What Is Serotonin and How Does It Affect Your Mental Health?

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Photo: iStock

Overview

Before we proceed to discuss the benefits of serotonin, let us review the tasks of neurotransmitters. Simply stated, information from one cell will send information to the next cell by jumping across a synapse (the gap between cells).

If you are unfamiliar with this process, our article on brain cells will help clear up any confusion you may have, but keep in mind that neurotransmitters don’t only function in the brain. 

This article will discuss what serotonin is, how it works, and ways to naturally increase its levels, and we will explore how certain medications can be used to treat serotonin-related disorders. 

By understanding the effects of serotonin, we can help maintain a sound mind and body. So let’s begin.

What is Serotonin?

This is an important chemical found throughout the human body. It is produced in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys. It plays a key role in the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and learning, and in so doing, it is often coined the “happy hormone”. 

With that said, any serotonin deficiency can have a major impact on your health, especially, your mental health. Once in the synapse, neurotransmitters connect the chemical with receptors on the neighboring cell. This communication between neurons is what allows us to think, feel, and act.

How Does It Work?

Serotonin is produced by a chemical reaction between amino acids and enzymes. Once it is produced, it is stored in specialized cells called vesicles. The serotonin travels out of the vesicles and across the synapse to neighboring neurons and as mentioned, the neurons that serotonin affects are responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, and thinking. Therefore, any changes in serotonin levels can lead to changes in these functions. 

How Does Serotonin Affect Your Mental Health?

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A person’s cognitive health is affected by many factors. These include genetics, past traumas, relationships, current health, and daily habits. Let’s take a closer look at serotonin’s effect on these functions:

    • Mood: Mood is often the first thing to be affected when serotonin levels start to drop. If its levels drop too low, they may result in a condition known as serotonin deficiency. A serotonin deficiency is often associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
    • Appetite: Serotonin helps regulate appetite by triggering the sensation of fullness. Therefore, increased serotonin levels can result in a lower appetite. A serotonin deficiency, on the other hand, can result in increased appetite.
    • Sleep: A serotonin deficiency can result in insomnia and a serotonin excess can result in hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
    • Thinking: Serotonin is associated with focus and concentration. Moreover, it is also associated with positive or negative moods depending on the situation. A deficiency can result in poor focus and a lack of concentration. This can negatively affect daily tasks that require a higher level of mental focus.

How to Naturally Increase Your Serotonin levels

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Photo: graphic stock

Given that serotonin is so important to mental health, taking steps to increase its levels can have a significant impact on your health. Some ways to naturally increase serotonin levels include:

    • Getting enough sleep: Sleep is essential for serotonin production. Any decrease in sleep can reduce its production and any increase in sleep can increase serotonin.
    • Eating a healthy diet: A healthy diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which are required to produce serotonin. A diet that is rich in these nutrients can help to naturally increase serotonin levels. 
    • Practicing a healthy lifestyle: Regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and other forms of relaxation are known to help increase serotonin levels. 

What Foods Help Maintain a Healthy Serotonin Level?

Photo of foods rich in Serotonin
Some foods for good mood, brain, and happiness. Photo: iStock

Before we list some foods that are rich in serotonin, let us define tryptophan. This is an amino acid that plays a significant role in the production of serotonin and it is important to note that tryptophan cannot be produced naturally in the body. So with that said, let’s take a look at what foods contain this amino acid.

      • Salmon. This healthy fish has been mentioned numerous times on our website. And why? Because of all the nutrients it contains, which includes tryptophan.
      • Eggs: Another all-around healthy nutrient. In addition to all the other benefits eggs have, they are also rich in tryptophan.
      • Green Leafy Vegetables: Any veggies of this type, such as spinach contain a good source of tryptophan.
      • Pineapples: Eat them when they are fresh because they lose their serotonin levels as the ripening wears off.
      • Nuts: All of our favorite nuts contain tryptophan.
      • Tofu and Soy: Soy products are known to be significant in getting tryptophan to increase serotonin production in the body.

One note: Foods that are high in protein, such as salmon and eggs may compromise the serotonin boost even though they contain tryptophan, but if you add carbohydrates (carbs) to your meal, this can help keep tryptophan in the bloodstream.

Some healthy carb foods are brown rice, sweet potatoes, corn, bananas, and apples.

What Medications Can Be Used to Treat Serotonin-Related Disorders

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Some of the most common serotonin-related disorders include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While some serotonin-related disorders can be readily managed with lifestyle changes, others may require the assistance of certain medications. 

Antidepressants are the most commonly used meds to treat serotonin-related disorders. They are helpful because they increase the serotonin level, but they may also have a negative impact on other neurotransmitters. As a result, it is important to speak to your medical provider before taking any medications on your own.

Takeaways for Better Mental Health Management

Mental health is a cyclical process that is affected by many factors. These include daily habits, current health, genetics, and past traumas. Given the impact of these factors, it is important to take care of ourselves and manage our health more effectively. 

One of the best ways to do this is by understanding serotonin and its effects. When serotonin levels are too low, a person can experience a serotonin deficiency, which can result in several mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, poor sleep, and poor focus.

Fortunately, there are several ways to naturally increase serotonin levels. These include getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and discussing with a medical professional. 

Try These 7 Simple Exercises to Relieve Back Pain

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Back pain can be a difficult and uncomfortable obstacle to overcome. It can limit our daily activities and, in more severe cases, make it difficult to even perform simple tasks. But there is hope!

Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to alleviate this pain, and it can be done in the comfort of your own home. In this article, we will explore seven simple and effective exercises that can help you strengthen your back and help to relieve the pain.

All of these exercises are designed to target the most important areas of the spine and are suitable for all fitness levels. With dedication and consistency, you can improve your posture, increase strength, and reduce your back pain. So let’s get started!

Benefits of Regular Exercise for Back Pain

Regular exercise can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, boost mental health, and improve overall health. But perhaps the most important benefit is that exercise can be extremely effective in reducing and managing back pain.

