Struggling With Health-Related Goals? Avoid These 6 Common Pitfalls

Challenge 1: Your goal is unattainable. Your resolution is to run 3 miles every day but you’ve never run more than 2 — ever. You’ve set yourself up for quick failure.

Solution: Set a weekly rather than a daily goal. For beginners, heading to the park three times a week is much more feasible than a daily pounding on sore legs.

Challenge 2: You aren’t taking baby steps. If your goal is to give up sugar, but you’re used to drinking two or three cans of fizzy drink a day, then you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms with sugar cravings.

Solution: Work on giving up the the fizzy drinks first, then take a look at what other sugar-heavy items are going into your body.

Challenge 3: You didn’t enlist support. It’s easy to say no to yourself but harder to say no if you’re paired-up with a friend or a group to exercise.

Solution: Try and make your health goals more “social” by engaging with friends and family. This is likely to help you form healthy habits and draw enjoyment from the camaraderie.

Challenge 4: You made too many resolutions. You’ve vowed to get 45 minutes of cardio every day, eliminate processed foods, save money, keep the house spotless, never let the laundry pile up — oh and to floss religiously. Change for the better is great, but striving for perfection breeds disappointment.

Solution: Set just one or two attainable goals at a time, and once they become habits, make new ones.

Challenge 5: You made a resolution that doesn’t fit your lifestyle. You’re not a morning person, but you set a goal to swim laps first thing. Good luck getting out of that warm bed and into that cold pool!

Solution: How about a lunchtime swim instead? Don’t force a habit on yourself that’s never going to work for you.

Challenge 6: You fell off the wagon, so why bother? Missing a workout or eating a “forbidden” food doesn’t mean your whole health and fitness drive is lost.

Solution: Don’t let the calendar or the clock dictate when you make life changes. And remember, your past is not your potential. Don’t beat yourself up about the odd slip-up. Re-focus, remember what you want to achieve, and carry on regardless.

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About the source material:

This article is based on material provided to us by the Vanderbilt University Medical Schools media feed ‘My Southern Health,’  on 12th February 2019 and is reprodced here, under CCL copyright provisions. The article has undergone editorial adjustments to account for the interests of our predominantly UK and European readership.

Low Back Pain: Drugs and Surgery Should be Last Resort

The guidelines on low back pain are clear: Drugs and surgery should be the last resort. This article, by a group of Australian academics, explains why.

By Sandra Grace,  Roger Mark Engel & Subramanyam R Vemulpad

Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is becoming more common as our population ages. Most people who have an episode of low back pain recover within six weeks, but two-thirds still have pain after three months. By 12 months, pain may linger but is usually less intense.

Still, recurrence is common and in a small number of people it may become persistent and disabling. Chronic back pain affects well-being, daily functioning and social life.

A series on low back pain by the global medical journal The Lancet outlined that most sufferers aren’t getting the most effective treatment. The articles state that recommended first-line treatments – such as advice to stay active and to exercise – are often overlooked. Instead, many health professionals seem to favour less effective treatments such as rest, opioids, spinal injections and surgery.

So, here’s what evidence shows you need to do to improve your low back pain.

Risk factors for low back pain

The cause of most people’s low back pain remains unknown. But we do know of a number of risk factors that could increase the chance of developing low back pain. These include a physically demanding job that involves lifting, bending and being in awkward postures. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and low levels of physical activity are also associated with developing low back pain.

People with low back pain should see a health professional to rule out the more serious causes of pain such as fracture, malignancy (cancer) or infection.

Once patients are cleared of these, the current guidelines from Denmark, the UK and the US advise self-management and psychological therapies as the initial response for persistent low back pain. These include staying active, doing appropriate exercises and undertaking a psychological program to help manage the pain.

Exercises such as Tai Chi, yoga, motor control (to restore strength, co-ordination and control of the deep core stabilising muscles supporting the spine) and aerobic exercises (such as walking, swimming, cycling and general muscle reconditioning exercises) are recommended.

If any of these therapies fail or stop working, the guidelines point to manual and physical therapies such as spinal manipulation (Denmark, UK, US), massage (UK and US) and yoga and acupuncture (US) – particularly for low back pain lasting more than 12 weeks.

Exercise and psychological therapy

The guidelines are based on many studies that have shown the benefits of exercise and psychological therapies. For instance, a 2006 study compared pain levels across two groups of physically active people with chronic low back pain.

Participants who followed a four-week program using Pilates exercise equipment reported a more significant reduction in pain and disability than those in a control group who received usual care (consultations with a health care professional as needed). The benefit for the exercise group was maintained over a 12-month period.

