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Shannon's health and fitness blog

Health Benefits of Meditation by Shirley Archer JD, MA

MeditationA growing body of research evidence is supporting the claim thatmeditation is good for our health. With benefits ranging from fewer colds to pain management, meditation seems to allow people to cultivate a sense of clarity and calm that can permeate all aspects of life and that improves with practice.

Here are some of the many beneficial effects that scientists have identified in studies:

  • Stronger immune system. Meditators experienced fewer wintercolds and flus (Barrett et al. 2012) and produced more antibodies in response to a flu vaccine (Davidson et al. 2003) than those who did not meditate.
  • Enhanced attention. After 3 months of meditation training, subjects had better attention and used their resources more efficiently (Slagter et al. 2007).
  • Lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.Transcendental meditation lowered blood pressure among African Americans with heart disease and was associated with a 43% reduction in risk of death, heart attack and stroke (Schneider et al. 2009).
  • Less anxiety and depression. A research review found that both Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy had broad applications for people with depression and anxiety (Marchand 2012).
  • Increased feelings of compassion and empathy. Mindfulness training helped to increase self-compassion and empathy in people with mood disorders (Farb, Anderson & Segal 2012).
  • Fewer binge episodes. A group of women who practiced mindfulness meditation for 6 weeks cut their binge eating episodes by half after experiencing meditation (Kristiller & Hallett 1999).
  • Lower blood sugar. Patients with metabolic syndrome lowered blood pressure and blood sugar and improved insulin regulation after practicing transcendental meditation for 16 weeks (Paul-Labrador et al. 2006).
  • Improved sleep. A literature review found that consistent meditators using a variety of meditation styles experienced better sleep quality than people who did not meditate (Nagendra, Maruthai & Kutty 2012).
  • Better pain management. The same literature review showed that both Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Zen meditation helped people with pain management (Nagendra, Maruthai & Kutty 2012). In another study, expert meditators experienced the same intensity of pain as novices, but felt less unpleasantness (Lutz et al. 2012).

Changes in the Brain

Researchers are using modern technology to explore how meditation is able to provide these (and other) benefits. Findings confirm that meditation practice creates structural changes in the brain, which is significant, because neuroscientists used to think the brain’s development reached a peak in adulthood and then declined with age. Research is now showing that how we use the brain impacts its development and function (just as how we use the body affects its health and function).

The structural changes in the brain that occur with meditation are associated with improved functionality: enhanced concentration, better ability to learn and remember, more ability to tolerate pain and less emotional reactivity toward external stimuli. In multiple studies, people who meditate have better attention, concentration, emotion regulation, pain tolerance and memory than those who do not.

Note: See www.ideafit.com/meditation-brain for specific research findings on how meditation changes the brain.

The Fountain of Youth?

New lines of research show that meditation may lead to biological changes that decrease the inflammation response of the immune system on a cellular level and can contribute to looking and feeling younger. Two separate studies of meditation, one involving the practice of a Kirtan Kriya meditation from kundalini yoga and the other involving qigong practice, a moving meditation, both identified improved telomerase activity, which is linked to cellular health (Black et al. 2012; Ho et al. 2012).

“Telomerase is an important enzyme that protects us from aging by guarding the shortening of telomeres during cell division,” said study author Rainbow T. Ho, director of the Centre on Behavioral Health at the University of Hong Kong. This reduction in inflammation may be related to optimizing health and slowing damage from the aging process.

For more information on meditation, plus a full list of references, please see “Meditation: Push-Ups for the Brain” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

For the latest research, statistics, sample classes, and more, “Like” IDEA on Facebook here.

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

IDEA Author/Presenter
Shirley Archer, JD, MA, was the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA’s mind-bo… more
IDEA Fit TipsVolume 11, Number 2
February 2013

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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February 10, 2013 Posted by | Health, Mind-body awareness | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Posture Police

One of my biggest peeves is bad posture.  Ask any one of my clients, and they will tell you that I am the posture police.  Poor posture is the number one cause of musculoskeletal pain, something your doctor probably won’t tell you.  And the longer you remain is a compromised position, the tighter those muscles surrounding your joints will become.  Keeping good posture can make a difference to the long term health of your spine and the rest of your body.  Not only that, but people with poor posture are more likely to have poor self-image and less self-confidence (Watson & MacDonncha 2000).

Posture is a state of skeletal and muscular balance and alignment that protects the supporting structures of your body from progressive deformity and injury (Britnell et al. 2005).  Whether you are erect, lying, squatting, or stooping, good posture allows your muscles to function with maximum efficiency.  With good standing posture your body’s joints are in a state of equilibrium with the least amount of physical energy being used to maintain this upright position.

Posture muscles help to fix or stabilize a joint.  They prevent movement, while other muscles create movement.  They are composed of muscle fibers that have a particular capacity for prolonged work.  For instance, as you lean forward slightly to walk upstairs, the posture muscles surrounding the spine help to prevent the upper body from falling too far forward.

There are three natural curves in a healthy spine.  The low back (lumbar spine) curves inward and is called the lordotic curve.  The mid-back (thoracic spine) is curved outward. The neck (cervical spine) curves slightly forward or inward and thus has a lordotic curve.  “Neutral spine” usually refers to the lumbar region.  Neutral spine is a pain-free position of the lumbar spine attained when the pressures in and around the pelvis joint structures are evenly distributed.  The pelvis is balanced between its anterior and posterior positions.

Exercise programs that are designed for musculoskeletal injury prevention involve neuromuscular control components.  These programs involve joint stability exercises, balance training, proprioceptive training, plyometric exercises, and skill-specific training.  They provide multiple stimuli to improve the body’s neuromuscular control mechanisms.

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Exercise, Health, Mind-body awareness, Personal training, Physical therapy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Very Happy Anniversary!

At the moment, I am reading “Younger Next Year:  Live Strong,, Fit, and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond.”  This book was recommended to me by one of my clients, not because he thought I would learn something, but because he thought I would be interested in a book that talks about everything I try to teach my clients (and anyone else who will listen to me).  All those tidbits of information about how much we should be exercising, what we should be eating (or not eating), and the role inflammation plays in our health.   I love this book, not just because it embodies everything I believe in, but also because the authors make it funny, easy to read, and motivating.

So what does this have to do with my anniversary, you ask?  Well, November officially marks one year since I incorporated the 28 Days to Health program into my life.  When I started this program I had no idea how much it would change my life.  I had known for a number of years about the role food plays in our health and it’s effect on inflammation in the body.  This was the first time I had found a program that was designed to reduce inflammation by teaching people what to eat.  I decided to try it for myself just to see what it was all about but I honestly didn’t think I would get much out of it personally.  My food intake was almost identical to that of the program, I really only needed to change a few small things.  How much difference could that possibly make, right?  Wrong, I was so wrong.  I learned so much about how what I was eating was affecting my body, my health, my energy levels, and my emotions.  It was an eye opener!   Within one month, I knew I had to teach this program so that I could help others towards better health and educate as many people as possible about the toxicity of our food supply.

One year later, I am pain free, healthier than I have been in years, and happy.  I am stronger and faster than I’ve been in at least 7 years.  Every week my running times get a little bit faster.  A few days ago, a friend told me that she had seen me out running and how strong I looked and with great form.  What an improvement from a few years ago when friends were telling me that limping while I run is probably a good sign to stop running and try something different!!!  And this week, I was able to run three times in one week without pain.  The last time I could do that without crippling myself was about 7 years ago. I’m 42, BUT I feel 25!   I feel good, I look healthy, and I get the added bonus of helping others improve the quality of their lives!   28 Days to Health has not only made me younger in one year, it has made me about 7 years younger in one year!

Oh, and I can’t forget to add that I got a free trip to the Bahamas this summer, just for helping others!  Life doesn’t get any better than this !  A very Happy Anniversary to me 🙂

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Exercise, Food, Health, Mind-body awareness | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Letting it go

10 years ago today at approximately 6:30am, I was training my first client of the day,  when we received word of what had happened in New York.  I called my parents, who were watching my 10 month old daughter, and told them to turn on the TV because our country was under attack.  That day is forever etched in my memory.  I was terrified, yet it was all so surreal.  This kind of thing didn’t happen in my lifetime.  This only happened in other countries, not in America.  That was for my grandparents generation. Hadn’t we moved past this kind of thing?  Now, 10 years later, I contemplate how that event has affected our nation and our people.

I consider myself to be a very accepting person.  I don’t believe in discrimination of any kind.  I know there are good people and there are bad people, and those qualities have nothing to do with a person’s gender, skin color, religion, or sexual preference.  We all feel the same pain, the same love, the same joy.  However, this summer I was returning from my trip to the Bahamas (thank you Arbonne for a great trip) and sitting in the airport in Nassau, waiting for my flight back to the States.  I looked around at the other passengers waiting for the same flight, when I caught sight of a man who looked so much like Osama Bin Laden, he could have been his brother.  He also wore the traditional turban on his head.  I will not lie.  Fear and anxiety bubbled to the surface.  Panic set in.  I wanted to tell the airlines that they couldn’t let this man on my flight, that I had a daughter waiting for me to come home.  The fact that his wife (who walked confidently at his side) and baby were with him did nothing to appease me.  I was embarrassed of my reaction.  I knew this was just another family going home after enjoying their vacation, just like me, yet I could not get past my fear.  10 years later we are still scared.  Many are angry. Unfortunately, anger makes you weak.  Ask anyone who has been in a relationship that is filled with anger.  That relationship (and the people in it) just continues to weaken until it breaks apart.

I am amazed to see people arguing on facebook as to whether we should remember this day and the people who perished or whether we should just move on and stop focusing on the negative.  Why can’t we do both?  One thing holds true-remember the past and learn.  Those who forget continue to make the same deadly mistakes.  However, remembering and paying tribute to the victims and the heroes does not mean we can’t move forward.  We will only move forward if we can find a way to let go of the anger.  We must never forget and continue to protect our freedoms, but our country will only grow stronger if we remove the hate from our hearts and put our energies into making this great nation even greater.

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Mind-body awareness | , , , | Leave a comment

Music for your mood

I love music.  Music can soothe or uplift me.  It can put me in a different frame of mind and it can take me back in time, bringing back a flood of memories.  I have music that I work out to, music that I clean house to, music that I dance to, and music that I relax to.  Have you ever wished for a playlist that was geared just for your mood of the day?  Well,here it is!  Stereomood ( stereomood.com ) is a free internet radio channel that matches your music to your state of mind.  Simply choose an emotion or activity, and it produces a list of suitable songs in seconds!  Just click on the link below to find your mood music!

stereomood – emotional internet radio – music for my mood and activities.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | Mind-body awareness | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mindfulness

Have you ever driven somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realize you haven’t noticed anything along the way?  Or eaten a chocolate bar, taken a bite, then noticed that all you had left in your hand is a wrapper?  Of course, we all have!  These are common examples of mindlessness, or being on “automatic pilot.”  We all fall into habits of mind and body, attention and inattention, which result in our not being present for our own lives.  This can result in our missing some really good things, and also in our ignoring really important information and messages about our life, our relationships, and even our own health.

We all hear about being more mindful of what you eat, right?  Mindless eating leads to poor food choices and consumption of too many calories.  What about mindfulness when you exercise?  Do you go to the gym and just go through the motions?  Do you read or watch TV while riding the bike or walking the treadmill, or do you really focus on your workout, the muscles that are being worked, and pushing your body to reach its potential?

Many people do not get as much as they should from their workouts, simply because they do it mindlessly.  It doesn’t matter what form of exercise you do, whether you have an instructor or trainer, or just yourself, your focus should be on your workout the entire time.  If you’re too busy thinking of all the errands you need to run later, or talking to your girlfriend about the latest vampire movie, I can guarantee you are not working your muscles to their fullest.

It is extremely important when doing exercises such as weight training or pilates to be very mindful of your form and what muscles you should be focused on.  If you don’t know what muscles you are using in a particular exercise, find out!  Ask your trainer or instructor, or look at the diagram on the machine you are using.  If you still can’t find it, ask any trainer at your health club.  When performing exercises (even ones you’ve performed 100 times before) really feel the muscles that are being worked, go through the entire range of motion, and be mindful of your form.  Being mindful of your body during a workout allows you to change something that doesn’t feel right before an injury occurs.  It also teaches you how to use those muscles properly in certain situations so that, later, when you aren’t in the gym and you pick your child off the floor, you will consciously do so with proper form and using the correct muscles.

It is quite easy to become distracted and lose mindfulness, especially in a crowded gym.  When this happens, just give yourself a gentle reminder (don’t beat yourself up) and refocus.  After all, it may be the only time of the day you get to focus on yourself 100%!

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Mind-body awareness | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Those who inspire me

In life, there are many people who inspire me.  When it comes to sports and fitness, those who inspire me most are the athletes who succeed despite physical challenges.  Many years ago, when I was a competitive triathlete and duathlete, a friend of mine took me as his guest to Competitor Magazine’s annual Award Banquet.  This black tie charity event benefits the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation (CAF) and honors the top endurance athletes.  Every year one athlete is also named the Challenged Athlete of the Year.  After seeing these athletes with one or more missing extremities successfully compete in triathlons, I was humbled and inspired.  I realized that as an asthmatic, I had nothing to complain about. 

Here again, is an example of a remarkable young man determined to succeed and making his mark in the sport of wrestling.  His courage and determination will take him far in life.  The next time you’re struggling through your workout or you think you just can’t finish those last 5 reps, keep Anthony Robles in your thoughts for inspiration.

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Health, Mind-body awareness | , | Leave a comment

Hologram bracelets-Do you think they work?

I’m sure you’ve seen these hologram bracelets all over the place.  I know many people who wear them and are convinced this little bracelet makes them stronger, improves their workouts, helps them hit the golf ball farther, etc., etc.  Being the scientific girl that I am, I have been my usual skeptical self, but I am always open to new ideas if you have the research to back it up.  About a week ago, I happened to come across a booth selling these powerbalance bracelets.  I walked over to look at them and the young sales girl was very eager to demonstrate the test on me.  I had already put the bracelet on, so she decided to start the test that way and finish with the bracelet off.  The test required me to stand on one foot with both arms held straight out to the side.  She pushed down on one arm until I fell over.  The purpose of the test is to show people how much stronger and more balanced they are with the bracelet on.  She had obviously been trained to do a “fake” test, but forgot she was doing my test in the reverse order.  Needless to say, she did not press down on my arm as hard when the bracelet was off, which would appear to make me look stronger without the bracelet.  She then asked if I felt any difference and I replied with a “no.”  Amazingly, she did the test again, the exact same way.  When I told her that it was obvious that she wasn’t pushing down as hard with the bracelet off, she tried to tell me that without the bracelet “a simple tap makes most people fall over.”  She added that I am so amazingly strong that it takes more than a tap to bring me down.  When I explained that a proper test is done with the same amount of pressure with or without the bracelet on, she quickly handed me the card that explains how the hologram works and all the ailments it “cures.”  The card mentioned something about aligning the energy of the chakras by placing the holograms near the chakras.  I told the sales girl that it didn’t make sense to wear the hologram on your wrist if it only worked near the chakras.  Her reply- “I don’t even know what chakras are!”  Thanks, but I think I’d rather spend that money at my chiropractor’s office!

Funny enough, when I tell my friends who wear these bracelets this story, they think that she was just a young, new sales girl who didn’t know what she was doing.  They still believe the bracelet makes a difference.  I have looked up research on this product and have found none.  Not even one study.  What I do know is this- if you think you’re stronger and more powerful, then you will be.  As far as I’m concerned, the bracelet’s ability to make them think more positively is priceless!

July 6, 2010 Posted by | Mind-body awareness | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Power of Yoga

Today I was fortunate enough to go to my favorite yoga class.  I have a few instructors I like, but this is my all-time fave

Geo has been in my life for over ten years and never ceases to amaze me!  Maybe it’s the way he starts our class.  While chimes and chanting can take my mind and focus it within, Geo’s choice of India Arie also takes me to another place.  Sensual and soulful, her rhythm and incredible voice provide the energy to get through this demanding class.

Yoga challenges my body more than any other form of exercise I do.  It builds strength, increases flexibility, and improves my state of mind.  I flow from one asana to another, muscles on fire, sweat dripping to the mat.  I take delight in how far I’ve come rehabilitating my knee, as I move easily into poses that were once impossible for me.  At the same time, I am reminded of my weaknesses and how much improvement is yet to come.  I know, given the opportunity to take this class weekly, my fitness level would improve tenfold. 

After endless vinyasas and some floor work, we move to the best part-savasana.  Geo’s  soothing voice takes the class through progressive relaxation that relaxes and calms the body and mind.  I easily fall into meditation (except when the guy next to me is snoring) and would happily lie here all day, if they let me.  I walk out feeling centered, and free of every ache pain and pain that I brought to class that day.  I still look ahead to the day when I can do this

 

and this

 

Until then, namaste

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Mind-body awareness | , , , | Leave a comment

Ritual Cleanse-Day 3

Today is the last day of my Ritual Cleanse and I have to say that I feel great!  As much as I am looking forward to chewing food again, I wish I had chosen to do the 5 day cleanse.  I really don’t want this feeling to go away!  All of my normal tiredness and fatigue is gone.  I ran for an hour today and my legs feel refreshed and recovered.  I am always sore after running, so this is a new experience for me!  Not only that, my injured knee did not grind, ache, or give me pain going up and down the stairs.  It feels like someone gave me a new knee!  The best part was that every bottle of the Ritual Cleanse tasted so good, it made the entire experience that much more pleasurable.

Overall, I think I have a pretty clean diet -no dairy, no alcohol, no eggs, pork, or, fish(eeww).  I limit my intake of wheat and beef.  However, after seeing how good I feel after drinking only 15lbs of fruits and vegetables a day, with a little almond thrown in, I may be headed toward becoming a vegetarian!

To learn more about this amazing product, go to www.ritualcleanse.com

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Food, Health, Mind-body awareness | , , | 1 Comment