Improved Mental Health Linked to Nature Group Walks

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Walking through nature in a group sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but can it lower depression? According to a new study from the University of Michigan, the answer is yes, suggesting potential health benefits of national outdoor group walk programs. Although it is well known that outdoor walking groups encourage interaction with nature, social engagement and physical activity, until now, little has been known about how effective they are at promoting mental, emotional and social well-being.

A recent study published in April suggested that walking boosts creative thinking, while another from July suggested brisk walking is  therapeutic for people with Parkinson’s disease. Though the health benefits of going for a good walk are wide ranging, researchers
from this latest study focused on the mental benefits of the activity. Their results are published in the journal Ecopsychology.

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To conduct their study, the team, led by Dr. Sara Warber, associated professor of family medicine, evaluated nearly 2,000 participants
from the Walking for Health Program in the UK, which organizes almost 3,000 weekly walks each year. “We hear people say they feel better
after a walk or going outside, but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” says Dr. Warber.

Results from their study show that group nature walks are linked with “significantly” lower depression, less stress and better mental health and well-being, both before and after controlling for covariates.  Additionally, people from the study who had recently encountered
stressful life events—such as a serious illness, death of a loved one, marital separation or unemployment—experienced a mood boost
after outdoor group walks.

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Commenting on their findings, Dr. Warber says, “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise, and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

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The team cites an increase in mental health issues and physical inactivity in the developed world for why they seek to explore new ways
to help improve quality of life and well-being. “The present study identifies the mental and emotional well-being benefits from participation
in group walks in nature and offers useful information about the potential health contribution of national outdoor group walk programs,” the researchers conclude.

Source: WebMD, Inc.

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Provided by Rebecca McGonigle of the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) in the November 2014 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter.

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Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness

Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness

Learn how to say “yes” to the present moment.
Published on February 22, 2012 by Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D. in The Mindful Self-Express
mindful meditation

Meditation is one aspect of mindfulness

Most people these days are stressed out by the fast pace of life, economy, and worries about the future. In a recent survey, conducted in the UK, a whopping 86 percent agreed that “people would be much happier and healthier if they knew how to slow down and live in the moment” (Mental Health Foundation, 2010).  It is no wonder that mindfulness has rapidly gained attention in the popular press and is one of the few complementary medicine techniques to be offered in  hospitals and clinics worldwide. But what exactly is mindfulness?Mindfulness is a mind-body medicine practice, based on ancient Zen Buddhist meditation techniques, that was popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is an internal resource that all of us already have within us. The idea is to channel or direct this resource to transform our relationships with stress, emotions, pain, and illness. Indeed, controlled research studies suggest that mindfulness-based interventions can effectively reduce symptoms in people with chronic pain, recurrent depression, anxiety disorders,substance abusebinge-eating, and many other health conditions. Mindfulness interventions have also been shown to change the brain’s grey matter and reactivity to emotional stimuli in ways that promote greater conscious control over emotion.

While most people seem to think that mindfulness is a good thing, many people are confused about what exactly mindfulness is. Does it involve emptying the brain of thoughts, inducing relaxation, or going into a trance? Do you have to go live in an ashram and retreat from the material world to practice it effectively?  Is it a kind of religion or cult, and is it potentially dangerous?  In fact, none of the above have been shown to be true. Below is a description of some key concepts that can help illuminate what it means to have a mindful attitude to life.

 

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The beauty of the present moment

Focus on the Present Moment—When your thoughts get lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you bring them back to what you are experiencing right now. You try to remain open to how things unfold in the present, rather than having preconceived ideas about how things will or should turn out. Being Fully PresentYou are spaciously aware of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment as you go through your daily life. What do you feel in your body? What are you seeing, hearing, doing – right now?

Openness to Experience—Rather than dreading and shutting out your own feelings and experiences because you think you can’t handle them, you welcome with curiosity any thoughts and feelings that naturally arise, knowing they are merely sensations in the moment and the next moment can be different. You create mental spaciousness to contain these thoughts and fellings. Become aware of your experience as a flow of sensations, thoughts, and feelings and watch how these change and transform naturally over time.

