Warmth and Mood

Chalk it up to the long snowy cold days we’ve been enduring — or to the research I’ve been doing for a couple of articles about depression — but I wasn’t too surprised to find out that warmth can improve mood. And I thought I’d share it, because I’ve decided to focus as much as I can on the overlap between what we enjoy and what is actually good for us. That’s a lot of overlap by the way, and it includes such lovely treats as long walks in the woods, homemade hot chocolate, and a colorful fruit salad. But for the moment, let’s just talk about warmth.

It turns out that people who are depressed have a disordered body temperature and temperature perception. Their body temperature might be higher than normal, by only a degree and a bit, but they tend to feel cold more often than their peers. Exposure to heat for a period of time appears to reset the system, resulting in relief from depression symptoms. When this is done clinically, the individual sits in an enclosed space in what would usually be unpleasantly high heat, as opposed to sitting bundled up in a blanket by the fire. Although that certainly helps, as does holding a hot mug of cocoa or coffee. You can find the research in the January 2015 issue of Frontiers in Psychology (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=warmth+depression+Raison)

As far as I am concerned, this news explains a current trend: hot yoga. This style of yoga, practiced for an hour or more in a room heated to 108 degrees F, certainly has its devotees. I have to admit that I also enjoy hot yoga, although the vigorous hot yoga has so far proven to be too much for me. But I will grant that one walks out of that hot yoga studio both drenched in sweat and feeling a kind of euphoria that I haven’t had since I used to run in the heat in San Antonio. So perhaps there is something to the research. Now, if you can, go for a long hot sit in a sauna!

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Simplicity is Complicated

I’ve been writing for over 20 years now (!). I continue to be surprised that simplicity is often the best solution to the health problems people face. But simplicity seems difficult. Why is simplicity a challenge? I don’t have an answer, but I do have a theory. I think it’s hard because we actually want complexity. It’s as if the complexity and difficulty of what we have to do will validate the challenge ahead of us.

I’ll give you an example. Allergic asthma can be a very scary situation. There’s nothing simple or easy about not being able to breathe. That said, the answer to some allergic asthma could be as simple as changing your cleaning strategy at home or avoiding the situations that might a be a trigger. Better cleaning might mean using a HEPA vacuum cleaner more regularly, choosing fragrance-free products, or getting rid of any mold and mildew. Check out some ideas in this article I wrote for Everydayhealth: http://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/allergic-asthma-in-adults/allergic-asthma/

Meditation and Motivation

Very interesting writing in the August 2015 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that even a small amount of daily meditation (12 minutes) could bolster cognitive abilities, memory, sleep, and help reduce stress in people who are experiencing cognitive decline. The author goes a bit further and suggests this could prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is profoundly complicated, and it seems that the more researches dig into it, the more its course resembles the very tangled protein plaques that define it.

I will say this about meditation, as I have been practicing it daily now for a while (and off and on since my 20s) – I do believe that a regular practice could improve one’s quality of life mentally, physically, and spiritually, regardless of where your health journey is taking you. Meditation would perhaps be even more beneficial for the caregivers of people who are experiencing cognitive decline. One of my articles about stress management has been picked up by a caregivers website, and I am sharing it here for anyone who needs some ideas during stressful times. (http://www.caregiversamerica.com/company-blog/10-tips-to-help-you-de-stress)

Personally I am working with the meditation approach taught by John Main and others in the WCCM community (www.wccm.org) There are, however, no magic bullets in this approach. The lasting benefits of meditation seem to come through daily practice over an extended period of time – but almost anyone would probably feel a bit more in control and less stressed by taking at least a few minutes to close their eyes, sit, breathe, and let go of the worries and anxieties that roll constantly through the mind!

Talking to Patients

One of the most challenging aspects of my work is finding people who are living with health conditions and asking them to share their story with the whole world. I am always amazed, and touched, by people’s willingness to do this. I’ve discussed some very difficult subjects with people who are in the trenches. I’ve talked to people about their thoughts of suicide, how their marriages have survived despite serious physical and mental health challenges, and how they feel about the loss of their mobility and independence. We’ve talked openly about conditions that can lead to significant embarrassment and stigma, such as inflammatory bowel disease and severe skin conditions. For these conversations, and all the ones to come, I am very grateful. When I worked in health and medical public relations, we knew that putting a face on a disease or condition would make it real to readers and viewers. There’s always the difficulty when you do this of respecting people’s privacy and being realistic with them about the outcome of the piece. Most people want to share their story because they feel — correctly, I think — that if their story can help just one person feel less alone or make a healthy decision, the sharing is worth it. That’s how we connect as social creatures, learning from one another and supporting each other along the way. Yet even as I believe in that positive aspect of discussing difficult situations, I strive always to honor the stories of the people I write about. Here’s an example, if you are interested, featuring the story of one of the most memorable men I’ve spoken with: http://www.everydayhealth.com/diabetes/suicide-and-diabetes-what-caregivers-should-know.aspx

Take the time to cook

I love to cook! I do! Even when my little guys are either clinging to me and begging me to do something else, or trying to help me. (On a side note, I love cooking with my kids and it’s wonderful as they grow older to see how much more they can do and to know that they are building a little internal recipe box so they can feed themselves, at least some of the time!) Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that we’d all be healthier if we knew how to cook. It’s worth learning about food, and cooking, and trying new recipes. But I also get that sometimes it’s tiring to plan, and shop, and prep, and all that. So here’s a handy little guide to cutting down on the tiring part of cooking: http://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/tip-guide-fatigue-free-healthy-meal-prep/?xid=tw_everydayhealth_sf#01

Live Long and Prosper

The other day a freelance colleague asked me, “What have you learned about health from being a health writer?” The answer is – I’ve learned a lot, actually. Here’s a brief summary:

1. Just about every health situation could be improved with appropriate regular exercise and eating healthy, fresh, whole foods. And drinking lots of water, and getting good sleep.

2. Death is inevitable. That seems rather naïve to say, but I’m saying it because it seems to me that we all spend a lot of time trying to fight this fact. Don’t spend so much time fighting death that you are living a miserable, constrained life. Relax a bit. It’s ok.

3. Things we can’t quantify really do matter. Your faith practices, your friendships, your attitude to life, the things that bring you pleasure, what goes on in your mind when you have a quiet moment, those things affect your health and your wellbeing, but it’s unlikely that any study will ever accurately describe how.

I could go on about this. And in fact, I will. But for now I’d just like to highlight an article I wrote about one of my favorite people, a cardiologist in New Orleans who is also a Beefmaster and a true character: http://www.everydayhealth.com/senior-health/super-senior-health-cardiologist-and-cowboy-at-ninety.aspx