Blue Mind: A mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peace, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.
We can all agree that modern life is tough. We experience chronic stress, struggle with constant monkey mind and are probably all too familiar with directed attention fatigue. We live a lifestyle where we are “always on”, and this can eventually result in burn out, memory problems, poor judgement, anxiety, and depression. Physically, chronic stress damages the cardiovascular, immune, digestive, nervous and musculoskeletal systems. It does this by lowering levels of serotonin and dopamine (our neurotransmitters responsible for making us happy) and leaves us feeling exhausted and down. And yet, the knowledge that our lifestyles have some room for improvement is just another source of stress! “Red Mind” is a term coined by neuroscientist Catherine Franssen, and is described as an “edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair”. Whilst Red Mind can have its perks and be healthy at times, like everything, it should be experienced in moderation. This blog will show you how exercise in water can provide a much needed balance to “red mind” for your mental health!
Our brains are wired to constantly scan for danger, which makes sense historically. But now we’re faced with busy streets and email alerts, not lions.
Our brains like being around water because there is a high degree of predictability. This allows the amygdala (an emotions centre of the brain) to relax. However, small disturbances such as waves breaking or birds flying past give enough sense of surprise that we receive a pleasurable hit of dopamine. Because of this simultaneous sameness and change, we get a soothing familiarity and stimulating novelty when we look over the water. It’s the perfect recipe for triggering a state of involuntary attention in which the brain’s default network, essential to creativity and problem solving, is activated.
Studies have even shown that being at the beach, where there is an abundance of negatively charged ions in the atmosphere, lowers blood lactate levels and elevates mood.
Blue looks good on you
‘So how do I access my Blue Mind?’ I hear you ask. There is a very fitting quote from poet Sylvia Plath; “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them”.
It seems way too simple, but by simply being around, in, on or under water – we trigger our Blue Mind.
There are now studies that show being immersed in water reduces stress, partly by balancing the flux between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Or that taking a spa bath can significantly lower your salivary cortisol levels. Feeling anxious? Taking a hot 5-minute shower can measurably lower anxiety levels.
So… I can just drink mimosas next to the pool?
Technically yes. But! There’s an extra level of Zen that water can offer you. And the answer has something to do with Exercise.
We’re well aware of the wonderful things exercise does to our brain on a neuro-chemical level, like release endorphins and endocannabinoids (the brain’s natural cannabis-like substances), which reduce the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.
The feel-good effects of swimming have actually been assimilated to the “relaxation response” triggered by yoga. When we swim, our muscles are constantly stretching and relaxing, and this movement is accompanied by deep, rhythmic breathing. All of which put us in a quasi-meditative state. On top of this we have to use a level of cognitive effort to learn and coordinate swimming strokes. This cognitive and aerobic combination can provide the brain with the satisfying stress-reducing feeling of “flow”.
Meet the power couple – Exercise in water for mental health
So when you feel yourself getting stressed, tense and a bit tightly wound why not utilise the powerful effects of exercise AND water?
So why not go for a run along the beach each week? Or go for a swim at your local pool? You could even learn to surf with the kids next weekend? Or how about simply going fishing? Perhaps paddle-boarding is more your style?
It’s that time of year. Many resolutions have been made, and unfortunately, but not surprisingly, most of them have already been broken. How are yours fairing? One of the key reasons why our resolutions fail is because we haven’t given them enough true value. If you really valued them, you would commit to them right? In fact, they wouldn’t even be New Year resolutions, because you would probably already be doing them!! This piece will highlight what tends to go wrong, how you can increase the real value of your New Year’s Resolutions to ensure they become a reality in 2018.
It’s a question of pleasure vs pain!
There are two types of New Year’s Resolutions: Those that focus on achieving an idealistic and perfect picture of the future; or those focused on improving something
Psychologists have been telling us for a long time that two strong forces motivate action: The achievement of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. From a survival perspective we are much more strongly motivated to avoid negative events and experiences, over the achievement of positive ones.
Can you guess which group most resolutions fall into? That’s right, the aspirational hopeful group (!), such as deciding that 2018 will be the year you become a better looking, thinner, richer, French speaking, instrument playing version of your current self!
These type of resolutions are less likely to be accomplished, because there’s less pain associated with NOT achieving them! And quite likely some short term pain and discomfort in trying to accomplish them!
