October 8, 2013

October 8, 2013
How to Feel Better Every Day

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Tuesday and I hope you are having a beary safe and great week so far. It is another very busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

Everyone likes feeling good but we all have some bad days. So what can we do to help us feel better? That is what I will be blogging about today.

So maybe you can’t change your health overnight. But you can get a head start, with these 21 painless, proven ways to instantly boost your well-being (inside and out).

How to Improve Your Health

Getting healthier is a marathon, not a sprint: It’s the result of hundreds of little decisions that we make over the long haul—eating a green salad every day, running three times a week, choosing yoga over wine (most nights, anyway).

But even the healthiest of health nuts long for something quick and easy. To that end, here’s a roundup of scientifically proven ways to boost your mental and physical wellness in less time than it takes to read this blog.

Smile—Especially If You Don’t Feel Like It

Your mom suggested it, oh, about a thousand times. And there is scientific evidence that smiling can help the body and mind recover from stress. In a study published last year in the journal Psychological Science, researchers induced stress in 170 students by asking them to perform a dexterity test and then plunge a hand into ice water. When the subjects were made to smile during these tasks, their heart rates returned to normal levels more quickly after they recovered from the stress. They were also better at maintaining positive feelings during the plunge than were those who held neutral expressions. Moreover, scientists observed an even greater drop in heart rate when students broke into a “Duchenne smile” (the type of smile that engages the eyes and the mouth).

Smiling can jump-start the process of happiness. When you smile, you trigger a psychological and neurobiological alignment with positive emotions, and that can lead to healthier living. In other words: Fake it till you make it.

Tune Up Your Commute

A commute longer than 22 minutes each way may have a negative impact on your well being. But there are ways you can mitigate those adverse effects without calling a moving van. For one, try cutting coffee out of your morning routine, since caffeine can worsen stress and increase anxiety. Also consider using the commute time as a mini break. Find a good podcast, focus on your breathing, or indulge in a little music therapy. A recent British study set out to find the top-10 most relaxing songs, measuring, among other things, rhythms and tones that help slow breathing and heart rate over the course of the song. “Weightless,” by the Manchester band Marconi Union, was first on the list; it slowed the resting heart rate in women by an impressive 35 percent! Less soporific options include “Watermark,” by Enya; “Someone Like You,” by Adele; and Mozart’s “Canzonetta sull’aria.”

Pledge Your Loyalty to Vitamin C…

If your skin has dark patches, or melasma, which is notoriously difficult to fade, you may want to add vitamin C to your skin-care regimen. According to a 2012 study from Cairo University, topical vitamin C was shown to be more effective at lightening melasma than a glycolic acid peel — the previous gold standard for fighting splotchiness. You’ll get the best results with daily use, so try swapping your regular moisturizer or serum for one that contains vitamin C.

But choose your products carefully: Because vitamin C is photosensitive (meaning it starts to degenerate when exposed to light), it’s important to pick formulas that are kept in opaque bottles. Two to try: Avalon Organics Vitamin C Renewal Facial Cream ($22, avalonorganics.com) and Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate ($58, kiehls.com).

...And to Retinoids, Too

These powerful vitamin A derivatives aren’t just for combating acne and wrinkles. Studies suggest that topical retinoids may reduce your risk of developing precancerous lesions called actinic keratoses. Retinoids can help inhibit the growth of tumor cells and stimulate normal skin-cell development. Whether you’re using an over-the-counter product or a prescription-strength one, start slowly, since retinoids can irritate the skin. Apply twice a week until you notice little to no redness the day after. Then, if you can tolerate it, work your way up to daily use. Since skin that has been treated with retinoids is especially sun-sensitive, sunscreen is a must.

Snack on Dark Chocolate

In addition to its other documented health benefits, dark chocolate may help sharpen the mind. When participants in a study conducted at Northumbria University, in England, were given a drink containing high levels of cocoa flavanols, they performed significantly better on a math task than they did after having a placebo drink. Why? Researchers say that it’s possible that flavanols help improve blood flow to the brain. Even better, science has found evidence for what you suspected all along: Chocolate may help take the edge off stress. When Swiss researchers asked stressed-out people to eat 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate each day (they probably didn’t need much coaxing), the researchers found that after two weeks, the subjects had lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines.

Take It Lying Down

Want to unlock your creative genius? The best way to think on your feet may be to take a load off of them. When researchers at the Australian National University, in Canberra, tested 20 people on their ability to solve anagrams, subjects cracked the puzzles about 12 percent faster when they were lying down than when they were standing up. The study’s authors say that when we’re supine, our brains may release less noradrenaline, a chemical that may inhibit our ability to think creatively. Worth noting: This technique seemed to work only on creative tasks. When the participants were asked to switch to math problems, their results were the same whether they were vertical or horizontal.

Use Some Magic Words

Just two syllables — if and then — can help you keep it together, even when your sister pushes your buttons or the boss is breathing down your neck. According to research from the University of Winnipeg, in Manitoba, reframing thoughts about a situation with if and then statements may help you manage fear, sadness, fatigue, self-doubt, or even disgust. Try this: Think of a challenge you’re facing. That’s your if clause (example: “If I’m under the gun on a deadline…”). Then decide what kind of positive response you would like to have. That’s your then clause (“…then I will keep a cool head”). Put them together and that’s what you should say to yourself to make stressful circumstances seem more manageable.

Get Some “Microexercise”

Studies show that everything from cognition to the lymphatic system improves if we are more consistently active throughout the day. Our bodies were designed to move. Yet we’ve designed our world to have everything within arm’s reach. That means you need to take every chance you get to add extra activity into your day so remember the stairs are just as good as a StairMaster.

In fact, recent research published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggests that short periods of activity really add up. When researchers analyzed data from more than 6,000 adults, ages 18 to 85, they found that those who got short bouts of exercise (between 1 and 10 minutes) through everyday activities experienced the same benefits, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as did those who continuously exercised for 30 minutes.

Get Some Perspective on Facebook

Of course you love your friends but maybe just a little bit less when they’re cruising the Adriatic without you. Researchers found that Facebook can make you feel bad about yourself even if you’re not conscious of it.

People in the study who had large friend networks tended to evaluate their lives more negatively right after they spent time on the site, as opposed to people who hadn’t recently logged on. It’s natural to compare our lives with those of others, but people tend to post disproportionately positive updates and neglect the not-so-glamorous aspects of their lives on Facebook. Also, the more friends you have, the more of those impossibly perfect updates you’ll probably see. So as a reality check, tell yourself that everyone has problems and that you may be overestimating how happy other people truly are. Goncalves says that this simple reminder can help eliminate the negative effects that Facebook may have on life satisfaction.

Try Nature’s Chill Pills

Take a bath with Epsom salts. They’re rich in magnesium, which is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and a natural muscle relaxant, says Mark Hyman, M.D., the founder of the UltraWellness Center and the author of The Blood Sugar Solution ($28, amazon.com). Magnesium also seems to have a soothing effect on the nervous system; studies indicate that the mineral can help lower anxiety and improve sleep. Hyman’s formula: Put 10 drops of lavender oil (also shown to help promote a state of calm) in 2 cups of Epsom salts. Add to warm water and soak in it for 20 minutes.

Will continue on this topic tomorrow. Hope you have a beary safe and great Tuesday!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab