Physical Issues

healthy_bodyHealthy Body, Healthy Mind

Although it isn’t something that I do, it is helpful to remember that working directly with the body is sometimes exactly what it takes to solve a health problem.

In addition to work with couples who have had trouble with physical intimacy we’ve seen bodywork help in a number of other situations –

  1. Yoga has been an incredibly powerful practice for many people with problems with depression.

  2. We often recommend that our patients consider working with a trainer if they are having trouble with depression and weight gain.

  3. We have also seen bodywork be very helpful for people with complicated mixtures of problems with intimacy and past trauma.

The problem tends to be finding really good practitioners (people who are competent, and people who have good boundaries and ethics)… and finding practitioners who know the limits of what they do – what they can help with and what they can’t.

Health problems fundamentally challenge our sense of self and safety in the world. Those people who are able to maintain equanimity in the face of medical disease and aging are truly admirable.

There must be about a million articles about how to accomplish this – so I am not sure that what I have to say adds much to the literature – but here goes… This is my list of the things that seem to help.

  1. Generativity and Buildling the Future. Erik Erikson came up with the term “generativity” in the 1950′s to describe successful adaptation to being older. By it he meant the ability to invest in helping the next generation to build successful lives, and to find meaning in that activity. The MacArthur Foundation on successful adaptation to aging similarly found that volunteering was one key hallmark of successful aging.

  2. Physical activity. Refusing to retreat from physical activity, gently but consistently challenging oneself physically.

  3. Mental challenges. Solving problems, crosswords, Scrabble, publishing, writing blogs, engaging in active conversations (electronic or otherwise) with people who are challenging.

  4. Vibrant relationships. Having people who care but also challenge one. Something other than “there there.” Serious and thoughtful questions that derive from really listening.

  5. Getting help for depression. Depression and discouragement are potentially fatal in older age and when dealing with chronic medical conditions. It is easy to begin to accept decline without making any effort to continue to be challenged. And that is a one way ticket to unhappiness and poor health

An Active Brainbrain-on-videogames-main

A wonderful older man who came to see us three years ago for help with a severe depression, has long been enthusiastic about the value of computer programs designed to help improve brain function.

A recent study, reported in Psych News, supports his enthusiasm.

Karen Miller, Ph.D an associate clinical professor of neuroscience and human behavior at UCLA , and her associates conducted a study to determine whether or not computerized brain exercises have an effect on the cognitive abilities of older adults.

The study included 69 cognitively normal older individuals. Their memory and language skills were tested, and they were then randomized to engage in an eight-week computer memory-training program or to be wait-listed for it.

Their memory and language skills were also tested two months and six months after the start of the study. Use of the program led to improved delayed memory scores after two months and six months. Also, anyone who used the

program for more than 40 sessions improved in terms of not just delayed memory, but immediate memory and language abilities.

“These results suggest that this form of computerized cognitive training may have its greatest benefit when used consistently for at least two months (or the equivalent of 40 sessions) or more,” the researchers concluded.

The findings also dovetail with the passionate conviction of Dilip Jeste, M.D., former APA president and chair in aging at the University of California, San Diego, that seniors can continue to function at a high level. “Studies across species have shown that brain growth and development are not restricted to childhood, but continue into old age,” he said.

“Blood vessels, synapses, even neurons can grow in certain parts of the

brain–provided there is optimal psychosocial and physical stimulation.”

imagesExercise for Optimal Physical and Mental Health

A great way to gain both physical and mental strength is to make running a part of your workout. A lifestyle that includes running promotes well being and reaps both cognitive and mental benefits. When running, the body releases endogenous opioids, like endorphins, that relieve stress. The feeling some people call a runner’s high is due to the activation of the frontolimbic brain areas that improve mood.

Running also increases personal self esteem and confidence. After conquering a huge distance, individuals feel unstoppable and as if they could accomplish anything. Running can help establish a sense of discipline or motivation that will translate to many different facets of life.

A lot of people also don’t realize how helpful running is to our mental health as well. Along with endorphins, running sparks the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. When running, your brain takes a break from the worries, stress, and anxiety that we sometimes face in everyday life. The increased oxygen we are exposed to makes the body more alert and attentive.

Cognitive benefits can also surface from running. Running has been shown to cause structural changes in the hippocampus that lead to increased learning, memory, and neurodegeneration prevention.

If you find you are spending too much time sitting at home and are looking for a new activity, then running is definitely worth a shot! A good run will help you look great, feel balanced, and learn how to channel self discipline and motivation.