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The Surprising Benefits of Walking

 

The next time you have a check-up, don’t be surprised if your doctor hands you a prescription to walk. Yes, this simple activity that you’ve been doing since you were about a year old is now being touted as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is a boon to your overall health. But walking in particular comes with a host of benefits.

Here’s a list of five that may surprise you.

It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes

Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They then discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half.

It helps tame a sweet tooth

A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.

It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. 

Researchers already know that any kind of physical activity blunts the risk of breast cancer. But an American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for the women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.

It eases joint pain

Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.

It boosts immune function. 

Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.

Cite: Harvard Medical University News

 

Keep Your Brain Healthy As You Age

What’s the key to keeping your mind sharp and your brain healthy as you grow older? Online puzzles? Nutritional supplements? Mall walking? Pickle-ball tournaments?

The truth is, there’s no single “miracle cure” for memory problems or other brain changes that come with aging. But there is cause for optimism. Science points to a combination of social factors and healthy habits that—taken together—can help you build, preserve, and protect your brain’s function over time.

Continue reading “Keep Your Brain Healthy As You Age”

Wellness Wednesday: Sometimes all You Need to Do is Breathe

 

Breathing exercises offer an extremely simple, effective, and convenient way to relieve stress and reverse your stress response, reducing the negative effects of chronic stress. There are definite benefits of breathing exercises. While simple diaphragmic breathing can provide relaxation and stress relief, there are several different types of breathing exercises to try, each with its own twist. Here are several breathing exercises, some of which are commonly recommended, some of which are unique, and all of which can each offer help in managing stress. This is an easy exercise that only takes a few minutes. Here’s how.

Mindful Diaphragmic Breathing

Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start to notice your breath. Before you begin to alter it, pay attention to the pace and depth. Are you taking deep breaths or shallow ones? Are you breathing quickly or slowly? (Becoming aware of your breathing can help you to become more mindful of your body’s response to stress, and can help you to notice when you need to deliberately relax your breathing.)

Counted Breathing

Counting your breaths can be helpful, both for pacing and as a form of meditation. This technique helps with pacing–it enables you to elongate your breath and stretch out your exhales. There are a few ways to do this.

As you inhale, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth, then breathe through your nose and slowly count down from five; on the exhale, let the air escape through your mouth and count back up to eight. Then repeat. This helps you to really empty your lungs and relax into each breath.

A variation of this is known as “4-7-8 breathing,” and is recommended by wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil. With this option, you inhale for a count of four, wait for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. This allows you to pause between breaths and really slow things down.
You may also find your own pace. Experiment with whatever ratio feels comfortable to you, and see if it helps you to feel relaxed. The act of counting as you breathe still helps you to maintain a steady pace and keep your mind on your breath and the present moment, so it is still more effective than simply breathing regularly and unconsciously.

Visualization Breathing: Inflating the Balloon

Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you inhale, imagine that your abdomen is inflating with air like a balloon. As you exhale, imagine that the air is escaping the balloon slowly. Remember, you do not have to force the air out; it simply escapes on its own, in its own time. You may want to imagine the balloon as your favorite color, or that you are floating higher in the sky with each breath if this is relaxing for you. Regardless, the “inflating balloon” visualization can help you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm rather than engaging in shallow breathing that can come from stress.

Visualization Breathing: Releasing Your Stress

Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start diaphragmic breathing. As you inhale, imagine that all the stress in your body is coming from your extremities and into your chest. Then, as you exhale, imagine that the stress is leaving your body through your breath and dissipating right in front of you. Slowly, deliberately repeat the process. After several breaths, you should feel your stress begin to subside.

Deep, Cleansing Breath

Sometimes all you need to release stress from your shoulders, back, or the rest of your body is a few big, cleansing breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and take in as much air as you comfortably can. Then release it, and really focus on emptying your lungs. (Many people hold air in their lungs after an exhale, so emptying your lungs on a deep exhale can help you to get more fresh oxygen into them.) Repeat this breathing exercise for a few breaths and release the tension in your back, your shoulders, and anywhere else it tends to reside.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This breathing exercise variation has been practiced for thousands of years as a form of meditative breathing. As you inhale, place your finger over your right nostril and only breathe through your left. On the exhale, switch nostrils and only breathe through your right. You can breathe at whatever pace is comfortable for you, either a 5-8 ratio, a 4-7-8 ratio or whatever pace feels most relaxing for you (see “counted breathing,” above).

