The Truth Will Set You Free

   It’s so surreal to think that an entire semester is almost at its end and moreover that an entire year of school is almost over. As the last few weeks of my freshman year come to a close I am beginning to reflect on all the good and bad that the last year has brought, along with everything I’ve learned. It almost makes me sad to think that I won’t have to continue this blog anymore; it was probably one of the most interesting assignments I’ve ever done and makes me want to start a personal blog of my own.  However, all good things must come to a close and in finishing where we started I thought it was only appropriate that I share one final tidbit of information about the most important muscle in our bodies, the mind. A study coming out of Scientific American magazine talks about the secret benefits that telling the truth can have on our mental health.  The article focused on how,” expressive writing encourages individuals to explore their deepest thoughts and feelings about upsetting experiences. For such emotional purges to work, people must be completely honest with themselves.”

A possible reason behind why this improves mental health is that, “once we write about our upheavals, we tend to ruminate about them less, freeing us up to focus on other things. “ Additionally the article added that, “dozens of studies have also shown that expressive writing is linked to less stress and improved sleep and cardiovascular function. We know that better sleep is associated with enhanced immune function and better general health—which correlate with better mental health, too.” The significance behind this research helps us to better understand the negative effects that ignoring our feelings can have on our mentality. In expressing the way we feel through an outlet, whether it’s writing or talking to someone helps to alleviate those negative feelings and helps us to move past them. It becomes clear why so many culture and religious practice some form of penance to help move beyond negative experiences in this life and the next. Personally I find music and exercise to be some of the best ways to get through tough situations, but ultimately talking to a trusted individual always leaves me feeling better and more focused. What do you think? Does this sound like you or are you a more open person that likes to discuss their issues rather than hold them in? Leave a comment to let us know and thank you to anyone who has read along thus far, it’s been a great time!

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Sleep Drugs aid Higher Level Brain Cognition

   As luck might have it I stumbled upon an article this weekend that struck a direct chord with the topics I discussed in my last post and book review as well. This article published in Scientific American titled “A Safe Drug to Boost Brian Power” discusses modafinil, a drug used to treat sleep apnea since the 90’s, that provides heightened cognitive senses similar to caffeine. The study conducted in the University of Oxford analyzed,” 24 studies published between 1990 and 2014 that specifically looked at how modafinil affects cognition.” In their review they found that the methods used to evaluate modafinil strongly affected the outcomes and were not conclusive. However, “studies that asked participants to do complex and difficult tasks after taking modafinil or a placebo found that those who took the drug were more accurate, which suggests that it may affect “higher cognitive functions”.”

So what exactly does this suggest? Well for one thing doctors suggest taking a moment and weighting out the risk to reward ratio. Though studies have found a positive correlation between modafinil and higher brain cognition, studies have yet to produce long term effects for the drug. In addition to this it’s important to keep in mind the drug’s potential side effects such as insomnia and headaches. Though still very understudied these findings help point us in the right direction to developing a potent and safe brain cognition enhancement drug. As I mentioned in my earlier post, with the use of our current technologies it only becomes a matter of time before we develop a real life version of NZT 48. However, until that day comes you may want to stick to the daily cup of joe as the mental boost to get through the day. Have you or someone you know tried modafinil? How was it? Did it give you the mental edge you were looking for? Let us know in the comments below!

Unlocking the Mind

   We’re already on week eight of out blog posts and it really feels like it has only been a fraction of that time. This semester has flown by and our final projects are on the horizon which means it is time I start to briefly discuss the book I’ll be reviewing. Seeing as how I like to focus on wellness and the human body in my blog posts I thought it would only make sense that I read a book that zoned in on those same concepts. The book I’ve decided to read is titled The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku. Upon initially stumbling on this book I found that the titled was both vague and specific enough that it left me wanting to know more. I mean what could “enhance the mind mean”? Does it simply mean improving simply cognitive tasks like memory or problem solving, or could it present an even mope farfetched possibility of unlocking some unknown abilities that our brain possess? Yes, I’m refereeing to telekinesis or mind reading abilities that have too often been portrayed in science fiction movies and make us chuckle at the thought of actually being realistic. I felt silly even thinking that a book based on scientific research could be based solely on pseudoscience.

However, the more I researched the book the more I realized I was exactly right and the author of this book was proposing just that. Michio Kaku has focused his research, and several other books, on his belief that, “one day we may achieve the ability to upload the human brain to a computer, neuron for neuron; project thoughts and emotions around the world on a brain-net; take a “smart pill” to enhance cognition; send our consciousness across the universe; and push the very limits of immortality.” Though it may sound silly upon first read, Dr. Kaku backs his claims with research and has had large support from the scientific community as a whole. Don’t believe him? Give it a look for yourself! His page, which can be found here, provides access to all of his books though you may want to pick up a slightly cheaper copy here. Regardless, I feel the book has the makings of an interesting read and an eye opening look at the world of science for those of us with open arms to a new perspective.

 

Right Back at it Again with Those Allergies!

   With spring in full swing many of us are enjoying longer days, warmer temperatures, and those pesky yearly allergies. If you re among the 8% of adults and 9% of children who experience allergies then you know how much of a hassle it is to step foot outside on a day riddled with pollen. However, we never stop to ask ourselves why it is that some people experience allergies and others don’t? A new study published in Scientific American helps to outline the real reason why some people get the sniffles during this time of year. Studies conducted on twins for which at least one twin was allergic to peanuts have found that, “in the case of fraternal twins, the other twin has a 7% chance of also having the allergy. Among identical twins, however, both twins were allergic in 64% of cases. Thus, our genetics clearly influence whether or not we will have an allergy.”

So exactly what does this tell us? Simply put those of us fortunate enough to have been born without a disposition to allergies can go about our lives without too much worry about the substances we come in contact without. Those of us not as fortunate do have to proceed with caution as we enter the months infamous for allergies. In the case of identical twins chances are both individuals will experience the same issue, but in the off chance one twin doesn’t it just means they weren’t quite as lucky. Understanding the real cause behind allergies is vital in helping to move forward with possible ways to suppress the real cause of allergies.  In this case it may be some method of gene therapy that can help us all be allergy free and enjoy the warm months a little more. At least for the moment those struggling with allergies can take antihistamines to help their symptoms and breathe a little easier.

Meditate More, Be Happy

   Last week I discussed some biographical information about the scientist I was looking to interview . Due to scheduling conflicts I was unable to interview Dr. Shawn Arent and instead I Interviewed Dr. Brandon Alderman. This week I will be going in depth about the specific research I discussed with Dr. Alderman this past week. Recently, Dr. Alderman’s work with depression and meditation has helped us to better understand cognitive skills that can help reduce overwhelming negative thoughts. His study, published in Translational Psychiatry this monthfound the combination of body and mind, used twice a week for two months, helped reduced the symptoms for a group of students experiencing depression by 40 percent. 22 men and women studying at Rutgers University suffering with depression, and 30 mentally healthy students reported fewer depressive symptoms.

   The individuals involved in the study began with 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. They were told that if their thoughts drifted to the past or the future they should refocus on their breathing, enabling those with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.They felt that they did not spend as much time worrying about negative situations taking place in their lives as they did before the study began. In order to fully test the extent of the results the experiment also tested the effects mediation had on young mothers who had been homeless but were living at a residential treatment facility. The women involved in the research had exhibited severe depressive symptoms and elevated anxiety levels from the start, but at the end of the eight weeks reported that their depression and anxiety had eased. They claimed to have they felt more motivated, and they were able to focus more positively on their lives.

Dr. Shawn Arent; A Look at Stress and Performance

   For this week’s blog post I’ll be discussing the research scientist that I am planning on interviewing for the scientist interview. Currently my intended major is exercise science so I thought it was only logical to interview a research scientist in my field to grasp a better understanding of what I can expect in the future. His name is Dr. Shawn Arent; he’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at Rutgers University.  He is also the Director of the Center for Health & Human Performance in the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health.  He is the Director of the Graduate Program in Kinesiology & Applied Physiology as well as the current Vice President of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. A link to his full biographical page can be found here.

Dr. Arent’s research focuses on the relationship between physical activity and stress and the implications for health and performance, with an emphasis on underlying mechanisms.  His recent work has focused on physiological responses to training-related stressors and their contribution to optimal performance and recovery.  He is specifically interested in the potential efficacy of acute and chronic resistance training for improving functional capabilities. This interests me especially because as a runner I am constantly intrigued in the potential effects that stress and fatigue can have on running performance. Recently I also applied to one of Dr. Arent’s studies that essentially set out to test the effects of a new weight loss drug on performance and body composition of generally active individuals with body fat above the normal range. I suppose it is both good and unfortunate that I did not qualify for the study, but I do look forward to the opportunity to discuss this research further with Dr.Arent if he is able to participate in my interview.

Run Faster, Run Smarter

   As most people at one point or another in their lives have had the unpleasant experience of having to go for a run, most can testify to the discomfort experienced that would make anyone think twice about doing it again. However, for those who do find a certain enjoyment from the sport science is now saying that it is  a case of mind over matter instead of strictly physical. Writers over at  Scientific American  are now reading into studies that claim the benefits a runner can yield from a positive mental state to overall improve their performance. The article listed five key steps in order to improve performance which were setting a goal, learning to deal with pain, getting competitive, talking to yourself, and picturing it. All these require a mental aspect that can help aid a runner when his body is on the brink of giving out.

Dealing with pain, talking to yourself, and picturing it all require that a runner look inside them self rather than focusing on what they’re feeling or how much of a race is left. It’s that mental strength that helps push them beyond that which otherwise would’ve been their “wall”, or point of giving up. Setting a goal and getting competitive are more organizational skills are require that a runner always keep in mind what their purpose is and that there is always someone to beat.I found this article to be interesting because even in a sport that is so involved with physicality,running requires an even greater deal of mental strength. Even the most athletic runners can be beaten out  by the runner with a stronger mentality on any given day. Using these skills can help elevate anyone’s performance from the most skilled runner, to the runner just looking to cross the finish line.