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Blog posts tagged with 'memory'

Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Dreaming

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Facts You Probably Didn't Know About DreamingEvery night you venture from this world into an entirely different one where the rules of physics, time, and mortality may not apply. It sometimes doesn't help that while you're inhabiting this world, you are unable to exercise any control over your dream land. However, that can be part of the fun. Where does this all occur? In the mind, of course.

Dreams as a Means of Memory Processing

Sleep and dreaming helps your mind process, sort, and store each day's events. Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in integrative sleep and dream medicine at the University of Arizona, likens dreaming to being a digestive system for your brain. "At night, the brain metaphorically swallows, digests, and sifts through information, and, just like the gut, eliminates," he says. "What the brain keeps becomes a part of who we are. Dreaming, is like the brain's digestive system."

Dreams are often said to occur only during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycles of sleep. But according to Dr. Naiman, dreams actually happen all night long; it's just that you're more tuned in to them during the REM cycles. Interestingly, mammals, reptiles, and birds are the only animals that experience REM sleep.

The process of sleep also helps the brain rid itself of toxic proteins that may potentially affect neurological function. The brain has its own plumbing system—known as the glymphatic system—that carries waste material out of the brain nightly. During sleep, brain cells shrink, allowing fluids to wash out the brain.

Want to Remember Your Dreams?

Trying to remember some dreams can be like catching smoke with a butterfly net. Sometimes the more you chase after it the more elusive it can become. The best way to try and remember your dream is to wake up slowly, lying in bed for a few moments and staying with your grogginess. By contrast, getting jolted awake by your alarm or any sudden sound can cause you to immediately forget what you were just doing in your dream. The shock of going from one state of mind to the next can leave you with only the vague residual memory of your night's adventures.

People who tend to remember their dreams have been found to have more spontaneous brain activity in a part of the brain called the temporo-parietal junction, when compared to those who more easily forget their dreams. These differences in recalling dreams don't just occur during sleep; people who remember dreams also seem to be more sensitive to sounds while they're asleep, too.

The Connection from Dream Land to the Waking World

Your body reacts the same way in your dreams biologically as it does to reality, says Dr. Naiman. "The experience we have in the dream registers in the body and in the brain in almost exactly the same way," he says. "Your blood pressure or heart rate might spike, for example, like in a real-life stressful scenario, helping to cement those emotional experiences of the dream." Contrary to popular belief, dreams also register in real time and can span anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

The realistic feel of dreams can extend to your awake self. A 2014 study found that many bad dreams elicited feelings of worry, confusion, and guilt. However, dreams never feel "weird" no matter how preposterous the situation you're in. "It's only after you wake up and step into the waking world and look at the dream that it seems weird," Dr. Naiman says.

A Good Night's Rest for a Multitude of Benefits

A good night's sleep will take you to imaginative realms but also gives your brain time to digest, sift and sort through information, while leaving you well rested for the morning. Sleep is also connected to other bodily functions such as your immune system, blood pressure, and even weight. Getting the proper amount of sleep, and enjoying the fantastical world of your dreams can keep you living healthy and happy during the day.

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Science Reveals Instant Mood-Boosting Techniques

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Science Reveals Instant Mood-Boosting TechniquesSeeing the brighter side of life doesn't always come easy to everyone. But what if you could trick your brain into thinking positive thoughts? According to a recent study there are several ways of accomplishing this to help support a positive mind and mood that can influence an overall healthier lifestyle.

Neutral, Duchenne and Chopsticks

Because of the close connection that the mind and body share, researchers wanted to investigate what extent physical signals from the body could influence the mind. Their study centered on smiling. It's already known that feeling good can make you react with a smile, but can forcing a smile, in-turn, make you feel good? To test this hypothesis, researcher Tara Kraft from the University of Kansas gathered 169 participants and trained the volunteers to maintain three separate facial expressions: a neutral expression, a standard smile, and a more empathetic smile called the Duchenne smile, achieved by holding chopsticks in their mouths. While only half the participants were told to smile, researchers explained that having chopsticks in their mouths forced the volunteers to smile without being aware that they were doing so. All of the subjects then participated in stress-inducing tasks such as submerging their hands in ice-cold water and tracing a star with their non-dominant hand while looking at a reflection of the shape in a mirror.

