Last night, I arrived late (just before midnight) at the hotel I was staying, hence went straight to my room and got ready to go to sleep. After having tried to switch off the heating system that was way too noisy, I ended up calling reception and asking them to come and sort it out. Which thanks god they were successful at doing – even though it was not straight forward. I felt blessed and ready to finally go to sleep.

Hardly had I laid down in bed that I noticed a soft but continuous buzzing sound in the background. Too tired to go back to reception to get another room, I did have a go at trying to sleep, which I kinda managed. Let’s just say it was not a fantastic night. This did remind me not only about the importance of carrying with me earplugs, but also of the fact that we as human beings often have to resist sonic assaults. And that reminded me of two short videos that you can find on TED delivered by Julian Treasure.

The first one is about how sound affects us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively and behaviourally.

You might be surprised like me to find out that productivity decreases by as much as 66% in noisy open space.

The second video is about a few steps you can take to protect your hearing or at least reduce the impact of sonic assault on your health and develop a sound health approach.

So the question remains what will you choose to do?

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A new year is starting hence I am inviting you to watch this amazing short clip

to celebrate the magic of the world we live in and to ensure we not only preserve it but also do our best to make it even better!!

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The fact we have just started a new year provides us with an opportunity to pause, reflect and think about what we have achieved so far, how we have lived our life, refocus on what is truly important to us and ensure we live the life we aspire to live.


As Eleanor Roosevelt summarised so well :

“The future belongs to those who believe in (the beauty of) their dreams.”

And maybe because I am turning 40 this year, I am more aware of the speed at which time disappears, more aware of the dreams I have yet to realise, more aware that the clock is definitely ticking for some of those, for instance having children,  more aware that nobody knows what tomorrow is made of, or how many more years I have to live ( even though I believe I still have lots of years to live), more aware that I need to act now if I still believe in those dreams and I do.

So if like me, you have dreams you want to see becoming reality, I encourage you to watch a video I have watched a few times from Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon who became famous with his last lecture: “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” delivered in September 2007.

Randy  Pausch died in July 2008 having inspired millions of people to realise their dreams. As he mentioned in the video, it is so much fun to realise one’s dreams and even better to help someone else realising their dreams.

So what is the dream out of all your cherished dreams that you will work to make it become a reality this year and how could you help at least one other person to realise one of their dreams as well?

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We just started 2011, and you may have made some new year’s resolutions and be good at maintaining them so far. Congratulations if you are! You belong to the 71% people that maintained their new year resolutions after 2 weeks.

According to a study published in 2002, in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, new year’s resolutions are maintained as time goes on as follows:

  • past the first week: 75%
  • past 2 weeks: 71%
  • after one month: 64%
  • after 6 months: 46%

Apparently, 40% of adults at least make one or more resolutions each year, and at least two-thirds of these pledges concern life-threatening health behaviours—tobacco smoking, obesity and inactivity, for example -.  The good news being that the success rate of resolutions is approximately ten times higher than the success rate of adults desiring to change their behaviour but not making a resolution. Moreover, the success rates of multiple attempts at self-change are presumably higher than single attempts (Norcross et al., 1989).

So to ensure success with regards to your new year’s resolutions, I thought I would highlight 5 points you may want to ensure they share:

  1. Ensure they are truly important and meaningful to you first and not to someone else ;-)
  2. Ensure that your resolutions are realistic, i.e. that they are achievable
  3. Describe them in specific terms, i.e. instead of saying I will exercise more, go for I will go to the gym at least twice (or any other frequency you fancy:-) ) a week.
  4. Break down large goals into smaller ones. For instance, commit to losing weight by resolving to join a gym, and go twice a week and improve your eating habits.
  5. Find alternatives to a behavior that you want to change, and make this part of your resolution plan. For instance, you want to reduce the time you spend in front of TV watching anything and everything, but TV helps to relax you, look at other relaxation techniques such as going for a walk or catching up on reading books you are so keen on reading but never seem to have time for.

And finally, from my point of view what makes a real difference is to limit oneself to a few resolutions at a time and to ensure that the resolutions covered the whole spectrum of things one wants to do, to get(have) and to be.

Enjoy living and realising your new year resolutions!!

And if like me, your resolutions are just one way to get closer to realising your dreams, read on the next post.


Source:
Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys , University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).

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My perfect Nap

The summer in the northern hemisphere is finally here, and summer and more particularly warmth is associated for me with a good nap. I truly enjoy a nap anytime but even more when it is quite warm and sunny. This is partially why I feel so at home in Spain, where a nap is so much part of people’s daily life, they enjoy the mornings and the evenings/nights and hence need some time to replenish in the middle of the day.

So when Waller, from www.createradiance.com, recommended to me an article around “How to nap”, I could not resist having a read through. And since I enjoyed the article, which is clear, simple, nicely written and illustrated. I thought you might as well, hence the reason I am sharing it here with you.

What I found particularly interesting were the diagrams about the best time to nap, based on different sleeping patterns.

So, if in addition to you enjoying a nap, I was to tell you that based on recent researches, this nap may also enhance your performance, increase your overall alertness, reduce stress, and the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabete or excessive weight, what are you going to do?

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Last month, both the BBC and Science Daily reported about the results of a new research which had been recently published on how 5 minutes of green exercise (also defined as activity done in the presence of nature) is great for mental health.

A great detailed analysis of the research - entitled “ What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis“ from Dr Joe Barton and Professor Jules Pretty, and published in Environmental Science and Technology in March 2010-, and its limitations can be found on the NHS UK website.

The following is an adapted extract of the latter.

Physical activity is known to be beneficial for health, including mental health but what is original in the research recently published by J Barton and J Pretty, that pooled the results of 10 studies from the University of Essex on the effect of outdoor exercise in green environments on self-esteem and mood, is that its aim is to determine the optimal dose of green exercise for obtaining the greatest improvement of self-esteem and mood.

The results of these 10 studies, carried out by the University of Essex over the past six years, representing  a total of  1,252 volunteers, were pooled using standard methods. The data was analysed to find that optimal “dose” of green exercise (intensity and length) for producing the greatest improvements in mood and self-esteem. The researchers also looked at how the results were affected by the location of the exercise, the age, gender and mental health status of the individuals.

Volunteers included people already choosing to do green exercise (such as people in country parks, at national trust sites, urban flower shows or care farms), members of a local mental health association (Mind), allotment holders, young offenders and students. Exercise activities included walking, cycling, fishing, boating or sailing, horse-riding, farming activities and gardening.

Environments in which these activities took place included urban parks, countryside, farmland, forest and woodland, waterside areas and wild habitats. The 10 studies all looked at participants’ mood and self-esteem immediately before and after green exercise. They also all used the same commonly used measurement scales to assess self-esteem and mood.

The analyses looked at different durations of exercise:

  • 5 minutes,
  • 10-60 minutes,
  • half day,
  • or whole day.

Different exercise intensities were also examined. These were grouped as low (less than three metabolic equivalents [METs, a standard measure of exercise intensity], moderate (three to six METs) and vigorous (more than six METs).

What were the basic results?

The meta-analysis indicated that green exercise was associated with statistically significant improvements in self-esteem and mood, with slightly larger improvements seen in mood than self-esteem.

As the individual studies had found considerably different results for both of these outcomes, the researchers investigated this finding further. They carried out an analysis of the different groups and exercise types to see how the effect varied. For example, they carried out separate analyses of the type of green space, exercise duration or exercise intensity.

The researchers found that these improvements were greatest with five minutes of green exercise, with smaller benefits seen for longer exposures (from 10 minutes to a whole day). Light-intensity activity had the greatest effect on self-esteem; light activity and vigorous activity had similar effects on mood, with less effect seen for moderate activity.

All of the green environments had a positive effect on self-esteem and mood. The greatest effect was seen in environments that featured water, but the researchers say it was not clear whether its difference from other green environments was statistically significant.

Green exercise had a similar effect on self-esteem and mood for both men and women. People with self-reported mental health problems showed greater improvements in self-esteem with green exercise than those without such problems. But they showed no difference in improvements in mood. The improvements in self-esteem were greatest for people under 30, while the improvements in mood were greatest for those aged 31 to 70 years old. It was not clear whether the differences between the different age groups would be statistically significant.

Eventual limitations

The main limitations of this recently published research or meta-analysis, include:

  • the fact that all the studies came from the same institution, and that more robust results may have been achieved by systematically searching for and pooling all research addressing the same question.
  • the absence of control groups in all the pooled studies, so it is not clear whether these improvements would have occurred naturally over time, or if gym exercise or other leisure activities would have similar results.
  • and the absence of evidence of what the long-term effects on these outcomes would be since the studies only measured mood and self-esteem immediately before and after exercise.

Conclusion

Even though the analysis has some limitations and further research might be required to fully validate those results, I choose to remember of this research that as human beings all we need to feel better about ourselves is to go for a brief 5 minutes walk in a green environment nearby.


And since there seems to be no difference between urban settings and the country side, this is an even better news for all of us, stuck in an office all day. We just need to go for a small walk in the park or “green place” nearby to get a boost of self-esteem when we need it during the day or just feel like an energy refill.


As easy and so much healthier than reaching for a candy bar!! :-)


Links to the headlines

Links to the study

Barton J and Pretty J. What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis.Environmental Science and Technology, March 25 2010.

Links to related articles previously published on wellbeing matters

Ecotherapy? What on earth is this?

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When you are a teenager you look forward to your young adult life, your freedom and so on,
When you turn 20 you just seem to enjoy life,
When you turn 30 you feel you are at the peak of your life, studies seem far away you have already proved or started to prove your skills at work, you feel young, healthy, mature,
When you turn 40 from what I heard :-) it feels like you have already achieved a lot, lived a lot, you still feel young at heart but you begin to start feeling you are no longer a young person,
Then when you turn 50, your children are there to remind you, you are getting older, however you feel about it
When you pass 60 it seems that that feeling is reinforced with each passing year…..