To increase the chance of a New Year Resolution succeeding, I would recommend you start by focusing on something you want to change, something that you are currently unhappy with, something that creates some ‘pain’ (not necessarily the physical injury type of pain) just due to its existence; rather than an aspirational picture of the future.
Not only does a resolution need to be truly motivating for it to have a chance of being achieved, but it should also be sustainable … and beyond the month of January! A key way to ensure the sustainability of your new behaviour is to adopt it as a way of life. Which means we need to frame the goal in a context and language that implies long term change:
Telic and atelic activities and goals.
We could define our resolutions by terms used by the philosopher Kieran Setiya, explains that many of our activities are either telic or atelic, where almost anything we call a ‘project’ will be telic: such as buying a house, starting a family, earning a promotion, getting a job. These are all things one can finish or complete.
In contrast, atelic activities do not aim at a point of termination or completion: a final state in which they have been achieved and there is nothing more to do. For instance … you can go for a walk with no particular destination. Going for a walk is an ‘atelic’ activity. Further, aiming to run a marathon is a telic goal, while running because one enjoys the benefits of it is atelic.
Setiya proposes that if a goal gives purpose to our life, then when we complete it, that purpose disappears, and so, in “pursuing a goal, you are trying to exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were trying to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye” (philosophers have a great way to portray concepts, don’t they?!)
Process for increasing the value of your New Year’s Resolutions
To ensure you succeed in sticking to, and benefiting from your resolutions, I would encourage you to focus on three key points. Firstly, focus on something that is relevant to you now that you are not happy with and you want to change. Then frame it in a way that ensures sustainability, so that it can become a lifestyle change. Turn the more common telic type goals such as “I want to lose 5kgs” or “I want to be able to run 5km” or ” I want to get rid of my low back pain”, to more atelic, lifestyle behaviours such as “I want to eat foods that are healthier for me…”, “I want to run often because….” or “I will identify and modify the daily things that are affecting my back pain”.
Following is a practical process to help you along: of primary and most significant importance, is the choice you will need to make. Because at the end of the day, it will be you who will need to implement change; and that will be so much easier once you are convicted that it’s because you TRULY want to change.
So, I’d encourage you to ask yourself the following questions, which I have modified from an earlier blog:
- What is the main thing that you are not happy with and you want to change?
- How good will it actually feel if you achieve that goal, and why?
- What are behaviours that you feel put you at greatest risk of not achieving that goal? (such as eating too often/too much, etc)
- How good do those behaviours ACTUALLY feel when we do them? Have you experienced that sometimes the ‘idea’ of those behaviours is actually more powerful than the behaviour itself… for example, if drinking a lovely wine and eating cheese was actually SO good, you would be doing it all the time right? But you don’t, you can actually put those behaviours aside… see where this is heading?
- I hope this next question doesn’t sound patronising, as I certainly don’t mean it to be so…. Can you have a good time without overdoing your particular behaviours in question?
- How much better will you feel when you get home from that party and you succeeded in not overconsuming??!
- Does that feeling of victory and control outweigh the short lived feeling had you eaten/drank more than you wanted… How nice to not have to regret anything, right?!
The third key point is support. While it is you who will need to make the changes, having the right team around you, at least at the beginning, while change is harder to implement, will go a long way towards increasing the value of your new year’s resolutions. Please remember that we are here to help. And a practical way we can do that is via our “Draw a Line in The Sand” campaign, which is designed to closely support you and equip you to create change, and which we have extended until the end of January.
Here’s to a great 2018!!
I’m not surprised you may not have enough time to exercise, or to look after yourself. It is very clear that our society has it’s reward system back to front; despite the evident negative outcomes such as lack of energy and stiff bodies. I’d like to take this opportunity to boldly share with you our mission at iNform to push back against this tide and urge society to start rewarding differently, more smartly. We will be fighting the status quo for your health!
Invest a small amount in exercise and be rewarded with productivity
The research is very clear that when we invest a small amount of time out of the day for some brisk exercise, we get paid back in stamina and the ability to do more. Yet, our society does not reward this “timeout”. In executive circles, constant pressure to perform, whispers are hard to ignore that time spent at the gym or working-out is a waste of productive time. We have all bought this lie.