Many of the muscles surrounding the spine, like the glutes, core, and back muscles, are used to stabilize and support the spine. Being inactive can reduce the strength of these muscles, making it more difficult to support them, and increasing your risk for discomfort or pain.

Exercises for the back have been shown to increase back support, reduce lower back pain, and improve posture. In addition, it can also increase blood flow, which can help reduce swelling and inflammation and improve healing and recovery time.

1: Bird Dog

Bird Dog Exercise
Birddog for Lower back and ab workout. Photo: iStock

The bird dog exercise is great for strengthening both sides of your core and back. It can also help improve your posture and reduce pain and stiffness. Start by getting in a plank position, with your back parallel to the floor, and your forearms on the floor.

Then, lift one leg, with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. While you’re lifting, rotate your hips and shoulders towards the lifted leg. Then, slowly return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side. The bird dog can be done as part of a core circuit, or it can be used as part of a warm-up before the other exercises described in this article.

2: Cat Camel

Woman doing a cat or camel stretch with an arched back
Woman doing a cat or camel stretch with an arched back. Photo iStock

The cat camel is a simple yet highly effective exercise that can be done anywhere, regardless of your fitness level. This exercise can help improve your posture and reduce back pain by strengthening your core muscles.

Start in a seated position with your back straight, and your hands resting on your knees. Then, slowly arch your back like a cat, while keeping your abdominals engaged to support your lower back. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then slowly lower back down, like a camel. Repeat this exercise a few times, and you’ll start to feel the benefits almost immediately.

3: Glute Bridge

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Glute Bridge Exercise. Photo iStock

The glute bridge is a great exercise for strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and core. It is a highly effective way to improve your posture, balance, and strength, and can help relieve back pain and stiffness.

To perform this exercise, lie down on the floor with your knees bent, and your feet resting flat on the floor. Then, lift your hips toward the ceiling until your knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Squeeze your glutes, and hold this position for a few seconds. You should feel the muscles in your hips contracting, and your back should be straight. Then, slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. Like all of the exercises in this article, the glute bridge can be done at any time, in any space, as long as you have enough room to lie on the floor.

4: Superman

This man of steel exercise is another technique that can help improve your posture and reduce your back pain. Start by lying face down on the floor, and extending your arms out in front of you. Then, lift your arms, legs, and torso, at the same time, so that your entire body is off the floor. While holding this position, squeeze your core muscles, and pause for a few seconds.

You can also try rotating your torso from side to side or moving your legs up and down like you’re swimming. Lower yourself back down to the floor, and repeat for as many reps as you can stand!

The superman exercise can be done anywhere, so it’s a great way to challenge yourself and progress with your core strengthening routine.

5: Plank

Illustration of man doing a plank exercise
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The plank is one of the most effective exercises for strengthening your core and back. It can be done by anyone at any time and in any place. It is one of the best ways to improve your posture, reduce back pain, and strengthen your core.

Start by getting into a push-up position, with your hands resting below your shoulders, and your feet together. Then, lift your hips towards the ceiling so that your body is in a straight line, and your core is engaged. Hold this position for as long as you can, and try to push yourself to hold the position for longer with each attempt. The plank can be done anywhere, anytime, and can be easily modified to suit any fitness level.

6: Dead Bug

Start by lying on your back with your knees bent, and your feet resting on the floor. Then, extend your arms towards your legs and slowly rotate your torso towards one side, while keeping your feet in place. Hold this position for a few seconds, and slowly rotate your torso towards the other direction. Repeat this motion for as many reps as you can. The dead bug exercise can be done anywhere and can be easily modified for any fitness level.

7: Seated Rotation

The seated rotation can help stretch and strengthen your back, and improve your posture and flexibility. Start by sitting on the floor, with your legs out in front of you and your back straight. Then, lean to one side, and rotate your torso towards the other side. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then slowly rotate back to the starting position.

Perform this exercise for as many reps as you can, and don’t forget to switch sides. The seated rotation exercise is a great way to reduce back pain, improve your flexibility, and improve your posture. It’s also a simple exercise that can be done almost anywhere and can easily be modified for any fitness level.

Conclusion

Back pain is a common problem and one that should not be ignored. If you experience back pain, it’s important to be mindful of what might be causing it, and what you can do to alleviate it.

Exercising regularly can be an effective way to strengthen your back and reduce back pain. Exercises like the bird dog, cat camel, glute bridge, superman, plank, dead bug, and seated rotation can all be done at home and are great for beginners.

With dedication and consistency, you can improve your posture, increase core strength, and reduce your back pain. So, what are you waiting for? Start incorporating these exercises into your daily routine, and you’ll feel the benefits almost immediately.

What to Do About Back Pain!

Overview – Back Pain

Man putting his hands on his back
Photo: iStock

Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. It’s also one of the most common reasons why people cannot continue working. The pain is so common that it’s been called “the New Normal”.

This type of discomfort can be caused by several number of factors, including an unhealthy lifestyle and genetics. You may have Degenerative Disc Disease. If so, the options below may be of help, but we recommend you see your medical provider as well. 

Exercise

Two Men Exercising on Mat
Photo: Graphicstock

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to avoid health issues. Regularly exercising can strengthen your muscles, improve your posture and prevent future discomfort or pain.

When it comes to your spine, it’s best to avoid certain exercises that may irritate it, such as lifting heavy weights. Rather, focus on efforts that can strengthen your spine and core muscles, such as yoga, Pilates, walking, and swimming.

Also, consider gentle stretches in your daily routine. Exercising regularly can also help in managing stress, which can play an integral part in triggering the pain and discomfort you may be feeling.

Additionally, it’s important to consider the type of shoes you wear and what impact they may have on your posture and health.

Identify the Cause of Your Pain

If you can, pin down why you are having this discomfort. Is it from a previous injury or sports-related? Or are you just waking up feeling this in the morning? 

Whatever it can be targeted to, it can help you determine the best course of action for treating your pain. Additionally, some common causes include a weak core, bad posture, poor sleeping habits, incorrect lifting techniques, and spinal injuries.

If you suffer from frequent or recurring pain, you should visit your doctor to determine the cause and get the proper treatment and management plan. If you have on-off episodes of pain, you may be able to treat it on your own at home.

Breathe and Relax

Young man in shorts sitting and meditating on a beach bed
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Relaxation exercises help reduce stress, which often plays a part in triggering pain or discomfort in the spine. Additionally, deep breathing can help improve your posture.

To do deep breathing exercises, find a quiet place to sit, relax your muscles, and focus on your breathing.

You can also do this lying down or even while you’re walking! By taking a few minutes every day to focus on these techniques, you may at the very least, feel a little better. These exercises help with mental stimulation as well.

Get a Professional Massage or Bodywork

Woman getting a massage
Image by Mario from Pixabay

Most people would jump at the suggestion to get a massage and why not? Regularly receiving massage therapy or other types of bodywork is another excellent home remedy for many types of pain-related ailments.

These treatments can help improve your flexibility and range of motion. If you suffer from frequent or recurring pain, you could visit a massage therapist or bodywork practitioner to help manage your pain and discomfort.

Massage treatments may provide short-term pain relief, but they are not long-term treatment plans. It’s also important to consider the type of massage you receive. Deep tissue massage and myofascial release therapy are two types of massage that may be beneficial for managing spine-related pain.

Make a Scheduled Commitment to Stretching

Woman exercising on the beachRegularly making a committed effort to stretch and relax your muscles can help you as well. There are many different stretches you can perform to target different areas of your body and promote flexibility.

For your spine, try lying face-down on the floor and pulling both knees towards your chest, gently extending your arms out in front of you. You can also try sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the ground and slowly leaning back, keeping it straight, and extending your arms straight out so that they are parallel with the floor. Remember that regimens of stretching and relaxation are best performed slowly and gently.

Lay on a Heat-Filled Blanket

Feeling the warmth from a heated blanket can provide you with both a comforting feeling and the added benefit of soothing your vertebrae and muscles.

A heated blanket can help improve blood flow and circulation, which can, in turn, alleviate pain. If you have a heated blanket, simply turning it up to a high temperature will suffice.

Note that using a heated blanket is not recommended while you’re asleep. Doing so may disrupt your sleep, which is not a good idea if you are experiencing pain. Instead, try doing this for about 15 minutes before bedtime.

There are a variety of counter-heating remedies, such as heating pads available at your local retail store.

What is Your Mattress Like?

Studies have shown that a poor or old mattress may be a factor in back pain, especially if you have Degenerative Disc Disease. The reason is that a bad mattress will cause your body to exert pressure on the damaged discs, resulting in the pain you feel in the morning when you wake up.

Reclining mattress
Photo: iStock

A new mattress that allows your body to ‘sink’ in can relieve some of the pressure on the discs. Additionally, consider getting a mattress base that can move up and down. With this option, you can push a button and the base at your feet will rise, providing reduced pressure on your body, especially the lumbar area where the discs reside.

We know buying a new mattress along with a movable base can get expensive, but it is will be well worth it if you see that your pain has subsided. Many mattress companies give you a 30-day option to try it out and return it if it is not working for you.

Try TENS 

TENS, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation delivers small electrical impulses to your body to help with the pain and discomfort associated with pain.

There are many different TENS machines available, so it’s important to do your research to find the best one for you, as well as confer with your doctor. TENS machines are particularly useful for managing pain that is caused by injuries or surgeries.

If you’re experiencing ongoing pain and discomfort, using a TENS machine can help reduce your pain and make your daily life easier. While these machines are effective, they are not FDA-approved for the treatment of this type of discomfort. That being said, they are often used to manage pain and reduce inflammation. 

Of course, you should consult with a pain specialist before acquiring this apparatus yourself.

Bottom line

These are potential remedies you can try to reduce or eliminate pain in your vertebrae. It includes exercise and sleep, eating a balanced diet, managing your stress levels, and reviewing your mattress. 

If you are in severe pain or the pain continues, you should seek the assistance of a physician. Even if the pain is not severe or constant, it wouldn’t hurt to see medical advice as well.

 

Cycling vs. Swimming – Which One is Better?

A swimmer swimming in a river which appears as a road
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Today, for many of us, our lives are so preoccupied with work that our health and fitness are nowhere on the priority list and we end up consuming a lot more processed and fatty foods. If we cannot dedicate a single hour to our health every day, then diseases and poor health can be the consequence. 

Did you know:

    • An hour of a cardio workout can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 28%. 
    • 30 minutes of cycling can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 40% 

But many people think of a cardio workout as a high-intensity exercise where the heartbeat gets out of control and the person is drenched with sweat. While this is true to some extent, a cardio workout does not always have to be high intensity. Instead, there is some medium to low-intensity cardio workouts that are excellent for your entire body. And they are none other than cycling and swimming.

Man Riding Bicycle
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Now if you are asked to compare the two exercises, you can think of it statistically. Regular cycling reduces the chance of early death by 10% but those who swim regularly have a 28% decreased risk of a heart attack. While numbers are a good way to judge, they are often not the best choice. And the answer to which cardio exercise is the best depends on a number of other factors. So let’s look into the details. 

Resource

For swimming, it should be a pool, but even a lake or a beach can suffice. In the case of cycling, all you need is a bicycle and you are good to go. You can ride it to the park, to run errands or even to ride to work. Or you can take a leisure ride before the end of your day. Unlike swimming, where you need a specific resource, you can ride a bicycle literally anywhere. 

Cost

Swimming is generally considered an expensive activity. Primarily because maintaining a pool is expensive. Also, you need accessories such as goggles, fins and kickboards. Good quality swimming accessories are also expensive. But if you compare it with cycling, all you need is a bicycle and a helmet. To be extra cautious, you may want to invest in elbow and knee pads, but unlike swimming, this is not a requirement. 

That said, the cost of a bicycle is much more than all of the accessories required for swimming. But again, if you look at the annual membership costs for a pool, cycling is indeed a more cost-effective option. 

