Mental Sharpness Begins to Decline in Middle-Age

The brain’s abilities to reason, comprehend and remember may start to worsen as early as age 45, a new study from England suggests.Researchers gave tests of thinking skills to about 5,100 men and 2,200 women between the ages of 45 and 70 years over a 10-year period. They found people ages 45 to 49 years experienced a notable decline in mental functioning.”‘Senior’ moments that people often joke about are true,” said Dr. Gary Small, geriatric psychiatrist David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the work.

“If you follow people over time, you’ll see there are structural changes that happen in the brain as they age,” he said.

Previous evidence suggests that impaired cognitive function could be  an early sign of dementia. One recent study showed cognitive performance strongly predicted a 75 percent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia, after six years.

About 1 in 8 older Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. They anticipate the numbers will grow each year as more and more people continue to live longer.

Though the age at which cognitive decline begins remains unknown, researchers say the new study demonstrates the importance of a healthy lifestyle, particularly paying attention to cardiovascular health, which may help stave off the effects of brain aging.

“A decline in mental function is inevitable,” said Steven Ferris, a psychologist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, who was not involved with the work. “Following a healthy lifestyle can help a certain degree of mental functioning, but there requires more research to prove this.”

A healthy lifestyle includes exercising, which increases blood flow to the brain, providing it with much-needed nutrients. Eating foods that are good for the heart, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains is also important, because it could protect brain cells from age-related decline.

A faster decline among older people

Study participants were tested for memory, vocabulary, hearing and visual comprehension skills. People were given cognitive tests three times over the course of the study. The researchers took differences in education levels into account.

Researchers found that over the 10-year study, there was a 3.6 percent decline in mental reasoning scores in people who were between the ages of 45 and 49 at the study’s start. There was a 9.6 percent decline in the abilities of men ages 65 to 70 years at the start, and a slightly smaller, 7.4 percent decline, in women of those ages.

Results showed that cognitive test scores declined in all categories except vocabulary, and scores declined faster in older people.

The study also demonstrated that measuring people’s abilities at one point in time may not yield accurate results.

“This study follows the same people over a long period of time to see if their cognitive performance changes,” said Ferris.

“And these changes are beginning earlier than what people previously thought,” he said.

via Mental Sharpness Begins to Decline in Middle-Age.

I Am Happier, Heavier

Rachel Oh Uiginn Estapa

It’s not insane to believe that once you lose weight, life gets better.

For years, I heard stories from those who have shed pounds, recharged their lives, never felt better, and speak so confidently that once the weight was gone, they became the person they were meant to be: a thin and happy one.

I do not doubt their happiness when they share their story, but I also don’t believe that by losing weight, they have some superior knowledge about happiness that us heavier-folk don’t. How do I know this? I’ve been fat and thinner. And I’ve been at my happiest, heavier.

End of high school and into college, I was BIG and used to decline attending parties because I didn’t remotely have anything cute to wear, so I hid behind sarcasm and baggy shirts. And dating-wise… wait, WHAT dating life?

Midway through my freshman year of college I joined Weight Watchers and the gym, becoming obsessed with both. Within seven months, I lost 55 pounds, fit into a size ten and even felt sexy for about fifteen minutes!

But as the scale dipped lower and the compliments on my weight-loss wore off, something else emerged: I felt exhausted, disappointed and still unhappy.

“Ugh, I just can’t keep this up…” I recall saying to myself after a Weight Watchers meeting, of which was my lowest weigh-in ever. I felt defeated and broken that after all my effort, not much beyond the scale changed.

Wasn’t I supposed to feel amazing? Different? Instead I felt burnt out, over-worked, stressed about every meal and workout… and I wasn’t even at my “goal” — that was still another 40 pounds away!

Within five years, I gain the weight back and while initially bummed, I actually felt a sense of relief.

My story is 98% of all dieter’s stories, but for whatever reason, the myth that overweight people are lazy prevails. If you’ve never embarked on losing lots of weight, you probably cannot understand how all-encompassing the process becomes and the toll it takes on your mental and physical self.

Losing weight isn’t about willpower or determination. People embark upon weight loss “journeys” because they want to fix themselves. And I understand why — it’s very painful to believe something is wrong with you.

I wanted to feel happy, but dieting wasn’t making me feel happy. Isn’t my quality of life worth more than my pant-size?

My road to thin was paved with anxiety. I was constantly overthinking what I could eat, how much I should workout, and how to balance being a young adult and on a diet. Sure, the physical results where was I was aiming for, but I didn’t anticipate my quality of life being so frantic and worrisome.

My lesson wasn’t to learn how to lose weight — it was to learn how to accept myself. Instead of plotting another diet to lose the weight I re-gained, I decided to turn my focus towards learning about authentic happiness, holistic health and well-being. And today at 29, I’m madly in love with who I am and in learning to love myself, I learned how to love other people much better too.

Some might believe that my story means I am anti-weight loss, but I am not. I’m anti-shame, guilt and fear as an avenue to weighing less in the hopes of being a better and healthier person for it.

I believe we each have a unique spectrum of health, and it’s up to us individually to have the self-awareness to gauge if what we do each day is healthy or unhealthy, not just for our bodies, but for our overall well-being. Being larger isn’t an automatic indicator of poor health, as I’m more fit today that I was when I weighed less. Deep down, you know if your actions lean more towards healthy or unhealthy, and this goes for anyone at any size. A more holistic approach to your own body’s needs and happiness may end up serving you better long-term because the best lifestyle is the one you’re excited and happy about.

My travel from heavy to thinner and back to heavy again taught me how deceiving the allure of appearances can be; that confidence comes from a strong will of speaking your truth, and that sustainable health and happiness stems not from calories in versus calories out, but of an attitude of gratitude.

And it’s with learning gratitude my real body-love story began. Gratitude for my body for all it does and in kind, I now treat with respect and balance.

I got married in a large body. I created my own business in a large body. I did my first professional photo shoot in a large body. I adore this large body and even if I lost or gained weight, the core of who I am does not change.

Rachel Estapa, founder of More To Love, is a writer, coach and speaker on plus size body image, health and happiness. See more at http://www.moretolovewithrachel.com

via I Am Happier, Heavier | Rachel O’h-Uiginn Estapa.

Exploding the Past

We can read and think all we want about how to recover from our past experiences, but actually recovering seems to take something different.  It takes a personal realization, perhaps a sudden moment where for some unknown reason the balloon is pricked.  The past explodes and there’s nothing left to look at.  And then you suddenly arrive in the present moment like it’s a new place, a new experience without the baggage of the past to constantly haul around.

As I was falling asleep just one night previous to the end of the year, the message that repeated itself over and over in my head was that EVERYTHING IS NOW…  Nothing exists outside of this moment.  I “knew” that, but I hadn’t applied it to the struggle with my past that I had been going through for, well, a really long time.  The other message that followed was not as short and simple, and it took a few iterations to solidify, but it was

Whatever the past WAS, it isn’t anymore.

It isn’t anymore, because everything is now.  The past doesn’t exist unless we mentally haul it into the present and try to recreate the emotions and the memories that go with it.  Even then it doesn’t exist except as a figment of our imagination that struggles to make it seem real.

Memories can be useful, like remembering which way to go on your way to work and back.  And some memories are pleasant; it’s sometimes enjoyable to retrieve pictures or mementos of those events and occasions and to feel the emotions that were connected with those times.

But other memories can be a nightmare, or a perpetual “daymare” or whatever the equivalent word for that would be if they flash around you all day long.  And those memories aren’t useful.  Memories born of trauma are like wounds that leave scars, or perhaps it’s like having splinters in your psyche.  Whenever you access them they hurt almost as badly as the original event.

So I’m going to keeping repeating this mantra that seems to provide a lot of relief to me:  Everything Is Now.  And it’s companion:  Whatever the past was, it isn’t anymore.

I don’t have to free myself from something that doesn’t exist.  And I don’t have to “let go” of the past if there isn’t anything real that I’m actually holding onto.  If I can truly realize that it isn’t anymore, and the only thing and in fact everything that does exist is now, in this present moment, I am free from the past.

Go to bed early. Have more sex.

More than 30 percent of adult Americans, about 60 million people, complain of difficulty sleeping. For about a quarter of these individuals, treatment begins with medication. This tells us two things. Sleep is a big problem and a big business.

So how does one of the most basic biological functions become so disordered? After all, what could be more natural than sleep?

The first thing you notice when digging into what we know about sleep is how little we understand. The function of sleep, a state that occupies one-third of our lives, remains unclear. Why is sleep necessary for our survival? Why do we dream?

Sure, we have made some connections by observing what happens to people who are sleep-deprived or perform shift work. Clearly, physical and cognitive function take a hit. Medical interns working on the night shift are twice as likely as others to misinterpret hospital test records that could endanger their patients.[1] The Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plant accidents were attributed in part to the consequences of compromised night shift workers. We know memory and learning are impaired. Protein synthesis that produces the building blocks needed for cell growth and repair is markedly diminished.[2] But theses are crude observations, not understanding.

The second thing you realize, and this boggles the mind, is that almost everything we do know about human sleep has been learned in the last 50 years. Unfortunately, like the first beliefs in any discipline, many of the early theories about our sleep were wrong.

Until recently, humans were thought to be different from all other animals in having sleep that is consolidated into one continuous nocturnal episode. This notion of uniquely human sleep held sway until the early 1990s when Thomas Wehr, a sleep researcher at NIMH inadvertently stumbled on something that changed everything, or should have.[3]

Wehr selected healthy untroubled sleepers who were accustomed to 16-17 hour days and seven to eight hours of sleep, a routine that many of us live by or envy because we get less sleep. He exposed them to 10 hours of light and 14 hours of dark per day and watched what happened to their sleep. This ratio of light to dark (10:14) mimics the natural light of a typical winter day in a temperate climate. Initially, they slept for 11 hours per night, suggesting a chronic sleep deficit, and then settled into an average of 8.9 hours each night. By the fourth week Wehr saw something that wasn’t supposed to happen in humans. They all developed a sleep pattern characterized by two sleep sessions. Subjects tended to lie awake for one to two hours and then fall quickly asleep. After about four hours of solid sleep, they would awaken and spend one to two hours in a state of quiet wakefulness before a second four-hour sleep period.

This bimodal sleep has been observed in many other animals. One such creature turns out to be pre-industrial man. Only recently have anthropologists and historians scrutinized the sleep of other cultures, earlier centuries and prehistoric humans. In the remarkably informative At Day’s Close, Night in Times Past, Roger Ekirch unveils nocturnal life in the pre-industrial west.[4]

Drawing from a broad range of sources he found a trove of evidence documenting our history of bimodal sleep. Until the late 1700s, and the widespread use of artificial light, people retired to bed soon after sun down and entered what was called “first sleep.” They would awaken three or four hours later and enjoy a couple hours of quiet. During this time they often prayed, chatted about dreams and had sex. A French physician described this time between sleeps as a particularly good opportunity for sexual intimacy when couples “do it better” and have “more enjoyment.” The middle night interactions seem to have been essential for social cohesion.

This was followed by “second sleep” that again lasted three to four hours and ended with sunrise. In fact, a study of contemporary cultures across the globe reveals a wide spectrum of sleep habits.[5] Some anthropologists now speak of three sleep cultures: monophasic cultures (the West, where one consolidated sleep period dominates), siesta cultures (where one afternoon nap is added in the afternoon, the word siesta meaning the sixth hour) and polyphasic cultures (China, Japan, India where multiple naps throughout the day of varying lengths are the norm).

Researchers have replicated and expanded on Wehr’s work. Several studies have taken subjects to deep underground bunkers free of any artificial light in order to observe our internal clock’s rhythm. Again, they observe this biphasic pattern. Subjects sleep in two four-hour solid blocks separated by a couple hours of meditative quiet during which there is a remarkable surge of prolactin, unseen in modern humans. The participants report feeling so awake during the day that it is as if they experience true wakefulness for the first time.

So we find ourselves in a somewhat perverse situation. We have not evolved to naturally drift rapidly into one continuous nocturnal snooze. But according to the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry, if we don’t do this, we suffer from a sleep disorder that merits medicating. However, if you ask any sleep expert how some people seem to fall asleep quickly and sleep continuously for seven or eight hours they’ll say that such a sleep pattern is characteristic of chronic sleep deprivation.

We evolved in an environment of alternating light and darkness and developed internal clocks to manage in such conditions. Every known organism with two or more cells has an internal clock.[11] In this regard, we are not unique. It is our use of artificial light to extend our day and defy our natural rhythms that distinguishes humans. We have just begun to understand the consequences of this Promethean sin.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, cardiac disease, and compromised immune function.[6][7][8][9] In the same way that food products/supplements are replacing normal eating with dire health effects, sleep continues to be condensed by the 24/7 culture. The recent rapid growth of a new category of medications that promote wakefulness makes one wonder if sleep will soon be optional or ultimately obsolete.[1]

So what can you do?

The constraints of work schedules and family responsibilities make radical changes in sleep-wake timing difficult. Here are some guidelines:

1.Abandon the idea of going to bed for six to eight hours of sleep at night (unless this works for you).

2.Get a feel for what your sleep cycle looks like. If you wake up before you need to, get up. This is probably a natural cycle end. You will make up for lost nighttime sleep with a nap(s).

3.Napping Guidelines:

Timing: Afternoon (3-5 p.m.) — proven to provide more sleep efficiency, more slow-wave sleep, and less time to fall asleep.[12]

Duration: Optimally 10-20 minutes. People experience greater cognitive impairment due to sluggishness after a nap of 30 or more minutes than that due to sleep deprivation.

The full benefits of naps comes with habitual napping. Stick with it!

4. If possible, when you feel like reaching for that afternoon caffeine fix, take a nap.

via Paul Spector, M.D.: Why You Can\’t Sleep Through the Night.

Letting Go and Holding On

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” ~Havelock Ellis

Imagine that you have to move in two days. Would you be able to pack all your possessions in that time and clean out your house completely?

How about your mental baggage? If you have only two days left to finish all the important projects in your life, would you be able to do it?

Three years ago I left the country where I was born and raised and moved permanently to a different place half way around the globe.

Packing was not easy because there were so many things that were meaningful to me but of course I couldn’t take them all. But even more difficult was the part of leaving my friends and family behind. I couldn’t put my friends in a suitcase and smuggle them across the border.

However, the hardest part was still ahead. Soon after I got to the US I realized that I had to let go of a lot of habits and even my lifestyle. Everything was so different from where I grew up.

I had two choices: to hold on to my past, complain, and be completely miserable or let go of everything that was no longer relevant and start a new life while still holding on to my authentic self.

You may not have had to go through such drastic changes in life. However, we all face the dilemma of letting go and holding on.

A lot of times if we are not forced to let go of something we keep dragging 10, 20, 40 years of mental and physical baggage behind us. At some point that baggage becomes so unbearably heavy that we just decide to stop moving forward and start living in the past.

We stop having new goals and dreams. We stop meeting new people. We stop trying new things. We stop learning. But, ironically, we still keep buying and acquiring more physical clutter to fill our homes and closets.

Of course, on the other hand if you throw away everything you love and enjoy, then suddenly you lose your personality. Frankly speaking, you cease to know yourself then.

So, quoting Havelock Ellis again, how do you mingle letting go and holding on? The answer to this question will give you the ultimate inner peace and balance.

1. Physical clutter.

In the world where buying is easier than walking (buying a new gadget requires minimum energy—pick up the phone and order it) it’s really difficult to keep our houses clutter free.

When you try to clean up, throwing away stuff that you no longer use comes easy—like a sweater that has stains from a barbecue party or your kids’ toys that they no longer play with. But how about things that you are emotionally attached to? It’s a totally different story.

Make a stack of things that have meaning to you, look at every item in that stack, and ask yourself “What does this thing really mean to me? If I don’t own it, will I still be able to keep the memories that are dear to me? Can someone else in my family have better use of this item?”

It’s even better to ask someone else to go over this stack with you. While you are emotionally attached to all these items another person (your friend, spouse or a family member) will give you logical reasons why you should or should not hold on to this thing.

Hold on only to a few mementoes that remind you about a particular joyful period. Find a good way to display them where they don’t obstruct your living space or devote only one closet to all your mementoes. Whatever you can’t fit in that closet has to find another home.

2. Dreams and goals.

As years pass we grow and change. Your goals and dreams should grow and change with you.

Can you imagine if all of us held on to the dreams that we had when we were 6-7 years old? Who did you want to be back then? I wanted to be a teacher, not because I wanted to teach others but because I liked to grade papers (in my mind, grading papers with red ink was THE coolest thing in the world.)

At each stage of our life we are allowed to have different dreams and goals. As we mature we can let some of our dreams “retire” because we discover goals that are more important to us. Letting go of a dream doesn’t mean that you have failed at reaching it. It means that you have cleared space for a more meaningful and mature goal in your life.

Hold on to the dreams and goals that are authentic and that represent who you. Let go of the ones that you don’t feel so strong about anymore and always create new ones.

3. Expectations.

One of the worst things in life is always trying to meet somebody’s expectations.

If you are always trying to reach the approval of others then you will never be able to live peacefully. None of us is perfect in the eyes of the others. None of us is perfect, period. The only way that we can be successful and perfect is if we set our own standards and follow our own road in life.

Of course, hold on to some social norms and politeness and also consider the feelings and wellbeing of the people you love. Being authentic and true to yourself doesn’t mean becoming selfish or thoughtless.

4. Bad habits.

Is there any reason to keep bad habits in your life? Constant improvement is a sure sign of a balanced and happy person. A lot of times letting go of a habit is difficult. That’s why so many of us (me included) fail at this goal.

The only way that you can change your lifestyle is to plant a firm decision into your head. You are not doing it for someone else, you are not doing it because you are expected to. You are doing it because you want to live the best life and you care about the people around you who might be suffering from your bad habit.

Choose one habit that you want to work with and “prepay” 20% of your success. It’s a marketing strategy that works great for attracting customers as well as tricking your brain into starting a transformation.

If you want to lose some weight what would you much rather do—get on a strict diet or stop eating sweets after lunch? Unless you are a disciplinary freak of nature you would choose not eating sweets after lunch. By doing that for a week you have “prepaid” for your success.  Next week it will be easier for you to start cutting your portions or move from an egg and bacon biscuit for breakfast to some healthy oatmeal.

Hold on to some of your habits (for right now). One of the main reasons why people fail at transforming their bad habits is because they do too much too fast. Choose just one habit and work on it until you have succeeded.

5. Memories and experiences.

Our brain is hard-wired into noticing and holding on to negative events five times more effectively than positive ones. This phenomenon is called “negativity bias.” It’s the reason why we keep dwelling on a negative conversation with a colleague at work instead of noticing the roses bloom outside.

The only way to fight this built-in negativity is to focus on positive events and make sure that your brain remembers them as vividly as it does negative ones.

Hold on to your positive memories by writing them down. A recent study published in Psychology Today suggested that it takes 5 positive events to outweigh one negative one in your life. Whenever you start feeling the attack of negative thoughts think of as many positive events of the day as possible.

Focus on the joys of present day and stop dwelling in the past.

6. People.

Sometimes we have to make a decision to let go of people in our lives.

It’s in your best interests to let go of difficult and negative people, those who constantly bring you down or undermine your efforts to improve your lifestyle. If they are unwilling to understand your current goals then you are better off without them.

If you are not able to let go then you might want to minimize the time that you spend with them.

Hold on to your close friends, your confidants. Whether it is your spouse, your family member or a friend please make it a priority to spend time with them, to share your joys, ask for advice, and have fun together. It will make you happier and more positive and it can even improve your health.

Letting go is not as hard as it seems. Every little thing that you let go of today makes room for something new and amazing in your life. A life of genuine balance and peace starts when you learn to let go without regret and hold on with gratitude.

via 6 Tips to Live in Peace and Balance: What to Let Go.

Without Regrets

We all have something stored in our memory banks of the past that we wish we could have done differently, or something we wish we didn’t do.

As we get older we learn and grow. But that doesn’t mean we have to regret what we did before we learned how to do things differently. If we didn’t go through those experiences we might not have grown into the strong and knowledgeable people we are today.

So what I’m proposing is that we get rid of the negative thoughts—the could have’s, might have’s, and should have’s—and start living a life that won’t make us feel regretful. Not even at an older, wiser age.

Here is a list of 40 things you can do to practice living life with no regrets:1. Realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. Just make sure to learn from your past mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.

2. Make your health and wellness a top priority and always take care of yourself so you’re ready to take care of others.

3. Follow your own path—not one that others want you to follow.

4. Find the humor in life and laugh like there is no tomorrow.

5. Relax and move with the flow of life by being unafraid of change.

6. Be adventurous by trying new things and taking more risks.

7. Have more intellectual curiosity and embrace creativity.

8. Try to find happiness with as many different people as you can.

9. Think for yourself instead of letting other people’s opinions influence you too much.

10. Try not to judge people before you get to know them.

11. Be thankful for what you have now instead of thinking about what you don’t have.

12. Wish well upon everyone equally and try to admire without envy.

13. Share your happiness with others instead of hoarding it all for yourself.

14. Don’t try to change someone—love who they are now.

15. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

16. Know that happiness is bigger than any bank account.

17. Control negative thoughts so that they don’t contribute to the outcome of your life.

18. Use your energy wisely because spending energy complaining, worrying or being impatient is just wasted energy.

19. Be bold. Find the courage to change things that should be changed and accept that there are some things that cannot be changed.

20.Love your work. If you don’t currently love what you do, figure out what you would love, and take the first step toward that life.

21. Turn your discontent into a mystery and enjoy trying to solve it.

22. Face problems from different angles in order to find solutions.

23. Gain independence by realizing that on this earth we are all dependent upon each other.

24. Change your perspective by taking on a wider view of things.

25. Don’t waste time trying to bring disagreeable people around to liking you.

26. Become the person you would like to spend the rest of your life with.

27. Be honest with yourself and others by saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

28. Treat people with respect and compassion.

29. Live in the now by loving the present and being aware of your thoughts and actions. Think happy thoughts and speak powerful words.

30. Try not to put things off until later.

31. Never hold grudges.

32. Face your fears head on and try to do the things that you think you cannot do.

33. Spend time with people who make you happy while also not depending on other people for your own happiness.

34. Stand up for yourself and others and don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.

35. Be yourself and love who you are now.

36. Be a participant in life rather than an observer.

37. Do the things that you love to do as much as you can.

38. Write out a list of goals and achieve them by doing them step by step. Don’t give up when things get difficult.

39. Do something every day that makes you feel proud of yourself—commit random acts of kindness whenever you get the chance.

40. And always keep on moving forward.

via 40 Ways to Live Life Without Regrets.

Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Causes, Symptoms, Help

If you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you may be struggling with upsetting emotions, frightening memories, or a sense of constant danger. Or you may feel numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again. But with the right treatment, self-help strategies, and support, you can speed your recovery. Whether the traumatic event happened years ago or yesterday, you can heal and move on.

Check out this highly relevant article on the subject at: Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Causes, Symptoms, Help.