Re-Perceive Stress to Lower Risk of Disease and Death

The Perception of Stress as a Factor of Disease

perception of stress disease factor mortality cuaseIncorrect knowledge is often worse than no-knowledge at all, but it’s the risk we take in the pursuit of better living. This axiom couldn’t be more clearly demonstrated than by the insight I’ve recently gained that’s completely changed my way of thinking about stress and how it affects the human body. You see, I bought into the mainstream idea that mental stress is inherently unhealthy for the body. Well, I didn’t think mental stress was completely bad, all the time (I recognized it serves a purpose and is a normal part of life), but I was convinced that good health depends on eliminating as much stress as possible. I was shocked to learn that current research strongly indicates that it’s precisely the belief that stress is unhealthy for the body that makes stress so unhealthy!

Two Types of Responses to Stress: Threat or Challenge

Here I’ve been trying to be part of the solution to disease by telling people that stress causes disease (and therefore it should be avoided), but this advice was most likely just making things worse. It turns out, stress, in and of itself, isn’t harmful to our bodies. There are two primary ways that we can experience stress physiologically — psychologist call these two responses, threat or challenge responses. While there are overlaps in the way our body responds to what we perceive as a threat or challenge, there are also significant differences that can have a direct impact on our health.  

The primary difference between the two response types is that during a threat, the body begins to shutdown in order to protect itself: the blood vessels constrict, cutting off blood flow, and the heart becomes less efficient. By contrast, during a challenge response the blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the brain and muscles. Whether the mind solicits a threat or challenge response is determined by one’s beliefs, experiences, and perceptions relative to a given situation. 

The Harvard Social Stress Test and the 30,000 Person National Health Interview Analysis

At this point you might be thinking, “What’s new? We already knew that perception affects stress.” The difference is that the effects of perception on stress were previously always studied in regards to external conditions, not to the perception of stress itself. Two recent studies provide compelling evidence that how we think about stress can cause an automatic trigger of the threat or challenge response, regardless of the external circumstances.

In 2011, researchers at Harvard and UC San Francisco performed a social stress test comparing a test group to a control group of volunteer participants. As part of the study, all of the participants in both groups were required to submit to a simulated stressful interview situation, in which they performed a 5-minute presentation while two evaluators provided negative feedback. After giving the presentation, participants were required to complete a series of analytical questions. Before the interview, the test group was told that stress was not harmful and that it would actually help them perform the presentation. The control group wasn’t given any instructions. When the mental and physical responses of both groups were assessed after the interview, the test group had a significantly healthier cardiovascular response and a more positive perception of their completion of their presentation than the control group.  

In another study, researchers analyzed survey answers and fatality rates from about 30,000 people over 8-years.  Unfortunately, stress had a significant affect on the health of a large percentage of the population but only for those who believed it would! The analysis found that those who experienced stress in the previous year and answered the questioned, “Do you believe stress has a negative impact on health?” with a “yes,” had a 43% increase in the risk for early mortality! By contrast, there was no correlation between stress levels and early mortality among those who did not believe that stress has a negative impact on health!

The Take Away: What we see from these studies is that believing stress is bad for health can promote an automatic physiological response that negatively affects cardiovascular health and can even lead to early death. While the implications of this study are tragic for many, they are also exciting. It’s amazing to see how well God designed our bodies. So much of the disease we face as humans is merely “user error.” Our bodies are designed with a built in mechanism to help us rise to the challenge and overcome difficult situations. If we maintain this positive, faith-filled attitude and believe that physiological stress can actually be a good thing, then many of us will be well on our way to better health!

References: “Mind Over Matter: Reappraising Arousal Improves Cardiovascular and
Cognitive Responses to Stress;”
Harvard University; Kelly McGonigal: “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” TedTalk; “Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality,” Health Psychology; “The Upside of Stress,” Kelly McGonigal.
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Originally posted 2013-10-03 13:15:58.

Benefits of Ice Baths (Cold Water Immersion Therapy)

As a standard recovery technique used heavily by athletes the world over, the ice bath is regarded as an effective way to get the body ready for its next challenge. If you are like me, you may not be thrilled at the prospect of immersing your body in excruciatingly cold water. Wouldn’t a warm bath and a hot cup of coffee bring just as much benefit? Admittedly, it is easy to be reticent when considering the notion of generalized icing (as opposed to isolated icing – see my previous article on the Benefits of Icing). It certainly is not the most comfortable or convenient option. But the research indicates the body has a very specific response to cold water immersion and that ice baths may be beneficial.

The Body and Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

 An ice bath can help enhance the speed and comprehensiveness of your recovery. Consider the following post-workout benefits:

  • Facilitating Fluid Transport – The immediate effect of Cold Water Immersion on the body is vasoconstriction, or the shunting of blood flow from extremities to interior portions of the body. The fluid transported away from extremities includes left-over waste fluid, which left alone would fester in muscle tissue, slowing recovery and even causing muscle soreness. Immediately following Cold Water Immersion, fresh blood free of waste is circulated throughout the extremities, enhancing recovery and preventing delayed onset muscle soreness.
  • Aiding Nervous System Function – Intense physical activity disturbs the “rest and digest” component of the nervous system, also known at the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This disturbed function continues in the minutes immediately following a workout, creating an overall state of flux in the body’s systems. Studies show that Cold Water Immersion is a boon to to Parasympathetic function, acting as a kick-starter in the minutes following a workout. And since the Parasympathetic Nervous System controls the process of recovery, this speeds the body’s recuperation from intense activity.

Tips for Incorporating Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

Taking an ice bath is not something you would want to do every day, but it can be a great way to boost your readiness if you have two bouts of intense activity planned very close together. Below are some ideas for working an ice bath into your post-exercise routine.

  • Immediacy – For best results, you will want to take the bath while your body is still warm. If your body has already cooled, the benefits of CWI will be lost.
  • Brevity – While it may be uncomfortable to take an ice bath longer than 15 minutes, it can also be dangerous. Extended exposure to frigid water can increase chances of hypothermia and frostbite.

Ice baths can be helpful, depending on your fitness level and goals. It is recommended that you check with your doctor before trying this or other methods for post-workout recovery.

References: “Effect of cold water immersion on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation,” M. Buchheit , J. J. Peiffer , C. R. Abbiss , P. B. Laursen, American Journal of Physiology

Originally posted 2013-10-02 16:38:00.

Gelatin as a Digestive Aid

Gelatin is a Traditional Food and Medicine

It may come as a surprise, but gelatin (made popular by the Jell-O brand) is one of oldest medicines and foods known to man. As a medicine, ancient healers and less modern doctors often recommended that their patients supplement with gelatin in order to help with digestion problems, including ulcers, stomach acid imbalance, and indigestion. As a food, gelatin is a natural ingredient in the most primitive and universal meal: soup (or stew).  

Gelatin is a Natural Food, Also Known as Collagen

The word “gelatin” comes from the gel-like consistency this protein-complex forms when it cools. Nearly everyone has seen the amazing property of gelatin to gel in dishes like the iconic Jell-O salad. You might not have realized it, but the same gelatin activity seen in gelatin molds is also responsible for the gel-like consistency that forms when soups, stews, or gravy’s cool down a bit. Gelatin is also one of the ingredients that helps thicken these popular comfort foods.

While it might seem a little strange, gelatin is simply a mixture of different proteins that are hydrophilic. In other words, gelatin attracts water to itself and holds it in a protein structure. The protein structure is actually the same stuff that much of the human body is made out of, collagen. Collagen contains 19 out of 20 amino acids and is especially high in alanine, arginine, glutamic acid, hydroxyproline, proline, and especially glycine.   

Gelatin was traditionally extracted from animals during the process of making broth or stocks for soup. All chefs know (along with traditional peoples) that a good stock is the foundation for delicious soups and sauces. The creation of broth developed out of long-held values and the necessity of using every part of the animals being eaten. In this effort, bones, skin, and cartilage were boiled to extract all the nutrients and flavors they contained, and this is still how a good broth is made. Unfortunately, making broth can be a time consuming and messy process, requiring hours of simmering, so few people in modern society (apart from gourmet chefs) spend the time extracting all those health promoting nutrients. Sadly, our modern eating and cooking habits are causing us to miss out on the wonderful benefits gelatin can offer for our digestion.

How Gelatin Helps with Digestion Problems 

Gelatin helps promote digestion in two ways: by stimulating stomach acid production and by moving stomach acid away from the stomach walls towards the food being digested. Contrary to popular belief, digestion problems are often connected to too little stomach acid production, not too much. In fact, ulcers aren’t caused by stomach acid; it’s just that acid causes pain in those areas because the proper stomach protection is lacking. Gelatin increases stomach acid production thanks to its high glycine content, and thus promotes better digestion (less gas and bloating). The amino acid glycine is particularly good at stimulating the release of stomach acid.

In addition to containing high amounts of glycine, gelatin is also a hydrophilic colloid.  As mentioned earlier, gelatin loves water and absorbs it like sponge. Thankfully, gelatin also absorbs stomach acid. The awesome thing about gelatin compared to stomach acid neutralizers like calcium carbonate is that it doesn’t neutralize the body’s ability to digest food. Instead, because it’s hydrophilic, gelatin sucks stomach acid towards the food that’s being digested, while simultaneously moving the acid away from the walls of the stomach where it can cause irritation in an unhealthy stomach.  

The Take Away: Traditional methods of cooking that emphasize whole foods and slow cooking methods tend to provide more of the nutrients the body needs for health. Today most of us are missing out on the benefits provided by a real, homemade stock made from the whole carcass of an animal. Our family is trying to get back to traditional cooking methods as often as possible. You too might want to experiment with making your own stock using a whole chicken or the marrow bones from a cow (which can be obtained from your local butcher). A more convenient (though less flavorful and nutritious method) way to obtain gelatin is through simple supplementation. Try adding pure gelatin powder to your simple soup or stew recipes. If you have digestion problems you can even take gelatin with a small glass of water during a meal, or try adding it to smoothies.

Recommended Product: Great Lakes Gelatin

Recommended Reading: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

References: Wald, A and Adibi, SA, “Stimulation of gastric acid secretion by glycine and related oligopeptides in humans,” American Journal of Physiology, 1982, 5, 242, G86-G88; Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Pg. 61; Hydrophilic Colloid Diet, by Dr. F.M. Pottenger Jr.

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Originally posted 2013-10-02 16:09:33.

Tabata Protocol – The Four Minute Exercise You Won't Forget!

It seems as though every time you turn on the TV there’s a new “miracle” workout being advertised. “Burn fat in 10 minutes!” “Shape your rear in 8 minutes!” “Completely transform your body in 5 minutes!” The reason these fads come and go so quickly? They hardly ever work. That is until Izumi Tabata came along. While Tabata doesn’t fit the image most of us imagine when we think of figures from the popular health industry, his protocol works.

Enter Tabata

Izumi Tabata is a very non-intimidating man. He’s of typical Asian stature with wide-brimmed glasses and a completely bald crown of a head, surrounded by a jet black moat of hair. Yet, though he doesn’t look like your typical fitness guru, Professor Tabata has spawned an incredibly effective – and fast – workout regimen. An internet search for “Tabata Protocol” will bring up nearly a quarter of a million hits. This mild mannered professor from Ritsumeikan University in Japan has become a full-fledged fitness rock star.

The Research

Years ago most athletes engaged in steady-state conditioning, which involved running, biking, or performing a particular sport at a moderate intensity for long duration. This type of conditioning was primarily aerobic. In more recent years, research has pointed to the value of high-intensity, short duration workouts for improving both anaerobic and aerobic capacity.  Various forms of interval training have since been hyped by many prominent faces in fitness. 

Professor Tabata began his research in sport conditioning while working with the Japanese speed skating team. His academic career spanned three continents and involved some of the world’s greatest athletes, leading him to develop incredibly effective training methods. He stayed with the new-school method of high-intensity interval training and took it to heights never seen before. The result?  The most efficient four minute athletic training protocol man has ever seen. Yes, you heard right. Four minutes.

The Tabata Protocol

The Tabata Protocol involves bouts of very rigorous exercise for twenty seconds followed by ten seconds of rest. This cycle is completed eight times for a total workout time of four minutes. In order to easily control variables, Professor Tabata originally conducted his studies with subjects using a stationary bike. Those who have experimented using the Tabata Protocol with full-body exercises and sprints have had success as well. In order for for the Tabata Protocol to be effective, the high-intensity intervals used have to be of the highest possible effort. Most people reach exhaustion before completing their first Tabata workout due to the intense effort required.

Results

The Tabata Protocol completely and utterly shocks your system, leaving it confused and unbelievably tired. In Tabata’s published study entitled, “The effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic and VO2max,” Tabata put his protocol up against a typical hour-long steady-state workout. Both groups exercised five days a week for six weeks. The group that engaged in moderate exercise saw slight gains in their aerobic capacity and no gain in their anaerobic capacity. The group that completed the Tabata workout warmed up for ten minutes, and then completed the Japanese professor’s four-minute protocol “from hell.” The Tabata group elevated their aerobic systems higher than the first group and saw significant increases in anaerobic capacity as well.

The amazing thing was, compared to the first group, the group performing the Tabata Protocol exercised 46 minutes less each workout, 230 minutes less per week, and 1,380 minutes less (that’s about 23 hours) over the duration of the study!

People used to believe that you could only train your aerobic or anaerobic systems separately. Tabata shattered that myth with his research on high-intensity interval training.  Aside from being of great benefit to the heart and expanding the lung capacity to titanic proportions, the research shows that the Tabata Protocol causes the body to burn an extra 150 calories even after exercising. If ever there was a miracle workout, this is it.

Precautions

No one should take the Tabata Protocol lightly. This is an extremely difficult program, even for seasoned athletes. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, especially anything of such high-intensity as the Tabata Protocol. Professor Tabata encourages beginners to seek the help of a qualified trainer who can assist them with maintaing proper form and determining appropriate intensity.

References: Ritsumeikan University: Izumi TabataMen’s Health: The Unbelievable 4-Minute Cardio WorkoutMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effects of Moderate-Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max

Originally posted 2013-09-30 18:35:25.

Cross-Training for Runners

You might be training for a big race and need to run x number of miles a week. Or maybe you just love running, and that’s the only type of exercise you want to do.  The thing is, your running muscles need regular rest to perform at their best. Cross-training is an effective way to rest your running muscles and avoid injury, while maximizing your running performance.

Cross-training helps build balanced muscle function. Using the same muscle groups over and over can create weaknesses in the supporting muscles that increase the chance of injury. Cross-training also helps to change up your routine so that you don’t get bored of running half-way through your training (believe me, it happens to the best of us!).

So what kind of things can you do to cross-train? A variety of activities! Don’t over think it! Check out this list and find a couple of options that you would enjoy doing the most, so that you don’t dread your cross-training days but actually look forward to them.

1. Elliptical. This is a pretty standard form of cross-training, since it was built to simulate the movement of running without putting so much strain on your joints. You can usually adjust the settings to target specific areas of the legs. While exercising on the elliptical machine, it can also be fun to put on your favorite show or read an interesting magazine to help time pass more enjoyably. (See Gym Fears and Misconceptions if you struggle with heading indoors to workout)

2. Dancing. Join a Zumba class, get out on the dance floor at a wedding, or turn up the music in the privacy of your own home. I decided that all the dancing I recently did at two weddings in one weekend should count as some serious exercise (think super dorky wedding line dancing and jumping up and down to songs like YMCA)!  I calculated that my small frame still burned 300 calories per hour dancing, so if you’re of average size, then you’ll burn even more calories when you get your groove on.

3. Strength training. Using free-weights or doing bodyweight exercises are both great ways to target specific supporting muscles for running and should be done 1-2 times per week along-side running. (See 5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners)

4. Biking. Biking is a great complement to running because it isn’t hard on the knees, and it helps to build up the muscles in your quads. You can choose between riding an indoor stationary bike or getting outdoors, depending on the weather or your mood!

5. Swimming. I’m not an avid swimmer myself, but the awesome thing about jumping in the water is that even if you’re walking around in a waist-deep pool, your muscles are still getting torched due to the extra resistance.

6. Walking. Walking is basically the same motion as running, only easier on the knees. Walking medium to long distances (the number of miles depends on the race you are training for or your comfort level with distance running) helps to build endurance in your legs. Depending on how quickly you’re going, walking can build your cardiovascular endurance as well. I prefer taking walks outdoors when I can, but walking on a treadmill makes it fairly easy to multi-task by reading a magazine or good book (just make sure you have good balance and that you use the safety clip).

Whenever you’re cross-training, always try to make your workout about as intense or as long as a week-day run would be.  Devoting just as much energy to a cross-training session as you would to a run, will help you build the cardiovascular endurance or strength that will support your running ability.

If you haven’t integrated any of the above cross-training activities into your weekly routine, pick a couple to try for the next few weeks.   Then, track your running times and see how your performance has improved!

Questions:

1. Are you training for a race right now? Which one?

2. Which of the above options will you choose to integrate into your workouts this week?

Originally posted 2013-09-30 16:41:54.

Take Control of Your Weekends

Central Park

I’m sure everyone knows the 1981 song “Working for the Weekend” by the quintessential 80s band Lover Boy. This song outlines the lives of countless Americans: working hated jobs for five days straight, followed by two days of “new romance” and “second chance[s].” While most people simply view this song as a party joke and a common occurrence in movies and television, I view this song as a window into the detriment of many peoples’ lives.

While working at a physical therapy clinic in South Portland, Maine, I walked to the post office to send our patients’ progress notes to their primary care physicians. I walked passed two homeless men who asked me for money. The Portland area has a large homeless population for a small city, so I was used to saying, “Sorry; no cash,” and going on my way – Maine has the highest percentage of opiate addicts per population in the entire country. A couple hours later I walked down the same street to eat lunch and I saw those same two men reveling in the fruits of their labor: cheap 40 ounce bottles of beer, sharing a pack of cigarettes. They looked ecstatic. Through toothless smiles, they clinked their bottles and mumbled in strong northeast accents. I then realized, when I passed them in the morning they were “working,” now I was witnessing their “weekend.”

As I ate lunch I felt very disheartened. It was a harsh realization that most of the people I surrounded myself with day to day don’t act much differently than these two homeless men. They work for five days straight, followed by two days of drinking too much, eating terrible food and forgetting about their exercise programs; all in the name of “the weekend.” They have homes, jobs, 401Ks, goals and dreams, but still use they weekend as an excuse to act like a completely different people. Between Friday and Saturday night parties and Sunday afternoon football games, these upstanding citizens transform into lazy, self-indulgent people; a far cry from the hard working, focused coworkers I surround myself with the other five days out of the week.

I made a pact with myself that day that I would take control of my weekends; I would not work for the weekend. I would work for the love of work and serving others, and treat my weekends as sacred. Here are my top tips for taking control of your weekends:

  • Wake up around the same time. Your body’s biological clock does not understand a five day work week, weekend parties, and day light savings. It wants to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Don’t be an alarm clock admiral, but don’t sleep 3-4 hours later on Saturday than you did on Friday.
  • Explore new healthy meals. I love using the weekend as a time to try out new exotic meals. I’ve found that cooking something new can be too taxing during the week, but weekends offer extra time to hone new cooking skills. Make it a goal to try out one CBH recipe every weekend.
  • Set clear workout goals. Don’t set outrageous goals – that’s where most people go astray. It’s too easy to set lofty, unreachable goals. Start small, and work your way up. For example, if you’re new to taking control of  your weekends, set the goal of taking a walk Saturday or Sunday if the weather permits.
  • HAVE FUN! It’s the weekend! Don’t mope around and be a slave to your to-do list and BlackBerry… or iPhone… or whatever else we’re slaves to these days. Turn your phone off; it’s liberating. While you’re at it, have fun with your workouts too. Set a goal, but don’t have a plan. Tell yourself you will perform 20 sets; it can be two sets of 10 different exercises, five sets of four exercises, or five sets of four exercises. If it’s difficult, you’re doing it right!
  • Be quiet. Read. Pray. Meditate. Practice yoga. Go for a bike ride in the wilderness without any earphones. Do whatever necessary to reset your mind and soul; the following five days will be much easier and much more fulfilling.

Originally posted 2013-09-30 14:33:58.

Mental Health — What Freud Got Wrong

was sigmund freud rightMuch of modern psychoanalysis, the methods by which we judge mental health, is based on the ideas established by Sigmund Freud during the 1920s.  The term “Oedipus complex” might come to mind, as it should, for Freud’s thoughts about the “Oedipus complex” form the core of his theory and legacy. Few people, however, really know what the Oedipus complex is or how it shapes the ideas of so many of the therapists and psychologists that we blindly trust.  So what is the Oedipus complex? And is the premise of modern psychology an accurate or useful way to analyze the metal health of individuals or society as a whole?  The present state of mental health in America, the West, and many other parts of the world seems to be in dire straits, making this an important issue.

The Oedipus Complex and Modern Myth

For those who aren’t familiar with the story Oedipus Rex, it’s a Greek tragedy by Sophocles, written in the 5th century BC.  The basic plot of the story is that King Laius has a child named Oedipus, but the child is abandoned because of a foreboding prophecy that the child would kill his father and take over the throne.  Then in a twisted turn of events, Oedipus survives into adulthood and kills his own father (like the prophecy predicted) on a country road (not knowing it was his father that he killed). Oedipus is then made king in his father’s place (still not knowing it was his dad he killed) and takes the hand of his own biological mother in marriage. The theme and underlying meaning of the tragedy, along with many other similar tragedies and myths, is the nature of rivalries between close relationships. Freud’s interpretation of this rivalry and the violence between father and son, as told in Oedipus Rex, is the basis of his psychoanalytic theory.

Basically what Freud tries to answer with the “Oedipus complex” is the question of the origin of desires that cause human conflicts. For example, why is it that a child desires the same objects that his parents desire?  In the exaggerated case of Oedipus, the underlying implication is that a boy desires his own mother. But why? In his earliest works, Freud places the origin of this desire with the child’s identification with his parents. In other words, a child learns desire based on seeing what his parents desire and wanting to be like them. Later, however, Freud hypothesizes that desire arises from innate, physical desires, rather than from imitating a model (such as a parent). Ultimately Freud comes to the bizarre conclusion that at some point, a boy will suddenly become conscious of an innate desire for his mother, which he will then suppress in his subconscious mind. This suppressed consciousness, however, is supposed to influence other aspects of life and desire.

The upshot is that modern psychology is built on a couple of underlying Freudian assumptions:  For one, it’s believed that desires, even desires beyond basic biological functions, are primarily innate and focused purely on an object. A healthy, socially-adjusted individual then is one who successfully recognizes and suppresses his or her desires for socially inappropriate objects (whether actual objects or people). Secondly, innate desires are considered highly individualistic, and individualism just so happens to be highly praised in Western society. Scholars, businessmen, artists — we all strive to be unique individuals, and we tend to deny the dynamics and influences of the group. Such denial, however, makes us even more susceptible to group think, advertisements, and propaganda.  Personally, I’m convinced that for those in therapy, these two assumptions can also cause a deterioration rather than an improvement in mental health!

Mimetic Desire and Ancient Knowledge

In his work Violence and the Sacred (which this article is largely based on), the renowned scholar Rene Girard argues that the real origin of desire and the cause of human conflict (whether mental or physical) is something he calls mimetic desire.  While the idea of mimetic desire isn’t really new (it can be argued that it’s something the Bible refers to as sin or covetousness), Girard provides a scientific explanation of the formation of desires, rivalry, and even what might be referred to today as “poor mental health.” Essentially, mimetic desire is as old as Adam and Eve or Cain and Able.  

Ancient stories, such as Cain and Able, teach us that desires come from an outside source, from a model, someone that can be imitated (hence the word mimetic in Girard’s theory). In other words, our desire for a particular object isn’t innate and doesn’t come from the appeal of the object itself, rather an object is made desirable by the person that possesses it. If you don’t think that’s accurate, think about any of the most effective television commercials. They’re never really selling an object; they’re selling the appeal of who one could become by acquiring possession of a particular object. For example, with the right luxury watch, any man might become as successful, rich, and handsome, as the man in the commercial.

The next truth stories like Cain and Able teach us (and human history will attest to), is that desire creates conflict. The reason desire creates conflict is because we don’t just desire the same object that our model possesses, we desire to actually become the model. The problem is that there are two obstacles to becoming or becoming like the model: the model himself and the model’s possession of the desired object. Mimetic desire, fully played out, thus results in depression, jealousy, rivalry, covetousness, and ultimately murder (all consequences of a disturbed mental state). In order to become like the model, the subject has to either steal the object from the model and/or murder the model; the model is the chief obstacle preventing the subject from obtaining the model’s elusive state of being.  

