Happy Psychology week!

Happy Psychology week!

As the nation goes through a messy haze, filled of negativity biases left right at your doorstep or television screen. It feels refreshing to  promote psychology week.
In between all the Trump & Clinton concoctions, horrific weather and so-forth. Psychology week, promoted by the Australian Psychology Society  is another wonderful intervention to promote health and well being. One is going to discuss the power of social connection; and the importance on combating disease and social isolation.
To read on: Please click here



Are ‘YOU’OK?

Are ‘YOU’OK?

One is in awe of all the Facebook love; to promote the awareness of mental health. ruokWith all the ‘likes’, sharing and so forth (bless our nucleus accumbens!). The second Thursday of September 2016 marks  “Are you OK day?”. One doesn’t need to  explain the definition.

But; Perhaps flip the coin, directing attention on the self. Why the self?. When was the last time you got in touch with your inner meta-cognitive dialogue? I will touch on reaching out at the end….However, placing emphasis on the self first, can then enable the opportunity to reach out to others.

Three words…




To be vulnerable, one must surrender shame. When shame is surrendered, one can be ready to show compassion. When feeling numb, self cannot connect, because self is dis..connected. The same can be said with mental health. Mental health is much more than depletion of neurotransmitters & a lottery of SSRIs & MAOIs!

To further delve, please do follow the links above to find out more…

Let’s say that self is ready to reach out to others in need. Trying to say/think of the right words can be incredibly difficult, especially if the topic is sensitive. However; listening, reading facial expressions, feeling ones pain (without taking on the burden) and touch (within respect), are all powerful non-verbal tools, which can assist the compassionate empath…YOU!

My dream for the future, is that humanity won’t need a day of recognition to remind us all to be self compassionate, emotionally intelligent, empathetic… Friend, husband, wife, brother, sister, colleague and neutral.

As Donald Hebb once postulated…

“neurons that fire together, wire together”

Repetition, repetition, repetition!

However; it is wonderful to see so many organisations getting behind mental health & starting the conversation.

Be well, be kind & BE compassionate🙂

James Smith

Bones – Do we care for them as much as we should?

Bones – Do we care for them as much as we should?

This week is Health Bone action week…. So why do we need a week about Bones?HBAW_FF50_2016_600x600tile

4.7 millions Australians over the age of 50 have Osteoporosis or poor bone health (Osteoporosis Australia, 2014). It is also alarming that the prevalence of bone disease has continued to increase in recent years. Good bone is essential as it is the tissue that provides the structure for muscle to attach, protect our more delicate tissues and act as a reservoir for both calcium and phosphorus (really important in blood cell formation). Healthy bones week is a good opportunity to reflect on whether we are taking as much care of our bones as we could.

As we age the human body increases its fragility which is a somewhat inevitable process due to ageing.

On the contrary, a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle will delay the changes associated with ageing. Along with maintaining a balanced diet, regularly exercising as we age is crucial to prevent bone deterioration. The literature has found that weight-bearing exercise can trigger a response in the body that increases bone formation. To put it in really simple terminology, muscles pull on bone, and to protect itself the bone gets stronger. The increases in bone mineral density when the body is put under significant load is important in fighting Osteoporosis (which is caused by decreased bone mineral density).

So what exactly is weight bearing exercise?
Exercise that requires you to experience the force of gravity is considered weight bearing. Examples include weight training, walking, running, ball sports or pretty much anything where you are on your feet. Exercise such as cycling or swimming, while excellent for cardiovascular fitness, will not elicit enough strain on the bone to strengthen them.

Exercise prescription for improving bone mineral density
Research by Turner & Robling (2003) provided evidence that is is better to do more sessions with more load/intensity more often with less duration for bone strength. A practical way of looking at this would be performing weight bearing exercise twice per day for 20 minutes each time rather than one 40 minute session. In the same article it was stated that proper exercise can reduce the likelihood of damage to the bone even without having a significant impact on the bone density. This is especially important later in life  as by improving balance and postural stability the risk of falls decreases.  (Turner & Robling 2003).