So, here’s a simple challenge that will pay you a solid dividend. Find 20 minutes before you leave for work in the morning, or build a half hour break time into your day, treat it as Stephen Covey’s Urgent And Important task, and get in a walk or a run or a cycle or climbing of stairs. Leave a few minutes for a shower if you have one at the office. Start this without telling the world about it. Let them see you start.
And here is what you’ll notice:
People will ask what you are doing and why. This will give you the chance to let them know that you are re-engineering the way our society rewards our behaviours.
You are doing this because everyone around you and the Australian economy, will stand to benefit from a fitter population (and workforce) with sharper thoughts and better stamina.
It all starts by finding any means possible for turning our backs on old habits and putting our backs into smarter efforts that will yield a bigger prize that we’ll all be around longer to enjoy.
Why should we reward ourselves?
Smarter rewards systems are needed in family time too! In the early decades of preparing for and then building a family, where do most of us place our health in the order of tasks and priorities? Nowadays, the ever-growing list of demands means that many women and men who run households and families, put others before themselves at a great and hidden cost.
The cost is all those moments when exhaustion has robbed us of exercise or tight finances have robbed us of health options like exercise physiologists or gym memberships.
There is just not enough time to go around and people with strong parental instincts yield to our inbuilt reward system of giving us an endorphin rush when we sacrifice ourselves for our loved ones. However, that healthy reward system evolved during a time of unavoidable physical labour.
So, we have a battle ahead, but evidence-based approaches to short, structured fitness plans like we provide at iNform Health and Fitness Solutions can give back to your body the strength and capacity it was always destined to have.
Yes, clocks can be turned back, despite all the momentum that tries to pull us away from taking personal time out to invest in our health. So come and join us in fighting the status quo for your health!
Let’s draw a line in the sand over stress
This won’t be easy today’s world is full of constant time pressures and worries. We are continually rushing around, meeting deadlines, feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the family, and burning the candle at both ends just to get things done.
Now we’ve known for some time now the benefits of exercise on making us feel better and more productive and in fact I wrote about the neuroscience of it all in a blog back in 2011. However, with summer approaching, and the with the days getting longer, now is the perfect time to take a stand against stress!
Exercise makes us 20% more productive
This isn’t new information, but to put it in a more quantifiable way:-
Twenty minutes of exercise in the morning will pay you back by adding an extra 80 minutes of productivity to your day. That’s a net gain of 60 minutes to your day!
It also makes us less stressed!
A recent study compared 20 minutes of exercise a day to the equivalent time spent performing mindfulness meditation and heart rate biofeedback (a way of controlling your heart rate through breathing and seeing its effect on your heart). Researchers expected mindfulness to be superior, especially in relation to maintaining attention, improving compassion and decreasing worry. They were wrong!
Exercise was just as effective as mindfulness
This surprised the authors of the study, as mindfulness directly focuses on attention, compassion and control over your thinking. Perhaps exercise has an indirect effect on these attributes as increasing your heart rate and breathing rate may challenge your body to become more aware of the “now”.
And we also know exercise is good for more than just stress and productivity
You only need to read the rest of our blogs to know that exercise benefits us in many different ways.
While reduction in blood pressure has also been shown in mindfulness studies, I doubt that they would be able to compete with the metabolic benefits of exercise. If you’re in need of reducing your blood sugars levels, or you want to drop a few centimetres around your waistline 20 minutes of high intensity exercise would suit you better.
At iNform we believe that any exercise as part of a personalised program should be done in a mindful way so that you’re not just “going through the motions.”
If you’re “wired” to move and can’t keep still, or life doesn’t enable you to find the adequate “quiet time” at home, exercise might also be a more palatable way of gaining all these benefits.
So let’s stress less and do more!
No matter whether you prefer to spend 20 minutes a day exercising or in mindful meditation we can all experience these benefits. Now is as good a time to draw a line in the sand and establish this daily habit. Your body, health and relationships will thank you for it!
During one of the group classes last week, I was engaged in a delightful conversation about a client’s 70th birthday. He was shocked he was turning the big seven-zero and when asked why he just responded…“Because I don’t feel it.”
Interested, we prodded him further, “well, how old do you feel?”
“I don’t know, I feel like David!”
The outcome of this conversation was a thought provoking statement. Training for him was not about getting stronger but more about enjoying retirement. Essentially, he now feels like he has a new lease on life. He never believed he would enjoy retirement as much as he does and he puts this down to staying mobile, strong, and injury free.
The road to retirement
From the age of five (give or take) where we start our official schooling through to the upper echelon of our middle age, we are expected to work in some shape or form! Apart from some in their twenties who go exploring, we are usually tied down to the monotony of work life. We all sit at our desks day-dreaming about the life we are going to have when we retire. However, we almost forget that when we arrive to this magical destination, we are 60-70 years of age. Over that time our bodies have been ignored, battered, bruised, sat sedentary and fed truckloads of processed foods.
In our field, we tend to see 60 to 80 year old clients with conditions such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, obesity, and heart conditions. All of whom still want to get out and live out their retirement dreams. Not just sit on a couch watching re-runs of “The Bold and the Beautiful”. However, the condition that their body has arrived to retirement in has made this difficult (but not impossible).
So how do we do we move well enough to start ticking things off our bucket lists?
Training for retirement – when you are retired!
Never fear! Just because you have spent a majority of your life working and caring for others doesn’t mean you may as well give up and switch the TV on. A majority of people want to walk around Europe, become grey nomads and see amazing sites like Machu Picchu. This involves feeling comfortable climbing stairs, walking long distances, balancing on uneven surfaces.
Hopefully we get to experience the joy of being a grandparent. Being about to get up and down off the ground, pick them up when they want a cuddle and kick a ball around the back garden is very difficult when you are not fit and active. Add to that, keeping a nice house and garden without aggravating injuries is a pretty big deal.
So therefore, we need to ensure we have adequate aerobic capacity to move for long distances. We need strength in our glutes, quadriceps, trunk and the list goes on to climb, hop and carry all sorts. Lastly, we know balance and reaction time does decrease with age so we need to challenge it (safely) as often as we can. We need to move well to retire well!
It is never too late to start!
Training for retirement – while you are still working!
Why wait till we get there to deal with the implications of a taxing work life? Improving your movement capacity and remaining injury free doesn’t just mean love retired life. It means you can love life in general! But it also means you can love life in general. Increasing your muscle strength, fitness and mobility ensures you can complete day to day life with decreased amounts of fatigue, you can hike without pain, you can umpire your children’s soccer games. Seriously, what more can you ask!!
I attended an insightful evening at SAHMRI on depression. I don’t want to sound all melancholic at the start of this blog. However, quantitatively speaking, Australia is the unhappiest country in the world (per capita). We also have the highest prescription rate/use of antidepressants in the world (per capita).
Now I am really sounding melancholic.
Why do we have high rates of depression?
I was really saddened that Australia, a wonderful, optimistic, culturally diverse nation is so depressed. Are we trying to put a band-aid on by taking an antidepressant with the notion that quote un-quote “she’ll be right mate”? Are we ill-informed by our health & medical team? Or does one think or feel that a pill is the only way to remission? Or are we literally still stuck in time?
Maybe my past tense reference was justified…
Here’s the problem…
Depression is so much more complex than the first hypothesis from the 50s, which brought us the discovery of the first antidepressant, Fluoxetine (Prozac). The problem is that all that has changed in the last forty years is that we now have ten or more antidepressants rather than just one. The reason I am so passionate about the right co-care and management is because of the side effects of these medicines. For example, the growth factors in antidepressants can contribute to obesity, another morbidity that inundates our health care system.
So what can we do to help treat depression?
Recent advances have shown that our genes can be switched off by our environment, sedentary lifestyles and psychologically stressful events. This includes our BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) genes, which are the fertilisers for our brain. They help protect and grow our neurons. However, positively, we can also switch this gene on by exercising and meditating. Therefore our actions and choices can potentially lead to melancholy or greater health.
I guess this is more of a personal release than an education problem solving blog. Please pardon the lack of clarity/direction. But it many ways I feel this is the current position we are in.
It all starts with the little things:
- Move more…
- Find space, breathe, form boundaries and find silence/solitude…
- Hug more…
- Connect more (interpersonally)…
- Connect with nature…
- Nourish your body… (remember where amino acids are derived from… FOOD. And what do amino acids make? Neurotransmitters!)