Category Archives: Mental Health

What Your Personality Says About Your Health

Are you type A or type B? Funny or serious? A hard worker or work only to play? Your answers may tell you more about your health than ever before. Research has grown to link certain personality traits to mortality, disability, and general health. The problem is that most of the studies have focused on one personality trait at a time. So it’s hard to nail down larger patterns, and moreover, if health is a function of personality or vice versa.

Study author Josh Jackson of Washington University in St Louis explains, We didn’t know whether your personality affects your health, or if having a disease can change your personality or how you view yourself. Our research is one of the first studies that has looked at how personality traits are associated with the onset of new diseases over time.

The researchers were able to track almost 7,000 adults between 30 and their 90’s. They filled out questionnaires and reported any preexisting conditions like heart disease or cancer. Researchers weren’t looking for Type A vs Type B. They were looking at the Big 5 Personality traits. Jackson explains, The best way to characterize personality is not with types, but instead looking at a continuum – how much of this particular characteristic do you have. It is not either-or, it’s an amount, and you can have a lot of one trait and a very little of another.

Personality Traits Could Protect You From Disease

4 years after they started the study, they followed up to see who had reported new health conditions. Then they compared this to the data on the Big 5 personality traits.

Jackson found that two traits, conscientiousness and openness, serve as protective factors. Conscientious individuals are people who are reliable and able to control their impulses. Openness is best thought of as individuals who like to play with new ideas. Those who had either of these traits in high demand were less likely to have arthritis, strokes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

This makes sense from a lifestyle perspective. Those who are conscientious are more likely to eat healthy foods, exercise, and use fewer drugs and alcohol. They are also more likely to do things like wearing their seat belts according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Unfortunately, researchers are not as sure why openness correlates with lower risk of disease. Individuals who are high in openness tend to like to do activities that are cognitively challenging, such as reading books and doing crossword puzzles, and there’s been some research that this is good for your health. This may help you brain wise, but how does that help you to avoid disease?

Neuroticism on the other hand was associated with chronic stress and poor health. This can weaken the immune system, and it can make wounds harder to heal and cause strokes even.

Obviously, you’re not going to completely change your personality. However, you can look at some of the habits of conscientious and open people and adopt them. Things like eating healthy and exercising for example can be adopted by anyone. You can train yourself. However, if you suffer neuroticism, you may need more help toning it down.

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Running Is Not Therapy

You’ve heard it a million times. If you’d only exercise, you could fight depression the natural way. Running is my therapy! If I couldn’t run, I’d go nuts. While this sounds appealing, it’s not true. In fact, it’s dangerously misleading.

Yes, any kind of regular exercise gives you a boost in your happy chemicals, but as far as making the difference between you being nuts or not, that’s a far cry from the truth. Running is certainly cheaper than therapy, and it comes with more benefits, but life isn’t that simple. The idea of the old trope I’ve heard of You’ll never need a psychiatrist if you have a good running buddy is not only false, it’s dangerous.

Referring to running as some kind of therapy is one thing. It can still be misleading, but I can see it being a release. Actually saying that you should choose running over professional help if you need it is something else, and it could lead to not getting help when you need it and letting it get worse. It’s much like the Scientologists’ ideas that have led a number of people to go off medications they need. This could lead to suicide, threatening behavior towards others, and various other issues. It’s completely unaware of the facts.

I understand that these people aren’t literally saying choose your running buddy over a psychiatrist if you’re feeling suicidal. But it can easily be taken that way, and it’s another way of saying you’re weak if you can’t take it on your own. And don’t get me wrong, I love running, but it can only do so much. I’ve been there, dependent on the runner’s high until it just wasn’t enough.

For some of us, there is damage running just can’t heal, even if you have the best running buddy in the world. Suggesting that it’s more than that is a disservice to runners and the mentally ill. It trivializes serious problems. When dealing with the truly dark stuff, you shouldn’t be trying to get by with the bare minimum. You should be getting down to the root now before you’re in the hospital after your latest suicide attempt, or worse, you’re dead.

Getting Out of a Bad Relationship Could Help You Fight The Battle of the Bulge

There are plenty of reasons why you should get out of bad, or even abusive relationships. The chronic stress that an abusive relationship can cause could affect you for the rest of your life, and even short term, an unpleasant relationship can make you unpleasant, hard to be around, and in general unhappy. According to science, there’s another side effect. A bad relationship could make you fat.

Researchers from Ohio State University have studied the idea, finding that a contentious relationship increases your risk of obesity, because it changes the way your body reacts to fatty foods. Who knew it could change your body chemistry that much.

Researchers took this question seriously, and the idea seriously. They brought in 43 couples who had been married for at least 3 years, and they asked them about psychological history such as depression and mood disorders as well as their marriage satisfaction. They then fed the subjects high-fat meals and asked them discuss or resolve one of the issues they had. They watched and broke it down into psychological abuse, distress maintaining conversations, hostility, or withdrawal.

Those with a history of mood disorders who also experienced hostile interactions in these confrontations burned fewer calories in the fatty meals they ate, and they also had more insulin in their blood. So it’s not just eating more fat. It’s actually not being able to process it as effectively.

Martha Belury, co-author of the study said, Insulin stimulates food intake and the accumulation of fat tissue in the abdomen. And adding that on top of the lower energy expenditure creates a higher likelihood for obesity. But it doesn’t stop there: Elevated triglycerides lead to heart disease. Along with high insulin, elevated triglycerides indicate metabolism of sugars and fats is impaired. These are hallmarks of increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.

In short, if you live in an unhappy relationship, it may be time to cut the ties and get out. More than 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, and it’s not all because of bad relationships. But for those who are experiencing this phenomenon, it seems obvious. Get out of the relationship.

Could We Cure Seasonal Affective Disorder?

There are jokes in many movies about the teacher who has a special lamp and will give you a pass if you tell him you have SAD or other people who try to make up something when it’s convenient and call it SAD. The name is even conducive for jokes. This said, the truth is that it’s hard to get people to accept depression of any kind. Its seasonal nature just makes SAD more complicated, especially when people can say that many of us feel happier in the summer than in the winter.

That’s where we find researchers from the University of Copenhagen. They conducted a recent study on brain scans to look at the science behind SAD, finding that people with SAD cannot control the happy hormone serotonin during winter. Didn’t we already know that?

As lead researcher Dr. Brenda McMahon explains it, The serotonin transporter (SERT) carries serotonin back into the nerve cells where it is not active – so the higher the SERT activity, the lower the activity of serotonin. Sunlight keeps this setting naturally low, but when the nights grow longer during the autumn, the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels.

Researchers were able to look at 11 people with SAD compared to 23 people without SAD. They hope that with more understanding, we will also be able to achieve more hope for better cures. McMahon has found that We know that eating a balanced diet, cutting down on caffeine and getting some exercise can help as can spending as much time as possible outdoors because – even when it’s overcast, light will be higher than indoors.

The study is small, and there are no definitive results or cures. But it is a step in the right direction.

The Best Workout To Boost Your Mood

Okay, so I’m the last person you’ll hear calling running a natural antidepressant. It minimizes the serious problems that possibly millions continue to go through every single day. However, when it comes to exercise and all of the extra endorphins running through your body, the mood boost can be quite noticeable. In fact, according to Swedish researchers, muscle may have inherent properties to protect you from feelings of depression and anxiety.

The researchers gathered rats, finding that the more muscle a rat had, the more of an enzyme called KAT that they also carried. According to Jorge Ruas, PhD, the study’s lead author, it converts kynurenine, which is produced by your body when stressed, into an acid that is unable to pass through the blood-brain barrier. This effectively reduces the toxic effects you might see with KAT, short circuiting the signs of depression and anxiety. The more muscle, the more KAT to fight depression and anxiety. They were able to confirm this with human subjects as well.

Of course, don’t go run out and grab a bunch of steroids. We all know that kind of muscle comes at a cost. With more research, some researchers believe that they may be able to use this knowledge to actually create effective antidepressants and drugs that can better cope with anxiety.

The rats were mainly involved in cardio, but Ruas believes any exercise that increases muscle mass would be just as effective. In short, if you’re feeling a little bit blue, hit the gym or go out to the park. When you’re using other treatments for depression and anxiety, it never hurts to give yourself an extra hand. And of course, for more long term differences, work to address the things that are causing you the stress that would produce harmful chemicals in the first place.

How Athletes Sleep

Seven is the new eight in your sleep cycles, at least if you listen to the Wall Street Journal. Personally, I like the sound of 10, especially on weekends. But figuring out that magical sleep number is harder than it may seem, especially if you a regular exerciser, especially an athlete or fitness professional.

Ideally, the right amount of sleep will help with fat loss and muscle gain as well as optimizing tissue repair, protein synthesis, appetite regulation, and the release of growth hormone throughout the body.

The National Sleep Foundation has done plenty of research to establish the sleep guidelines we know now. When adults sleep less than 7 hours a night, they find that it can lead to decreased alertness and increased risk of chronic disease. Sleeping more than 9 hours a night likewise, for most adults, could lead to a shorter life and a higher risk of chronic disease. Now, that number could go down.

The 7 hour a night recommendation has been around and growing since 2002. The original study involved 1.1 million people, and they found that those who are sleeping 7 hours a night are living longer. 8 hours a night was associated in this study with diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. But of course, it’s hard to say which is the chicken and the egg here.

The problem is that the journal did not consider that those who exercise regularly need a lot more sleep. You are beating your body and keeping up with a busy life, wearing down your muscles. You need more time for sleep to effectively repair your body for proper recovery.

Usain Bolt for example tells us, Sleep is extremely important to me. I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.

Roger Federer also says, If I don’t sleep 11 to 12 hours a day, it’s not right.

It’s not just ideas in their heads either. The studies prove that less sleep is a problem athletically speaking:

  • Bench press performance dropped 20 pounds after 4 days of less than optimal sleep
  • Tennis players can achieve a 42% increase in hitting accuracy with proper sleep
  • Perceived exertion increases by 17-19% after 30 hours of sleep deprivation

I feel like we’re building a pretty good case for more sleep, not less. No, I’m not a hardcore professional athlete, but they need an average of 10-12 hours a night. That’s pretty significant compared to just 7. The typical hardcore crossfitter or Ironman triathlete requires 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night.

Ultimately, your nervous system and brain need the time. They clean up your garbage essentially when you sleep, which allows you to remember things better, it helps your muscles to recover, and you wake up more sharp and ready to go.

So in short, the more stress you put on your body, the more time (sleep) it needs to complete all that work.

The Healthy Way To Recover From An All Nighter

All nighters aren’t healthy, regardless of your age. So if you can avoid them, the smart thing would be to do just that. With this in mind, it might be helpful to know why. When you pull all nighters and experience significant sleep deprivation, you will also experience memory loss, weight gain, and even heart disease, especially if it is a continuing pattern. If you have had an all-nighter or you are on the tail end of a string, here is how to get yourself back on the right track the healthy way, and I’m not talking about binge sleeping.

  1. Don’t Give Into All Of Your Cravings: Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to crave and eat more junk food, which only does more harm to your body if you haven’t noticed. They eat more calories than those who get enough sleep. So stay clear of the refined carbs, sugars, fat, croissants, pizza, candy, etc. Those types of foods will only make your crash and your challenges that much worse.
  2. Lean Proteins And Natural Sugars Instead: Instead of eating junk food and tons of carbs, stick to lean proteins and natural sugars that can keep you energized and healthier. These natural sugars could be things like fresh fruit.
  3. Take a Walk: Move around and go for a walk. This will tell your body to increase its alertness naturally, and even if you’re not sleep deprived (maybe especially if you’re not), it can help you to be more creative at work. A little fresh air also never hurts.
  4. Control Your Caffeine: Caffeine is the obvious way to increase your natural energy levels, but don’t go overboard. Too much can leave your heart racing, and it can leave you jittery and anxious. Stick to a normal size cup of coffee instead of the super size that you’re tempted to get. Then sip instead of gulping it down.
  5. Get Plenty of Water: Getting too little water can leave you feeling tired normally when you are getting enough sleep. It only adds to your problems when you’re not.
  6. Take a Nap: Okay, so maybe you don’t have time to get a full night’s sleep. So take a nap every once in a while. Listen to your body and take 20 minutes to give your body a little bit of time to recover between sets. If you can get more sleep, all the better. You will be sharper and better able to keep up with your fast-paced life.