Quick tips to increase bone strength:

  • Exercise outside where safe to increase exposure to vitamin D
  • Ensure adequate calcium consumption
  • Perform a combination of weight-bearing exercises regularly

“Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young”
– Fred Astaire



For more information, please visit: http://www.healthybones.com.au/

Turner, C & Robling, A 2003, ‘Designing exercise regimens to increase bone strength’, Exercise And Sport Sciences Reviews, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 45-50.

Pause….for Parkinson’s

Pause….for Parkinson’s

Yesterday marked ‘Pause for Parkinson’s’ day. A day to recognize and show loving kindness and compassion to ones who suffer this debilitating neurodegenerative disease.

When we think of Parkinson’s disease (PD) , Michael J Fox who sadly was diagnosed  in 1991 at the tender age of 30 usually comes to mind. To be diagnosed at the age of 30 is very rare, with most Parkinsonian disorders becoming of age within 1% of individuals older than 60 (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1831191-overview). 

Parkinsonian is categorized into two components Degenerative and non-degenerative (Dickson, 2012). Degenerative speaks for itself, and I will touch on the neuropathogenesis (causes) to appreciate the complexities and again to show an abundance of loving kindness and compassion that patients go through on a daily basis.

I have used the term ‘parkinsonian’ for the reason that there is a combination of disorders associated with PD. And each PD patient will differ with their symptoms. BUT, the two main pathological issues seen in PD is the protein Alpha Synuclein and destruction of the Nigrostriatal pathway. Now please don’t let me scare you with the above (insert scary emoji here) I will simplify the two.

Alpha Synuclein is a membrane bound protein found in the brain which is involved in signalling chemical messengers (neurotransmitters). This is normal, and needed. But the complexity of the human organism. Normally functioning proteins such as alpha synuclein in the PD patient goes through a complex aggregation pathway (I fast forwarded things here) resulting in Lewy bodies, which are a neurotoxic protein. Neurotoxic proteins like lewy bodies develop inside nerve cells and subsequently kill off the dopaminergic signalling which leads us into the Nigrostriatal pathway.

The nigrostriatal pathway involves the projection of the neurotransmitter dopamine that we are all familiar with. The dopaminergic neurons are involved in areas (pathways) that involve movement. The main area that looses it’s vital dopaminergic neurons is the Substantia nigra. The substantia nigra is rich in dopamine and a lot of the motor symptoms you see in PD patients such rigidity and bradykinesia are a result of the substantia nigra loosing it’s vital dopamine.

(Nigrostriatal pathway)

So that wasn’t all to fun was it? Let’s talk about what is promising. The brain’s way of healing by Norman Doidge M.D. Is a wonderful book that brings light into the growing evidence that the brain is ‘plastic’ or neuroplasticity. Norman’s book discusses a patient who suffers from PD, who was debunked by neurologist’s because his symptoms improved by conscious walking or neuroplastic remodeling. By consciously paying attention to gait and how plastic the brain is. The patients symptoms improved and continued to improve as long as physical activity was maintained. WELL! what do you know? physical activity is neuroprotective. Who would have thought…

Well that was a eyeful.

I hope you all learn’t something new about PD. And have some more loving kindness towards PD sufferers. This was simplified for many complex reasons so happy to give out more information.


Author: James Smith


Exercise and Pregnancy: Should you train for Labour?

Would you run in a marathon without preparing and training?

It’s a question I ask my pregnant clients. A majority of marathoners wouldn’t dream of it, but generally want to learn more about what they could do to keep fit the best they can during the pregnancy process. They would focus on preggers 2their preparation, strengthen their bodies and minds so they can remain injury free in the lead up, perform the race of their life and recover well afterwards.

So if that’s the case with an endurance event like running, why don’t we think about natural childbirth in a similar light? The body begins changing as soon as conception occurs with changes in hormones like oestrogen and relaxin, blood volume. Then, as the pregnancy develops, the centre of gravity changes, body weight increases, ligaments increase in laxity and even the feet change. This means the body needs to be able to be strong, fit and mobile to prevent occurrences of lower back pain, acute injuries, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. We then turn our heads to labour would be physically harder and require more endurance and strength than a marathon. The body needs to deal with strong muscular contractions for 6 to 14 hours (on average). Vast amounts of oxygen are required for the working muscles and it becomes a long distance cardiovascular workout. What’s more, unlike a marathon, there is no set finish line. Quitting isn’t an option. We just have to keep working until we receive our ultimate prize (which is also way cooler than a medal).

Just like strong fit marathon runners, mothers with a good cardiovascular and muscular strength background also have been shown to recover from the childbirth event quicker. Physiologically, muscles which are constantly put under the strain of a work out become efficient at recovering through increased blood circulation and the cellular repair response to trauma is heightened.

But isn’t exercising risky?
Now before you start thinking that exercise is risky for both you are your baby, it’s important to recognise that researchers have busted many myths about exercise and pregnancy. Rather than becoming sedentary (never a good option), the evidence shows that both aerobic and resistance training can help increase the health of your baby and manage pregnancy issues such as weight gain, lower back pain, muscular cramps and fatigue.  Now, if you weren’t squatting 60kg prior to becoming pregnant, you would never start lifting heavy. Resisted exercise can include different body weight or weighted actions, an increased focus on endurance and quality of muscle contraction.

Are you unsure where to even start?
Exercise should be individualised to your goals, body type, conditions, previous fitness levels and experience by a qualified trainer. There are certain changes in prescription, which should be taken into account when it comes to exercise and they change over the course of the pregnancy. It is best to start this discussion with a women’s health exercise physiologist, physiotherapist and general practitioner.

Here is the big take home message….
You must realise it won’t be easy. There are days where you will feel tired, heavy, & nauseous. However, in the long run, just like in marathons, prior preparation will deliver a better performance.

Getting the black dog moving: The effects of physical activity on mental health

dogDid you know over 3 million Australian’s reported having a mental health or behavioral condition. That’s nearly 14% of the country! That’s absolutely staggering considering that figure only includes those currently diagnosed. In reality, if you personally haven’t experienced a mental health disorder such as depression, there is no doubt that someone in your circle of friends has.

Spending time with a close friend, it is easy to see that depression doesn’t just affect your mood. It involves decreased feelings of self-worth and motivation levels for extended periods. My friend explained that the really debilitating factor is it sucks your ability to find even the simplest of pleasures in the world and everyday tasks become so much harder to finish. Add to that, depression physically affects how your body functions.  Changes in brain function, hormone levels and neurotransmitter actions can have serious implications on internal stress levels, appetite and sleep patterns. It really does affect your whole world and like the dark metaphor, the black dog lurks in the shadows, waiting to rear its ugly head.

At the moment commonly prescribed treatments for depression involve medications and behavioral therapies, but could we add physical activity to this list?

Current evidence has shown that getting the muscles moving and blood pumping has a moderate to large antidepressant effect (and don’t forget the other health benefits). Importantly, it plays a holistic role in preventing, treating and minimising risk of reoccurring episodes both acutely and long term. Interestingly, both aerobic and resistance training lead to natural neurochemical alterations. By acutely regulating hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol, exercise can decrease the stress levels. It also stimulates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which positively changes mood, pain levels and appetite perception. I could go into a raft of other structural changes within the brain, but let’s leave that for another day.

But what I think exercise is fantastic for is promoting feelings of well-being and self-efficacy. Learning to move your body, becoming stronger and fitter can give an individual the confidence in their own ability to exert control over their motivation and behaviours. This is something that depression can take away from you. So start moving your limbs in an effort to get the black dog off your back and running out of your life.