Happiness: What is science telling us?

Happiness: What is science telling us?

9-not-need-happyIt’s surely coincidental that I have been given the task to write about the “science” (I’m a nerd) and “happiness” (I like hugging people).

For some time scientist were unable to measure happiness. And you can hypothesis all you want, but if you can’t lay down the hard evidence then science or in this case psychology will debunk you. Dr. Sue Johnson a counselling psychologist debunked the critics that love could never be measured. With functional MRI showing us nerds the nitty gritty of the brain. Dr. Johnson could indeed show us with a little bit of oxytocin that love can be measured, and we all know that love/bonding is ever so important for the survival of human kind (for more references for Dr. Johnson, read her book “Love sense”) 

So you have gathered I like science and hugging people….BUT! this blog is to celebrate International day of happiness. And how to measure your own happiness.

On the 28th of June 2012  Jayme Illien a United Nations adviser proposed  happiness as a human right and a “fundamental human goal.” Jayme himself was a rescued orphan by Mother Theresa’s International Mission of Hope charities (for more on Jayme, http://www.happinessday.org/).  And what a noble idea it was. And so on the 20th of March every year, International day of happiness is a day to promote, well….happiness!

So there is your sneaky background check. Now to the “science” behind happiness.

There is really one psychologist that has put positive psychology on the map, and there might be a confirmation bias here as I have read all of his books. Quickly,  Positive psychology investigates what brings satisfaction to ones life. Without treating the pathology of mental illness. Professor Martin Seligman is the father of positive psychology and is famous for his previous investigation into learned helplessness. Professor Seligman defied and even challenged the likes of Sigmund Freud with his investigation and methodology. Prof Seligman hypothesised that you can measure happiness and well being. And along with his books Learned optimism and Flourish came about a measuring stick for happiness and well being. Prof Seligman developed a measuring questionnaire called PERMA through the university of Pennsylvania. Which scientifically measures your optimism and well being in life. A pessimistic outlook in life has been linked to poorer immunity, inability to bounce back from setbacks and even presidential speeches that were pessimistic, were less likely to get voted for (true story).

Prof Seligman has done wonderful work here at SAHMRI with the Wellbeing and resilience centre. Setting up PERMA programs through schools, workplaces and within the community with huge success. If you don’t feel inclined to follow up on the links, here is a a TED talk done by the man himself.


PERMA stands for….

Clicking on the above headlines will direct you through to PERMA in more depth along with http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/? .

I’m known to ramble on, so I will leave the links above and below for you wonderful people to investigate in your time. But as you can see (if you read the links) a splash of positive emotion (being optimistic) and a little sprinkle of engagement (nourishing activities) and you are well on your way to a “flourishing” meaningful life.

Happy international day

Being a coffee snob is good for your health

Being a coffee snob is good for your health

I was in Perth for work last weekend. I don’t know Perth very well at all, yet alone South Perth, where I was staying. This means that I did not know where I could find a good coffee on Monday morning, which is a problem as I am quite the coffee snob.

Fortunately I had recently been told about a phone app called ‘Beanhunter’, which can direct you from your current location to the closest good coffee vendor. Having a personal tracking device permanently on oneself has never been so useful. (more…)

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters

November is lung awareness month, a chance for everyone to stop and listen to their breathing. Many of us don’t even think about our breathing until we experience challenges. Alarmingly, one in seven Australian’s die because of lung disease every year! With such a high prevalence it is clear we need to pay greater attention to our lungs. On average we take approximately 23,000 breaths a day or one breath every three to five seconds.

What could you do with just one breath?

The Lung Foundation of Australia have developed a set of questions to assess your lung health and determine whether you may need further investigation. As you read through the following questions think about yourself but also your friends and family. Have they mentioned any of the following?

  • Have a new, persistent or changed cough?lungs
  • Cough up mucus, phlegm or blood?
  • Get out of breath more easily than others your age?
  • Experience chest tightness or wheeze?
  • Have frequent chest infections?
  • Experience chest pain, fatigue sudden weight loss?
  • Are a smoker or ex-smoker?
  • Have you ever worked in a job that exposed you to dust, gas or fumes?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions a follow up with your GP is advised.

There are many practices we can adopt on a daily basis to help keep our lungs healthy and give us the best chance of avoiding lung disease. If you have a diagnosed lung condition these should also be adopted to best enhance the lungs potential and prevent worsening of symptoms.

Tips for healthy lungs:

  • Aim for smoke free! This includes passive smoking.
  • Enjoy fresh air daily
  • Protect yourself at work from dust particles, chemicals and fumes
  • Stick to safe products in the home
  • Partake in regular exercise
  • Be aware of the symptoms and risk factors as listed above

It’s important to know that becoming breathless during exercise is normal. Regular exercise, however, can increase the strength and function of your muscles, making them more efficient. Your muscles will then require less oxygen to move and will produce less carbon dioxide. This leads to a reduction in the amount of air you need to breathe in and out for a given exercise or daily task. Aim to accumulate 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most if not all days of the week, and 2 sessions of resistance training per week. Help keep your breathing go un-noticed.

Remember to take a moment every day to stop, relax, listen and breathe…


Karla Newman

Do your kids see you sweat??

Do your kids see you sweat??

overweight teenagerLast week I saw a report on the ABC about the growing prevalence of overweight or obese kids in Australia, and it sparked a lot of angry thoughts! As one my areas of passion is seeing healthy active kids!

