Thursday, February 28, 2013

Top 5 Myths of Self-Help

Cover of "The Power of Myth (Illustrated ...
Cover of The Power of Myth (Illustrated Edition)
by Stephen Briers, Rationalist Association:

‘Emotional intelligence’, ‘inner child’, ‘self-actualisation’ - the language of popular psychology has infiltrated every level of our culture, and persuaded us to let it all out to reach our life goals.

But does this psychobabble actually help? Stephen Briers dissects the worst clich├ęs of the Me Generation.

1. The root of all your problems is low self-esteem

Bestselling self-help author Louise Hay insists that “If we really love ourselves, everything in our lives works”, but is low self-esteem really the source of every social ill from obesity to aggression?

All the evidence suggests that your self-esteem rating does not predict the quality of your relationships or how long they will last. And high self-esteem won’t necessarily stop your children smoking, drinking, taking drugs or becoming sexually active at an early age. Even the contribution that low-self esteem makes to delinquency is negligible once you control for other factors.

Contrary to popular misconception, Dan Olweus, as he writes in his book Bullying at School and What We Can Do, discovered that most school bullies are not secretly suffering from poor self-esteem, but quite the opposite in fact.

In study after study, people with high self-esteem scores may consistently rate themselves as more attractive, popular, socially skilled and intelligent than average but independent evaluations and objective tests just don’t bear this out. The science suggests that, if our self-esteem is riding high, we may feel great, but we may also be slightly delusional.

We all stuff up, compromise ourselves and do innumerable dumb things that we end up regretting. That’s being human. And feeling bad about ourselves is often life’s way of letting us know what to do about it.

As comedian Jay Leno told O Magazine in an interview: “A little low self-esteem is actually quite good. Maybe you’re not the best, so you should work a little harder.”

Self-esteem isn’t a fuel tank that must be kept topped up if we are to get to our destination. It’s often more useful to us as a barometer of progress, providing ongoing feedback about the wisdom of our choices and the validity of our actions.

2. You can control your life

The human desire to be in control is strong, so strong in fact that our brains will even create the illusion of control by imposing order on random events. As psychologists Whitson and Galinsky show in a 2008 paper for Science, people deprived of control are far more likely to see images in patterns of random dots, and resort to superstitious beliefs and conspiracy theories.

In the 1970s psychologist Jonathan Rotter discovered that we tend to fall into two camps: those who believe that the things that happen to us are down to outside forces we can do little about (external locus of control) and those who see ourselves as masters of our own fate (internal locus of control).

In our culture we are encouraged to believe that a strong internal locus is a good thing, but if you see life as determined solely by your choices, that amounts to a load of pressure to make the right ones. No surprise then that people with high internal locus scores are vulnerable to guilt, perfectionism, anxiety and self-recrimination.

Life can be frightening, unpredictable and unfathomable at times. We all need some measure of control to make it bearable. However, occasionally we also need to trust both life and ourselves and let things unfold, rather than try to grab the wheel the whole time.

As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell shrewdly observed in The Power of Myth, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” But how many of us are brave enough to relinquish control to that degree?

3. You can never be too assertive

Assertive behaviour is the gold standard of communication, promising to teach us how to establish a platform of mutual respect from which we can stand up for ourselves and get our voices heard, without ever needing to resort to aggression. But do the theory and practice of assertiveness really match up?

For a start, it turns out you can indeed have too much of a supposedly good thing. Daniel Ames and Francis Flynn discovered a “Goldilocks algorithm” operating in the workplaces they studied. Employees regarded too much assertiveness as just as problematic as too little.

When you examine assertiveness techniques themselves, it soon becomes apparent that assertiveness is a game in which you subtly aim to disenfranchise your opponent.

I might use “fogging”, whereby I strategically align myself with some part of what you are saying in order to lever my own agenda. Or “negative assertion”, whereby I appear to take on board your criticism but in the very same breath press forward with my own demands.

I would dare to suggest that this is Machiavellian to the core. It’s chess, not conversation, and we should be under no illusions that the goal is not to wrestle the other person into submission. How can we ever have a genuinely respectful interaction with someone we are attempting to manipulate?

Most books on assertiveness are ultimately manuals on how to gain the upper hand. They have a place but let’s not fool ourselves: passive aggression is aggression nonetheless.

4. You should let your feelings out

Prior to the 1960s the infamous British “stiff upper lip” was universally regarded as a virtue, but nowadays the repression of emotion is seen as the root of a host of psychological and physical problems.

But while Western research evidence offers convincing links between repressed feelings and health problems, how do we explain the fact that Japanese culture, in which the suppression of certain emotions is actively encouraged, also produces the world’s healthiest citizens?

Even in the West there is emerging evidence that letting it all out isn’t always necessarily the best strategy. After the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, University of Buffalo researchers found that witnesses who ignored a request to record their feelings actually fared better psychologically and physically than those who agreed to write their emotions down.

And while we are routinely taught that “letting your anger out” is good for us, reviewing 40 years of evidence led Professor Jeffrey Lohr, a leading clinical psychologist from the University of Arkansas, to conclude that the expression of anger actually intensifies feelings of aggression.

Our feelings have a vital role to play in our lives, but let’s bear in mind that evolution has kindly given us a higher cortex so we don’t have to be at their mercy the whole time. There is a thin line between emotional expressivity and emotional incontinence. We would be wise not to confuse one with the other.

5. We must all strive to be happy

The self-help industry offers a thousand recipes for how happiness can be achieved but the latest research is showing that even positive emotions can have a downside, particularly on the way we process information.

Not only are happy people more gullible and slapdash about detail, but upbeat, happy moods can make us more prejudiced in our judgments and reactions. Being too happy, it turns out, may well make you more racist and sexist! And you are less likely to progress as fast in your chosen career.

But even if you consider this a small price to pay, remember there may be a glass ceiling on the level of happiness we can achieve. The “hedonic treadmill” hypothesis states that while our brains are responsive to novel pleasures, familiar ones soon cease to stimulate us to the same degree.

The new car we drooled over may yield an initial thrill but, as the smell of the new upholstery fades, so does the pleasure associated with the purr of the V6 engine and that useful little shelf for our coffee cup.

Furthermore, research suggests that we also tend to have a personal happiness set point towards which we gravitate, regardless of our circumstances.

Cultures older and more astute than our own understood that it is a mistake to equate happiness simply with positive emotion. Aristotle argued that eudaemonia (often mistranslated as “happiness”) really means “human flourishing” and that this necessarily encompassed events and experiences that don’t necessarily “feel good” at all.

Modern psychology agrees with the ancients that feelings of pleasure and contentment are the felicitous byproducts of a life well lived, rather than prizes to be grabbed directly.

The 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne gave us a poetic but fairly neat summary of the situation: “Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Stephen Briers' book Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation is published by Pearson.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Depressed Patients May Gain From Self-Help Books, Websites

Patient (Photo credit: Kimberly Mahr)
by Health:

Self-help books and websites can benefit people with severe depression and should be included as part of the first line of treatment, a new study suggests.

For the report, the researchers reviewed several studies that included a total of nearly 2,500 adult patients with different degrees of depression who received treatment outside of a hospital.

Patients with more severe depression derived at least as much benefit from low-intensity interventions - such as self-help books and interactive websites - as those with less severe depression, according to the report published online Feb. 26 in the BMJ.

These types of low-intensity interventions are meant to help patients manage their depressive symptoms, often with limited support from a health professional, the researchers explained in a journal news release.

The findings indicate that low-intensity interventions should be included as part of the first step of depression treatment and that patients should be encouraged to use them, concluded Peter Bower, of the University of Manchester in England, and colleagues.

The authors also suggested that future research should examine whether low-intensity treatments are cost-effective compared to longer and more expensive psychological therapies, and determine how low-intensity intervention in the first stage of treatment might affect future treatment.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Self Help Books and Websites Can Benefit Severely Depressed Patients

University of Manchester
University of Manchester (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Science Daily:

Patients with severe depression show at least as good clinical benefit from 'low-intensity' interventions, such as self help books and interactive websites, as less severely ill patients, according to new research by The University of Manchester.

Depression is a major cause of disability worldwide and effective management of this is a key challenge for health care systems.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), confirmed evidence that 'low-intensity' interventions provide significant clinical benefit.

Initial severity of depression is one of the key variables determining who gets 'low' or 'high' intensity treatment, but this is largely based on epidemiological studies and clinical experience rather than high quality evidence.

Researchers from an international collaboration carrid out a meta-analysis of several studies involving 2470 patients with depression, all treated in a non-hospital setting.

All studies were from the year 2000 or later with a sample size of more than 50 patients. The mean age in all studies was 35-45, and studies included patients with lower levels of depressive symptoms, as well as those with quite severe depression.

'Low-intensity' treatment was defined as interventions designed to help patients manage depressive symptoms such as self-help books or interactive websites, often with limited guidance and support from a health professional. Self-help groups were excluded.

The researchers found that patients with more severe depression at baseline derive "at least as good clinical benefit from 'low-intensity' interventions as less severely ill patients." They recommend including 'low-intensity' interventions in the first step of treating severely ill patients and encouraging the majority of patients to use them as the initial treatment option.

Professor Peter Bower, from The University of Manchester who led the research, said: "To better manage depression in the community, many services seek to provide simple forms of psychological therapy (so called 'low intensity' interventions) to depressed patients. We assessed whether more severely ill patients demonstrated better or worse treatment effects from 'low-intensity' treatments".

"We found no clinically meaningful differences in treatment effects between more and less severely ill patients receiving 'low-intensity' interventions. Patients with more severe depression can be offered 'low-intensity' treatments as part of a stepped care model."

The researchers also say that an important research question for the future is whether low-intensity treatments are cost-effective and if "initial experience with low intensity interventions could act as a barrier to further treatment."
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Richard Branson's Best Advice: No Regrets, and Practicing What You Preach

English: Industrialist Richard Branson at the ...
Richard Branson (Photo by David Shankbone)
by Richard Branson, LinkedIn:

The best advice I ever received? Simple: Have no regrets.

Who gave me the advice? Mum’s the word.

If you asked every person in the world who gave them their best advice, it is a safe bet that most would say it was their mother. I am no exception.

My mother has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped shape my life. But having no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made.

It is one thing to dish out advice; it is another to lead by example and show exactly what you mean through your actions. My mum has always had a keen entrepreneurial streak herself, and still does today.

When I was a child, she inspired me to take risks in all manner of business ventures. Most of them didn’t work out (notably growing Christmas trees and breeding budgerigars!) but the lessons learned were invaluable.

The amount of time people spend looking back on failed projects has always astounded me. If we were to add up all of the hours spent regretting mistakes and use that time to develop new ideas, who knows how many brilliant new businesses would be created. Even now my mother starts more new projects in a week than most people do in a year.

She explained how to think of setbacks as part of a learning curve. Sometimes it will be steep, but if you concentrate on looking forward rather than back, the climb will be easier. My mother was able to ingrain that advice in me - not just through words, but through actions.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Martha Stewart's Best Advice: You Can Do Anything You Choose

English: Martha Stewart at the 2009 premiere o...
Martha Stewart in New York City (Wikipedia)

The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen. 

He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose. 

This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. 

I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children. It is a very necessary part of growing up.

When I look back on the years when I was exploring career choices and discovering my true entrepreneurial spirit, my choices seem rather eclectic. I was barely in my teens when I began taking a bus from my hometown in Nutley, New Jersey, to New York City, where I worked as a model. 

This work was fun and lucrative. It demanded a certain optimism and a drive that not everyone possesses. Still, by the time I married and finished my college studies in history and architectural history, I was tired of modeling. I wanted to build a career, and I longed to do something more intellectually stimulating.

Armed mainly with my father’s encouragement that I could do anything I put my mind to, I considered my options. I had no capital to start my own business. I did, however, have a great desire to work hard and learn. 

So I went to Wall Street and joined a small brokerage house where I learned to be a stockbroker. It was an outstanding education in business and often was very exciting, but I never developed a passion for it. 

I loved houses and landscaping and decorating, so I thought real estate might be a good career for me - but I left the business without ever hosting an open house or buying a single property! However, even my brief time in real estate held an important lesson - I learned that the true work of any job may be much different than what you imagine.

Even before I found my entrepreneurial spirit, one thing I did know was that I enjoyed cooking and focusing on the home. I began baking pies and selling them at a local market. I opened a small gourmet food market called the Marketbasket where I sold my own foodstuffs as well as those I commissioned from local women. 

Then I took a bigger step: I started a catering business. From the first event, I knew immediately that I had found an enterprise that combined several of my talents, my interests, and some of my business experience.

Catering paved the way for me to find my true passion. If you want to begin the journey to discover your entrepreneurial passion, you must first analyze your own interests, strengths, weaknesses, and desires; and then you must consider carefully how hard you want to work. 

I have always found it extremely difficult to differentiate between what others might consider my life and my business. For me they are inextricably intertwined. That is because I have the same passion for both. Simply stated, my life is my work and my work is my life. 

As a result, I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I am excited every day: I love waking up; I love getting to work; I love focusing on a new initiative. 

There are many, many people who have inspired, taught, influenced, and supported me during the years that I have been visualizing, creating, building, and managing my own entrepreneurial venture - but I’ll never forget the favor my father did me when he instilled in me the tenacity I needed to build a career based on what I love most.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Bad Sleep 'Dramatically' Alters the Body

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...
Main health effects of sleep deprivation (Wikipedia)

A run of poor sleep can have a potentially profound effect on the internal workings of the human body, say UK researchers.

The activity of hundreds of genes was altered when people's sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week.

Writing in the journal PNAS, the researchers said the results helped explain how poor sleep damaged health.

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function have all been linked to substandard sleep. What missing hours in bed actually does to alter health, however, is unknown.

So researchers at the University of Surrey analysed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week, and compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night.

More than 700 genes were altered by the shift. Each contains the instructions for building a protein, so those that became more active produced more proteins - changing the chemistry of the body.

Meanwhile the natural body clock was disturbed - some genes naturally wax and wane in activity through the day, but this effect was dulled by sleep deprivation.

Prof Colin Smith, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC: "There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes." Areas such as the immune system and how the body responds to damage and stress were affected.

Prof Smith added: "Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur - hinting at what may lead to ill health. If we can't actually replenish and replace new cells, then that's going to lead to degenerative diseases."

He said many people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study - suggesting these changes may be common.

Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a specialist in the body clock at the University of Cambridge, said the study was "interesting".

He said the key findings were the effects on inflammation and the immune system as it was possible to see a link between those effects and health problems such as diabetes. The findings also tie into research attempting to do away with sleep, such as by finding a drug that could eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Dr Reddy said: "We don't know what the switch is that causes all these changes, but theoretically if you could switch it on or off, you might be able to get away without sleep. But my feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells."
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Social Acceptance of Alcohol Allows Us to Ignore its Harms

English: Everyone take a drink
Everyone take a drink (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Steve Allsop, Curtin University

Most of us forget that alcohol is a drug so when asked to name drug-related problems, we tend to think of illegal drugs such as cannabis or heroin.

But most of us drink, and drinking is an accompaniment to a growing array of activities.

People enjoy alcohol for a number of reasons, such as its symbolic meaning (celebration, commiseration, the end of the working day), its taste, the sense of identity and belonging we experience from drinking with our friends, as well as its physical effects - although we may not necessarily want to think we use it as an intoxicant.

When the fact that alcohol causes harm is acknowledged, language conveniently distances us from asking whether our own drinking is worth thinking about. Terms such as “alcohol abuse” or “alcohol misuse” reinforce the idea that risky drinking and related harm are something that happens to others - to a small minority of different people.

And if drinking is the social norm, those who have problems must surely be unusual. This dissuades many from perceiving and taking action to reduce alcohol-related risk. It also allows us to demand that government responses target a small group of “alcohol abusers” and leave the rest of us to enjoy drinking.

While quite a lot of people who drink alcohol experience some adverse consequences, at least on occasion, not many register this as reason enough to think about their drinking habit.

There has been a lot of media commentary about the “binge drinking culture” of young Australians and a common demand is that we educate people out of this risk.

But various models and theories about drinking cultures, health beliefs and behavioural change suggest this alone might not do the job. The increasing liberalisation of alcohol (more hours, more outlets, more places we expect to drink) normalises drinking and consumption becomes enmeshed in the daily fabric of life.

Young people are influenced by what they think their peers are doing (and many overestimate how much their peers are drinking) and by expectations about the positive things that drinking alcohol will achieve.

They tend to be less concerned about potential negative outcomes and are not always motivated by the same issues and concerns that influence older people.

Even when young (and older) people accept that there are risks from drinking alcohol, self-serving optimism can counter perceived personal relevance - I might accept that risky drinking will increase the chance of an accident for other people, but not me.

And anyway, if I believe that alcohol is a benign product, that everyone uses it (probably more often than me) why would I attend to messages about risk?

Even if I did pay attention, I might tell myself such messages must be for other people who are different, who drink more, or in a different manner. If I accept the notion that there is some risk, but find that taking action is demanding, I may make little effort to change.

Alcohol-related health information should be delivered in a way that generates discussion and consideration of its personal relevance, so it’s not easily dismissed as an issue for other people. But this, on it’s own, won’t be enough.

We also need to respond to the way that increasing availability and promotion contribute to alcohol becoming enmeshed in day-to-day living, reminding ourselves that it may be something we enjoy but still carries risks.

Finally, we should review our tolerance of intoxicated behaviour. Over 40 years ago, the authors of the wonderfully titled book, Drunken Comportment, observed that alcohol intoxication is sometimes used as a passport to otherwise unacceptable behaviour.

Changing our tolerance for alcohol-related anti-social and aggressive behaviour might help reduce the large numbers of Australians exposed to harm from other peoples’ drinking.

We need to discuss the availability and promotion of alcohol in our community in the context of it being a drug with potential for harm. The enjoyment of alcohol for those of us who do drink doesn’t have to come at such a high price.

This is the second part of our series looking at alcohol and the drinking culture in Australia. Click on the links below to read the other articles:

Part One: A brief history of alcohol consumption in Australia
Part Three: My drinking, your problem: alcohol hurts non-drinkers too

Steve Allsop receives funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and has received fundng from competitive funding sources such as NHMRC, ARC and Healthway (WA).
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday’s Medical Myth: Stress Can Turn Hair Grey Overnight

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the late...
Queen Marie Antoinette (Wikipedia)
by Michael Vagg, Barwon Health

The belief that nervous shock can cause you to go grey overnight (medically termed canities subita) is one of those tales which could nearly be true.

There are certainly cases in medical literature of rapid greying over quite short periods of time.

And reported cases go back to antiquity including such legendary figures as Thomas More and Marie Antoinette.

The biology of the phenomenon suggests that a mixture of hormones and cognitive bias is responsible for the myth.

There is little doubt that plausible biological mechanisms exist to account for emotional stress potentially affecting hair growth.

What’s fascinating to me, as a pain specialist, is that several of the signalling proteins involved (such as nerve growth factor and substance P) are the very same ones that operate in other nerves to create and regulate pain signals.

Human hair cycles between a growth phase (anagen), a resting phase (catagen) and a dormant phase (telogen). Pigment is produced by the hair follicle to colour the hair during the anagen phase while it is growing.

The length of the anagen phase varies according to your genes and certain hormonal levels. It can be anything between two years and eight years. When the follicle receives orders to end the anagen phase, it stops producing more hair and begins to prepare for telogen. Telogen phase lasts for between six and eighteen months at a time before heading back into anagen.

After ten or so of these cycles the follicle runs out of pigment and produces a hair with no colour at all. Despite its white colour, we insist on referring to these as “grey hairs” for some obscure linguistic reason.

Intense stress can cause large numbers of your follicles to hit telogen at around the same time, producing simultaneous loss of a large percentage of coloured hair. This phenomenon is known as telogen effluvium.

Telogen effluvium is often caused by drugs which affect the hormonal control of the hair cycle, including chemotherapy drugs and anti-Parkinson’s drugs.

Interestingly, these hormonal signals have a less potent effect on non-coloured hair, so a person could conceivably lose large amounts of coloured hair, leaving behind mostly white hair. This could also happen at a stressful time, such as the night before your execution.

It can also happen due to auto-immunity (alopecia areata) where the feral antibodies target pigment-producing follicles ahead of non-pigmented ones.

The problem for the myth is that none of this can happen as suddenly as overnight.

There are also plenty of good alternative explanations for these reports. In the case of Marie Antoinette, she was seen little in public in the couple of weeks before her execution, and would also have been deprived of her wigs and servants to dye her hair, if indeed that was one of her guilty secrets.

People such as President Obama, who go visibly greyer during a period of extreme stress over months or years, are usually at an age where many of their unfortunate follicles are on their last pigment cycle.

Confirmation bias means we remember those stressed people who look much greyer, but don’t remember those who go through such periods without visible greying. We also tend to ignore those who grey early and don’t seem particularly stressed. That gets put down to genetics rather than stress.

So no matter how stressful your life may become, it might help to know that although you may achieve your pigmentary potential a little ahead of schedule, you can’t go grey overnight.

Michael Vagg does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Heart Disease Risk, Study Finds

Mediterranean diet (close up)
Mediterranean diet (Photo: grobery)
by , New York Times:

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.

The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s Web site on Monday, were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks.

The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

The diet helped those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.

“Really impressive,” said Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

“And the really important thing - the coolest thing - is that they used very meaningful endpoints. They did not look at risk factors like cholesterol of hypertension or weight. They looked at heart attacks and strokes and death. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.”

Until now, evidence that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of heart disease was weak, based mostly on studies showing that people from Mediterranean countries seemed to have lower rates of heart disease - a pattern that could have been attributed to factors other than diet.

And some experts had been skeptical that the effect of diet could be detected, if it existed at all, because so many people are already taking powerful drugs to reduce heart disease risk, while other experts hesitated to recommend the diet to people who already had weight problems, since oils and nuts have a lot of calories.

Heart disease experts said the study was a triumph because it showed that a diet was powerful in reducing heart disease risk, and it did so using the most rigorous methods. Scientists randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one.

Low-fat diets have not been shown in any rigorous way to be helpful, and they are also very hard for patients to maintain - a reality borne out in the new study, said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

“Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” he said. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

The study, by Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona, and his colleagues, was long in the planning.

The investigators traveled the world, seeking advice on how best to answer the question of whether a diet alone could make a big difference in heart disease risk. They visited the Harvard School of Public Health several times to consult Dr. Frank M. Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention there.

In the end, they decided to randomly assign subjects at high risk of heart disease to three groups. One would be given a low-fat diet and counseled on how to follow it. The other two groups would be counseled to follow a Mediterranean diet.

At first the Mediterranean dieters got more intense support. They met regularly with dietitians while the low-fat group just got an initial visit to train them in how to adhere to the diet followed by a leaflet each year on the diet. Then the researchers decided to add more intensive counseling for them, too, but they still had difficulty staying with the diet.

One group assigned to a Mediterranean diet was given extra virgin olive oil each week and was instructed to use at least four tablespoons a day. The other group got a combination of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and was instructed to eat about an ounce of the mix each day. An ounce of walnuts, for example, is about a quarter cup - a generous handful.

The mainstays of the diet consisted of at least three servings a day of fruits and at least two servings of vegetables. Participants were to eat fish at least three times a week and legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week. They were to eat white meat instead of red, and, for those accustomed to drinking, to have at least seven glasses of wine a week with meals.

They were encouraged to avoid commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats.

To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, February 25, 2013

Become the Person Who Can Move Mountains, Part 6

I Give | Yvette
I Give | Yvette (Photo credit: Thompson Rivers)
by Tami R Principe

This is part 6 of an 8 part series titled, "Become the Person Who Can Move Mountains." This article is about Giving Back.

Other topics in this series are: Self-Esteem, Visualization, Knowledge, Patience, Understanding, Giving Back, Love, and Faith & Fear.

We all possess important qualities within us. Some people know what their qualities are, and can access them at any time. For others, they have not discovered what they are.

We all have the capabilities within us to succeed. Why is it that some people succeed while others don't? What makes us so different? What is lacking? Here are some tips to help you become the person who can move mountains by using the tools that you already have.

Giving Back

This world comes full circle when life evolves. It is like a torch that is picked up again and carried forward. Regardless of how much you have to give or offer to someone, the importance is that you do it. The quality of our life is not just dependent upon material things, but love, devotion, family values and traditions that get carried on.

Giving back is a selfless act of love. When you give back you are saying to the universe that you appreciate and understand a part of why you are here. You are showing that you want the next life to be better than this one. There are many organizations to give back to, millions of homeless that need help, countless people in this world that go hungry; there is so much need to give back.

A loving smile or a gentle touch goes a long way. People who have had a hard life tend to help out other people who are having a rough time of it, more willingly. There are a lot of people that are down on their luck that just need a helping hand to help them stand back up.

Make someone's day special, you don't even to know them, go to the hospital or a retirement home. If you are not sure what to do or where to go, call your local hospital or check with your village.

Giving back is good for the soul. It is better to give than receive. There is no better feeling than helping someone, or making someone feel special. Life is such a blessing to us and we need to learn to share that blessed feeling with others, so they know what it feels like. Some people have never known that feeling; some people depend on others for that care and helping hand.

A simple thank you breaks your heart. When you help someone and they thank you for it, it rips your heart apart. The reason this happens is that you see so many people with so many possessions, and they take it all for granted; they don't appreciate it, they just want more.

Then you see this person, who has nothing, or close to nothing, and you give them a minute piece of anything and their whole world changes for that moment, and they are so grateful for it.

If we unspoiled the spoiled and gave more to the underprivileged, our world would change, all of our lives would be enriched, and even more people would be able to give back. Now, imagine this world.

My website,, offers hope and encouragement to others. We are here to help each other and learn from each other.

I wrote four books "Walk in Peace" & "My Soulful Journey" and "The Wishing Well" and "The Green Rabbit" which can be purchased on my website, and I also have a Blog Talk Radio show. I have interviewed people regarding all subject matter. Feel free to listen to the archives at:

Article Source:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Become the Person Who Can Move Mountains, Part 5

Listen, Understand, Act
Listen, Understand, Act (highersights)
by Tami R Principe

This is part 5 of an 8 part series titled, "Become the Person Who Can Move Mountains." This article is about Understanding.

Other articles to follow in this series are: Self-Esteem, Visualization, Knowledge, Patience, Giving Back, Love, and Faith & Fear.

We all possess important qualities within us. Some people know what their qualities are, and can access them at any time. For others, they have not discovered what they are.

We all have the capabilities within us to succeed. Why is it that some people succeed while others don't? What makes us so different? What is lacking? Here are some tips to help you become the person who can move mountains by using the tools that you already have.


You may never fully understand what it feels like to walk in someone else's shoes. You might have been through the same situation, but our thought processes are different, so you might have made different choices. What might seem logical to one person is illogical to another.

When you look into someone's eyes are you able to see their soul? Can you see past someone's smile to know that they are hurting inside? Understanding is not about talking, it's about listening; it's about hearing what is said, and not about what you want to hear. Understanding means knowing what it means to be; happy, sad, humiliated, disappointed, and a whole array of other things as well.

Understanding is being sympathetic to someone's trials, sufferings, and feeling their triumphs as well as sharing in their joyous occasions. Walking in someone's footsteps, and feeling everything that they feel; as they are going through it, is what I call "understanding," which in turn produces compassion.

When it comes to understanding, we are not supposed to have all the answers; that would make life way to simple and unmeaningful. When you start to understand more about yourself, you will begin to understand more about others as well.

To begin to understand anything, such as your life path, or the reason behind your actions, you have to get in touch with your feelings associated with the circumstance or the event (past, present, or future).

In understanding your life path, you have to realize that change is a part of life and you have to be open to it. You change, you evolve. There are many levels of understanding, and like life, it is a journey to feel with open eyes and an open heart.

Your life path might start out in one direction and then change later on. Learning about your life path will take some soul searching which will consist of asking yourself some important questions. Why am I doing this? What benefit will it bring me? What other choices do I have? Will I enjoy doing this? Will it help others? Will doing this financially sustain me?

Understanding time is one of the most complex things to understand. Our timing and the universe's timing are not always the same. We have grown accustom to wanting everything now, we want action and the results to be quick.

Time knows no bounds; it doesn't know when you are in a hurry, waiting on results, or news from afar. Time has its own agenda regardless of what you have planned. Time moves rather slowly when you are waiting for something important.

No one can control time, just sit back and enjoy the time that you do have. It is hard, but try not to be too stressed in the moments we wish time would move faster. When you understand that you cannot control time you start to enjoy it. If your busy schedule gets thrown off by an unplanned event, simply smile and make the best of it.

Things happen for a reason, so that unplanned event might end up being an important event in your life. Relax, and enjoy every single moment that time has to offer, because you can't get it back once it's gone.

My website,, offers hope and encouragement to others. We are here to help each other and learn from each other.

I wrote four books "Walk in Peace" & "My Soulful Journey" and "The Wishing Well" and "The Green Rabbit" which can be purchased on my website, and I also have a Blog Talk Radio show. I have interviewed people regarding all subject matter. Feel free to listen to the archives at:

Article Source:

Enhanced by Zemanta

How To Become And Remain Motivated In Your Daily Life

English: Motivation
Motivation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Shawn S More

Life can seem meaningless if you are not motivated enough to get up in the morning and face the challenges ahead of you.

True, it is about time that you got out of that cocoon!

Today, many people have lost their motivation, which is the only element that can take them away from their current situation.

Lack of motivation can be attributed to several factors such as the current economic turbulence, the everyday battles to make ends meet and also the struggles of searching for employment, which is a challenge faced by many today.

However, it is essential to retain a positive outlook of life so as to avoid losing your internal motivation that assists you achieve your desired goals.

What is Motivation?

Prior to understanding the reason why motivation is important, it is vital to gain a deeper insight of the terminology. Motivation is a driving force that is commonly found in all human beings. When a person lacks motivation, he or she cannot accomplish anything in life.

Even something as simple as preparing dinner cannot be accomplished successfully without personal motivation. It is worth noting that motivation is what guides people all day long. The persistence, perseverance and intensity that a person is willing to go through in order to attain a certain outcome is what is referred to as motivation.

Internal and External Motivation

There are two forms of motivation, which are internal and external. Both forms are directed towards a specific need of meeting personal objectives with the discrepancy arising from the fact that external motivation is the drive that is stimulated by different circumstances such as people and events. On the other hand, internal motivation is found within a person.

Becoming Motivated

In order to become motivated, you should not let anything get in your way. With the current economic tide, you must be exceptional and determined to rise above what is required. Many have given up in business even before starting because they lack the drive required to make their dreams a reality. However, those who are motivated can testify to the fact that anything is possible.

Also, as you strive to become motivated, you should forget the past and forge ahead. Many people have not been able to achieve their dreams because of their pasts. What you should realize is that everyone has a past. If you have some aspects tin your past that are hindering you from achieving your goals, then it is high time that you rose above them.

Since motivation is the driving force that makes people forge ahead, it is imperative that you retain it. In order to retain your motivation, you should acknowledge that life is a journey hence you are bound to stumble upon a myriad of challenges. It is only your motivation that can get you out of the situations that you are bound to face in life.

This means that you must look at every challenge as a stepping stone and learn from your mistakes. Keep in mind that your life will only begin with you and if others are able to achieve their goals why not you.

We at Images and prints have all the motivational art posters that you want, visit our site today and order your favorite images as prints.

Article Source:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, February 24, 2013

True Self: Why Is It Hard To Find The True Self?

by Oliver J R Cooper

There is a quote by Carl Jung that says "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." So based on this quote, it would be right to say that one's true nature exists within and is not found without.

To look within would then be the appropriate way of going about finding oneself. However although this may be so, it is something that is not the easiest thing to do. If one lived in a place where there were not as many distractions; on a small island for example - this would be relatively simply.

But the modern day world is filled with all kinds of distractions and these can keep one in a perpetual state of looking outward.


This is not to say that one should completely isolate themselves from the world and live in a mountain or a cave. Or that one should be in a constant place of inner reflection. These are simply two sides of the same coin.

And yet being completely external and losing one's own inner awareness is the other side of the coin. Only looking outside and being completely estranged from one's own being is a sign of imbalance.

East and West

To be fairly general here, the west is typically associated as being too external and the east as being overly internal. In recent years this has dramatically changed; as a more balanced approach is being attained.

With people being both internal and external; embracing what the outer world has to offer and tuning into what the inner world has to give.

The Distractions

In the west there are all kinds of distractions that can and do take one away from their inner stillness or sanctuary. These distractions have become part of society and this means that they have, in most cases, become invisible to a lot of people.

They may not be seen as distractions and may be perceived as an important part of one's existence. On a societal or global level this can come about through: TV, Internet, Radio and Newspapers. When it comes to ones everyday life, this can consist of different dramas from the people around them and in their own life.


Some people will notice these as distractions, while others will be completely consumed and caught up in them. And if one has been brought up in this kind of environment or society; then it is not much of a surprise.

One may not even know that they are distractions and see them as simply how life is. Regardless of how they are making one feel and how much of a distraction they are.


So if one has been brought up to be completely focused on the external world and to ignore what is going on within or they are in a society that promotes this; then it has likely become a habit.

This means that it is automatic and doesn't need to be thought about any longer; it just happens. For others looking within will just happen and this is because is has become a habit for them.

The Beginning

What happens in early childhood can have a significant effect on how internal or external one is. Perhaps one was raised in an environment where it was all about the needs of the caregivers for example.

Here, what one needed or wanted was ignored and denied. It may also have been that one's views, opinions and expressions were ignored and criticised. And as a result of this, one becomes cut off from their self expression and trained to depend on others.

A Big Factor

One of the biggest reasons that one would become caught in the external world and ignore their own inner kingdom is due to pain. Whether one has become completely internal or external is often due to the same reasons.

To be external allows one to avoid the pain that is within and to be internal can allow for one to avoid the drama that is without. They each allow for the regulation of pain.

A great majority of this pain could have come about through a traumatic childhood or later trauma. And as the ego minds tendency is to avoid pain and not face it; being caught up in the world's stimulation is a natural consequence.


And the modern day world is full of all kinds of stimulation that will allow one to escape from this inner pain. From technology, to food and everything else; they all enable one too escape from pain.

So the stimulation could be classed as the problem, but if the need was not there the stimulation wouldn't be sought after in the first place.

The options to deal with pain have not become part of the mainstream society. Whereas options to avoid pain are very much a part of the modern day world.


Looking outside for everything has many consequences. And some of these will be more significant than others. Creativity is less likely, the ability to think and reason for oneself is also unlikely. Having opinions and views that one has come up with by themselves will not be as common.

To know who one is and what one wants to do is highly likely. The chances that one will have substance and depth of character are also greatly reduced.


So not only is there the distractions of the world when it comes to finding who one is; there is also the inner pain that can stop this process from happening. But, if the commitment is there, the distractions will not be as influential. These distractions can be used as a catalyst to ones growth, if they are used in the right way.

Finding the right support is imperative here. Being around people who can shine the light can make a massive difference. From books, to mentors; there are many sources of assistance available.

It is often said that finding the self is not so much about gaining anything, as it is about losing what one already has.

My name is Oliver J R Cooper and I have been on a journey of self awareness for over nine years and for many years prior to that I had a natural curiosity. For just over two years, I have been expressing my understandings with these transformational writings. One of my intentions is to be a catalyst to others, as other people have been and continue to be to me.

Feel free to join the Facebook Groups -

Transformational Writing

Movie Metaphors

Article Source:

In the Zone: The Flow

by Robert L Fielding

Have you got a talent? Is there something you are really good at? Can you remember being good at something when you were at school, but are not good at now?

Here's how you might feel, if the answer to those questions is 'Yes'.

People who are exceptionally good at things - snooker players, athletes, chess players, often say that when they are doing the thing they excel in, they experience a state of being in which time flashes by - they feel on top of the world, their attention to what they are doing is such that everything around them fades into the background. Do you ever feel that way?

This state is termed 'flow' by some, being 'in the zone' by others. Sir Ken Robinson, the noted British educationalist, has found that talented people - those that find their natural talent meets their personal passion - those lucky people have found what he calls, 'the element'. Have you found your 'element'?

Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, states that people are at their happiest when they are in a state of flow - the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

This is identical with being 'in the zone' and has certain characteristics.

1. Clear goals - activities align perfectly with your skills and abilities.
2. Concentrating and focusing - focusing attention on a very specific task like playing billiards, or writing a story, for example.
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness - people in the zone report a certain loss of consciousness about their surroundings - and a heightened sense of awareness where their task is concerned.
4. Distorted sense of time - time flies - people report that the hours spent on the task feel like minutes.
5. Direct and immediate feedback - performance on the task is continually monitored, adjusted and perfected.
6. Balance between ability level and challenge - the activity comes naturally - it is not too easy or too difficult.
7. A sense of personal control - this is felt at maximum levels.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding - the activity required is effortless and feedback is positive.
9. People become absorbed in their activity, and their focus is narrowed down to the activity - awareness and attention merge and are totally directed toward the activity.
10. Note though that not all the above are necessarily required for flow to be experienced.

This 'zoning in' on a specific task, is also referred to as hyperfocus, and includes using the imagination, daydreaming and focusing on concepts.

Robinson's main point in his book, 'The Element', is that each of us has this potential to find 'the element' - our own meeting of passion and talent. Most of us, he says, were benignly steered away from what we were liked or were good at as children, but that all is not lost - it can be found - it is still there, in our own minds.

Creativity, a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concept, is one way into this - being creative - coming up with new ideas that are of value, is aided by not being afraid to be wrong.

Paul McCartney thought up the name, 'Eleanor Rigby' whilst wandering around the streets of Bristol - "The name just came to me," he says. We all know the lines of the famous song - but he couldn't have known for sure how that name would be received by the public - he wasn't afraid of being wrong - but it was so right, as it turned out.

Paul McCartney was fortunate - he found his 'element' early in life and benefited from it. We might feel it is impossible for us to be as successful as him, but in one sense, we can be; we can be at our happiest by finding our own 'element' and getting 'into the zone'; we can excel at something we loved doing, but ignored as we grew into adult-hood.

Scientists are now studying savants to find out which part of their brain is activated and where their amazing abilities come from.

"Talent doesn't emerge until the conditions are right," says Robinson, "individual teachers can make a difference." The quality of the tuition, the materials used, and the techniques used to teach subjects do make a great deal of difference.

Amazingly, the musical abilities of both Paul McCartney and George Harrison were undiscovered at school. I would say most of us had talents that were either actively squandered or ignored at school, simply because they didn't fit in with the narrow curriculum or the even narrower way intelligence was conceptualized and measured.

For some, their talents lay in music, others in math or science; for some it may be art, dance, or drama. If Robinson is correct when he says that many talented, gifted people think they are not, you may be one. What are you going to do about it? Rekindle areas of your past interests to find out what you are good at.

Article Source:

5 Popular Self-Help Tips That Actually Hurt Your Career

by XJ Selman,

We all want to be successful, but things like tyrannical bosses, stapler-stealing co-workers and the statistical impossibility of every single person being a CEO keep bringing us down.

So we try to balance the scales by following the advice of self-help books or motivational guides - sure, a lot of those things are probably bullshit, but it can't hurt to give them a try, right?

Actually, yes. Yes, it can hurt, because several of the "tips" that you'd expect to help you are actually messing you up. It turns out you're not a success because you do things like ...

#5. Being Too Smart Makes You Crack Under Pressure

Most of us would say that the only surefire way to achieve success (short of, you know, busting your ass for several years and making the most of your opportunities) is by being smarter than everyone else. Yet the real world doesn't seem to bear this out.

How many of you have a boss who seems to be a moron and is also way more successful than you? Well, there's a scientific explanation for why smarter people can end up stuck in dead-end jobs. Basically, it's because they're more likely to screw up under pressure.

When you're smart, your brain works differently than everyone else. Smart people have higher working memory capacity to work with, either because they trained it or they were born with it. This higher working-memory allows them to excel, but studies have found that it also causes them to screw up more often than the rest of us.

Researchers recruited participants and divided them into two groups: the high working memory crowd (HWM) and the low working memory doofuses (LWM). They gave them a math test and to nobody's surprise at all (except a few of the LWM guys), the HWM group scored significantly higher.

But performing a task for work or school is very different than doing it in a lab - there's a lot more pressure in a real world scenario, so they changed the conditions. They told both groups that they'd have another math test, but this time their high performance would earn them cash and their results were going to be examined by math professors.

The results of that next test? The score of the HWM guys dipped so badly that they had become just as horrible as the scores of the LWM, while the LWM crowd scored just about the same. The stress brought on by the extra incentives didn't affect the stupid guys at all, while the HWM were pissing in their boots.

And this isn't just because the nerdy guys were naturally more nervous. The researchers suggest that the anxiety you get from stressful situations lives in the same part of your brain as the working memory, which means that people with high working memory capacity also have higher levels of stress.

By making yourself smarter, you're also making yourself more susceptible to falling into a mental wreck. They were using their extra brain power to psyche themselves out. Does that sound like anyone you know?

#4. Visualizing Your Own Success Makes You Lazier

You've probably heard about a little self-help book called The Secret - if you didn't read it yourself, then chances are you know someone who did and wouldn't shut up about it a few years ago.