Another, 2011 trial explored the benefits of Tai Chi for those with persistent low back pain. Participants who completed a ten-week course of Tai Chi sessions had less bothersome back symptoms, pain intensity and self‐reported disability, compared with a control group who continued with their normal medical care, fitness or health regimen.

Chronic pain is linked with chemical and structural changes at all levels of the nervous system. These include the level of neurotransmitter changes that alter pain modulation, and sensitisation of the nerves involved in transmitting pain signals. Incoming pain signals can be modified by our response to persistent pain.

Psychological treatments – such as mindfulness-based stress reduction – focus on increasing awareness and acceptance of physical discomfort, as well as challenging emotions often associated with chronic pain.

In a trial including 342 participants, around 45% of those who had completed eight sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy or mindfulness-based stress reduction had clinically meaningful improvements in bothersome pain at 26 weeks of follow-up. This was compared to only 26.6% of people who had received usual care.

Manual therapy

In Australia, physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths use manual and physical therapy to treat lower back pain. The treatments often include some form of spinal manipulation and massage, as well as advice to stay active and do exercises. This is consistent with The Lancet’s recommendations, also based on evidence from studies.

A 2013 trial of people with acute low back pain compared the effects of spinal manipulation with those of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (Voltaren) and placebo on their pain. Spinal manipulation was found to be significantly better than diclofenac and clinically superior to placebo in reducing disability, pain and the need for rescue medication. It was also found to improve quality of life.

Similar results came from another study of 192 people with low back pain that lasted around two to six weeks. Participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups: chiropractic manipulation with a placebo medication; muscle relaxants with sham manipulation; or placebo medicine with sham manipulation. All subjects improved over time, but the chiropractic group responded significantly better, with a bigger decrease in pain scores, than the control group.

Physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths are required by law to be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) to practise in Australia. To be registered, a person must complete a minimum of four years’ study at a university in a degree that includes a focus on non-pharmacological (drug-based), non-surgical management of musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain.

Under the government’s Chronic Disease Management Plan patients with persistent low back pain may be referred to physiotherapists, chiropractors or osteopaths for evidence-based therapies such as spinal manipulation and massage. If patients are unfamiliar with these therapies, they can discuss referral with their GP.

Physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths can also be consulted without referral. Their services are usually covered by private health insurance. The AHPRA website lists registered practitioners in your area.

One thing to look out for when you see a practitioner is the number of treatments they recommend. Patients usually start with a short course of two to six treatments to see if the treatment helps. It shouldn’t take many treatments for a change in symptom pattern to become obvious.

The message to the public and to health professionals is clear. People with non-specific low back pain need to learn how to independently manage their pain while remaining active, staying at work and maintaining their social life as far as possible.

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Products to assist relaxation and stress-relief – key factors in the perception and management of pain – are here

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Further Reading:

As well as supporting an ever expanding library of health and wellbeing articles, we specialise in providing medication-free options to address a wide range of physical, psychological and intimate health concerns, and to promote peak performance in study, work and sport. To explore our library articles, simply enter your area of interest in the “Search” box, at the top right of this page.

About The Authors and Source materials:

The authors of this article are Sandra Grace, Associate Professor in Osteopathy, Southern Cross University; Roger Mark Engel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Chiropractic, Macquarie University; and Subramanyam R Vemulpad, Associate Professor, Macquarie University

This article was first published in the online academic discussion journal, The Conversation, on May 16, 2018 and is reproduced here under CCL copyright provisions. The original article, which includes active links to all references, may be found here

‘Smiling depression’: Here’s why it’s particularly dangerous

It’s entirely possible to be depressed while appearing happy

By Olivia Remes

The term “smiling depression” – appearing happy to others while internally suffering depressive symptoms – has become increasingly popular. Articles on the topic have crept up in the popular literature, and the number of Google searches for the condition has increased dramatically this year. Some may question, however, whether this is actually a real, pathological condition.

While smiling depression is not a technical term that psychologists use, it is certainly possible to be depressed and manage to successfully mask the symptoms. The closest technical term for this condition is “atypical depression”. In fact, a significant proportion of people who experience a low mood and a loss of pleasure in activities manage to hide their condition in this way. And these people might be particularly vulnerable to suicide.

It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.

Inside, however, they feel hopeless and down, sometimes even having thoughts about ending it all. The strength that they have to go on with their daily lives can make them especially vulnerable to carrying out suicide plans. This is in contrast to other forms of depression, in which people might have suicide ideation but not enough energy to act on their intentions.

Although people with smiling depression put on a “happy face” to the outside world, they can experience a genuine lift in their mood as a result of positive occurrences in their lives. For example, getting a text message from someone they’ve been craving to hear from or being praised at work can make them feel better for a few moments before going back to feeling low.

Other symptoms of this condition include overeating, feeling a sense of heaviness in the arms and legs and being easily hurt by criticism or rejection. People with smiling depression are also more likely to feel depressed in the evening and feel the need to sleep longer than usual. With other forms of depression, however, your mood might be worse in the morning and you might feel the need for less sleep than you’re normally used to.

Smiling depression seems to be more common in people with certain temperaments. In particular, it is linked to being more prone to anticipate failure, having a hard time getting over embarrassing or humiliating situations and tending to ruminate or excessively think about negative situations that have taken place.

Women’s Health magazine captured the essence of smiling depression – the façade – when it asked women to share pictures from their social media and then to recaption them on Instagram with how they really felt in the moment they were taking the picture. Here are some of their posts .

Burden and treatment.

It is difficult to determine exactly what causes smiling depression, but low mood can stem from a number of things, such as work problems, relationship breakdown and feeling as if your life doesn’t have purpose and meaning.

It is very common. About one in ten people are depressed, and between 15% and 40% of these people suffer from the atypical form that resembles smiling depression. Such depression often starts early in life and can last a long time.

If you suffer from smiling depression it is therefore particularly important to get help. Sadly, though, people suffering from this condition usually don’t, because they might not think that they have a problem in the first place – this is particularly the case if they appear to be carrying on with their tasks and daily routines as before. They may also feel guilty and rationalise that they don’t have anything to be sad about. So they don’t tell anybody about their problems and end up feeling ashamed of their feelings.

So how can you break this cycle? A starting point is knowing that this condition actually exists and that it’s serious. Only when we stop rationalising away our problems because we think they’re not serious enough can we start making an actual difference. For some, this insight may be enough to turn things around, because it puts them on a path to seeking help and breaking free from the shackles of depression that have been holding them back.

Meditation and physical activity have also been shown to have tremendous mental health benefits. In fact, a study done by Rutgers University in the US showed that people who had done meditation and physical activity twice a week experienced a drop of almost 40% in their depression levels only eight weeks into the study. Cognitive behavioural therapy, learning to change your thinking patterns and behaviour, is another option for those affected by this condition.

And finding meaning in life is of utmost importance. The Austrian neurologist Viktor Frankl wrote that the cornerstone of good mental health is having purpose in life. He said that we shouldn’t aim to be in a “tensionless state”, free of responsibility and challenges, but rather we should be striving for something in life. We can find purpose by taking the attention away from ourselves and placing it onto something else. So find a worthwhile goal and try to make regular progress on it, even if it’s for a small amount each day, because this can really have a positive impact.

We can also find purpose by caring for someone else. When we take the spotlight off of us and start to think about someone else’s needs and wants, we begin to feel that our lives matter. This can be achieved by volunteering, or taking care of a family member or even an animal.

Feeling that our lives matter is ultimately what gives us purpose and meaning – and this can make a significant difference for our mental health and well-being.

Explore Further:

To find out more about the latest developments in pharmaceutical-free options to help manage symptoms of depressed mood states,  please see here.

If you’d like to explore our complete range of medication-free products to support health, wellbeing and peak performance in study, work and sports, then please visit our home page here

Further Reading:

As well as supporting an ever expanding library of health and wellbeing articles, we specialise in providing medication-free options to address a wide range of physical, psychological and intimate health concerns, and to promote peak performance in study, work and sport. To explore our library articles, simply enter your area of interest in the “Search” box, at the top right of this page.

About The Authors and Source materials:

The author of this article is Olivia Remes, who is a PhD Candidate at the University of Cambridge

This article was first published in the online academic discussion journal, The Conversation, on February 18, 2019 and is reproduced here under CCL copyright provisions. The original article, which includes active links to all references, may be found here

Enhancing Sport Performance with Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE)

By Dave Siever (edited) 

Introduction  

In sports, training and physical ‘readiness’ are important, but attitude can be everything. A positive, healthy mind state can give a competitive athlete the edge needed for an outstanding performance. Thoughts of doubt, stress and concerns about failure can have a devastating effect on performance.

It is because of such thoughts that athletes perform well during training and practices but then buckle under the pressure of competition.

Why do athletes experience this performance anxiety? Why don’t years of training instill the confidence and control needed to achieve excellence?

