Stress & Your Tresses – Cortisol levels in the hair reinforce that meditation can relieve chronic stress
Mindful meditation focuses a person’s attention on breath and body, creating a connection to present thoughts, feelings and actions. The practice has long been touted for positive outcomes on pain, depression, anxiety and insomnia. But most previous studies have only looked at short-term outcomes and relied on potentially biased self-assessments. So German researchers from Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences set out to gather physiological proof that such mental training counteracts chronic stress. Over a nine-month period, the scientists asked 240 participants to attend 30-minute meditation classes six days a week. At regular intervals during the study, they measured concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol in the subjects’ hair (where it accumulates during times of persistent stress). The results, published this fall in Psychosomatic Medicine, revealed that cortisol levels in participants’ hair decreased by an average of 25 percent after six months. Interestingly, only minimal declines were observed after three months. Their conclusion? Committing to a long-term meditation practice can offer substantial stress relief (and perhaps even better hair days)
We Heart Good Food
For the first time in 15 years, the American Heart Association has updated its heart-healthy dietary guidelines. While much of the guidance remains the same, the new statement, released in November 2021, highlights environmentally sustainable eating, nutrition education and consuming fewer processed foods. By encouraging people to consider factors such as affordability, availability, convenience and personal taste, the authors of the statement hope that more people will stick to their heart-healthy eating goals. With more than two-thirds of heart disease-related deaths worldwide tied to food choices, what should we be eating? The AHA recommends: plenty and varied fruits and vegetables; whole-grain foods; lean proteins primarily from plants, seafood and low-fat dairy; liquid plant oils rather than animal fats or tropical oils; minimally processed foods; little or no added sugar and salt; and limited alcohol. This advice applies wherever and however you may be eating, be it home cooking, meal kits, takeout foods or restaurant dining.
The Future of Pain Relief
Imagine feeling a throbbing ache that refuses to subside no matter how much you rub it. Or an incessant burning that interferes with every aspect of daily life. One out of every five people suffers from chronic pain. While this ongoing discomfort may feel all too familiar after three months, six months or even longer (the time frame doctors use to diagnose chronic pain), its cause often remains unidentified. However, promising new research from Duke University Medical Center may have finally pinpointed the culprit for one of the world’s most mysterious medical problems. Recently published studies reveal that a group of nervous system cells called glia, once thought to be merely neuron supporters, can actually spur the body’s pain system into a never-ending inflammatory loop. And because modern science’s current painkillers target neurons rather than glia, most chronic pain sufferers don’t gain relief using standard medications. Scientists have now turned to investigating drugs specifically aimed at modulating glia.
Mind Your Workouts
Exercise can be as much about your head as your heart. A variety of new research takes a look at how mental modifications, such as adjusting the expectations you place on yourself and planning workouts to fit with your current daily life, can strengthen the effectiveness of regular physical activity. The overarching message? With the right mindset, an exercise routine becomes more enjoyable and attainable. Let’s crunch the findings from some more recent studies:
- Ditching the smart watch or fitness tracker may improve your relationship with exercise, since obsessively tracking workout metrics can fuel feelings of stress and inadequacy. –Information Technology & People
- Can’t find time to exercise? Five- to 10-minute workouts offer similar blood pressure, cardiorespiratory and mood benefits as longer blocks. Just be sure mini sessions add up to 150 minutes per week. -Sports Medicine
- Major transitions like new jobs, retirement, marriage and parenthood can significantly deflate fitness levels. Gearing up for a big life event? Plan to keep moving, too. -American Heart Association