A Smile for Science

Results showed that those who were instructed to smile, (in particular, those who had the Duchenne smiles) had lower heart rates when performing the tasks than those who had neutral expressions. Even those who were unknowingly forced into smiling with the chopsticks in their mouths had a slightly lower heart rate than those who wore neutral expressions. The results, soon to be published in the journal, Psychological Science, give validity to the theory that even a forced smile positively influences the mind into a better mood and can improve other important areas such as stress and heart health. Kraft's research partner, Sarah Pressman, even suggested an everyday application to this theory. "The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment," she said.

A Pose for Positive Moods

While a smile may be the easiest way to spontaneously support a good mood there are other poses that have been shown to help support a positive frame of mind. For instance, one study showed that opening up one's body to occupy more space in what's called a "high-power pose" can have positive mental effects and alter hormone levels, too. Those who held high-power poses were more willing to gamble or take risks, pointing to a higher level of confidence and more positive frame of mind. While meditation has long been linked to promoting a sound mind and mood, a 2008 study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, sought to investigate the benefits that yoga poses have on mental well-being. The study showed that breathing mechanisms and relaxed body posture can also help clear the mind and support lower stress levels.

Taking Control of Your Moods

Maintaining a healthy mood shouldn't be thought of as some insurmountable challenge. Everyone has their ups and downs, and understanding the little things you can do throughout your day can help to provide an instant mood boost. Now that you know how powerful your smile can be, use it wisely and often!

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The Key to a Healthy Mind and Memory? The Answer May Surprise You

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The Key to a Healthy Mind and Memory? The Answer May Surprise YouWe all have memory glitches from one time to another. From forgetting a past event, to forgetting where we put our keys – again. Although some changes to the brain and memory are inevitable, there is much you can do to keep your brain conditioned and memory sharp. According to a new study, aerobic exercise is one such activity.

Physical Activity's Connection to the Brain and Memory

A study published in the online version of the British Journal of Sports Medicine attempted to find a connection between physical exercise and supporting cognitive health, especially for mature adults who may be facing cognitive concerns later in life. Their particular area of focus was the part of the brain called the hippocampus, an area of the brain closely associated to memory, logic, and verbal reasoning skills that has been said to be very sensitive to age-related changes. In the course of their study researchers tested different forms of exercise on 86 women between the ages of 70 and 80 who claimed to have mild memory concerns and who were also all living independently at home. Throughout a six-month period different groups of the 86 women were assigned a different workout routine; some were assigned strictly aerobic exercises while others were instructed to complete resistance training (lunges, squats, and light weights) or balance and/or muscle-toning exercises.

The Exercise Choice for Memory Support

At the end of six months researchers wanted to look at the effect, if any, a particular form of exercise had on maintaining the size of the hippocampus. Comparisons of MRI scans of the volunteers taken before and after the study showed that women who completed the full duration of aerobic training had hippocampuses that were significantly larger than those who completed the other forms of exercise, leading researchers to believe that aerobic exercise may be more beneficial to the mind and memory. While researchers commented that more research on a larger scale needs to be done, they also cited that this is not the first sign of evidence connecting the benefits of exercise to cognitive health. A large, meta-analytic study in which researchers looked at 18 different interventional studies from 1966–2001 concluded that fitness-induced benefits were said to have "robust but selective benefits" on cognitive health.

Brain Games and Memory

While the need for consistent physical activity is one of the keys to maintaining overall health throughout your lifetime, you can also promote good cognitive function through games and exercises that directly stimulate your brain to support your mind and keep your memory sharp. Association is one of the most helpful ways of remembering and connecting memories. By creating links between pictures, concepts, and words your memory can become sharper as familiar concepts will help you recall memories faster. Crossword puzzles, card games, and other brain-stimulating games such as Sudoku can also aid your memory by forcing your mind to dig deep into its problem-solving skills. Even board games and reading books and articles on subjects you wouldn't normally be interested in can keep your mind active because they force your brain to move out of its comfort zone.

Flex Your Muscles and Your Brain Power

Research continues to show that it is possible to maintain good health at any age—and this includes the health of your brain. Aerobic exercise benefits your memory just as much as the rest of your body. Games and other mental challenges also help spur your cognitive functions to help you stay sharp. As evidence linking the benefits of physical activity to cognitive health gains more traction, hopefully this will inspire you to make exercise a vital—and regular—part of your healthy lifestyle.

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A Little Spice Goes a Long Way: The Surprising Benefits of Three Everyday Spices

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A Little Spice Goes a Long Way: The Surprising Benefits of Three Everyday SpicesSpices have been a part of human society for thousands of years, with evidence of their use dating as far back as 2000 BC. Throughout human history different cultures have utilized them for food preparation, preservation, and religious ceremonies; and they have even been catalysts for global exploration. Some spices were such rare commodities that they were used for trading. The little, ground pepper flakes you shake onto your meal or salad were once used as currency, and nutmeg found in recipes and snacks was once so valuable that a historian has called it “the iPhone of the 1600s.” We tend to pay less attention to the details in spices these days because they’re so commonplace, but some of these simple additives can provide a pinch of support to your health. Here are some everyday spices with some surprising benefits.

Cinnamon

It may come as a surprise that cinnamon provides anything beyond an interesting flavor—both spicy and sweet—to our foods. But this brown spice has been known to help promote healthy blood flow. The chemical responsible for these benefits—cinnamaldehyde—also possesses anti-inflammatory properties. In a 2011 study it was found that the use of cinnamon in diets can also help combat the negative effects of triglycerides found in high-fat meals.

Turmeric

Turmeric, like cinnamon was also mentioned in the same 2011 study as one of the spices that helped lessen the negative effects of meals high in fat. This orange-colored spice is commonly used in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cuisines. It is also known for its powerful antioxidant properties, often said to help neutralize or prevent free radical damage. Studies have also shown that turmeric can be a potent ally against joint discomfort, with one researcher commenting that “Turmeric is one of the most potent natural inflammatories available. Other studies found that the main component in turmeric, curcumin, can also support healthy skin, memory, digestion, and cholesterol levels.

Ginger

Studies have shown that Chinese cultures have benefited from the use of ginger for over 2,000 years. It has been said to relieve symptoms related to upset stomachs and nausea, as well as support daily digestion. It has also been shown to be helpful in aiding colon health by acting as an anti-inflammatory in the colon. Ginger contains antioxidant-like properties as well. A study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements states that ginger may help alleviate the instances of oxidative stress similar to vitamin E.

Make Your Spice Rack a Health Rack

Who knew these everyday spices held so much potential nutritional benefits? The best part is that they aren’t rare or expensive; they are readily available and lend themselves to a wide range of uses in meals, drinks, and desserts. It is also common to make hot teas out of these spices—try mixing cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger together to make a super-tea when you’re feeling under the weather. Some of the best sources of these ingredients can also be found in specific supplements, giving you exactly what you need in one bottle. So keep your eye on the spice isle and kick-start your health by adding some spice to your health.


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Technology-Savvy Seniors a Step Ahead in Understanding Health

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Technology-Savvy Seniors a Step Ahead in Understanding HealthOver the past 20 years, we have seen so many leaps in technology that it would be a common misconception to think that technology is only popular among youth. But according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project nearly 87% of older people are using e-mail and search engines and the number is increasing. Studies show that more and more older Americans are quickly adopting the Internet as an efficient way to engage, inform, and communicate. But did you also know that being tech-smart, as you are right now, also has health benefits?

The Techno-Health Connection

A recent study revealed that older men and women who used the Internet were more likely to be physically active, eat a healthy diet, smoke less, and partake in screenings for preventing major illnesses. Researchers also found that the more time older adults spent using technology, the more likely they were to engage in these healthy behaviors. The study included 6,000 men and women ages 50 and older who completed surveys over the course of nine years. The surveys took into account their Internet usage along with their demographics, physical activity, diet, and health screenings they underwent. Researchers found that both men and women who used the Internet regularly were 50% more likely to exercise and 24% more likely to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Study author Christian von Wagner, a lecturer at University College London, also found that there was a dose-response relationship between Internet usage and health patterns—meaning that the more time people spent online, the more likely they were to practice good health habits in real life.

A Tool for Health and Knowledge

The Internet can be a wondrous tool when it comes to health. Users can use online resources to seek information about managing health conditions; learn about nutrition, healthier eating habits, and exercise; and discover new supplements that may be beneficial to them. Exposure to this type of knowledge and connecting with others can be a great motivator in the quest for a healthier lifestyle. The knowledge is out there—all you have to do is seek it out and put it to practical use!


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