However, a recent study, which results were published on line earlier this month, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, brought good news for old people, and for those who are getting older.

Hence my question of whether getting old is such a bad thing, since according to this study, on a global measure, people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good about themselves, and then, life begins to throw difficulties at them making them feel worse and worse until they reach 50. Point, at which, there is a sharp reversal, and people start getting happier and happier as they age. To the point that by the time they are 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

Seems too good to be true for all those over 50 right?

And yet these are the results of a 2008 telephone survey of over 340,000 people in the USA. These persons with ages from 18 to 85, were asked various questions about age and sex, current events, personal finances, health and other matters and some specific questions to help identify their psychological wellbeing.

More specifically they were asked to rank their overall life satisfaction, also called « global wellbeing » on a 10-point scale and questioned around the type of feelings they had experienced the previous day among enjoyment, happiness, stress, worry, anger, and sadness. Apparently the latter reveal the « hedonic wellbeing », a person’s immediate experience of those psychological states, unencumbered by revised memories or subjective judgments that the query about general life satisfaction might have evoked.

The psychological wellbeing, which is considered a key aspect of the health of individuals and groups, includes a person’s overall appraisal of his or her life (their global wellbeing) and their mood and feelings (their hedonic wellbeing).

Prior to this study, several cross-sectional studies had documented a relation between global wellbeing and age. However, little was known about the age distribution of hedonic wellbeing.

Consistent with prior studies, this survey confirmed global wellbeing and and positive hedonic wellbeing, i.e. enjoyment and happiness generally had U-shaped age profiles showing increased wellbeing after the age of 50 years. However, negative hedonic wellbeing variables showed distinctly different and stronger patterns:

  • stress and anger steeply declined from the early 20s,
  • worry was elevated through middle age and then declined,
  • and sadness was essentially flat.

Which means that once people turn 50 they feel happier, are less stressed, worried less, and feel overall much better about themselves.

Just another reason for us youngsters to look forward to aging instead of denying or ignoring it, and for the over 50 just another reason to feel better about themselves.

Reference:
« A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States » by Arthur A. Stonea, Joseph E. Schwartz, Joan E. Broderick, and Angus Deaton.

N.B. Stay tune as apparently studies might now focus more on exploring this postmidlife increase in wellbeing

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I was meant to post a while back as a follow up to my post on how to maintain a young and active brain more information around how playing specific games allow people to train or maintain their brain muscles. This certainly explains the interest of elderly people in puzzles or games such as crosswords, scrabble, bridge, go or chess. A more modern way to achieve the same is to play the video or computer games aiming to help us (human beings of over 30) to train our brain, activity also nicknamed “brain fitness”.

A few websites have appeared over the last few years on the subject. I ended up on Lumosity, early August 2009 a bit by chance but I really like the site. The games are organised in five different categories, namely, speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving, and also touch on other aspects such as arithmetics, memory, or verbal fluency.

The trainings are well organised, to ensure you expand your skills in different directions, and all the exercises/games which are quite diverse are based on recent neuroscience research.  It used to be possible to play for free more games than the ones currently available, nevertheless you have access for free to all of them during the trial period, and there is at least access to one free game per category once the trial period expired. During the trial period, or if you become a member, you can even find out how you compare on the different categories with your age peers, and you can see your progress following your training. I have enjoyed playing all the games, some being for me clearly more challenging such as the Dual N-Back (Watch this space as I will soon post an article specific to this type of game about becoming more clever, and YES you did read me right).

At this point I should add that I have absolutely no invested financial interest in you joining Lumosity. I just mentioned their website since even though several companies have sprung up to market the idea of “brain fitness” over the last few years, all pretty much basing their programs on neuroscience research, not all have done the rigorous testing needed to show their programs work as Lumosity have done.

Have a go for yourself! It’s free for a month and let me know what you think.

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I seem to only talk about how to age nicely and live longer at the moment. This is certainly due to my deep belief that we can learn from people who have succeeded in achieving what we want. And some of them seem to have a great handle on how to do so. Hence, once again I write on the subject :-)

I was delighted to see a video on the TED website from Dan Buettner on the subject a few months back, and since he only emphasises on what was already pointed out in studies mentioned over the last few months on this site, I thought I would share the link to the video here and the final conclusion of the speaker on the matter .

The key common points of the blue zones  – communities where people live to be 100+ -  mentioned in the video are that its elderly ( 100+):

  • Move naturally (physical activity is completely embedded in their lifestyle)
  • Have the right out look on life
    ( knowing when to downshift, and having a purpose now)
  • Eat wisely ( drink a bit of wine, eat vegetables and no over-eating)
  • Connect ( with loved ones first and then belong to a community of people that support the right lifestyle)

I hope you will enjoy the video as much as I did. On a small note, I have helped to translate this video in French to ensure that more of you could enjoy watching it as well.

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