 

Cite: VerywellMind.com
 

Fifteen Benefits of Drinking Water

Keeping hydrated is crucial for health and well-being, but many people do not consume enough fluids each day. Around 60 percent of the body is made up of water, and around 71 percent of the planet’s surface is covered by water.

Perhaps it is the ubiquitous nature of water that means drinking enough each day is not at the top of many people’s lists of priorities.

Continue reading “Fifteen Benefits of Drinking Water”

What happens to your brain when you binge-watch a TV series?

Is catching up on “This is Us” on your weekend to-do list? Here’s what you need to know.

 

 

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You sit yourself down in front of the TV after a long day at work, and decide to start watching that new show everyone’s been talking about. Cut to midnight and you’ve crushed half a season — and find yourself tempted to stay up to watch just one more episode, even though you know you’ll be paying for it at work the next morning.

It happens to the best of us. Thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, we’re granted access to several hundred show options that we can watch all in one sitting — for a monthly fee that shakes out to less than a week’s worth of lattes.  What a time to be alive, right?

And we’re taking full advantage of that access. According to a survey done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends around 2.7 hours watching TV per day, which adds up to almost 20 hours per week in total.

As for the amount of binge watching we’re doing, a Netflix survey found that 61 percent of users regularly watch between 2-6 episodes of a show in one sitting. A more recent study found that most Netflix members choose to binge-watch their way through a series versus taking their time — finishing an entire season in one week, on average (shows that fall in the Sci-Fi, horror and thriller categories are the most likely to be binged).

In fact, according to Nielsen, 361,000 people watched all nine episodes of season 2 of ‘Stranger Things,’ on the first day it was released.

Of course, we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t feel good. In fact, the Netflix survey also found that 73 percent of participants reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. But if you spent last weekend watching season two of “Stranger Things” in its entirety, you may have found yourself feeling exhausted by the end of it — and downright depressed that you’re out of episodes to watch.

A Netflix survey found that 61 percent of users regularly watch between 2-6 episodes of a show in one sitting.

There are a handful of reasons that binge-watching gives us such a high — and then leaves us emotionally spent on the couch. Here’s a look at what happens to our brain when we settle in for a marathon, and how to watch responsibly.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON BINGE WATCHING

When binge watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high.

Watching episode after episode of a show feels good — but why is that? Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist, says it’s due to the chemicals being released in our brain. “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge watching, your brain produces dopamine,” she explains. “This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When binge watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine.”

According to Dr. Carr, the process we experience while binge watching is the same one that occurs when a drug or other type of addiction begins. “The neuronal pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as an addiction to binge watching,” Carr explains. “Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.”

Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.

Spending so much time immersed in the lives of the characters portrayed on a show is also fueling our binge watching experience. “Our brains code all experiences, be it watched on TV, experienced live, read in a book or imagined, as ‘real’ memories,” explains Gayani DeSilva, M.D., a psychiatrist at Laguna Family Health Center in California. “So when watching a TV program, the areas of the brain that are activated are the same as when experiencing a live event. We get drawn into story lines, become attached to characters and truly care about outcomes of conflicts.”

According to Dr. DeSilva, there are a handful of different forms of character involvement that contribute to the bond we form with the characters, which ultimately make us more likely to binge watch a show in its entirety.

“‘Identification’ is when we see a character in a show that we see ourselves in,” she explains. “‘Modern Family,’ for example, offers identification for the individual who is an adoptive parent, a gay husband, the father of a gay couple, the daughter of a father who marries a much younger woman, etc. The show is so popular because of its multiple avenues for identification. ‘Wishful identification,’ is where plots and characters offer opportunity for fantasy and immersion in the world the viewer wishes they lived in (ex. ‘Gossip Girl,’ ‘America’s Next Top Model’). Also, the identification with power, prestige and success makes it pleasurable to keep watching. ‘Parasocial interaction’ is a one-way relationship where the viewer feels a close connection to an actor or character in the TV show.”

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that you and your favorite character would totally be friends in real life, you’ve likely experienced this type of involvement. Another type of character involvement is “perceived similarity, where we enjoy the experience of ‘I know what that feels like,’ because it’s affirming and familiar, and may also allow the viewer increased self-esteem when seeing qualities valued in another story.” For example, you’re drawn to shows with a strong female lead because you often take on that role at work or in your social groups.

BINGE WATCHING CAN BE A STRESS RELIEVER

The act of binge watching offers us a temporary escape from our day-to-day grind, which can act as a helpful stress management tool, says Dr. John Mayer, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand. “We are all bombarded with stress from everyday living, and with the nature of today’s world where information floods us constantly,” Dr. Mayer says. “It is hard to shut our minds down and tune out the stress and pressures. A binge can work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts. Binge watching can set up a great boundary where troubles are kept at bay.”

A binge can work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts.

Binge watching can also help foster relationships with others who have been watching the same show as you. “It does give you something to talk about with other people,” says Dr. Ariane Machin, PhD, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. “Cue the ‘This Is Us’ phenomenon and feeling left out if you didn’t know what was going on! Binge watching can make us feel a part of a community with those that have also watched it, where we can connect over an in-depth discussion of a show.”

Watching a show that features a character or scenario that ties into your day-to-day routine can also end up having a positive impact on your real life. “Binge watching can be healthy if your favorite character is also a virtual role model for you,” says Carr, “or, if the content of the show gives you exposure to a career you are interested in. Although most characters and scenes are exaggerated for dramatic effect, it can be a good teaching lesson and case study. For example, if a shy person wants to become more assertive, remembering how a strong character on the show behaves can give the shy person a vivid example of how to advocate for herself or try something new. Or, if experiencing a personal crisis, remembering how a favorite character or TV role model solved a problem can give the binge watcher new, creative or bolder solutions.”

THE LET DOWN: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE BINGE IS OVER

Have you ever felt sad after finishing a series? Mayer says that when we finish binge watching a series, we actually mourn the loss. “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing,” he says. “We call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.”

In a study done by the University of Toledo, 142 out of 408 participants identified themselves as binge-watchers. This group reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. But in examining the habits that come with binge-watching, it’s not hard to see why it would start to impact our mental health. For starters, if you’re not doing it with a roommate or partner, binge-watching can quickly become isolating.

When we disconnect from humans and over-connect to TV at the cost of human connection, eventually we will ‘starve to death’ emotionally.

“When we substitute TV for human relations we disconnect from our human nature and substitute for [the] virtual,” says Dr. Judy Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of the Psychological Healing Center in Sherman Oaks, CA. “We are wired to connect, and when we disconnect from humans and over-connect to TV at the cost of human connection, eventually we will ‘starve to death’ emotionally. Real relationships and the work of life is more difficult, but at the end of the day more enriching, growth producing and connecting.”

If you find yourself choosing a night in with Netflix over seeing friends and family, it’s a sign that this habit is headed into harmful territory. (A word of warning to those of us who decided to stay in and binge watch “Stranger Things” instead of heading to that Halloween party.)

HOW TO BINGE-WATCH RESPONSIBLY

The key to reaping the benefits of binge-watching without suffering from the negative repercussions is to set parameters for the time you spend with your television — which can be tough to do when you’re faced with cliff hangers that might be resolved if you just stay up forone more episode. “In addition to pleasure, we often binge-watch to obtain psychological closure from the previous episode,” says Carr. “However, because each new episode leaves you with more questions, you can engage in healthy binge-watching by setting a predetermined end time for the binge. For example, commit to saying, ‘after three hours, I’m going to stop watching this show for the night.”

If setting a time limit cuts you off at a point in your binge where it’s hard to stop (and makes it too easy to tell yourself just ten more minutes), Carr suggests committing to a set number of episodes at the onset instead. “Try identifying a specific number of episodes to watch, then watching only the first half of the episode you have designated as your stopping point,” she says. “Usually, questions from the previous episode will be answered by this half-way mark and you will have enough psychological closure to feel comfortable turning off the TV.”

Also, make sure that you’re balancing your binge with other activities. “After binge-watching, go out with friends or do something fun,” says Carr. “By creating an additional source of pleasure, you will be less likely to become addicted to or binge watch the show. Increase your physical exercise activity or join an adult athletic league. By increasing your heart rate and stimulating your body, you can give yourself a more effective and longer-term experience of fun and excitement.”

Article cite: NBC News. by Danielle Page / Nov.04.2017 

Science Says Your Pet Is Good for Your Mental Health

Being a pet in America is a plum gig. Pets are incredibly well loved: according to a 2015 Harris poll, 95% of owners think of their animal as a member of the family. About half buy them birthday presents. And it’s a two-way street. People who have pets tend to have lower blood pressure, heart rate and heart-disease risk than those who don’t. Those health boons may come from the extra exercise that playing and walking require, and the stress relief of having a steady best friend on hand.
Scientists are now digging up evidence that animals can also help improve mental health, even for people with challenging disorders.

Though the studies are small, the benefits are impressive enough that clinical settings are opening their doors to animal-assisted interventions–peFour pugst therapy, in other words–used alongside conventional medicine. “It used to be one of the great no-no’s to think of an animal in a hospital,” says Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, citing the fear of causing infection. “Now, I don’t know of any major children’s hospital that doesn’t have at least some kind of animal program.”

The rise of animal therapy is backed by increasingly serious science showing that social support–a proven antidote to anxiety and loneliness–can come on four legs, not just two. Animals of many types can help calm stress, fear and anxiety in young children, the elderly and everyone in between.
More research is needed before scientists know exactly why it works and how much animal interaction is needed for the best results. But published studies show that paws have a place in medicine and in mental well-being. “The data is strong,” Beck says. “If you look at what animals do for people and how we interact with them, it’s not surprising at all.” Here’s a look some of the cutting-edge science in the field.

Rabbits

In one study, a stressed-out group of adults were told to pet a rabbit, a turtle or their toy forms. The toys had no effect. But stroking a living creature, whether hard-shelled or furry, relieved anxiety. It worked for people regardless of whether they initially said they liked animals.

Crickets

Animals don’t have to be cuddly to help. In a 2016 study published in the journal Gerontology, elderly people who were given five crickets in a cage became less depressed after eight weeks than a control group. The act of caring for a living creature seems to make the difference.

Horses

Among the most-studied therapy animals, horses have been involved in medical treatment plans in Europe since the 1860s. Activities like grooming a horse and leading one around a pen have been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in children and adolescents.

Fish

Animals can focus people’s attention. When people at an Alzheimer’s-disease facility dined in front of aquariums with brightly colored fish, they ate more, got better nutrition and were less prone to pacing. They were also more attentive and less lethargic.

Dogs

Some research suggests that when children who struggle with reading read aloud to a trained dog and handler, they show fewer anxiety symptoms. “Their attitudes change and their skills improve,” says Lisa Freeman, director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction.

Animals make socializing easier for kids who find it stressful, says Maggie O’Haire of Purdue. In her study, when children with autism had a guinea pig in the classroom, they were more social with their peers, smiled and laughed more, and showed fewer signs of stress.

This appears in the April 17, 2017 issue of TIME

The Importance of Paying Attention to Prediabetes

Written by Marcia Sikorski, RD, LDN, CDE; member of PMA Diabetes Education Team

Diabetes awareness is becoming a focal point to help reduce the consequences of the disease and to provide information about its management and prevention. Prediabetes is the red flag waving to tell you that you are on the path toward diabetes.  There is good news about this waving flag, if you take action at this stage you may never experience the many complications of diabetes. Continue reading “The Importance of Paying Attention to Prediabetes”