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Kids Turn Violent As Parents Battle ‘Digital Heroin’ Addiction

On August 28, The Post published a piece by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, “The Frightening Effects of Digital Heroin,” that was based on his book “Glow Kids.” In it, he argued that young children exposed to too much screen time are at risk of developing an addiction “harder to kick than drugs.” The response was overwhelming, generating more than 3.3 million views on The Post’s website and hundreds of letters from anxious parents. Now Dr. Kardaras writes about this parental revolt against digital heroin and reminds readers of the worst effects of the obsession.

Experienced sailors, Barbara McVeigh and her husband exposed their children to the natural beauty near their home in Marin County, Calif. — boating, camping and adventuring in the great outdoors. None of this stopped her 9-year-old son from falling down the digital rabbit hole.

His first exposure to screens occurred in first grade at a highly regarded public school — named one of California’s “Distinguished Schools” — when he was encouraged to play edu-games after class. His contact with screens only increased during play dates where the majority of his friends played violent games on huge monitors in their suburban homes.

The results for Barbara’s son were horrific: Her sweet boy, who had a “big spirit” and loved animals, now only wanted to play inside on a device.“He would refuse to do anything unless I would let him play his game,” she said. Barbara, who had discarded her TV 25 years ago, made the mistake of using the game as a bargaining tool.

Her son became increasingly explosive if she didn’t acquiesce. And then he got physical. It started with a push here, then a punch there. Frightened, she tried to take the device away. And that’s when it happened: “He beat the s–t out of me,” she told me.

When she tried to take his computer away, he attacked her “with a dazed look on his face — his eyes were not his.” She called the police. Shocked, they asked if the 9-year-old was on drugs.He was — only his drugs weren’t pharmaceutical, they were digital.

In August, I wrote a piece about “digital heroin” for the New York Post, and the response was explosive. More than 3 million readers devoured and shared the piece — though not everyone agreed on its message. Some readers felt that the notion of comparing screens and video games to heroin was a huge exaggeration.

I understand that initial response, but the research says otherwise. Over 200 peer-reviewed studies correlate excessive screen usage with a whole host of clinical disorders, including addiction. Recent brain-imaging research confirms that glowing screens affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that drugs like cocaine and heroin do. Thanks to research from the US military, we also know that screens and video games can literally affect the brain like digital morphine.

In a series of clinical experiments, a video game called “Snow World” served as an effective pain killer for burned military combat victims, who would normally be given large doses of morphine during their painful daily wound care. While the burn patient played the seemingly innocuous virtual reality game “Snow World” — where the player attempts to throw snowballs at cartoon penguins as they bounce around to Paul Simon music — they felt no pain.

I interviewed Lt. Sam Brown, one of the pilot participants in this research who had been injured by an IED in Afghanistan and who had sustained life-threatening third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. When I asked him about his experience using a video game for pain management, he said: “I was a little bit skeptical. But honestly, I was willing to try anything.” When asked what it felt like compared to his morphine treatments, he said, “I was for sure feeling less pain than I was with the morphine.”

Sure enough, brain imaging research confirmed that burn patients who played “Snow World” experienced less pain in the parts of their brain associated with processing pain than those treated with actual morphine. The Navy’s head of addiction research, Cmdr. Dr. Andrew Doan, calls screens “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for pharmaceuticals), a term he coined to explain the neurobiological effects produced by video technologies.

While this is a wonderful advance in pain-management medicine, it begs the question: Just what effect is this digital drug — a narcotic more powerful than morphine — having on the brains and nervous systems of 7-year-olds addicted to their glowing screens?

If screens are indeed digital drugs, then schools have become drug dealers. Under misguided notions that they are “educational,” the entire classroom landscape has been transformed over the past 10 years into a digital playground that includes Chromebooks, iPads, Smart Boards, tablets, smartphones, learning apps and a never-ending variety of “edu-games.”

These so-called “edu-games” are digital Trojan horses — chock-full of the potential for clinical disorders. We’ve already seen ADHD rates explode by over 50 percent the past 10 years as a whole generation of screen-raised kids succumb to the malaise-inducing glow. Using hyper-stimulating digital content to “engage” otherwise distracted students creates a vicious and addictive ADHD cycle: The more a child is stimulated, the more that child needs to keep getting stimulated in order to hold their attention.

Research also indicates that retention rates are lower on screens than on paper and that schools without electronics report higher test scores. And then there’s Finland. A standard bearer of international excellence in education, Finland rejected screens in the classroom. According to Krista Kiuru, their minister of education and science, Finnish students didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of the international education rankings and aren’t interested in using them to stay there.

Yet in the US, there is a national effort to give kids screens at younger and younger ages as parents worry that their little ones may somehow be “left behind” in the education technology arms race — the data be damned.But not all parents are drinking the screens-are-wonderful Kool-Aid — some are fighting back.Cindy Eckard, a Maryland mother of two, is launching a grassroots campaign to create legislation to limit screen time in schools and is testifying in front of a state Senate subcommittee hearing this month.

“I was shocked to learn that the Maryland State Department of Education had no medically sound health guidelines in place before they put so many of our children in front of a computer every day . . . The schools keep encouraging more screen time in the classroom without any regard for our children’s well-being,” Eckard told me. “Our children are owed a safe classroom environment, and right now they’re not getting one.”

Some parents are opting out of public schools for less technology-dependent schools. Many Silicon Valley engineers and executives, for example, put their kids in non-tech Waldorf schools.Others, like longtime educator and consultant Debra Lambrecht, have decided to create new tech-free school models. Debra has created the Caulbridge School, a distinctly “Finnish-style” school that is intended to serve as a template for future schools throughout the country.

“The argument for technology in the earlier grades is often rooted in the fear of children falling behind. It is true that most children will use technology in their jobs and everyday life. It is also true that most children will learn to drive a car,” Lambrecht said. “Certainly we would not give a 7-year-old child the car keys to give them a jump-start to be a more skillful driver. In the same way, we want to ensure children can effectively use technology as a tool and will bring all of their best thinking, creativity and innovation to bear.”

A Long Island mother recently contacted me because her 5-year-old son in kindergarten was going to be forced by the school to use an iPad. When she complained and threatened to pull her son out of school, her school district threatened to call child protective services. I spoke to her school’s superintendent, and he agreed to let her son opt out of using an iPad. But all the other kindergartners still need to use iPads for standardized-testing purposes. That Long Island mother has already reached out to her local legislators.

That seems to be the key. Parents need to educate themselves, find their voices and speak up. If enough parents organize, push for legislation and put pressure on their schools to limit screen time in school — as well as to delay the grade levels that screens are introduced into the classroom — then we might have a chance to slow down this digital epidemic.

Indeed, even the respected AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) has just this month modified their screen recommendations suggesting more tech-cautious guidelines: Children younger than 18 months, no digital media; ages 2 to 5, no more than one hour daily, to be “co-viewed” with parents.

But many, myself included, think these recommendations still don’t go far enough. Because of what we know about screens as “digital heroin,” I believe that kids below the age of 10 should have no interaction with interactive screens (iPads, smartphones, Xbox). There should be warning labels on such interactive screens that read: “Excessive Screen Usage by Children May Lead to Clinical Disorders.”

Meanwhile, back in Marin County, Barbara pulled her son out of his suburban tech-filled public school and enrolled him in a more rural, less tech-oriented school. So far, she’s seen huge improvements in his behavior.

She just found out last week that all fourth-graders in her son’s new school will begin learning the increasingly popular skill of “coding” to design video games. Even in this rural hamlet school, kids were allowed to play violent video games indoors rather than having to go outside to play during recess.

She is now hoping to get political about this issue and to reach out to legislators to end the digital madness in elementary schools. “I am prepared to go to war with our public education over technology use. This is wrong,” Barbara said with the determined voice of a mother fighting for her child’s life.

“I feel like there is a war going on against our children,” Barbara said. “And it’s come so fast that we’re not even questioning it.”



Alcohol Fools The Brain Into Thinking It Is Releasing Chemicals That Calm Us Down

After a busy day at work, many of us want to unwind with a glass of wine.Now scientists have found that reaching for the bottle is part of the body’s natural response to stress.Increased stress levels alter the brain’s chemical make-up by changing what it thinks it needs to survive.Signals in the brain released by stress – designed to protect and calm our bodies – are similar to those given out after using addictive substances such as alcohol, caffeine and drugs.The brain is therefore tricked into thinking the alcohol is helping us, encouraging the drinker to come back for more.

This change in the brain’s reward centre could lead to excessive levels of drinking, scientists say.The research was conducted by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, who found rats exposed to stress voluntarily drank more alcohol compared to those not put under the same stresses.Professor Dr John Dani, chairman of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine, said: ‘The stressed rats drank significantly more than controls, and the increase was maintained for several weeks.

‘The stress response evolved to protect us, but addictive drugs use those mechanisms and trick our brains to keep us coming back for more.’Rats were exposed to an acute stress for one hour, and then 15 hours later, researchers measured the amount of sugar water laced with ethanol that the rodents drank.The team is now talking with other researchers to study a way to normalise the firing of neurons in the brain’s reward system to help control the over-consumption of alcohol.The study was published in the journal Neuron.


Figuring Out Fatigue

Physical skill transcends sport and can be recognized in its absolute form—speed, power, coordination—across a variety of athletic endeavors. But less visible, and perhaps less considered, is the power of the elite athlete’s mind. In fact, what often differentiates the greatest athletes has more to do with mental strength than physical. It’s because sport not only demands a lot of the body, but the brain as well. “With the exception of military combat, it has been suggested that team sports such Physical skill transcends sport and can be recognized in its absolute form—speed, power, coordination—across a variety of athletic endeavors. But less visible, and perhaps less considered, is the power of the elite athlete’s mind. In fact, what often differentiates the greatest athletes has more to do with mental strength than physical. It’s because sport not only demands a lot of the body, but the brain as well.

“With the exception of military combat, it has been suggested that team sports such as football [soccer] place more stress on the brain than any other activity,” writes Dr. Andrew Coutts in recent Journal of Sports Sciences article. “Indeed, football players are required to remain vigilant for long periods before and during matches, adhering to tactical strategies, constantly adjusting to changes in the opposition and their teammates.”

Those demanding game situations—in combination with factors like training, sleep and stress—challenge an athlete physically and mentally and lead to the development of fatigue. But while physical fatigue has long been considered a factor in performance, diminishing an athlete’s capacity to react, run faster and jump higher, researchers are beginning to understand that a tired brain can negatively affect performance as much as a tired muscle.

Researchers have suggested that the sensation of fatigue, once considered solely a physical phenomenon, might also arise from the brain. Meaning that the brain is responsible for collecting the physical sensations of the body—the burning legs and heaving lungs—and deciding how much is too much. This research has demonstrated that mental fatigue—produced by sustained periods of demanding cognitive activity, and described by feelings of “tiredness” and “lack of energy”—can reduce the time it takes to reach exhaustion during exercise.

Dr. Samuele Marcora has studied the effects of mental fatigue on soccer performance and discovered that mentally tired athletes don’t perform as well. After inducing mental fatigue with a demanding cognitive test, Marcora and his team of researchers found that the mentally fatigued soccer players couldn’t run as far or kick a ball as skillfully as their mentally-fresh counterparts.It is important to note that even though the mentally fatigued athletes were performing at an equal level of physical exertion as a control group, those mentally fatigued players perceived the effort as more difficult than those not asked to take a mentally demanding test. Meaning their effort wasn’t physically harder, it just felt harder. “Physiologically you may be fine but mentally fatigued athletes find the same task much more effortful,” says Marcora.

Similarly, a recent study by Coutts and Dr. Mitchell Smith from the University of Technology Sydney found that mental fatigue impaired the accuracy and speed of soccer-specific decision-making.But for soccer players, and all team sport athletes, prevention of mental fatigue is more than just avoiding a math exam before activity. While research requires that mental fatigue be artificially produced with a test, mental fatigue can be developed through a variety of natural activities. “Though studies have found that mental fatigue can develop from sleep deprivation, video games, and having to perform an activity deemed unfamiliar or difficult, such as an interview, any sport that is mentally demanding can induce mental fatigue,” Marcora says.In that context, it’s easy to see how mental fatigue may develop before a game or practice and subsequently decrease performance.

“I’d always been told by coaches that when the legs are too tired, the mind will take over,” says Brad Evans, a defender for MLS’ Seattle Sounders of MLS. “But later on I realized that it doesn’t work that way.” Evans, also a veteran of the U.S. men’s National Soccer Team, is well aware of the role of mental fatigue, “Mistakes happen when you are mentally and physically fatigued—like missing a tackle I would usually make.”Some of soccer’s most successful teams have invested in research on tracking fatigue and recovery, realizing the importance of the subject. Andrea Azzalin, sports scientist for Premier League champion Leicester City and a former student of Marcora, continually monitors the team for signs of mental fatigue after every training session and game. For Azzalin, it comes down to knowing his athletes.

“Monitoring how the players feel—their perceived effort—is often enough for me to understand that they are more fatigued than usual,” he says. Leicester City’s sports science staff uses markers of mental fatigue, along with GPS and heart rate information from each player, as tools to detect situations of overload. That information is relayed to the club’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, who decides if the training schedule or other player demands need to be adjusted.

Golden State Warriors’ head of physical performance and sports medicine Lachlan Penfold, who comes from a background in rugby and soccer, is also aware of the research and absolutely believes that mental fatigue can impair performance in any sport.   “A tremendous amount of fatigue—mental and physical—develops over the course of a long NBA season,” Penfold says. “Players can be more or less resistant to its effects.”While Penfold believes that an awareness of how to avoid mental fatigue has the potential to help many professional athletes, he says that getting players to buy into avoiding using social media or video games—potentially mentally fatiguing activities—before games may be a tough sell.

“Since the effects of mental fatigue sometimes aren’t obvious—manifesting as an opening not capitalized upon or a move not made—it can be difficult to quantify or present its effects,” maintains Penfold.With its long 162-game season, it should be no surprise that mental fatigue is also evident among Major League Baseball players. A study by researcher Dr. Scott Kuscher found that plate discipline—as measured by a hitter’s tendency to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone—got progressively worse over the course of a MLB season, contradicting the belief that plate discipline should improve over time due to frequent practice. Kutscher believes that sleep, or a lack of it, is behind the decline in performance.

“We theorize that this decline is tied to fatigue that develops over the course of the season due to a combination of frequency of travel and paucity of days off,” concludes Kutscher.Avoiding mental fatigue before competition is one thing, but because an athlete can tire over the course of game or training week, building resilience to mental fatigue is also important. Andrea Bosio, a sports scientist working with Serie A soccer teams Sassuolo and Juventus, believes that much like taxing the heart, lungs and muscles with physical conditioning, a combination of small sided soccer games (somewhat like a half-court basketball game) and mental training can be used to make the brain more resistant to mental fatigue. Call it brain training—or more specifically, Brain Endurance Training, the term Bosio and other researchers at Mapei Sport in Milan, Italy, have coined during their developing and testing of this mental conditioning for the brain.

The BET program, developed by Marcora, aims to improve mental performance. Athletes are given repeated mental to perform during the rest periods of intense small-sided games. Similar to “normal” physical training, these brain-training sessions can be systematically carried out over a period of weeks and months.The adaptations occurring in the brain after repeated sessions of BET (the scientists are still trying to understand the biology of what occurs) seem to positively influence the perception of effort during endurance activity. Early results suggest that at the same intensity of training, players perceive less effort, and at the same perceived effort, players are able to sustain a higher intensity.

Seattle Sounders sports science and performance manager David Tenney uses yoga in his attempts to reduce mental fatigue in his players. “I’ve found that the mental aspects of yoga, with its focus on breathing and relaxation, have been helpful in reducing the mental fatigue of practice and competition,” he says.No matter the sport or proposed solution, mental fatigue and findings have proven one thing for certain: for an athlete, a tired mind is just as meaningful as a tired muscle.


Top 10 Health Benefits of Stretching

Stretching is very important for flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Incorporating stretching into your daily workouts is a given but including it in your day routine is just as important to health and body functioning as regular exercise. It relaxes your muscles and increases blood flow and nutrients to your cartilage and muscles.

Here are the top 10 health benefits of stretching:

  • Encourages an optimistic outlook – A buildup of stress causes your muscles to contract, making you feel tense and uneasy. This tension can lead to having a negative impact on mind as well as your body. Stretching exercises have powerful stress-busting abilities. Stretching soon after waking up can help jump-start the mind and body. Stretching loosens tight muscles which helps your muscles both relax and increase blood flow. It also encourages the release of endorphins, providing a sense of tranquility and euphoria. Stretching directly before bed will even give you a more comfortable sleeping experience.
  • Fortifies posture – Stretching helps ensure correct posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position and keeping your muscles loose. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, chest and shoulders can help keep the spine in better alignment and improve overall posture by relieving aches and pains. With reduced pain, there is a reduced desire to hunch or slouch.
  • Enables flexibility – The most established and obvious benefit of stretching is improving flexibility and range of motion. An effective flexibility training program can improve your physical performance and help reduce your risk of injury. By improving your range of motion, your body requires less energy to make the same movements and you also will have more flexible joints thus lessening the likelihood of injuries acquired during workouts or during daily activities.
  • Increase stamina  – Stretching loosens your muscles and tendons which relieves muscle fatigue and increases blood flow. The longer you exercise the more energy you be burn, typically causing one to grow fatigued. With stretching, you can delay the onset of muscle fatigue by ensuring oxygen is efficiently flowing through your blood, thereby increasing your endurance.
  • Decreases risk of injury – it will help to supply a greater nutrient supply to muscles, thereby reducing muscle soreness and helping to speed recovery from muscle and joint injuries.
  • Improve energy levels – Sometimes you may have trouble staying awake during your long, dragging day. If you’re feeling this way then it might help to get out of your seat and do a few good stretches for a boost of energy, helping your mind and body be more alert. Muscles tighten when we get tired and that makes us feel even more lethargic, so feel free to stand up and do some stretches. It will help you to quickly and efficiently revitalize your energy levels.
  • Promotes blood circulation – it increases blood flow to the muscles. Not only will this help reduce post-workout soreness and shorten recovery time, but it will improve overall health. Greater blood circulation helps promote cell growth and organ function. The heart rate will also lower since it doesn’t have to work as hard and blood pressure will become more even and consistent.
  • Improve athletic performance – If your muscles are already contracted because you haven’t stretched, then they will be less effective during exercise. Regular stretching will relax all of your muscles and therefore enable them to be more available during exercise.
  • Reduced soreness – Stretching before and after a workout gives your muscles time to relax. Increases in blood flow increase nutrient supply to the muscles and relieve soreness in the muscles after a workout.
  • Reduces cholesterol – Paired with a healthy diet, engaging in prolonged stretching exercises can help reduce cholesterol in the body. This could prevent and even reverse the hardening of arteries, helping one avoid heart diseases.








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Scientists Find Molecular Link between Anxiety and Metabolic Disorders

Metabolic syndrome holds a growing stance in the population world-wide, with a prevalence reaching 35% in the United States. It is characterized by abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and diabetes, conditions often accompanied by proinflammatory and pro-thrombotic states.

This syndrome is a global epidemic, not an entity limited by geography or ethnicity, as shown by studies in India, South Korea and China. Other countries such as Australia, Denmark, and Ireland also suffer from a high disease burden, affecting 20–25% of the population.

The family of microRNA genes is part of the human genome, which was considered until not too long ago as ‘junk-DNA.’However, microRNAs are now known to fulfill an important role in regulating the production process of proteins by other genes. These small, highly conserved molecules act as suppressors of inflammation and are able to halt the production of proteins.A new research paper, by Prof. Hermona Soreq, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and her colleagues from Tel Aviv University and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, details the evidence linking microRNA pathways, which share regulatory networks in metabolic and anxiety-related conditions.

In particular, microRNAs involved in these disorders include regulators of acetylcholine signaling in the nervous system and their accompanying molecular machinery.

“We already know that there is a connection between body and mind, between the physical and the emotional, and studies show that psychological trauma affects the activity of many genes,” said Prof. Soreq, whose new study was published in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine.“Our previous research found a link between microRNA and stressful situations — stress and anxiety generate an inflammatory response and dramatically increase the expression levels of microRNA regulators of inflammation in both the brain and the gut, for example the situation of patients with Crohn’s disease may get worse under psychological stress.”


“In the present study, we added obesity to the equation,” Prof. Soreq explained.“We revealed that some anxiety-induced microRNA are not only capable of suppressing inflammation but can also potentiate metabolic syndrome-related processes.”“We also found that their expression level is different in diverse tissues and cells, depending on heredity and exposure to stressful situations.”

Metabolic syndrome holds a growing stance in the population world-wide, with a prevalence reaching 35% in the United States. It is characterized by abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and diabetes, conditions often accompanied by proinflammatory and pro-thrombotic states.

This syndrome is a global epidemic, not an entity limited by geography or ethnicity, as shown by studies in India, South Korea and China. Other countries such as Australia, Denmark, and Ireland also suffer from a high disease burden, affecting 20–25% of the population.

Anxiety disorders are harder to quantify than metabolic ones. They encompass the severe but uncommon obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), as well as milder common phenomena such as phobias.

The newly-discovered link offers novel opportunities for innovative diagnoses and treatment of both metabolic and anxiety-related phenomena.“The discovery has a diagnostic value and practical implications, because the activity of microRNAs can be manipulated by DNA-based drugs,” Prof. Soreq said.“It also offers an opportunity to reclassify ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ anxiety and metabolic-prone states, and inform putative strategies to treat these disorders.”


Breathing And Your Brain: Five Reasons To Grab The Controls

The advice to “just breathe” when you’re stressed may be a cliché of Godzilla-sized proportions, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The substance behind the saying is research-tested—and not only to manage stress.

Breathing is an unusual bodily function in that it is both involuntary and voluntary. Other major functions—take digestion and blood flow, for example—occur without conscious influence, and for the most part we couldn’t influence them if we tried. They are involuntarily managed in the vast processing system of the unconscious mind.

Breathing is also managed in the unconscious, but at any moment we can grab the controls and consciously change how we breathe. We can make our breathing shallow or deep, fast or slow, or we can choose to stop breathing altogether (until we pass out and the unconscious takes over again).

Since we are breathing all the time, the oddness of this dual-control system doesn’t usually dawn on us—but it’s this control flexibility that makes breathing especially worthy of attention. We can change how we breathe, and to an extent change how breathing affects our bodies.

Controlled breathing, also known as “paced respiration,” “diaphragmatic breathing” and “deep breathing,” has long been a feature of Eastern health practices. It became more visible in the West after Dr. Herbert Benson’s book,“The Relaxation Response”, hit shelves in the mid 1970s. Whatever you choose to call controlled breathing, the dynamic at work is full oxygen exchange: more oxygen enters the body and more carbon dioxide exits.

The basic mechanics of controlled breathing differ a bit depending on who is describing them, but they usually include three parts: (1) inhaling deeply through the nose for a count of five or so, making sure that the abdomen expands, (2) holding the breath for a moment, and (3) exhaling completely through the mouth for a count longer than the inhalation.


1. Managing Stress.

This is the most direct application of controlled breathing and the one we hear about most. Our brains are routinely on high alert for threats in our environment—we’re wired to react defensively to anything that hints of imperiling us physically or psychologically.

Controlled breathing may be the most potent tool we have to prevent our brains from keeping us in a state of stress, and preventing subsequent damage caused by high stress levels.  The relaxation response is a built-in way to keep stress in check.

2. Managing Anxiety.

The means by which controlled breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system is linked to stimulation of the vagus nerve—a nerve running from the base of the brain to the abdomen, responsible for mediating nervous system responses and lowering heart rate, among other things.

The vagus nerve releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that catalyzes increased focus and calmness. A direct benefit of more acetylcholine is a decrease in feelings of anxiety.Stimulating the vagus nerve may also play a role in treating depression, even in people who are resistant to anti-depressant medications.

3. Lowering Blood Pressure and Heart Rate.

Research suggests that when practiced consistently, controlled breathing will result in lower blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn results in less wear and tear on blood vessels.  As described above, the vagus nerve plays a key role in this response.

Over time, using controlled breathing to lower blood pressure and heart rate can help prevent stroke and lower risk of cerebral aneurysm.

4. Sparking Brain Growth.

One of the more intriguing research developments involving controlled breathing is that when it’s used to facilitate meditation, the result can be an actual increase in brain size. Specifically, the brain experiences growth in areas associated with attention and processing of sensory input.

The effect seems to be more noticeable in older people, which is especially good news because it’s the reverse of what typically happens as we age—gray matter usually becomes thinner.  The result is consistent with other research showing an increase in thickness of music areas of the brain in musicians and visual-motor areas in the brains of jugglers. As in those cases, the key is consistent practice over time.




Why you should NEVER eat after 7pm

      Eating late at night is putting millions of people in danger of heart attacks and strokes, experts warn. A late-night meal keeps the body on ‘high alert’ when it should be winding down, researchers found. Heart experts last night advised that adults should never eat within two hours of bedtime – and ideally nothing after 7pm. In a healthy person, blood pressure drops by at least 10 per cent when they go to sleep .But the results of a study of more than 700 people with high blood pressure found that eating within two hours of bedtime meant their levels stayed high. Experts think this is because eating releases a rush of stress hormones when the body should be starting to relax. People who do not see their blood pressure fall at night are known as ‘non-dippers’ – and have a much higher rate of heart-related death. Late eaters were nearly three times more likely to be non-dippers, the Turkish researchers found. Researcher Dr Ebru Özpelit, presenting her results at the speaking at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Rome, said: ‘If we eat late at night, the body essentially remains on high alert as during the day, rather than relaxing for sleep.

     Stress hormones are secreted, causing blood pressure not to decrease during sleep, which should normally happen. ‘Dr Özpelit, from Dokuz Eylül University in Turkey, tracked 721 on people diagnosed with high blood pressure, with an average age of 53. She found that those who ate within two hours of going to bed were 2.8 times more likely to retain high blood pressure overnight. Some 9.4 million people in the UK are diagnosed with high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension.They are already at a higher risk of heart disease, but if their blood pressure does not fall at night, that risk increases to a far higher level. Experts estimate that 40 per cent of patients with hypertension are non-dippers – potentially 3.76million people in Britain – putting them at serious risk of major heart problems. Dr Özpelit said: ‘It is more dangerous. If blood pressure doesn’t drop by more than 10 per cent this increases cardiovascular risk and these patients have more heart attacks, strokes and chronic disease.’

       But even healthy people with normal blood pressure should take note of the findings, Dr Özpelit said. ‘How we eat may be as important as what we eat,’ she said. She advised that people do not skip breakfast, eat lunch, and keep dinner to a small meal. ‘Eating breakfast and lunch is important but dinner must not be later than seven o’clock in the evening,’ she said. The findings add to a growing body of evidence which suggests keeping all meals to within a fixed period of time – and fasting at night – can have a wide range of health benefits. Previous research has found that an early dinner reduces the risk of breast cancer, lowers blood sugar levels, and helps burn off calories. Experts think part of the reason is that the body evolved to expect meals much earlier in the day – because people went to sleep when it got dark. Dr Özpelit said the invention of electricity changed that – introducing ‘erratic’ eating patterns.  With the advent of affordable artificial lighting and industrialization, modern humans began to experience prolonged hours of illumination every day and resultant extended consumption of food,’ she said.

        Late night eating and skipping breakfast is such an erratic eating pattern which is becoming more prevalent day by day. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This research suggests that eating a meal late at night may contribute to the failure of their blood pressure to reduce. ‘It is normal for blood pressure to reduce overnight, even in people with high blood pressure. ‘However, in some their blood pressure remains elevated throughout the night putting them at potentially higher risk of future complications.


Burnout Can Happen To Any Athlete. Here’s How Two Of The World’s Best Got Over It

Anthony Ervin and Jax Mariash Koudele are both high-performance athletes. At age 35, Ervin is the oldest male swimmer on the U.S. team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, competing in his third Olympics. He has racked up two gold medals at Rio, one in the 50-meter freestyle and one as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay team, racing in the prelims.

Koudele, 36, an endurance runner from Jackson Hole, Wyo., is on pace to become the first woman to complete the Grand Slam Plus, a series of seven-day, 155-mile running events in extreme climates. Koudele was the female champion in Namibia and China and the second-place female racer in Sri Lanka. She heads to the Atacama Desert in Chile in early October and is on track to finish the series in Antarctica this November.Both are competing at the highest levels in their respective sports, but both have burned out and quit their sport in the past. Yet they found their way back. How?What is burnout? What most people think of as burnout — complete physical and emotional exhaustion — is really just the last and worst phase of burnout, says Keith Kaufman, a sports psychologist who teaches at Catholic University.

The first stage is a sense of staleness, where performance lacks crispness and energy. The second stage, over training, is where performance begins to plateau. Kaufman said there’s a fine line between being at peak performance and overtraining because it’s so easy for athletes to overdo it. The final stage of exhaustion and withdrawal is what Kaufman said is the endgame for burned-out athletes. And once you start going down that road, it can be hard to stop. “You may see staleness, you might see over training, but you feel like you can’t stop. That’s where you see burnout really taking hold,” Kaufman said. And it can affect anyone who specializes in one activity — even kids on sports teams. Studies in youth sports are showing that burnout increasingly can be found among younger athletes who compete in a high-intensity environment, already specialized in a single sport, without an offseason.Types of motivation Motivation is key to understanding — and fighting — burnout. Kaufman describes motivation in two forms: intrinsic, where your motivation comes from within your own sense of doing well, and extrinsic, where outside incentives drive you.

Kaufman said today’s culture of sports drives intrinsic motivation out of athletes because instead of something being fun, it becomes a job.As they get more specialized, athletes think, “ ‘Now, I’m going to get serious. . . . I have to get this scholarship or get this medal,’ and it becomes stress,” Kaufman said. “It becomes an obligatory task and chore, and that changes everything.”Ervin won gold in the 50-meter freestyle at Sydney in 2000, then retired three years later at age 22. He had dreamed of the Olympics since his youth, and when he reached the top of his game, it forced him to question his reasons for continuing an all-consuming endeavor.

“Once I reached the summit . . . and after taking it in, I didn’t feel compelled to stay there ,” he said.Ervin climbed out of the pool and stayed out for years, taking on what he called a rock-and-roll lifestyle and falling out of shape. He said he spent years looking for a sense of self outside of being a swimmer .Koudele was a track star in high school but turned to triathlons after feeling burned out on running. Koudele came back to running years later because “I just missed running. It was so simple.” She took to road racing, but after tiring of roads, she pivoted toward trails, which led her to the Grand Slam Plus.

Koudele said she’s struggling with motivation in the midst of her quest to win the series. She runs two businesses and also is raising money for the LymeLight Foundation, which funds research to combat Lyme disease. She said she feels worn out, working to find the balance between competition and recovery.“Somebody asked me what’s the hardest part about the Grand Slam Plus series, and I really do think that one of the hardest challenges — especially when you’re trying to win them all — is staying at that level of training, mentally, and staying at that level of fitness for a whole year,” she said. Fighting burnout The cure to burnout is simple yet incredibly hard: recovery and renewal.

Kaufman said part of the problem is that athletes (and people in general) tend to compartmentalize their stress: There is work stress and relationship stress and sports stress. Most don’t realize that stress is stress across the board.If you can’t carve space and can’t pause from the hamster wheel and commit yourself to some recovery or some balance in your life, then [burnout] is what is going to happen,” Kaufman said. He said that if you reach complete exhaustion, “your body will take the rest if you don’t give it to it.”

Koudele said changing up sports and changing goals helped her, as well as finding times within her training for renewal. While in San Francisco for a work meeting earlier this year, she needed to complete a 90-minute training session. As a child, she loved the Golden Gate Bridge, so she set her GPS device to cross the bridge as part of the session.“And it was so fun because you forget about the fact that, ‘Oh my gosh, I had to run for 90 minutes when I’m really tired.’ Instead it was, ‘Oh, I’m going to do a fun project that I wanted to do since I was a kid.’ ”Getting back to a childlike sense of intrinsic motivation is the key to protecting against burnout, Kaufman said.

With Ervin, seeing the kids he was coaching in Brooklyn embrace swimming is what brought him back into the pool. “I just wanted to recapture that playfulness of being in the water,” Ervin said.In getting back into shape, Ervin said he felt he still could be competitive, and through some encouragement from the U.S. swim team coaches, he headed for the 2012 Olympic trials and made the team.Now, four years later at Rio, Ervin is fully engaged, mentoring the younger swimmers and swimming with the right mind-set. When he asks himself, “Why am I doing this?” he can find gratification in simply being in the water. “I enjoy the labor in and of itself,” he said.