The psychological implications of mimetic desire are paramount. If our desires are not innate physical whims but formed by the imitation of role models, then more often than not our desires are neither fixed nor reasonable.  They’re not fixed because a role model’s possessions and interests may change over time, and they’re not reasonable because one can never obtain the state of being of another human. These two obstacles result in continued frustration, depression, high and lows, violence, and generally “poor mental health.”  Thankfully there is a solution to the primary cause of most our mental dis-ease.  

The Real Cure to Many of Our Mental Health Problems 

Girard argues that there are essentially two solutions to mimetic desire, though the first solution is really more of a band-aid than a cure. First, the relational distance between a subject and his role model has a direct affect on the amount of mental stress and physical violence that might result from a given relationship. Relational distance might explain why the fiercest jealousy or violence often occurs between the closest friends or the most intimate lovers. If one chooses role models that are at a greater distance, however, like a sports hero on a professional team instead of a high school teammate, the tension caused by mimetic rivalry is lessoned.  Our society tacitly acknowledges this benefit by constant emphasizing the importance of positive role models for children.

The second solution is receiving and following in the steps of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love.  Instead of turning to violence and being controlled by the crowd, Jesus revealed that laying down one’s own life brings freedom and escape from the mimetic cycle. The ability to lay down one’s life, to surrender one’s desire (formed by imitation and ultimately resulting in a hatred for others), is only obtained by believing in the unconditional love of Jesus.  Love, which is sacrificial, can only be given after it is received.  In other words, those who believe, Jesus sets free from a mimesis that spirals towards death and leads into a mimesis towards life. Sacrificial love brings freedom from mental anguish, fear, jealousy, narcissism, concern over what people think, anxiety, depression, and a plethora of other mental health problems.

This isn’t to say that all mental health problems are solved by escaping mimetic desire, or that we’re ever fully free from mimetic desire. Looking to others for the cues for our desires is a constant struggle, one that requires daily returning to the love of Jesus and remembering his sacrifice through sharing communion with others. It’s also important to note that some mental health problems are caused by biology or the physical environment, such as when depression is caused by being inside for too long or when bi-polar disease is triggered by a nutrient deficiency.  But this brings up another point, most mental health problems, in one way or another, are  a result of not living the way God created us to live. The first and most important aspect to life and good mental health is love, after that, exercise, sunshine, fresh-air, and healthy foods all have a substantial impact on mental health.

The take away: It’s a Western myth that we are complete individuals with innate and unique desires. While the idea of the “stalwart individual” might be appealing, our mental health is intimately tied to our relationships with others.  We get our desires from the people around us (whether friends, family, peers, advertisers, movies, etc), and our ability (or inability) to realize these desires is the principle cause of mental dis-ease.  The only way to escape the bi-polar high and lows of desire is unconditional, sacrificial love.

What are your thoughts on mental health? 

Do you have any questions about mimetic desire?

Primary Reference and Suggested Reading: Violence and the Sacred, by Rene Girard.

Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard recommendation review 

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Originally posted 2013-09-26 16:03:06.

The Benefits I've Gained from the Online Health Community

benefits of online running community health livingThe benefits of community are numerous.

A community is basically a network of people that can form a support system that benefits the entire group. Sometimes when you are living in a way that is out of the ordinary, a community like this is just what’s needed to help make good choices that fly in face of the status quo.

Although I wish it were different, trying to live a healthy lifestyle is out of the norm. I love learning about nutrition, trying new foods that are good for me and staying active, but not everyone in my immediate family or among my friends share this same passion. When I happen to stumble upon a group that does have an excitement for healthy living, I was over-joyed.  Where did I find this group?  Online.

This “virtual” healthy living community I’m now part of (that I found in the blogging world) has taught me so much.  For one, I’ve learned that “healthy” is a little bit different for everyone. While in the medical community, “healthy” means “not at risk for disease,” for the average individual it could just mean eating veggies and working out a few days per week. I’ve learned to be less judgmental about foods that people eat as well as to be more open to trying what I used to think of as “weird” foods. I’ve learned that no matter the size or shape, that most people have insecurities with their bodies.

I learned to love running through the online community.

I was also introduced to running through community. Yes, I had heard of running. Yes, I had trudged through the mile run we had to do in high school to assess our fitness level. But through the online healthy living community, I’ve found people who have a passion for running. These people actually like lacing up their shoes and running for miles at a time. They sign up for races, paying money to run distances I couldn’t even fathom of running.

I learned to love pulling on my Asics and pounding out frustration on the pavement. I learned that I could have some really awesome moments of worship during these runs. I learned I could spend time with my Creator and be grateful for the ability to have use of all of my limbs.

[See my running articles: 13.1 Reasons to Sign Up for a Half-Marathon, Ladies’ Guide to Warm Weather Running Clothes, 5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners]

I have also had the opportunity to meet some of the people who have inspired me over the years in person, and I can hardly describe what happens when we all come together. The feelings of community and mutual understanding are overpowering. There is such peace in knowing that we are no longer the oddball but part of a group of people that shares similar beliefs and past-times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, being a part of a healthy community can reduce stress and depression. It will help you feel less alone in tough times. Being part of a community also provides opportunities for mutual learning and new ideas shared. The support and encouragement gained will motivate you to do things you would have never thought of doing. A community like this will benefit you in ways you never imagined.

The importance and value of community is also mentioned  in the bible. It’s called the church. There’s a reason that we are told to be part of a church — we were made to be around people and to have the love and support from like-minded individuals.  We were created for community.  

So if you feel like you are the only one in your immediate group who cares about your health and well-being, seek out those with similar interests. Find a group, whether it be at a gym, a church, or online, that shares your passions in life. Believe me, you won’t regret it.

Questions:

Are you a part of a healthy community?

What are benefits you find from gathering with like-minded individuals?

Links:

References: Mayo Clinic: Support Groups

Originally posted 2013-09-24 17:00:22.

5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners

Believe it or not, training for running a race involves more than putting miles on your running shoes. Strength training is an important part of race training. Integrating strength training into your running routine will help prevent injury, build up supporting muscles, and increase speed over time.

Running activates numerous muscles throughout the body, but one of the most important areas is the “core.” The core includes the abs, back, and hips.  According to Runner’s World, core strength improves running performance and reduces risk of injury. I can personally vouch for the importance of core training too.  Last year, when I didn’t include core training in my preparation for a race,  I experienced breathing issues, as well as the much-feared “side stitch.” Avoid the mistake I made and be sure to train your core for better running performance.  

One great move to increase ab strength:

Planking. Planks can be done from the forearms or hands in a basic push-up position, as well as on each side of the body to target your obliques. Hold a front plank and side planks for 30 seconds each (or no longer than you can maintain perfect form) for severals set. Or test your strength to see how long you can hold the plank (with proper form).

Some moves to increase lower back strength:

If you’re a runner, it’s crucial that you give special attention to strengthening your lower back. I suffered a back injury a couple of years ago, which had to do with the fact that all I was doing in my training was running. Lower back pain is common today, a product of sitting in the same position for long periods at a desk, or at the opposite spectrum, from standing in the same position all day. The mild back pain caused by lack of movement can generally be relieved with strength training. (Be sure to check with your doctor if you have moderate to severe lower back pain before attempting any of these exercises.)

Bridges. Lie on your back with feet on the floor. Tighten abs and glutes to raise your body off of the floor towards the ceiling. You can do a number of reps in a rhythmic up/down motion, or hold the position for a period of time. Do 15-20 reps or one 30 second interval for a set.

Back extension. This move can be done with an exercise ball or with weights. Lie face down on an exercise ball, with hands behind your head and feet against a sturdy object (such as your couch or a wall). Squeeze your glutes and raise yourself slightly off the ball until your body forms a straight line. Hold the raised position for 30 seconds or do 10-15 repetitions for a set.

(See links below for more lower back exercises.)

Here are some moves to incorporate to develop supporting or stabilizing muscles in your legs:

You’d be surprised at how many runners neglect training their legs, since they figure they are getting their leg workout in when they run. Yet, running without strength training can cause weaknesses and imbalances in the leg muscles. When these supporting or stabilizing leg muscles are weak, incurring an injury while training or racing is more likely.

Single leg squats. This move focuses on building stability in each leg. Stand in a squat position, but place more weight on one side and only keep the toe of the other foot on the ground. Squat down, with back straight and focus on the one leg going down and up. Do 10-15 of these on each side for a set.

Dead lifts. This move simultaneously works multiple leg and core muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and back muscles. With legs slightly bent (to prevent injury) stand with feet at a hips-width apart, free weights or bar in front of you (with bar centered over the top of your feet). Keeping your back straight, bend slowly at the waist until your weights or bar come to your knees (or wherever you feel comfortable). Focus on feeling an equal stretch in your left and right hamstring. Do 15-20 reps for a set. Read this article for more on dead lifts.

You can use all of the moves in this article for a quick strength training routine to support your running, doing 2-3 sets of each. Remember, focus on form over quantity for the best results!

Questions:

Do you integrate strength training while training for a race?

Have you ever been injured while training for a race? How are you healing and/or preventing this from happening again?

Sources: Runner’s World article: Strength TrainingRunner’s World article: The Core of the MatterDiary of a Semi-Health Nut: 10 Moves for a Strong Lower Back.

Originally posted 2013-09-24 15:38:07.

How 'bout cayenne pepper?

Cayenne peppersCayenne pepper is an extremely hot, yet tasty and versatile spice.  The bite comes from the active ingredient capsaicin.  With a beautiful crimson color and high heat, it is sure to add flare to any dish you are planning to cook.  But cayenne pepper is more than just a heat maker.  This spice has a plethora of uses that not even your orthodox medical practitioner can argue with.   

History of Cayenne Pepper            

Cayenne pepper has been used in Mexico, South America, and the West Indies for thousands of years.  Capsicum annuum is its botanical name.  When the pepper was discovered by the Spanish, it was eventually introduced into Africa, Asian, Indian, and European cuisines.  It has now become one of the most popular spices in the world.  It can grow in most any climate, but most loves the nutrient-rich soils of moist climates.  It has been used for its flavor, its medicinal purposes, and as decoration.

Considerations for Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is actually quite spicy.  It has a 7 out of 10 rating for spiciness, which means it is 30,000 – 50,000 Scoville Units.  To give you an idea of what that means, jalapeno, chipotle, and poblano peppers are only about 2,500 – 5,000 Scoville Units, serrano peppers are about 5,000 – 15,000 Scoville Units, and habanera peppers are roughly 100,000 – 350,000 Scoville Units.  That means cayenne peppers can really pack a punch.  The nice thing about cayenne pepper is that it usually comes in powdered form, providing the flexibility to make any dish as mild or as spicy as you want!

Home Remedies and Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper has been used for thousands of years as not just a spice but a medicine. 

~Stomach ailments~

The ancient peoples of Peru and Guatemala used cayenne pepper as a cure for many types of stomach ailments.   You would think because cayenne pepper is so spicy that it would cause heartburn.  For most people, however, cayenne pepper has the opposite effect. Modern research suggests that cayenne pepper not only reduces heartburn, but can help people who have ulcers.  I suppose the Mayans were on to something!

~Cardiovascular Health~

Capsaicin is a vasodilator, which means that it enlarges the space (the lumen) in the blood vessels so that blood can flow more easily.  Vasodilation promotes several physiological effects, including relief from headaches and pain, as well as improvement in overall vascular health.

~Cayenne Pepper for Pain and Inflammation~

Capsaicin, when applied topically, has shown very promising results in patients with neurological pain, such as phantom limb and HIV neuropathy.  The Capsaicin found in cayenne peppers also has strong anti-inflammatory effects.

~Cayenne Pepper for Weight Loss~

While eating cayenne pepper won’t magically turn you into a model, the heat it produces in your body does mean you are burning a few extra calories.

~Cayenne Pepper for Cough Suppressant~

Cough keeping you up all night?  Mix a dash of cayenne pepper with a tablespoon of honey and melt that in with your favorite tea or a glass of warm water.  Sip on that for a while and your cough should subside enough to help you get to sleep.  I tried this last January when I had a really bad cold accompanied by a horrible cough.  Sure enough, it worked!

~Cayenne Pepper as an All-Natural Pet Repellent~

Cat chewing on your house plants?  Dog getting in your garden?  Well, a little bit of cayenne pepper sprinkled in these areas is a great way to ensure your pet will not try again (unless, of course, you have a very stubborn animal).  Cayenne Pepper is non-toxic to both your pet and your plants.  Our cat used to chew on a piece of fraying carpet in our old apartment.  My husband put a little cayenne pepper in the area and, after a few sneezes, he never chew again!  Just be careful not to put tons of the spice in a very concentrated area because it could burn your pet’s paws of nose.  The trick is to just make it uncomfortable for them when they enter the restricted area.

Precautions when using Cayenne Pepper

While cayenne pepper has many fine qualities, you have to be careful with a few things.  First off, you want to be careful when handling this pepper, even in its powder form.  If you’re sprinkling it out of a bottle,  you have less to worry about, just don’t handle large amounts of it for an extended period of time without wearing some hand protection. Like most hot peppers, cayenne pepper can burn your skin.  You also have to be very careful not to rub cayenne pepper in your eyes after handling it.  While you won’t go blind you will be in a lot of pain, and there is little you can do about it (cayenne pepper is what they use to make pepper spray with).  Make sure you wash your hands (and under your fingernails) after handling it.  Also, you want to keep cayenne pepper away from intense, direct heat.  Heating peppers brings out more flavor, but heating them too much can create fumes that will make you cough uncontrollably.  Truth me, it’s really bad.  My husband and I learned the hard way.  Being aware of the fumes is especially important if you have asthma or other lung problems.  Lastly, what goes in spicy will come out spicy.  You have been warned!

Cayenne Pepper Nutrition Highlights (%DV = percent of daily value)

In 1 tbsp:

  • Calories 17
  • Vitamin A 44% DV
  • Vitamin C 6% DV
  • Iron 2% DV
  • Vitamin B-6 5%  DV
  • Magnesium 2% DV           

Cayenne Pepper In the Kitchen

  • Use these spicy peppers on sweet potato cubes sautéed in grass-fed butter.  The sweet and spicy combination gives way to a very savory dish.
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper on deviled eggs will certainly spice up any party.
  • Use cayenne pepper instead of black pepper to add variety to you usual cusine.
  • Add cayenne pepper to chili of soup to make it even hotter.
  • Mix in cayenne pepper with your chicken, tuna, or egg salad.
  • And, don’t forget to experiment! 

REFERENCES: Home cooking with Hot ChilisRed Pepper Encyclopedia; David M. Simpson, MD,  Stephen Brown, MD, Jeffrey Tobias, MD; Controlled trial of high-concentration capsaicin patch for treatment of painful HIV neuropath; Neurology June 10, 2008 vol. 70 no. 24 2305-2313; USDA

Originally posted 2013-09-24 12:30:45.