Non-Judgment—You don’t categorize your thoughts and feelings as good or bad, try to change them, or feel compelled to act on them. All feelings have a purpose, whether to protect you from danger or open you to love. You watch and accept whatever arises in consciousness with an open mind. You extend this non-judging attitude to other people and things.

Acceptance of Things as They Are—You don’t try to force or change reality to fit your vision of what it should be, feel like a victim, or bemoan the unfairness of life. Instead, you try to see reality clearly and let it be as it is, knowing that you can tolerate whatever it is that comes up. You extend this acceptance to others, knowing they are the best judges of what is right for them.

Connection—You feel connected to all living things and nature in being part of a larger whole. You reflect on and feel grateful for the cycle of life and the food, beauty, and protection that nature gives us. You know that all living beings want to feel happy and secure and avoid suffering and you feel connected by similarity of needs and experience.

Non-Attachment—You do not try to hold onto things, people, or experiences, knowing that life is in constant flow. Attachment comes fromfear and is the basis of suffering. You learn to surf the wave of life, going with the flow and being confident in your own ability to adapt. When one door closes, another opens.

 

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Mindfully walking a labyrinth

Peace and Equanimity—You maintain an even-keel, not getting too swept up in life’s highs and lows. You know that life is a cycle and you can’t see the whole picture at any one moment. When things don’t go your way, you stay firmly rooted in your own clear vision and values. You walk with a peaceful heart and adopt a non-harming, non-violent attitude. Compassion—You deal gently, kindly, and patiently with yourself and others. Rather than judging, or condemning, you open your heart to really listen and try to understand your own and other people’s experiences. You allow yourself to feel other people’s suffering. You love people not for what they can give you or because you need something from them, but because you connect and empathize with their experiences.

With these concepts in mind, you can begin to introduce mindfulness into your own life, whether it is by deliberately directing attention to your breath and senses at different times during the day, taking a mindful nature walk, or beginning a simple meditation practice. You might want to center your attention on each in- and out-breath, noticing the length, quality, and sensations of the breath moving in and out of your body, without trying to force or change it in any way. You may also begin to become aware of the times in the day that you operate “mindlessly,” and on automatic pilot, your head so busy with plans and worries, that you don’t even notice what you feel inside or what is around you.

Developing an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your automatic patterns, and gently redirects attention to the present moment is the beginning of growing a “mindfulness muscle” to help you navigate the winds of change and stresses in your life. “As Eckhart Tolle so eloquently said: “Always say “yes” to the present moment. Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

About The Author

Melanie Greenberg is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Mill Valley, Marin County, CA. She is also a researcher, author, and national speaker with expertise in life stress, relationships, mind-body health, and effects of society and media on human behavior.

Visit  my website at  http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/  for original research articles and therapy services

Connect with me on facebookhttp://www.fb.com/mindfulselfexpress

Follow me on twitterhttp://twitter.com/#!/DrMelanieG

Read my personal blog: http://marinpsychologist.blogspot.com

7 Foods That Reduce Your Alzheimer’s Risk

7 Foods That Reduce Your Alzheimer’s Risk

2013-02-21-grandparentslogo.jpg  |  Posted: 02/23/2013 7:54 am EST  |  Updated: 02/23/2013 7:54 am EST

Alzheimers Prevention
SPECIAL FROM Grandparents.com

Keep Your Brain Healthy

The best thing you can do to keep your brain working the way you want it to: exercise, and eat right. “Nutrition is very, very important to brain health,” says Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist and member of scientific advisory board for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Surprisingly, the brain is made up of 60% fat–it’s the fattest part of our body–and that fat insulates the nerve tracks. Without that fat we slow down mentally,” Dr. Nussbaum says.