And if you're more selective about your friends than we are, then here's a spoiler for you: According to the book, "the secret" is that you can achieve success by thinking really hard about it. Just imagine yourself riding a yacht made of diamonds, and the universe will eventually provide it.

Even if you don't believe the magic behind it, on the surface it seems like sound advice. Isn't "visualizing success" what all goal-driven people do? Don't they sit around all day imagining what their lives will be like once they get the big promotion or sell their big invention? Isn't that what motivates them to make it real?

Actually, no. Science has shown that, shockingly, these type of fantasies don't help you succeed - they actually do the exact opposite.

It turns out that the more you fantasize about something, the more satisfaction you get from those fantasies and the less motivated you feel to actually turn them into a reality. This goes for everything from getting a new job to hooking up with that girl you like: Why go through the potential embarrassment of asking her out when you can get the same kind of satisfaction just thinking about it? At least that's the way your brain sees it.

To study this, researchers performed several tests where participants were asked to fantasize about specific scenarios (of the non-boner-inducing kind). They then tested the participants' blood pressure - which indicates how much energy their body is giving them to perform a certain task - and found that people who were induced with fantastical thoughts had lower levels of energy than those who weren't.

So this isn't just a mental thing - when you visualize yourself achieving one of your goals, your body goes, "Cool, I can take it easy now," and actually starts winding down. This explains why, according to previous studies, people who are more likely to fantasize about being successful are also more likely to apply for fewer jobs, earn a lower salary, and get fewer job offers.

And this goes for pretty much everything. You think you're going to do better at a darts game? You do worse. You imagine you're going to do well on a test? You'll even get your name wrong, probably.

Researchers even had people fantasize about recovering faster from an injury only to confirm they'd heal slower, which was kind of a dick move. This isn't to say that positive thinking doesn't have its benefits - it does and almost certainly makes you happier. It just isn't the best motivator.

On a similar note ...

#3. Telling Your Goals to Your Friends Makes You Give Up Faster

So what you really need to avoid the above pitfall is someone else to hold your feet to the fire.

That's why one of the most common ways to motivate ourselves to accomplish something is simply sharing our goals with other people - if your friends know that your New Year's resolution was to finally write that Sonic/Shrek erotic novel, for example, then you're more likely to get off your ass and do it, right?

Otherwise they'll keep asking you how the novel is going and you'll be forced to admit you gave up the dream.

But once again, that's not the way the human brain works. Science has shown that sharing goals with your friends (or anyone at all) can actually make you less motivated to get shit done.

In a series of studies, researchers asked college students about what they wanted to do with their lives and told them to estimate how productive they thought they'd be the next week. The answers were filled in anonymous forms, but when the forms were being collected, half the students could clearly see that the researchers were checking out their answers, supposedly to confirm that they filled them correctly.

The other students had their results ignored. This was to ensure that the first half knew that someone else was aware of their aspirations and goals and also to stress to the second half that no one gives a shit about them.

Afterward, the researchers kept track of all the participants and found out that when they'd told people about their goals, the students were less likely to work toward them. You'd think that those whose aspirations had been recognized would actually work harder to avoid looking like lazy slobs, but the opposite happened: Just sharing their intentions with another person had made them more lazy.

Much like the "fantasizing drains your energy" thing, this comes down to the funny way our brains work and also the fact that we're all huge egomaniacs. By announcing our intentions to the rest of the world, we get a taste of the same recognition we'd get if we actually accomplished those goals. Unfortunately, for most people that small taste is enough and they'll be less motivated to follow through with their work.

But isn't getting feedback along the way important? Well ...

Read more:

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Benefits of Exercising Outdoors

English: Exercising outdoors is healthier than...
Exercising outdoors is healthier (Wikipedia)
by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times:
While the allure of the gym - climate-controlled, convenient and predictable - is obvious, especially in winter, emerging science suggests there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle or a track.

You stride differently when running outdoors, for one thing. Generally, studies find, people flex their ankles more when they run outside.

They also, at least occasionally, run downhill, a movement that isn’t easily done on a treadmill and that stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain.

Outdoor exercise tends, too, to be more strenuous than the indoor version. In studies comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill and the exertion of running outside, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding across the ground outside, primarily because indoor exercisers face no wind resistance or changes in terrain, no matter how subtle.

The same dynamic has been shown to apply to cycling, where wind drag can result in much greater energy demands during 25 miles of outdoor cycling than the same distance on a stationary bike. That means if you have limited time and want to burn as many calories as possible, you should hit the road instead of the gym.

But there seem to be other, more ineffable advantages to getting outside to work out. In a number of recent studies, volunteers have been asked to go for two walks for the same time or distance - one inside, usually on a treadmill or around a track, the other outdoors.

In virtually all of the studies, the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more and, on subsequent psychological tests, scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after they walked outside.

Of course, those studies were small-scale, short-term - only two walks - and squishy in their scientific parameters, relying heavily on subjective responses. But a study last year of older adults found, objectively, that those who exercised outside exercised longer and more often than those working out indoors.

Specifically, the researchers asked men and women 66 or older about their exercise habits and then fitted them all with electronic gadgets that measured their activity levels for a week.

The gadgets and the survey showed that the volunteers who exercised outside, usually by walking, were significantly more physically active than those who exercised indoors, completing, on average, about 30 minutes more exercise each week than those who walked or otherwise exercised indoors.

Studies haven’t yet established why, physiologically, exercising outside might improve dispositions or inspire greater commitment to an exercise program.

A few small studies have found that people have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, after exerting themselves outside as compared with inside. There’s speculation, too, that exposure to direct sunlight, known to affect mood, plays a role.

But the take-away seems to be that moving their routines outside could help reluctant or inconsistent exercisers. “If outdoor activity encourages more activity, then it is a good thing,” says Jacqueline Kerr, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study of older adults.

After all, “despite the fitness industry boom,” she continues, “we are not seeing changes in national physical activity levels, so gyms are not the answer.”
Enhanced by Zemanta