In most sports, what appears to play most on athletes minds is the fact that their performance will be judged relative to other athletes.

Unless an athlete has had the opportunity to develop a healthy attitude towards such comparisons early in life,  these can prove incredibly threatening, to the point where they can negatively impact performance.

This happens because, once an athlete has associated anxiety and fear with their performance, then it is almost inevitable that they will develop bracing habits (such as muscle tension, nervousness, vaso-constriction etc.), all of which are a natural response to perceived threat. Bracing serve to impede athletic perfomance.

Like most habits, for most people, bracing habits persist and will require training in order to be removed and replaced by more helpful responses.

Detractors from Excellence

Negative thoughts not only impair athletes striving to perform their best, but they also reduce serotonin levels in the brain. A high level of serotonin is directly linked to superior performance and leadership ability, whereas low serotonin levels affect the athlete’s emotions and thoughts, leading to a less hopeful attitude and a greater tendency to developing a guarding response, not only during the competition, but during training (and in all walks of life, for that matter).

it’s about balance…

Having said this, high arousal can also have its downside. For example, entertaining thoughts of fame and fortune, can produce excessive stimulation which, in turn, may lead to prematurely tiring an athlete. Golfers, tennis players and baseball players can fatigue their fast-twitch muscles in this way before they even begin their game. Fast-twitch muscles are critical for fast movements like swinging a bat, racquet or golf club. 

So the key to optimal performance appears to be in achieving balance, that is to say, a level of arousal which lies in the “golden” area between being over and under aroused for an upcoming challenge.

By managing an athlete’s level of arousal so that it stays in this “golden” zone, we are, in effect, managing the chances that they will be in the best possible psychological and physiological position for peak performance when they need it most.

Needless to say, this concept is not limited to sports performance, but applies to all areas of life, whether we’re considering the performing arts, public speaking, acadia or career development.

Look! A Squirrel

The key factor in optimising performance is the ability to concentrate and stay focused.

Figure 1 (below) shows how arousal influences an athletes ability to keep their focus and so perform in the peak-performance state.

There are many stories of normal and “slow” people who suddenly become “super humans” performing acts of heroism in a crisis (as a result of being pushed from the hypo-aroused state into the peak-performance state). But most athletes train in a fairly optimal peak-performance state as it is.

However, on the day of the big event, nearby distractions (such as camera crews, celebrities, crowds, noise and the “big money” excitement of winning), interfere with the athlete’s ability to focus, pushing the athlete’s arousal and attention from the peak-performance state into a hyper-aroused state as shown on the right-hand side of Figure 1. This occurs when the athlete is too physically and mentally “wired” to function in the peak-performance state.

Such over-arousal influences the athlete’s attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity, behaviour similar to that as seen in people with Attention Deficit Disorder.

figure 1 

Athletic Excellence Through AVE

AVE devices can be very effective in training an athlete to learn to stay focused and control their level of arousal during sporting events.

Figure 2 shows the Skill Development Session that serves the purpose of improving peak performance. This session begins with 10 minutes of alpha stimulation (the flat line on the graph trace), at which time the athlete imagines being at their best on the day of the event, with everything progressing smoothly and effortlessly. This allows the athlete to experience feeling relaxed and calm, yet sharp, clear and prepared.

After ten minutes of alpha, the stimulation rate speeds up to a higher beta frequency, related to alertness.

The relaxation experience from the alpha in the first half of the session is carried over into the remaining half (beta) of the session. It is during this beta stimulation that the athlete imagines going through the motions of the game with confidence and skill.

This session uses the heartbeat sounds for paced breathing and controlled heart rate, as practiced in heart rate variability training, which enhances relaxation.

This conditioning, can help the athlete learn to create a relaxation response instead of anxiety whenever they hear these sounds during the actual event – effectively replacing any previously learnt guarding responses.

figure 2

Another factor that can interfere with an athlete’s performance is the inability to sleep well the night before a big event.

Using an AVE device a few weeks before the event and imagine falling asleep easily and deeply on the night of the event as if it were any other night helps in this regard.

Because AVE is especially effective with visualising, using the following simple imagery exercise during an AVE session can be particularly helpful:

EX-RAY to Peak Performance

The EX-RAY is a simple 5-minute technique similar to other visualisation techniques used by Olympic athletes.

The exercise allows you to “see” through the blocks of destructive thoughts, conditioned negative responses and associations – and focus instead on success through your creative imagination.