Calories and Burning Fat

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The best aspect of any exercise is calories and fat burning. People usually classify exercises based on how many calories they can burn. So let’s look at the numbers. An average person uses almost 300 calories while riding a bicycle for 30 minutes, but the same person while swimming freestyle burns 255 calories. So numerically cycling wins. But here is another aspect. During swimming, since the body is submerged in water, you don’t feel your full body weight. This makes swimming easier and people often end up swimming more without getting tired. This also makes it an ideal workout for people with arthritis or other bone diseases such as osteoporosis. 

Also, since the body weight is supported by water, swimming makes an excellent workout for people with cardiovascular diseases. In the water, even though you are exercising, it has a relaxing effect on the heart. In some cases, it has been observed that the heartbeat goes down to as low as 55 beats per minute and still maintains proper blood supply in the body. Hence swimming is an excellent exercise for people with cardiovascular diseases. On the other hand, cycling is a typical cardio exercise that increases heart rate. So if you are a cardiovascular patient, swimming is completely safe but if you want to ride a bicycle, make sure you discuss it with your healthcare provider. 

Another important aspect of swimming is that it involves the use of all muscles of the body. People who swim regularly, notice a significant change in their body shape even if they don’t lose weight. 

Risk of Injuries

As you swim, the arms and legs are in continuous motion. This can increase pressure on the shoulders and the collar bone. Over longer periods, these two bones can get hurt and start to roughen up resulting in inflammation and pain. But at the same time, swimming involves all the parts of the body, not as much with cycling. Physically you feel fit and new blood vessels and energy-producing structures called mitochondria grow at a much faster rate than other exercises.

However, when it comes to cycling, there is always a greater risk of injuries. In case of a crash or fall, there is a higher risk of damage to vital joints such as the knee and hip joint. But on a positive note, these severe injuries are not so common during everyday life; however, they are more frequent in professional cycling. In case, you have visual or motor coordination problems, it is ideal to discuss them with your healthcare provider before you start cycling. 

Conclusion 

Whether it is cycling or swimming, both come with their own benefits and costs. According to research, more people pursue cycling into their routine compared to swimming. The reason for that is convenience. Cycling is easy to incorporate into a daily routine as it is also a mode of transportation but swimming is something special you need to take out time for.

But then again, the choice depends only on personal preference. While cycling can help you maintain health and fitness, there is technically no exercise that has an exceptionally mild impact on the body associated with all the health benefits of a cardio workout.

Seven Simple Ways to Boost Energy

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As life gets busy, most people regularly feel tired and drained. Fatigue is a very common condition. People often associate low energy levels with stress, pressure at work or college, or pressures at home. However, there are many factors that affect your energy levels.

If you constantly feel drained and lethargic, you don’t need to gulp down energy drinks. You simply need to make a few lifestyle changes. Below are some simple ways to boost your energy levels:

Get Enough Sleep 

Woman sleeping with blindfold

According to research, 50-70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep is a natural process to restore energy. It is the time during which the body repairs from the wear and tear of daily life. It is also during sleep when the brain processes information and rewires itself. Lack of sleep can make you feel lethargic and tired in the short term. But persistent lack of sleep can have serious consequences in the long run. 

An average person should get between 6-8 hours of sleep. Individual needs may vary where some people need more sleep than others. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you can try winding up your day in a relaxing way. Try to avoid the use of cellphones, televisions, and laptops in your bedroom. A warm bath, a good read, and a comfortable room temperature will all help you fall asleep easily and more peacefully. 

Eat a Healthy Diet 

Image of fruits and vegetables

You are what you eat. Your diet is one of the biggest influences on how you look and feel. If you have low energy levels, have a look at your diet. A healthy diet is all about having a balanced intake of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. You also need to incorporate dairy products. Relying too much on a certain food group can have negative effects on your energy levels.  

Consuming a balanced diet is important, but you also need to make sure that you do not skip meals. Most people skip breakfast while they are running late for work. In fact, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast helps maintain energy levels throughout the day. Another important consideration is adding nutritional snacks in between meals. A handful of nuts, granola, or yogurt will give you an energy boost while you are waiting for the next meal.  

Move More 

Fit Brunette Woman Running on Treadmill with Music

We are all aware of the benefits of exercise. It helps us maintain body weight, improve muscle strength and flexibility, and reduces the risk of various diseases and exercise is one of the best ways to boost energy levels. While exercise burns calories, it gives a boost to your metabolism. An active metabolism, in turn, helps maintain energy levels.  

Lower Your Stress Levels 

Stress is one of the most undesirable effects of today’s busy lives. The constant pressure at work, home, and relationships makes it difficult to concentrate. People today are more stressed, frustrated, and anxious than ever before. 

A certain amount of anxiety can be good. It keeps us moving towards our goals. However, constant high levels of stress can seriously affect a person’s physical and mental health. It is also one of the biggest causes of why people feel drained. Thus, in order to boost energy levels, it is important to reduce stress. 

Some of the strategies used include lifestyle changes. Sleep hygiene helps lower stress levels. Meditation and spending some time in nature or going for a walk alone are all helpful when it comes to reducing stress. If you want to get rid of troubling thoughts, writing down your thoughts in a journal also helps lower stress levels.    

Stay Hydrated

Water is life. 70% of the human body is made up of water. Throughout the day, we tend to lose water from the body. Loss of water in the form of sweat and urine can cause dehydration. By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. This can have a compound effect on your brain function and energy levels. 

Girl Drinking Water After Aerobics Exercise

A daily intake of ten glasses of water is enough to keep you hydrated. Unfortunately, people are often so preoccupied with work that they forget to drink water. One simple solution to this problem is to drink at regular intervals throughout the day. Make a conscious effort to drink more water every day and you should notice a lift in your energy levels.   

Reduce Sugar Intake 

Humans have a natural inclination towards sugar. When looking for a snack, we automatically reach for something sweet. Though the intake of sugar gives an instant energy boost, its effect is short-lived. This is because the body releases a large amount of insulin to digest the sugar. Thus, people often experience high energy levels followed by a dip. 

To boost your energy levels in a more sustained manner, it is a good idea to rely on complex carbohydrates. They are released more slowly into the bloodstream and are ideal for maintaining energy levels. 

Avoid Smoking 

Doctor breaking cigarette

Smoking can have detrimental effects on your health. While it increases the risk of respiratory problems and heart diseases, it can also affect your energy levels. Regular smoking interferes with the amount of oxygen that flows to the body’s organs. When insufficient oxygen is supplied to your body, this makes you feel tired. Passive smoking can have similar effects on the body. 

If you are a smoker, one of the best ways to boost your energy is to avoid smoking. You can start by reducing the number of cigarettes every day and gradually avoid it altogether.   

Feeling low? You don’t need an energy drink to boost our energy levels. Trying some of the above-mentioned methods that will surely help lift up your energy. 

Physical and Psychological Effects of Swimming

Man swimming in swimming pool
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Health does not always mean taking medicines or vigorous exercise. It is also dependant on peace of mind and soul. Herein lays the dilemma. How can you find the balance between the physical and mental?

Swimming can be one of the physical activities that can give you peace of mind while providing physical benefits without burning yourself out. It’s not only a fun activity for kids but it is a good leisure activity for adults as well.  

A baby can start swimming as soon as he or she gains some control over their neck muscles and can continue to swim for years to come. If you don’t know how to swim, it’s never too late. You can learn at any age and continue to enjoy its benefits for as long as want.

How is Swimming Such a Powerful Exercise?

When you walk on sand or snow you notice you have to ‘push’ your feet to take the next step to move on. It is not like naturally walking against a clean floor with only air and gravity in your way, but you do not notice it. When on sand and snow, you surely do notice the additional exertion you must put out to go the same distance as you would if you were on a clean walking surface.

The additional factor that is exciting you is friction. With that said, water causes this friction too, and not just against your legs, but against your whole body! So in order to move (swim) through water, you have to ‘fight’ the friction and that is when your body exerts the necessary force to overcome it. The result – you are allowing your whole body to strengthen as you push your way through the resistance of water.

Swimming has the following benefits:

Physical Effects

As mentioned, swimming engages almost all the muscles in your body. It is a complete workout that can help you burn 200 calories in 30 minutes without tiring you out. It can have numerous effects on your physical health, some of which are discussed below.

Improved Sleep

Woman sleeping with alarm clock showing 7:00 AMAccording to statistics, around 25% of Americans develop insomnia each year and other studies show that around 50-70 million adults in the US have some form of sleep disorder. Swimming is a good exercise that helps you to relax your mind and body.

It entails controlled breathing which provides the right level of oxygen to your brain; thus swimming can help relax your muscles and improve your sleeping pattern.  

Good for Body Joints

Portrait of a muscle fitness man reaching for his knee Water provides soft resistance to your body by making it an exceptionally good exercise for people with injuries or arthritis. Water provides 12 times more resistance compared to air but it lessens the stress of gravitational pull. This is the reason why a 30-minute swimming session won’t tire you out. On the other hand, a 30-minute cardio session will not only tire you but can strain your joints and muscles.

This is the only exercise recommended to people with spine disorders like herniated discs and spinal stenosis. All other types of physical activities are stressful for people with spine issues. Swimming at least thrice a week can help such patients live a normal healthy life.

Protects Your Heart

Illustration of a heartRegular swimming can help you guard against most cardiovascular diseases. Swimming for 30 minutes at least three times a week can significantly lower your blood pressure. It can also help in controlling your cholesterol levels.

Any type of physical activity helps you burn calories also assists in reducing the bad cholesterol levels (LDL) in your blood. Exercise is particularly important in increasing good cholesterol levels.

Swimming is a high-intensity, low-impact exercise which can help you manage all types of cardiovascular diseases. It strengthens your heart muscles and is a great way to protect you from cardiac arrest.

Psychological Effects

Swimming thrice a week can significantly lower your stress levels, mood swings, and changes of anxiety and depression. Many psychological issues are related to poor sleep hygiene. One of the biggest advantages of swimming is that it helps improve sleep patterns.  

Once your body is well-rested, you will automatically be in the right state of mind to rest when the opportunity arises.

Swimming Helps in Boosting Mood

People having fun in a swimming poolWater exercises are a good way to engage with friends and the community. This great leisure-time activity can help you meet people, relax and share your thoughts. It provides a platform for social interaction. Since man is a social animal, such positive social interaction has a great effect on overall mental and physical health.  

Swimming in a community pool can also help feed your competitive spirit. If you are a Type A personality, you just don’t want to enjoy swimming. You want to excel in it. It is always good to have a healthy competition even in swimming pools. Fast-paced swimming will not just feed your competitive spirit but will have excellent effects on your cardiovascular system.

Helps Fight Depression

Solider with hands on his faceAccording to statistics, depression is one of the most common psychological disorders in the United States. It affects about 6.7% of the adult US population each year. Depression is more common in women than in men.

A good swim can affect your neurotransmitters like serotonin which influence mood and controls happiness. Swimming can also help in producing ANP, a stress-reducing hormone, which helps in controlling the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.

Managing Stress

Fun reduces stress. A well-rested body and mind are in a better position to deal with the daily stressors in life. Be it work or household, anxiety situations can be overwhelming. At work, it might be an excessive workload. At home, your kids might be sick. If you are a regular swimmer, your mind will be in a better position to tackle the daily stressors in life.

Swimming stimulates the brain to release neurochemicals that help in relaxing your body. Being in the water is fun because it gives your body a massaging sensation that relaxes all your body muscles.

Summary

Swimming is not only good for your mind and body but it is a great way to meet new people and create good memories. It’s one of those leisure activities that contain so many health benefits. Water exercises strengthen your heart muscles, toughens your musculoskeletal system, and improves your mental health. In short, it can help you live longer and happier.

How Yoga Can Improve the Quality of Your Life

Woman on beach doing yogaWe all know that exercise benefits us both physically and mentally, but there are so many types of exercising. Here we will discuss why so many experts are adamant about yoga’s advantages to our body and mind.

