Posts Tagged "wellbeing"

Bringing back the woo-woo…or the ‘ain’t no woo woo.’ Mindfulness, meditation and stress

Posted by on Dec 9, 2011 in anxiety, health, general, Meditation/mindfulness therapy | 0 comments

Are you familiar with the end of the year crunch? I’m in the midst of it and although life is scheduled to slow starting next week, I am finding that I am having difficulty keeping up. So, today, I’m bringing back the woo woo in hopes that it might influence my own inability to calm down the adrenals right now.

Apologies for being self-serving. To be truly honest, this is one of my favourite posts of this year so I’m bringing it back. One word at a time. Let’s start with the first:



It’s so elusive for many of us. And yet, so important to our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, researchers are finally discovering how relaxation actually counters changes that occur in our bodies that result from exposure to constant stressors.

For decades, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Institute in Cambridge, MA and an associate professor at Harvard University, has been writing about the relaxation response, a “mind-body intervention that elicits deep changes in the physical and emotional response to stress.” Strategies that elicit the relaxation response include meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, deep breathing, controlled muscle relaxation and guided imagery. And although many would like to point to the “woo woo” factor at-play, an evolving and wide body of published literature is indicative of how interested the medical community is in the mid-body connection and the positive changes that these practices promote, including a slowing or heart rate, a reduction in blood pressure, improvements in blood sugar and fats, and even boosts in our immune system. However, what has long eluded researchers is what actually happens in the body to achieve these improvements.

In a novel study published in 2008 in PLoS ONE,  Dr. Benson and his colleagues looked closely at 19 volunteers who had practiced relaxation response strategies (e.g. meditation, yoga, repetitive prayers) for as long as 20 years and compared them to 20 novices, individuals with no relaxation practice experience. These novices were provided with training sessions for 8 weeks that included information about how to reduce daily stress and the relaxation response and a 20 minute, individually-guided session comprising diaphragmatic breathing, a body scan and meditation.For 8 weeks thereafter, the novices then used a 20-minute relaxation CD at home and were asked to review the informational brochures. Blood samples and analysis of gene expression between experienced and novel relaxation practices, and pre- and post-training were then compared.

Importantly, while the researchers observed distinct changes in the genes in experienced relaxation practitioners compared to novices, when the novices started to incorporate relaxation practice into their lives, they also started to express similar positive alterations in their genes. Moreover, these changes are directly related to how cells respond to stress and create free radicals and inflammation that can lead to long-term damage. Additionally, type of relaxation strategy that was practiced was of no important; by achieving a relaxation state, individuals could make positive changes in their cellular structures thought to promote health.

Both inner and outer psychological states and environmental factors play a role in how women experience peri and post-menopause, their self-esteem, attitudes and severity of symptoms. If a daily practice of some sort of relaxation strategy can actually alter genes in a way that improves health and well-being, why can’t that daily practice also improve the menopausal/midlife experience?

While I’ve long embraced the idea, I’ve never actually made a concerted effort to incorporate some sort of relaxation strategy into my daily activities. I’m going to change that. Ain’t no woo woo but a woot woot so far as I can tell.

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Just 60 minutes a day…

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 in aging, exercise, menopause | 2 comments

keeps the symptoms at bay?

You know that I’m all about exercise, not only to maintain fluctuating weight but also to chase those moody blues away . But did you know that increasing your workout to at least 60 minute a day may actually improve  wellbeing and lessen menopausal symptoms?

I stumbled across this piece last week and just knew that I had to share. And I am especially interested because it appears that too much exercise can set off early menopause (I’m still looking into this story). But to the study at hand.

Researchers, intrigued by the relationship between physical activity and menopausal symptoms, randomly assigned menopausal women to one of three groups:

  • Less than 30 min/day physical activity
  • Maintained or increased  physical activity from 30 to 6o min/day
  • Maintained or increased their physical activity to  more than 60 min/day

During the time that participants were studied, their regular, habitual activity was defined as whenever they did something active for at least 10 minutes, e.g., household chores, transportation, etc. Additionally, all  were encouraged to be more active (e.g. taking stairs versus an elevator) or at the very least, maintain their current activity levels during the time that they were enrolled in the 12 week study period.

Granted, while the outcomes were modest, the research did show that women who engaged in moderate to rigorous activity for at least an hour a day benefitted both in terms of feeling more positive about themselves and begin able to focus as well as in their personal relationships compared to peers who did 30 minutes or less a day. Overall, almost all menopausal symptoms were also lessened with the highest degree of physical activity. And, the researchers likened the improvements in mental wellbeing to the ability to, at the very least, maintain weight.

An hour of moderate physical activity daily? That’s a lot when your life is filled to the brim and your hours, maxed out. But, at the same time, mid age changes in body composition, hormonal fluctuations and increased risk of heart disease all point to one conclusion: it may be worth it to make the time. If you can’t get to the gym, at least take the stairs.

Treat yourself. You’re worth the hour.

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Wednesday Bubble: working the transition

Posted by on Jul 6, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

I’ve been absent for about a week now. The reason? I’ve been in transition, not menopausally-speaking but literally and physically. I’ve moved about a mile away from my last home. However, it feels as though it’s taken miles to get here.

I spend a lot of time on Flashfree discussing how the transition (and midlife) affects our wellbeing, our general health and our moods. And I would like to offer that this stage of life comes with a set of challenges that feel unlike any other. Whether it’s a change from full house to empty nest or a divorce or a new career, it’s tough. Throw a move into the mix, and well, it’s enough to get a person out of sorts.

The last time I moved, I was in another sort of transition. You can read about that here. This time, the move was again, out of my control but it was in my hands and on my terms. And as such, this transition, albeit difficult, holds promise for all good things to come.

Sheer exhaustion permeates the rambling words on this page and yet, underlying them is a hope that I’ve not felt in quite some time. So, I am taking a mental break this week. Friday’s post will be a guest post and next week Flashfree will be back to business as usual.

I’ll be working this transition to the fullest. Hope you’ll stick it out with me.

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Wednesday Bubble: it truly is the best medicine

Posted by on Jun 29, 2011 in humour, Inspiration | 1 comment

I’m especially happy to write this Wednesday Bubble because it’s inspiring and makes me want to jump for joy! Or better, yet, laugh a little. And even though this has been posted previously on Flashfree, it’s never to late to remind ourselves of the lighter side.

Several years ago, researchers discovered that humor therapy and anticipation of laughing or being amused (also known as mirthful laughter) positively affects immunity. In fact, findings from a series of five separate studies among healthy men demonstrated that just anticipating watching a funny video could increase beta-endorphins (hormones that elevated mood) as much as 17% and human growth hormone (which contributes to more optimal immunity) by as much as 87%. Elevated hormones levels were maintained throughout the video and as long as 12 hours after. Conversely, hormone levels did not increase in men who who did not anticipate watching a humorous video and instead, browsed magazines.

Similar results were seen in another study among healthy adult women; this time mirthful laughter was associated with significant declines in stress hormones and improvements in natural killer cells, which contribute favourably to immune function.

Over the past two years, researchers have been examining the effects of mirthful laughter on actual disease states. Findings of a year-long study presented two years ago at the Experimental Biology Conference suggest that watching a funny, 30-minute video on a daily basis may impart a long lasting impact on health that includes:

  • Lower stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) and related stress levels
  • Lower levels of inflammation that can contribute to disease
  • Significant improvements in HDL cholesterol
  • Significant reductions in harmful C-reactive protein levels (a protein that increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and death)

This particular study evaluated laughter in patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol who were also taking medication. Notably, similar positive outcomes were not seen in patients who did not have the benefit of watching the funny video.

What can we take away from this work and what does it have to do with menopause? Actually, I’d like to ask, what doesn’t it have to do with menopause and midlife?

During the transition, women are subject to hormonal stressors that affect mood, functioning, wellbeing as well as disease risk. If there are simpler, more natural ways to improve healthy states, for example, by daily laughter, shouldn’t we reach for them? I’d rather take a dose of funny over pharma any given day.

Here’s my gift to you: laugh today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And spread the joy. Nothing like a deep belly laugh to take some of life’s challenges away.

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The more things change…

Posted by on Jun 27, 2011 in menopause | 0 comments

…the more they stay the same.

Hey Reader! Yeah, you!  I am beyond thrilled that you are here. And while I deal with some significant changes in my living situation, I am going to take this week to bring back some oldies but goodies. Wednesday Bubble will be fresh but today and Friday, a reprisal, in case you didn’t catch them the first time around.

So, without further ado…

Well. Well. Well.

wellbeing, that is. Is it elusive during the menopause?

Earlier studies have suggested that the way that a woman experiences menopause is dominated by several factors, including changes in the structure of their lives (e.g. social roles, personal relationships). When these changes do not occur as expected, for example, menopause starts early or late, they can cause greater distress than when they occur on time sot to speak. The same holds for menopausal symptoms; those that are perceived as normal are not necessarily unpleasant, while unusually heavy bleeding, emotional outbursts or frequent hot flashes can be disruptive.

I was intrigued when I ran across a study published in 2007  in the journal Contemporary Nursing which explored these very themes. Researchers recruited 18 women who were post-menopausal and self-described as having experienced ‘wellness’ during menopause. Interviews were conducted with all study participants, during which they were asked to describe in greater depth their experiences.

The study findings showed that the menopause experience was dominated by three themes:

The continuity of the experience

How women experience menopause is inevitably individualized and not easily generalizable. Indeed, data demonstrated that the nature of menopause and how women go through ultimately determine sits impact and how disruptive it is. More specifically, abrupt changes in menstrual patterns can be more jarring than incremental slowing and gradual cessation of menstruation.

How embedded menopause becomes in the rest of one’s life

In the course of the interviews, the researchers found that a woman’s ability to incorporate menopause into her life and routines versus allowing it to change the routines was key to maintaining an equilibrium. Hence, bothersome symptoms became only “only one experience among many and not the most outstanding.” Even hot flashes, which can truly disrupt a moment, became no more valuable to an overall experience than other daily events, mainly because these women did not allow them to disrupt familiar patterns and daily activities.

Containment of menopause

Participants who experienced a sense of wellbeing during menopause were able to compartmentalize their symptoms and for the most part, did not allow them to encroach upon the emotional or psychological domains. These women rarely if ever, experienced irritability, nervousness, anxiety or moodiness.

So, what does it mean?

Overall, the researchers found that a key to a sense of wellbeing during the menopause is focus, i.e. women are not focused on physical symptoms but instead, consider them part of the the overall experience of being a woman and are able to place them in the background. In other words, “the body [is] experienced in a “taken for granted way” so that menopause is not disruptive to an overall continuity of living.

And what are you going to do to insure the well, well, well of your experience?

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