Confession: What your body really needs for better health, nutrition, sleep, pain relief, and more.
I can think myself full
If you’re indulging in a milk shake and I think it’s high in fat and calories, levels of my hunger hormone ghrelin will dip a lot lower—and leave me feeling more satisfied—than if I believe I’m sipping on a healthier shake, even if the two have the same calorie count, a study in the journal Health Psychology showed.
I can reshape my brain through meditation
According to MRI scans, the hippocampus—the part of the brain in charge of learning and memory—thickens after only a couple of months of mindful meditation. Brain-cell density also decreases in the amygdala (responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress). Those physical brain changes can alter your mood and are good for a healthy body.
I can raise my body temperature
A group of Tibetan nuns can increase their core body temp to about 100 degrees F in subzero weather just by doing a specific type of meditation called g-tumor. Yes, that’s a rare group, but scientists taught Western people a similar technique and found the subjects could raise their body temp. The breathing caused thermogenesis, a process of heat production. This could help people function better in frigid environments.
I can add years to my life
By keeping a positive attitude about aging and continuing to feel useful and happy, I’ll most likely live about seven extra years, according to Yale University surveys.
I wish you didn’t drink diet soda
Sip one can or more a day, and I could pack on three times more belly fat than if you hadn’t (not exaggerating). Researchers in Texas did the testing and measuring: People who drank diet soda daily gained 3.2 inches over nine years; those who didn’t have any gained only 0.8 inches (the occasional drinkers: 1.8 inches). Choosing diet over regular soda to save calories can backfire—a study showed people who tried that ended up consuming more calories from food throughout the day. Just stick to fizzy water for a healthy body.
Please don’t look down at your phone
Would you hang four bowling balls from my neck? Before you say that’s a stupid question, consider this: Sixty pounds (or about the combined weight of those balls) is the same amount of force exerted when you tilt your head forward at about a 60-degree angle to text or email from your smartphone. And you do that for up to four hours (hours!) a day. For the love and integrity of my cervical spine, raise that phone up to your sight line.
I burn calories when you’re chilly
So suck it up for a little while. Researchers discovered that when I shiver from cold, it stimulates hormones that convert energy-storing white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. Shivering for about ten to 15 minutes had similar hormonal effects as did an hour of moderate exercise.
Think twice before you skip flexibility exercises
You make time for cardio and strength training, which I appreciate. But my joints need to be stretched, too, especially as I get older. Connective tissue within ligaments and tendons becomes more rigid and brittle with age, which means a restricted range of motion and decreased flexibility. Pilates and yoga are two good options, but even simple controlled stretches held for ten to 30 seconds can help keep me moving more easily and maintain a healthy body.
Don’t “forget” to tell your doc about memory lapses
Only about one-quarter of adults 45 and older fess up when they’re having memory issues. But it’s so important to mention. Sometimes a drug or combination of meds leaves me feeling forgetful or confused. Anxiety or depression may also have that effect, as can a slow thyroid or a vitamin B-12 deficiency. These conditions are all completely treatable. And if by chance your memory symptoms are linked to dementia, an early diagnosis is crucial—it gives my mind a better chance of benefiting from treatment.
I wish I knew why healthy people get cancer
You probably know someone who followed all the “rules”—wore sunscreen, ate vegetables, didn’t smoke—and still got cancer. I wish I had a good reason, but the truth is that about two-thirds of variation in cancer risk is explained by random gene mutations that drive tumor growth. Essentially, bad luck. However, that absolutely, positively does not exempt you from following the rules. While some risk factors may be out of your hands, many others are not.
I don’t get how placebos work
Taking a sugar pill can affect heart rate, alter brain activity, ease depression, and improve Parkinson’s symptoms—all real, physiological responses to an essentially fake treatment. An analysis of 84 chronic pain–drug trials found the placebo effect getting stronger. By 2013, patients receiving placebos experienced a 30 percent decrease in pain levels on average, compared with about 5 percent in 1990. Scientists are trying to figure out why you may respond well to a placebo but your friend doesn’t, what precisely happens in people’s bodies and brains when a placebo is taken, and the best ways to harness placebos’ power.
I am unsure how my gut affects my mood
I’m home to up to 100 trillion microbes, most of which live in my gut. “Good” bacteria help me metabolize foods; “bad” bugs make me gassy and increase inflammation. Imbalances in my gut bacteria are linked to many diseases. The fuzzier connection is between gut bacteria and my brain. One suggestion is that gut bacteria produce mood-regulating serotonin and dopamine or other chemicals that affect anxiety and depression. Another possibility: Microbes activate my valgus nerve, the main line of communication between the gut and the brain. Scientists are hype focused on bacteria these days, so stay tuned.