Yoga is one of the most ancient forms of exercise and was started in the Indian subcontinent. It is a practice of achieving the fusion of body and mind.

It consists of breathing routines, reflection through meditation, and body postures that are known to relax and reduce stress.

One of the best aspects of yoga is that you can start from the comfort of your own room with just a sweat mat. There are many online videos, some of them free, which you can use to initiate your path to yoga.

The article below discusses the many benefits of yoga which have been proven over the years by researchers and practitioners alike.

A Reduction in Stress Levels

Yoga has been known to reduce stress and relax both the body and mind.

The primary hormone responsible for increasing stress in the body is called cortisol. Multiple studies have proven the link between yoga and a reduction in cortisol levels. One particular study followed 45 women who experienced chronic mental stress. Researchers found that by adding yoga to their routine, these women were able to significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue while lowering levels of depression in just 3 months.

Practicing yoga alone or in conjunction with other mindful practices like meditation can help the body reduce stress even more.

Reduces Anxiety

Many people who start yoga do so out of necessity. They want to deal with anxiety without taking medications.

Research has also proven the link between yoga and reduced levels of anxiety. In a recently published study, 34 women with an anxiety disorder were asked to participate in a two-month yoga program with two classes per week. At the end of two months, the women were noted to have significantly lower levels of anxiety.

Another involved 64 participants suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which induces anxiety and fear following a traumatic event. After 3 months, the general level of PTSD symptoms among participants had fallen to extremely low levels and 52% of the group did not even meet the criteria for PTSD anymore.

Improvement in Heart Health

Young man in shorts sitting and meditating on a beach bedA healthy heart is essential for good health as it cleans your blood, supplies important nutrients, and provides oxygen to the brain through the blood.

Yoga has been known to improve the health of your heart and reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Research conducted for assessing the health benefits of yoga found that participants over 40 years of age, who had been doing yoga for 5 years or more, lowered their lower blood pressure significantly than those who did not.

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes behind issues related to the heart such as strokes and heart attacks. Lowered blood pressure reduces the chances of such issues and leads to a healthier life with a lower risk of heart problems.

A study on 113 people with diagnosed heart disease was conducted to find the effect of a healthier life by incorporating a diet along with yoga. After a year, participants of the study saw a reduction of 23% in total cholesterol and a 26% decrease in bad cholesterol. 47% of the patients saw a complete stop in the progression of heart disease.

Leads to an Improved Quality of Sleep

Some sleeping disorders have been associated with depression, tendency to overeat, and even high blood pressure among other issues. Incorporating simple yoga exercises in your daily routine can lead to a better quality of sleep and help you avoid all the problems associated with a sleeping disorder. Of course if you have sleeping disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea, these would need to be addressed by a physician, but applying yoga techniques in the interim and during treatment certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Yoga practitioners may have no need (or a reduction) in sleep medication. This is because of a hormone named melatonin that regulates sleep. Yoga is known to increase the production of melatonin.

Improvement in Breathing

Man practicing yoga on the beach

Yoga lays a heavy emphasis on breathing exercises and breathing techniques. These exercises then lead to an improvement in breathing.

Vital capacity is the maximum amount of air that can be breathed out from the lungs. It is an important element for those suffering from heart disease, asthma, and lung problems. Yoga is associated with increasing vital capacity. This leads to better endurance (climbing stairs or exercising) and helps keep your heart and lungs healthy.

Improves Balance and Flexibility

One of the main reasons for people taking up yoga is that they want to improve their flexibility and balance. There is comprehensive evidence to support that yoga poses target flexibility and improves balance.

Yoga is known to be one of the most optimal exercises for improving flexibility, beating even intense bodyweight exercises such as calisthenics.

Doing just 15 to 30 minutes of yoga every day significantly enhances the prospects of getting a more flexible body.

Leads to an Increase in Strength

Athletes looking to build strength also benefit from yoga as it not only improves the flexibility of the body, but it also leads to an increase in strength.

Yoga has specific poses that are meant to build muscle and increase strength.

A study involving 80 participants (both men and women) found that performing 24 cycles of sun salutations (a yoga pose meant for warm-ups and beginners) for 6 days a week for 3 months. The participants saw a great increase in upper body strength and endurance while their body fat percentage also went down.

Final Thoughts

Multiple studies have backed the benefits of yoga that are both physical and mental.

Incorporating yoga in your everyday routine leads to better health, a stronger heart, a more flexible body, and improves overall mental health.

If you are not fond of going to the gym or getting expensive membership, you can start from the comfort of your own room with just a sweat mat.

Simple Ways to Tackle Stress and Depression – Part II

Did You Reach Your 10,000 Steps Today?

Graphicstock 052419 Woman on Treadmill Ah, the beauty of exercise! What can one say but only good things about this natural, physical full-body enhancement?

Workouts can stimulate just about every part of your body. But the organs that will love you most are your heart and your belly, however, don’t neglect what they can do for your brain and this is where we will focus our discussion today.

For stress reduction, you want to avoid the loss of neurons in the hippocampus. This is the area where learning, memory, and emotion reside.

Having anxiety can inhibit the natural progressive state of the assembly of your neurons, as well as the effective speed of connections between hippocampal cells.

Studies have shown that exercising, specifically aerobic workouts for a minimum of 20 minutes can promote healthy information processing and memory functions within the brain; thereby countering the diminishing loss of neurons when a person is under stress.

One person told us of her continuous anxiety, (due to personal issues she did not want to elaborate on). She would be stressed all day and had to take pills to sleep, but if there was one daily factor that gave her relief (at least for a while), it was exercise.

Feeling good after exercise is healthy and a valuable factor in stress reduction. In this article, we will not go into detail about all the benefits of exercise, but you can read more about it here. In short, it is a great natural way to keep your mind and body in shape. But remember, No pain, no gain. So put your all into it and watch your health steadily improve.

Can Learning Help Reduce Stress?