The stats, as you can imagine, are scary: Back in 2000, approximately 20% of teenagers were overweight or obese, now its 25% and a study conducted by the Victorian Dept of Hman Services predicts that this number will increase to 33% by 2025 (Future prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australian children and adolescents, 2005-2025 Department of Human Services, March 2008)

The consequences are sad and cruel: greater prevalence of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, a whole range of cancers, and mental health issues.

The reasons are both staggering, yet unsurprising:

The study reported on by the ABC was conducted by the Cancer Council and National Heart Foundation, and it revealed teens were spending too much time in front of the television with 58 per cent of students having at least three televisions in their home and 40 per cent with video games in their bedrooms. 75% of teenagers were spending more than two hours in front of screens (for school work or entertainment). A huge 82% are not engaging in more than 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

So what are we going to do about this sad state of affairs? All this takes me back to a paper I was privileged enough to co-author a few years ago. It showed that not only are both adults and children under active, but that the association between parents and their kids’ physical activity is decreasing. So the behaviour modelling strength of parents’ activity is influencing kids less! While the reason why is unclear; my guess is that its due to our changing behaviour patterns. We just don’t see as many families going for walks or bike rides together. You don’t see as many dads kicking the footy with their kids. Now we go to the gym or social sport on the way to or from work, and we are ‘done’ by the time we get home. So while we may be active, our kids don’t see us being active, so they don’t learn from our exercise behaviours!

So lets get out with our kids more. Even when I’m being active on my own, I try to make a point of telling my kids how much I enjoyed my run or bike ride around Adelaide’s beautiful trails!

Martin M, Dollman J, Norton K, Robertson, I. (2005) A decrease in the association between the physical activity patterns of Australian parents and their children; 1985-1997, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 8(1): 71-76.
The Glycemic Load. The other half of the story.

The Glycemic Load. The other half of the story.

loaf of breadI have this conversation with clients at least once a week, so I thought I’d share it here for you as well. Now, while I’m an Exercise Physiologist (and not a dietician), the majority of our clients ask about dietary advice, as it’s part of the lifestyle behaviours that we often coach our clients through. We make sure that our advice stays within the scope of sharing general principles about food, supported by research from biochemistry and physiology.

So the question of ‘carbs’ intake comes up very often, as the message that a diet ‘lower in carbs’ leads to greater weight loss is well spread. This is the type of eating that I also stick to, for a number of reasons that I’ll get into later. But for now I want to address a significant part of this discussion that is often overlooked: The glycemic load (GL). Now, most people are aware of the glycemic index (GI), which relates to how quickly a food containing carbohydrate raises blood-glucose levels, depending on the type of carbohydrate chain involved. Typically, the quicker a food’s carbohydrate is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream, the higher the GI.

The glycemic load estimates how much (rather than how fast) the food will raise a person’s blood glucose(sugar) levels after eating it. So it incorporates the GI, but very importantly, it also depends on the AMOUNT of carbohydrates the food contains!

So while a dark bread has a low glycemic index, due to the complexity of the carb chains, it has a high glycemic load, due to the many and long carbohydrate chains in it! So it provides a LOT of carbohydrate and calories. While the insulin spike won’t be high, it will be prolonged. its a slow cooker! In contrast, most vegetables will be both low GI and low GL, a perfect combination! in addition, they’ll be high in nutrient value (vitamins and minerals) as well as relatively lower in calories.

So don’t want to avoid carbs, but be aware of the total LOAD of the carbs you are eating, and make sure these match your personal energy requirements! LOAD up on the veges, and perhaps reduce the bread!


Has the barefoot wave crested?

Has the barefoot wave crested?

The symbol on the tongue of my New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail shoe is this: <=>. Less equals more.

This succinct message, I am sure infers that less structure, support and sole means more feel, enjoyment and performance. But for many, it probably lead to more calf soreness, shin pain and bone stress.

This may be why, if the rumours are true, that this shoe will be discontinued in the near future. I really, truly hope that this rumour is just that, as the NB Minimus is my favourite shoe of all time bar none- it is the only shoe I have ever stocked-up with multiple pairs, like a doomsday prepper buying up tinned food in anticipation of Armageddon.

But the marketplace rules, and perhaps people are voting with their (sore) feet?
A successful class action against the Vibram 5 Finger in the USA wouldn’t help support persevering with a minimalist range. And anecdotally, I haven’t had an inquiry about transitioning to barefoot or minimalist running for ages (2-3 years ago I would receive multiple inquiries about this every week).

The book ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher MacDougall was the under-sea earthquake which spawned the Tsunami. It was hard not to be spellbound by the shoeless utopia promised to us if we all just kicked off our shoes and made commune with the earth that had become so strange and spiteful to our suffering legs.

But alas, this was a false paradise. Many of my Physiotherapist and Podiatrist friends have reported an increase in bone stress and achilles tendon presentations in their clinics with minimalist running the undeniable culprit.
So minimalist running will probably recede into the halls of past exercise fad, alongside Tae-Bo and Zumba. And hopefully, that is where it stays in the minds of the fad-seekers.

Barefoot or minimalist was never meant for everyone, like we were lead to believe. And perfecting its practice was not something entwined in our DNA if we just gave it a chance. So hopefully the barefoot zealots who did blanket-prescribe minimalist running do move on to some new fad- maximalist running maybe?!

But barefoot running will remain a tool of the considerate and educated health professional, and will be kept tucked away in the tool kit ready and available for when it’s use is appropriate.

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