The crucial thing to know: The kinds of fats and foods you eat, can have a real impact on the health of your brain. Trans fats and sugar aren’t great for your brain health. What foods are good and can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s? Consider eating these good-for-your-brain foods:

1. Walnuts (and almonds, pecans, hazelnuts)

Walnuts might be small in size, but they pack a big nutritional punch. They are filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, the good kind of fat your brain needs. A study from the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found that mice given a diet including walnuts showed improvement in memory and motor coordination. Walnuts also contain vitamin E and flavonoids, which can help protect the brain.

2. Salmon (and mackerel, sardines, other fatty fish)

Also high in Omega-3s, fatty fish like salmon can lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s. A Columbia University study found that the more Omega-3 fatty acids a person eats, the lower their blood beta-amyloid levels. Dr. Nussbaum suggests eating 8 oz. of fish per week–fresh fish is best, but you can also talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.

3. Berries

“Antioxidants are like taking out the broom in the spring and sweeping the garage,” Dr. Nussbaum says. “Antioxidants are the body’s broom.” Berries contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant which helps stop inflammation and allows brain cells to work better. A Tufts University study found that berries can reverse slow-downs in the brain’s ability to process information.

“You can’t go wrong if a food has the word ‘berry’ in the name,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “Strawberries, blueberries, cranberries– they’re all good for your brain.”

4. Spinach (and kale, other leafy greens)

Full of antioxidants and fiber, leafy greens should be a diet staple. In a national study, women in their 60s who ate more leafy vegetables over time did better than their non-greens-eating counterparts on memory, verbal, and other tests. And new studies show that high levels of vitamin C, which is found in spinach, may help with dementia prevention.

5. Turmeric

Break out the curry! A host of studies have shown that turmeric, the spice used in curries, and its main active component curcumin, can help prevent Alzheimer’s. In one such study, researchers from UCLA found that vitamin D3, taken with curcumin, may help the immune system to get rid of the amino acids that form the plaque in the brain that’s associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. So the next time you cook, incorporate this healthy spice.

6. Coffee

Now you don’t have to feel guilty about pouring yourself another cup. Researchers from the University of South Florida and University of Miami found that people older than 65 who drank three cups of coffee a day (i.e. had higher blood levels of caffeine) developed Alzheimer’s disease two to four years later than their counterparts with lower caffeine levels, and that caffeine had a positive impact even in older adults who were already showing early signs of Alzheimer’s.

7. Chocolate

If you haven’t already switched from milk chocolate to dark, now you have one more reason to. Compelling research already shows that dark chocolate, which contains flavonoids (a plant compound that helps with the body’s circulation), can help combat heart disease, but flavonoids may also help slow down the effects of dementia. In an Italian study, older adults who had mild symptoms of dementia drank cocoa with high, medium and low amounts of flavonoids. Those who consumed high amounts outperformed those who consumed low doses on cognitive tests.

And a study is currently underway by the National Institute on Aging to see whether resveratrol, a compound found in chocolate, red wine, and grapes, can prevent dementia. One tip: A healthy choice is dark chocolate that has a 70% or higher cocoa content.

Dealing With Stress Effectively

In keeping with our positive attitude, we are not going to talk about stress and all its bad side effects.  Instead, here is an excerpt from a great article with some ideas for controlling your stress:

Dealing with stress and its symptoms

 

 

 

 

 

While unchecked stress is undeniably damaging, there are many things you can do to reduce its impact and cope with symptoms.

Learn how to manage stress

You may feel like the stress in your life is out of your control, but you can always control the way you respond. Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.

Learn how to relax

You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Learn quick stress relief

Everybody has the power to reduce the impact of stress as it’s happening in that moment. With practice, you can learn to spot stressors and stay in control when the pressure builds. Sensory stress-busting techniques give you a powerful tool for staying clear-headed and in control in the middle of stressful situations. They give you the confidence to face challenges, knowing that you have the ability to rapidly bring yourself back into balance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, please go to:

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm