of the “fight or flight” stress response. The other is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which emphasizes a particular, non-judgmental attitude termed “mindfulness” as key to stress reduction. Although both interventions are based on meditation, the scientific philosophies and meditative traditions upon which each is founded are different, and these differences are reflected in the instructions and exercises taught to patients.

“If the hypotheses proposed by the programs’ creators are in fact correct, they imply that these programs promote wellness through different mechanisms of action,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroscience Research Program, senior author of the current report and assistant professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Such a finding would suggest that these programs could potentially have different effects on disease.”

To investigate that possibility, healthy adults with high levels of stress were randomized to two 8-week programs – 18 completed the relaxation response program, and 16 completed the mindfulness program. Both programs successfully decreased stress and increased mindfulness in participants. However, the mindfulness program resulted in further improvements in measures such as self-compassion and rumination, clearly indicating that the programs are not the same, Lazar says.

To further understand the similarities and differences between the programs, the team measured brain activity during a meditation technique common to both programs – a body scan, in which attention is moved sequentially throughout the body to develop bodily awareness. While the relaxation response program instructs participants to deliberately relax each body area as they become aware of it, the mindfulness program just emphasizes mindful awareness and acceptance “without any attempt to change anything.”

Lead author Gunes Sevinc, PhD, a research fellow in Lazar’s laboratory says, “By directly comparing the body-scan meditations, which differed only in cognitive strategy, we were able to identify the brain regions that are involved in mediating the common and differential strategies employed by each intervention.”

The results showed that the strength of neural interaction between brain regions associated with present-moment awareness and bodily attention increased during both types of body-scan meditation. But each program also showed unique patterns of brain activity in line with the different theoretical orientation of each program. The relaxation response body scan strengthened coupling between neural regions commonly associated with deliberate control, including inferior frontal gyrus and supplementary motor areas. Conversely, the mindfulness body scan strengthened coupling between neural regions associated with sensory awareness and perception, including the insula and the pregenual anterior cingulate.

“These findings indicate that the programs are working through different neural mechanisms,” says Sevinc, “The relaxation response program is working more through deliberate control mechanisms, while the mindfulness program is working more through sensory awareness mechanisms. It is somewhat analogous to weight training vs. aerobic exercise – both are beneficial, but each has its unique mechanism and contribution.”

Norman Farb, PhD, of the University of Toronto Department of Psychology, who was not part of the study, says, “Professor Lazar’s neuroimaging study helps us to better appreciate how these seemingly similar practices differ in important ways. Both practices seem to promote access to neural representations of the body, but they differ in how such representations are structured. This study is important for beginning to inform the public about key differences between conceptually similar therapeutic approaches, which may in turn allow people to make more skillful decisions about which practice might be right for their personal improvement.”

Lazar notes that future studies will be needed to determine whether these neural and psychological differences impact specific diseases in unique ways.

The conclusion of my post on June 16 regarding five ways technology is altering our brains was  “The good news is that there are ways to rely on technology and still have balanced lives. The authors of “The Distracted Mind” and others say we can recalibrate our brains and lead healthier lives with meditation and physical exercise as well as putting down our phones during meals and offline social interactions.”

So, once again the yin/yang of meditation and exercise come to our rescue.

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Be careful exercising in this hot weather

As regular readers know, I feel strongly about the great outdoors, savoring the experience of it as well as exercising outdoors. Summer has made its presence known with a vengeance this year and there is a time and a place for everything.

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I have been riding my bike around sunrise lately as a method of avoiding the oppressive heat. I am 78 years old and in excellent shape, but my doctor said that she tells even her 40-year-olds not to push exercise in extreme heat. You can check out my Page – How to deal with extreme heat for lots more examples.

Meanwhile the Go4Life folks offer the following excellent suggestions for heat extremes:

• Walk on the treadmill, ride the stationary bike, or use the rowing machine that’s gathering dust in your bedroom or basement. Or use one at a nearby gym or fitness center.
• Work out with an exercise DVD. You can get a free one from Go4Life.
• Go bowling with friends.
• Join a local mall walking group.
• Walk around an art gallery or museum to catch a new exhibit.
• Check out an exercise class at your neighborhood Y.
• If you like dancing, take a Zumba® or salsa class.
• Try yoga or Tai Chi.
• Go to the gym and work on your strength, balance, and flexibility exercises or set up your own home gym. All you need is a sturdy chair, a towel, and some weights. Soup cans or water bottles will do if you don’t have your own set of weights.
• Go to an indoor pool and swim laps or try water aerobics
• How about a game of indoor tennis, hockey, basketball, or soccer?
• Go indoor ice skating or roller skating.
• Maybe it’s time for some heavy duty cleaning. Vacuum, mop, sweep. Dust those hard-to-reach areas.

Tony

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Happy Father’s Day

My father has long since passed away, but here’s to all you dads who are still around.

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Tony

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5 Ways Technology is Altering our Brains

I am an old man by any standards and while I consider myself comfortable on an Apple  computer, I am not a big texter, Facebooker, or social-media maven in general. I do indulge in Google Plus. Nonetheless, I can not deny that the younger folks I encounter do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking at their cell phone screens. This piece from Samuel Merritt University fascinated me.

Technology is changing our brains as well as our lives. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re staring into a screen. Our inability to look away from our tablets, smartphones and social networking platforms is changing the way we process information and perceive the world, according to Adam Alter, author of the new book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”

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In one Gallup Panel survey, 52 percent of smartphone owners reported checking their mobile devices a few times an hour or more. Data confirms that young people are even more wired: More than seven in 10 young smartphone users check their device a few times an hour or more often, and 22 percent admit to looking at it every few minutes.

The digital age is transforming our behavior when we limit our communication to 140 characters and use emojis to express our emotions. When we’re bored, we simply reach for our gadgets. Continue reading

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Weekend funnies …

Herewith the latest collection of items that tickled my fancy in the past week. I hope they prove to be the beginning of a wonderful weekend.

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Who knew it could be such fun to spray  your owl?

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Tony

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5 Tips for a Healthier Morning – Rush

I have to confess that I am a morning person. Have been all my life. I am up around 4:00 to 4:30 AM most mornings. Yes, I go to sleep close to 9:00 PM. When I was working I stayed up a bit later and woke up about a half hour later. I realize that this is not typical of most people, particularly those with jobs. So, I thought I would share this item from the Rush University Medical Center here in Chicago.

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Give your morning routine a makeover
Does your morning go anything like this?

Being in bed feels so good that you can’t get up, so you hit snooze — three or four times.

Once you open your eyes, you realize you have a 9:00 o’clock meeting, so you check your email while still in bed to get ahead of the workday.

Now you’re running late. You throw down vitamins with a glass of juice. You can’t find your keys or your left shoe and run around the house until you’ve found both.

Finally in the car, you grab the biggest coffee you can order and two glazed donuts at the drive-thru, and traffic has you fuming before you even get to work.

All that rushing around can set a negative tone for the entire day, making you feel stressed, lethargic and irritable — and, possibly, affecting your ability to focus on tasks or calmly cope with work-related crises.

To help get your day off to a better, and healthier, start, follow these tips from Maria C. Reyes, MD, an internist at Rush University Medical Center. Continue reading

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Carbon dioxide can reduce belly fat – Study

I had misgivings about carrying this item because I think the idea is total health and a long life, not superficial quick fixes. But this seems a fascinating concept and it originated from my old Alma Mater (in a sense) – Northwestern University. I taught journalism in the grad school there for a couple of years. Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog.

While the technique is safe it needs to be optimized for longer-lasting results.

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Marla Paul, writing in Northwestern Now, reported the following:

The first randomized, controlled trial testing carbon dioxide gas injections (carboxytherapy) to reduce belly fat found the new technique eliminates fat around the stomach. However, the changes were modest and did not result in long-term fat reduction, according to the Northwestern Medicine study.

“Carboxytherapy could potentially be a new and effective means of fat reduction,” said lead author Dr. Murad Alam, vice chair of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician. “It still needs to be optimized, though, so it’s long lasting.” Continue reading

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Music and heart health – Harvard

As a lifetime music lover, I was pleased to read this item on it value in the Harvard Health Blog by Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter. One of my happiest discoveries in the past few years was a blue tooth speaker on a water bottle. I have my choice of over 1000 tunes on my iPhone to accompany me on the bike. Riding to music beats my previous soundless rides.

What’s your “cheer up” song? That question popped up on a recent text thread among a few of my longtime friends. It spurred a list of songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s, back when we were in high school and college. But did you know that music may actually help boost your health as well as your mood?

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Music engages not only your auditory system but many other parts of your brain as well, including areas responsible for movement, language, attention, memory, and emotion. “There is no other stimulus on earth that simultaneously engages our brains as widely as music does,” says Brian Harris, certified neurologic music therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. This global activation happens whether you listen to music, play an instrument, or sing — even informally in the car or the shower, he says. Continue reading

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Beware of stealth injuries …

You never heard of a stealth injury? Read on.

I had a bad fall riding my bike Sunday morning. It was raining here in Chicago and I was rolling over wet pavement. I have done this thousands of times and understand that you need to slow down in these conditions. I did slow down, too, just not enough. As a result I went flying off the bike on a really slow turn as the tires lost traction on the wet street.  Picking myself up painfully from the asphalt, I saw Mark Twain’s famous quote on biking ticker tape before my eyes – “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it – if you live.”

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A wonderful fun ride over dry pavement on another day.

My brief flight ended with me landing squarely on my hands and knees. Thankfully, my biking gloves protected my hands from dirt and glass on the street surface. My knees didn’t fare nearly as well. Both knees were filthy and a bit bloody.

I got myself home and cleaned off the street grit from my knees. I also washed them with antibacterial soap to prevent any infection. So I looked like a little kid with two skinned knees. My girlfriend helped me get them both bandaged up to protect the open wounds.

Alternatively, my hands looked just fine. I got the street dirt and grease washed off and nothing showed. I had lunch and walked the dog. I found myself kind of dreading riding again because I found myself fearing another fall. Not wanting to ‘chicken out’, I decided to ride one of my other bikes, so I could take the dog along.

And that’s when I discovered my stealth injuries. It proved nearly impossible to hold on to the handlebars because it hurt my hands so much to put any pressure on them. Keep in mind that when riding a bike, you lean forward and probably 10 to 30 percent of your body weight is carried by – your hands. Although I only weigh in the mid 150s, it was really painful to hold on to the handlebars. I found myself adjusting my hands to reduce the pressure on the injuries in my palms. After about five minutes of this, I came to the conclusion that I was sowing the seeds of another fall. It is not smart to try to balance and steer in less than the most efficient manner. I turned the bike around and went home. This morning, my hands were still very tender and I didn’t take the bike out at all.

I thought it ironic that my banged up knees looked bad, but had no influence on my ability to ride at all. On the other hand, my hands which looked perfectly fine, made it impossible to ride safely without excruciating pain. Truly stealth injuries.

Tony

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How Much Exercise is Needed to Help Improve Thinking Skills?

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. Herewith another example of the value of the move more element. We all want to live longer, but that has little meaning if we don’t have a fully functional brain to power us through. I talk about the value of exercise regularly here. Now we have a study that quantifies the amount of movement relevant to benefit our brain.

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We know that exercise may help improve thinking skills. But how much exercise? And for how long?

To find the answers, researchers led by Joyce Gomes-Osman, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor of clinical physical therapy and neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reviewed all of the studies in which older adults were asked to exercise for at least four weeks and then take tests of thinking and memory skills. Their results were compared to those of people who did not start a new exercise routine. The review was published in the May 30 online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice, an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers found that people who exercised an average of at least 52 hours over about six months for about an hour each session may improve their thinking skills. In contrast, people who exercised for an average of 34 hours over the same time period did not show any improvement in their thinking skills. Continue reading

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Researchers Reverse Cognitive Impairment in Mice with Dementia

If you have been reading this blog for a while you are aware that I have a particular focus on the brain afflictions – dementia and its move common manifestation, Alzheimer’s. Three members on both sides of my family suffered from a form of dementia. While there is no cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s, it seems that exercise is our best chance of possessing a functioning brain in our old age. Hence, my focus on movement of every kind. Now, it seems that we may be getting a new arrow in our quiver to fight mental illness.

Researchers report tau pathology can be reversed in Alzheimer’s patients with the help of a drug. Their study reveals reversing tau pathology in mouse models of dementia resulted in a reversal of cognitive deficits in spatial learning.

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Compared with untreated animals, tau mice that had received zileuton performed significantly better on the tests. Their superior performance suggested a successful reversal of memory deficiency. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

Reversing memory deficits and impairments in spatial learning is a major goal in the field of dementia research. A lack of knowledge about cellular pathways critical to the development of dementia, however, has stood in the way of significant clinical advance. But now, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) are breaking through that barrier. They show, for the first time in an animal model, that tau pathology – the second-most important lesion in the brain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease – can be reversed by a drug.

 “We show that we can intervene after disease is established and pharmacologically rescue mice that have tau-induced memory deficits,” explained senior investigator Domenico Praticò, MD, Scott Richards North Star Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology, and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple at LKSOM. The study, published online in the journal Molecular Neurobiology, raises new hope for human patients affected by dementia. Continue reading

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Stretch for Better Flexibility

I love this post! I hope you will read it and learn from it too. The more I read and write about health and fitness, the more I appreciate that ‘little things mean a lot.’ Little things like stretching, getting a good night’s sleep and walking, not living a sedentary lifestyle. These are elements that can keep you in tip top shape, mentally and physically for years to come.

To read further on some of these little things, Check out my Pages:

Do you know the dangers of too much sitting?

How important is a good night’s sleep?

Why you should walk more

Tony

Training For Life

This article was first published in The Hindu on 2nd October 2010.

unnamedI see people completing their workout routines and rushing through a few cursory stretches; mainly to appease the trainer, mind elsewhere, in a hurry to get going. Their flexibility does not get any better; they can still barely bend forward to reach for their thighs leave alone their toes, but they see no reason to waste time toiling with “stretches’. They have more important things to do, their cardio, so they can burn an indecent number of calories, push as much weight as they can to gain that well sculpted physique. Flexibility? Yes, well, let’s be done with it as quickly as possible!

One couldn’t be more mistaken. An inflexible muscle is more prone to injury and cannot perform as well as it should. Good quality muscle is supple, strong AND flexible.

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Exercise trumps weight loss for heart patients – Study

 

It seems to be that sedentary is fast becoming a dirty word when it comes to a healthy extended life. The more we act to remove it from our lives that better off we will be.

Increased physical activity, not weight loss, gives individuals with coronary heart disease a longer lease on life, according to a new study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

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NTNU researchers have found that heart disease patients can gain weight without jeopardizing their health, but sitting in their recliner incurs significant health risks.

Weight loss seems to be associated with increased mortality for the participants in the study who were normal weight at baseline. The survey, which is an observational study based on data from HUNT (the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study), was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).

Researcher Trine Moholdt in NTNU’s Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging collaborated on the study with cardiologist Carl J. Lavie at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, and Javaid Nauman at NTNU.

They studied 3307 individuals (1038 women) with coronary heart disease from HUNT. Data from HUNT constitute Norway’s largest collection of health information about a population. A total of 120,000 people have consented to making their anonymized health information available for research, and nearly 80,000 individuals have released blood tests.

HUNT patients were examined in 1985, 1996 and 2007, and followed up to the end of 2014. The data from HUNT were compared with data from the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry.

During the 30-year period, 1493 of the participants died and 55 per cent of the deaths were due to cardiovascular disease.

“This study is important because we’ve been able to look at change over time, and not many studies have done that, so I am forever grateful to HUNT and the HUNT participants,” said Moholdt.

Exercise and live longer

The study revealed that people who are physically active live longer than those who are not. Sustained physical activity over time was associated with substantially lower mortality risk. Continue reading

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Weekend Funnies …

Sorry this is a finger slip. I meant to release it on Friday morning, but messed up. Enjoy!

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Tony

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Did you win in Las Vegas …?

Did you win? That’s always the question people ask when I mention having gone to Las Vegas. Please consider this a companion piece to what I posted May 12 –The agony and ecstasy of video poker.

Back 20 years ago when I was married, my wife and I had a subscription to Chicago’s famed Lyric Opera. A night at the opera would easily run in the neighborhood of $500, considering the ticket prices, well north of $100 each, cabs to and from, dinner out and a baby sitter. No one ever asked – Did you win? upon hearing that we went to the opera. How was the performance? What did you see? How was the production? Those were the kind of questions asked.

The fact is that my girlfriend and I played a lot of video poker on the trip. BUT, that wasn’t all we did.

Here is a shot of the beautiful fountain at Bellagio out the window of our room.

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You can see the dancing waters of the fountains. At night the view was more spectacular.

Like any trip there were lovely meals out. Here are pics from a few of ours.

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These were delicious baked clams at Rao’s on our first night there. New York readers are familiar with Rao’s.

Continue reading

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High protein diet may increase heart failure risk in middle-aged men – AHA

For middle-aged men, eating higher amounts of protein was associated with a slightly elevated risk for heart failure than those who ate less protein, according to new research in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.

Despite the popularity of high protein diets, there is little research about how diets high in protein might impact men’s heart failure risk.

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“As many people seem to take the health benefits of high-protein diets for granted, it is important to make clear the possible risks and benefits of these diets,” said Jyrki Virtanen, Ph.D., study author and an adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. “Earlier studies had linked diets high in protein – especially from animal sources — with increased risks of Type 2 diabetes and even death.” Continue reading

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