The athlete identifies the exceptional feelings they’ve had during previous events or practice sessions when they performed above their normal level of performance. This can help a peak performer maintain an optimum level of arousal (at the top of the bell curve graph in figure 1) leading to consistent performance at peak level during events when stress is higher.

Away from the athletics field, the EX-RAY exercise can also be used for increasing performance when learning, public speaking, during recitals and perfecting any skill.

The EX-RAY exercise:

E – Think of an Event when your performance was exceptional.

X – Feel the eXceptional feelings and thoughts you had during this event.

R – Recall these exceptional qualities with all of your senses and feelings.

A – Allow these exceptional qualities from the exceptional event to fill your body and mind as you apply them to the new event you are about to become part of.

Y – Say YES!!! as you see through your obstacles and feel your success in the upcoming event that you have just witnessed in your mind.

Repeat this process as often as needed. For increased effectiveness use EX-RAY along with the AVE skill development session. When the session speeds up (after about 10 minutes), visualise doing the actions of the actual event until the session ends.

Explore Further:

To find out more about Audio-visual Entrainment devices, our main features an extensive selection from Mind Alive, which is the world’s leading developer of the technology. You can see them here 

If you’d like to explore our comlete range of medication-free options, to support health, wellbeing and peak performance in study, work and sports. then please visit our home page here

To view more articles from our health library, simply enter your area of interest in the “Search” box, at the top right of this page.

About the source material:

This blog post is abased on an article writen by Dave Siever, in his occassional ‘Tech Talk’ series, which is published by Mind Alive. It has been edited for length and style by staff of the Peak Health Online library; published here on 16th February, 2019

Exercise May Improve Thinking Skills in People as Young as 20

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or climbing stairs may improve thinking skills not only in older people but in young people as well, according to a study published in the January 30, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study also found that the positive effect of exercise on thinking skills may increase as people age. The specific set of thinking skills that improved with exercise is called executive function.

Executive function is a person’s ability to regulate their own behaviour, pay attention, organize and achieve goals.

As people age, there can be a decline in thinking skills, however our study shows that getting regular exercise may help slow or even prevent such decline,” said study author Yaakov Stern, PhD, of Columbia University in New York. “We found that all participants who exercised not only showed improvements in executive function but also increased the thickness in an area of the outer layer of their brain.”

The study involved 132 people between the ages of 20 and 67 who did not smoke or have dementia but who also did not exercise at the start of the study and were classified as havig below average fitness levels.

Participants were randomly assigned to six months of either aerobic exercise or stretching and toning four times a week. The two groups were equally balanced for age, sex, education as well as memory and thinking skills at the start of the study. All participants either exercised or stretched and toned at a fitness centre and checked in weekly with coaches monitoring their progress. They all wore heart rate monitors as well.

Participants’ thinking and memory skills were evaluated at the start of the study as well as at three months and at the end of the six-month study.

Participants in the exercise group chose from aerobic activities including walking on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike or using an elliptical machine. They ramped up their activity during the first month, then during the remainder of the six-month study they trained at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate.

People in the stretching and toning group did exercises to promote flexibility and core strength.

Researchers measured participants’ aerobic capacity using a cycling machine called an ergometer that estimates exercise intensity. Participants also had MRI brain scans at the start and end of the study.

Researchers found that aerobic exercise increased thinking skills. From the beginning of the study to the end, those who did aerobic exercise improved their overall scores on executive function tests by 0.50 points, which was a statistically significant difference from those who did stretching and toning, who improved by 0.25 points.

At age 40, the improvement in thinking skills was 0.228 standard deviation units higher in those who exercised compared to those who did stretching and toning and at age 60, it was 0.596 standard deviation units higher.

Since a difference of 0.5 standard deviations is equivalent to 20 years of age-related difference in performance on these tests, the people who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40 and about 20 years younger at age 60,” Stern said. He added, “Since thinking skills at the start of the study were poorer for participants who were older, our findings suggest that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines in thinking skills rather than improve performance in those without a decline.”

Researchers also found an increase in the thickness of the outer layer of the brain in the left frontal area in all those who exercised, suggesting that aerobic exercise contributes to brain fitness at all ages.

Our research confirms that exercise can be beneficial to adults of any age,” said Stern. Overall, researchers did not find a link between exercise and improved memory skills. However, those with the genetic marker for dementia, the APOE ?4 allele, showed less improvement in thinking skills. A limitation of the study is the small number of participants. Larger studies over longer periods of time may allow researchers to see other effects in thinking and memory skills.

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About the source material:

The material for this article was provided to us by the press office of the American Academy of Neurology, 30th January 2019. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.