Let’s go back to the hippocampus. When two dendrites (the receiving end of neurons) get close together, electrical messages are transmitted from one neuron to the other. This is done through the contact points between the dendrites, called the synapse.  When you learn something new, you are growing topic-specific dendrites to connect neurons to particular synapses or said in another way, you are growing more neurons that communicate with each other so that the new information is intact.

The Anatomy of a Neuron
The Anatomy of a Neuron
As you continue to learn new things, you are growing new neurons. This can help counter the negative effects in the brain when under anxiety (as mentioned in the exercise section above), but another positive factor is the ‘feel-good feeling you get after knowing you have learned something new, so, from a cognitive standpoint, the more learning you can achieve, the healthier your mind will be.

Get a Massage!

Massages have been known to promote relaxation and help alleviate anxiety. But they are not cheap. If you cannot find one that fits your budget, try getting a partner who can do it for you.  For many people, this can work wonders, even for those who are not in stressful situations. Here is a video on how you can do it right.

Medical Assistance

Now we are getting into the heavy stuff, but also the most successful when it comes to helping people get relief from stress. Seeking the advice of a medical professional is commonplace for people with anxiety and depression and there is a correlation between the two, but we’ll focus on anxiety for now.

Therapy – A Positive First Step

One of the most common ailments that would cause someone to go to therapy is stress and the related problems that are associated with it. A counselor can help you manage your anxiety better than you are probably doing yourself. Having someone to talk to in privacy may be one of the most rewarding options for you, but for others, more assistance may be required, however, this would be a good start.

Medication

Pills on a tableAlways seek the advice of a medical professional before taking ANY medication.

Now we come to a path that many, many people pursue, and for good reason!

Prescription drugs can be a significant benefactor in managing your anxiety, as well as the subsequent negative effects it has on your body, but caution is highly recommended!

If you find yourself in constant anxiety, don’t go through it alone.

NOTE: A doctor or certified practitioner is the only one who can prescribe the appropriate medication for you!

There are so many drugs on the market and more are being tested. Some medical scientists are even studying the use of psychedelic drugs to help manage depression, but a physician needs to determine what would be best for you. You may be surprised how much better you could feel with the proper medication and respective dosage.

Case in point: A 45-year-old man lost his father to heart failure. For eleven months, the man blamed himself with the notion that he could have done things better while his father was in ailing condition, not realizing that guilt is a common issue for someone to feel when they lose a loved one; however, most of the time, it is completely unwarranted. “Why didn’t I do it this way” or “I could have done this differently” are common thoughts a guilty person may encounter. For many people who suffer guilt after a loss, the fact is that nothing would have been any different, and as they say “It is all in your head”. But in the mind of the person suffering from it, it was die-hard real.

The ongoing guilt and grief were causing this man to have episodes of depression and when not in depression, he would suffer from serious anxiety attacks. It wasn’t until he sought medical help that a prescription plan was provided to him and after a few weeks, his guilt began to dissipate to the point that one morning when he woke up and he felt entirely free of this feeling.

This happened because he was initially lacking the chemical serotonin in his brain, which caused him to think irrationally and once the proper medication was provided to him, his serotonin level increased to the point that his anxiety and depression were gone.

Referring to a popular metaphor, we can say that the man went from feeling that the glass was half-empty to the glass being half-full. In reality, this meant that he went from thinking negatively about how he could have done things better when aiding his father to think about all the great things he did for his dad.

If you plan to see your family doctor, you can visit him/her first who might be able to recommend some limited amounts of prescription drugs that could help you cope with a bad situation, but for the long term, it would best to seek the help of a therapist and/or a psychiatrist.

Therapists are great ‘listeners’ and can help you cope with your situation. Psychiatrists are medical professionals whose specialty is your mental health as opposed to your physical health. They will be able to diagnose your condition and prescribe the appropriate medications that could help you. Many people choose to see both a therapist and a psychiatrist. Helpguide.org is a great website for obtaining a lot of information on how to get the best therapy for your condition.

To go any deeper would be beyond the scope of this article, but we hope that these suggestions will help improve your state of mind toward the right direction to follow and live a more enjoyable and happier lifestyle.

Happy people jumping

A Guide for an Easy Calorie-Burning Lifestyle

Burning Calories
Photo by roxanabalint – yayimages.com

Regulation of calories has arguably become the single most important issue for people suffering from weight issues and consuming excessive calories is one of the primary causes of weight gain. 

Therefore, in this article, we are going to talk about some simple and quick methods to burn more daily calories. All these calorie-burning measures can be adopted by making slight tweaks in our daily routine. Even if you are not suffering from the issue of overweight, these small adjustments can help you counter so many diseases that you might otherwise be subjected to.

Do Domestic Cleaning Yourself

What’s better than an activity that can make your abode more hygienic and clean while simultaneously help you to stay in shape? Cleaning kitchen counters, vacuuming the entire home space, doing dishes, and other related domestic cleaning activities can burn a good amount of daily calories without adopting any strict diet and rigorous gym activity.

Make Slight Changes in Your Daily Commute

Man bicycle riding on a city streetBy making little adjustments in your daily commute to the office, work or college, you can add an easy calorie-burning routine to your schedule. For instance, if your work destination is nearby your home and local traffic laws allow the bike ride on the roads then consider yourself lucky because an hour of biking with moderate speed can burn more than 500 calories!

Biking your way to work and back can help you burn a significant amount of calories without carving out any additional windows in your daily routine for workout activities.

If this option is not feasible, then some other tricks can also come handy in making your commute a calorie-burning routine. If you go to work in your own vehicle, then try to find a farther parking spot and walk your way to the office. Similarly, if you use public transit for your daily commute, you can get off a station or stop earlier to add some walk or brisk walk to your schedule.

All of the discussed measures are simple and easy to execute, you don’t have to do anything extra to burn calories through these little adjustments.

Walk the Dog

Woman walking a dogHaving a pet in the house can be great for your mood. It also helps in creating an amiable environment in the house.

Moreover, having a pet dog can become a part of your easy calorie-burning routine. Take a walk with your dog a little further than you usually do or go to the nearest dog park. You can burn a nice amount of calories (and is also a good calorie burner for your dog!).

Stairs Over Elevators

Patient at Walter Reed test next-generation prosthesis walking stairsBy walking upstairs, you can burn double the amount of calories as compared to regular walking. Some people walk up four and five flights when at work just to keep their ‘blood running’.
So, just make up your mind to prefer stairs over elevators wherever you go. By making this simple adjustment in your lifestyle, you can burn more calories on daily basis.

Get Your Gardening Done

Person tending to her lawnIf your home has an outdoor space, then you can also put it to use to burn some more calories. Set up a small garden there and take up all its maintenance and sprucing activities on your own. While providing you with a great environmental friendly hobby, light gardening activity (watering, weed removal etc) for half an hour can help you in burning more than 100 calories. You can also grow some seasonal vegetables to save some bucks on your grocery shopping.

Window Shopping

Many people find it very pleasing to roam around in a mall and just check out recent products and fashion articles on display. If you are one of those individuals, then there is good news for you. You can burn roughly 100 calories with just half an hour of window shopping.

Two-Minute Walk Breaks and Lunchtime Wander

Man walking on sidewalkWhile sitting at your desk at work, you don’t need to walk for more than a few seconds throughout your shift. You can make a simple amendment in this stagnant activity to add more of a whole body movement in your working hours.

Add a two-minute window of walking every hour because one research shows that by doing so can counterbalance the detrimental effects of excessive sitting. You can devise a two-minute round-trip from your desk for every working hour. It’s very doable and will help you to prevent in developing a pot belly.

Moreover, don’t spend your lunch break in the same position you sit all day at work. Go out, have some fresh air and take a stroll for 15-20 minutes. It will rejuvenate your mind and also burn few calories.

High Line NYC
Walking the 1.4 mile High Line in New York City is an excellent way to burn off calories and keep that blood pumping

Apart from all these easy daily activities that can help you burn some quick calories, there are some occasional (weekly or fortnightly) activities that can serve the same purpose.

Site seeing, outdoor games or a hike: Explore your surroundings in whichever way you want. Try to schedule any such activity on weekends which can be served as a recreational escape and a way to burn lots of calories.  If you live in or near a big city, why not play tourist and check out all the city has to offer. In addition, just going to the city and walking a good couple of miles is a great calorie burner. In New York City, the borough of Manhattan is designed in grids; that is, every block from north to south is 1/10 of a mile, so every 20 blocks equates to one mile.

Car wash: You can save money and burn calories by cleaning and washing your car on your own.

Bottom Line:

Exercising your body to do daily routines will help you to get rid of those extra calories and keep those vital organs running at optimum levels. 

Increased Physical Activity is Linked to Improved Cognitive Functions


”elderly
Photo by Wavebreakmedia – yayimages.com

 

According to a recent study from the University of Sydney, the gradual increment of muscle-strengthening activities can lead to better cognitive function. This analysis is based on a trial that includes the Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) done on patients aged between 55-58 years old with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with MCI are more vulnerable to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  

MCL is a strong indication that individuals will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in the near future and nearly 80% of the elderly people suffering from MCI develop Alzheimer’s in the course of six years.

Significance of the Study

Results of the study are very significant considering increased cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease among the aging demographics. According to the annual report of Alzheimer’s Disease International, 47 million people are suffering from dementia worldwide and this number will be increased threefold by the mid of the century. Predicted figures for the US suggest that there will be 13.8 million citizens affected by Alzheimer’s by 2050.

It is also worth mentioning that the healthcare cost for patients with dementia is very high, making it imperative to find other preventive measures to increase the quality of a patient’s life. Therefore, finding a relation between increased physical activity and improved cognitive function will certainly help in alleviating the intense effects of these debilitating diseases.

This study examined 100 senior adults with MCI. Patients with MCI face slight cognitive difficulties that are not detrimental enough to hinder daily routines. These patients were divided into four sub-groups and assigned four types of activities:

  • Resistance exercise activity
  • Placebo resistance exercise
  • Cognitive training
  • Placebo cognitive training

Cognitive and both of the placebo activities did not result in cognitive improvement. However, the study concludes that there is a direct relationship between improved muscle strength and improved cognitive functions. Some previous studies have also shown a proportional link between increased physical activity and muscle strength. But this research assisted by the SMART trial has provided useful details about the exercises that can help in improving brain function. The trial lasted for six months in which the participants attended weightlifting sessions twice a week. With maintaining their peak strength at 80%, the weights used in the exercise were regularly increased, as their muscles got stronger with time.

According to the doctor leading the research team, including resistance exercise in the schedule of the elderly can result in a healthier aging population. However, it can only be effective if it is done on regular basis and integrated as a part of a lifestyle.

Exercise Assists Physiological Process Necessary to Avoid Cognitive Impairment

Even before the SMART trial research, studies have proven that physical exercise can help in improving brain function by assisting different physiological processes. Exercise helps in improving cardiovascular health and glucose regulation in the body and both in their optimal form are necessary to avoid the risk of cognitive diseases. Exercise can also help in even improving the brain functions such as selective attention, multitasking and planning.

Exercise can Increase the Size of Certain Brain Areas

Hippocampus is that area of the brain associated with the processing and retention of memories and especially long-term memories. With aging, it starts to shrink in size leading to cognitive impairment. Aerobic exercises have a proven role in increasing the size of the anterior part of the hippocampus. The fractional increment in size can improve the spatial memory of an individual.

What’s Next in the Research Line?

According to the researchers of a SMART trial study, it is still unclear that whether resistance exercises are directly influencing and decelerating the deteriorating effects of old age, or whether they are commanding some bodily functions that are helping the cognition improvement. New researchers will try to find the exact relation of increased muscle strength with cognitive activity. They will also study the effects of muscle strength on size and activity of certain brain areas.

All the researchers and studies that we have discussed in this article share the same conclusion that a healthy lifestyle with increased physical activity can reward aging people with a vigorous and active mindless prone to old age cognitive diseases.