Monday, March 29, 2010

Short Bursts of Activity Ease Fibromyalgia

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 29, 2010 -- Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing if you are among the 10 million Americans living with the chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia. Yet a new study shows that incorporating short bursts of physical activity into the day makes fibromyalgia patients feel and function better. The findings appear in Arthritis Research & Therapy.

"Just trying to accumulate a little more physical activity throughout the normal course of the day, as opposed to engaging in traditional exercise, can improve self-reported measures of functioning and pain among people with fibromyalgia," lead researcher Kevin Fontaine, PhD, an assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, tells WebMD in an email. "You don't necessarily have to do traditional exercise to reap some benefits, [and] this may motivate people with fibromyalgia who find it difficult to stick with traditional exercise to simply try to get a little more active during the day."

In the 12-week study of 84 people with fibromyalgia, people who incorporated 30 minutes' worth of lifestyle physical activity into their days five to seven days a week took 54% more steps per day than their counterparts who participated in a fibromyalgia education program, which discussed the importance of physical activity in the treatment of this disease, but did not provide any specific recommendations. The lifestyle physical activity group also reported fewer perceived deficits in their physical function and less pain than people in the disease education group, the study showed.

What Is Lifestyle Physical Activity?

Lifestyle physical activity refers to finding ways to accumulate short bursts of physical activity into the day. This can be walking more, gardening, taking the stairs, or really anything that gets you moving more. The current school of thought suggests that such small bursts of exercise throughout the day can be as effective as exercising for 30 consecutive minutes.

"There is probably no single good or best exercise or lifestyle physical activity prescription for people with fibromyalgia because there is such variability in symptoms between people," he says. "For many, walking is helpful, but some may prefer water exercise or cycling."

The bottom line? "The best exercise or lifestyle physical activity is the one that a person can stick with and one that doesn't significantly worsen their symptoms," Fontaine says. "The main thing is for people with fibromyalgia to try to do something physical just about every day."

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kindness Rules Survival?

[Excerpted from the original article, link for complete article at bottom of page.]

Do Kinder People Have an Evolutionary Advantage?

By Yasmin Anwar, UC Berkeley
Posted on March 4, 2010, Printed on March 29, 2010

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it "survival of the kindest."

Empathy in our genes

Keltner's team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

Informally known as the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

"The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene," Rodrigues said.

The more you give, the more respect you get

...according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield.

"The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated," Willer said. "But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status."

"Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish," he added.

Cultivating the greater good

Such results validate the findings of such "positive psychology" pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

"I've found that parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become," said Carter, author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents" which will be in bookstores in February 2010. "What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become."

The sympathetic touch

Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

"Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch," Keltner said.

"This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin's observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct," Keltner said.

View this story online at:

c. 2010 UC Berkeley All rights reserved.

Drop the chitchat and get serious

Drop the chitchat and get serious

Small talk may be common, but it doesn't do much to nourish our sense of well-being. Compared with people who rated themselves as more unhappy, people who were happiest spent 70% more time talking, had one-third as much small talk and twice as many substantive conversations.

Researchers came to their conclusions by having a group of 79 college students wear a tape recorder for four days and eavesdropping on their conversations. The students also were given tests to measure happiness and personality.

The findings "demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary, and conversationally deep rather than superficial," the authors, from the University of Arizona and Washington University in St. Louis, wrote.

It's not clear, however, whether happy people attract others for deep conversation or whether deep conversation makes people happier. Further research should be done, they said, to see if having more substantive conversations helps unhappy people become happier.

The study is published online in the journal Psychological Science.

-- Shari Roan

Thanks Marie for sharing this!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PBS: The Buddha, new film and great blog

PBS has a beautiful website developed for the new film, The Buddha, A Film by David Grubin, which is scheduled to air April 7. The Discussion link takes you to a blog filled with entries from many gifted and knowledgeable Buddhist teachers with articles on all kinds of related topics including attachment, meditation, loving-kindness, empathy & compassion, family life, relationships, and grief. You can also play Mahjong on the website, as well as access Educational Resources .

Monday, March 22, 2010

Botox and Emotions

It's been a while since I read something truly innovative and interesting, worth posting here. What this article is referring to is the brain-body-emotion feedback loop between the facial muscles and the emotion centers of the brain. -jd

It turns out that Botox can actually short circuit a person’s ability to feel unhappy. Because of the apparent validation of something called the, “Facial Feedback Hypothesis”, the fact that Botox prevents frowning… also short circuits one’s ability to fully feel the emotions associated with it.

David Havas of the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to study people who had received Botox treatments that paralyzed one pair of their corrugator muscles, which cause the forehead to constrict into a frown.

The idea was to see whether Botox affected the ability to feel certain emotions.

He had 40 volunteers who were planning to be Botoxed in two weeks read statements with particular emotional charge segmented into three categories:

Angry (”the pushy telemarketer won’t let you return to your dinner”)
Sad (”you open your e-mail inbox on your birthday to find no new e-mails”),
Happy (”the water park is refreshing on the hot summer day.”).

After reading each sentence, the volunteers pushed a button to indicate they had understood it.

Then, two weeks after their Botox injections, they repeated the exercise, reading and understanding another list of emotion-producing sentences. The volunteers pressed the “I’ve read and understood this” button just as quickly when the sentence conveyed something happy.

But when it conveyed something infuriating or unhappy… people took longer to read and understand it.

The emotions simply did not compute as easily as before their sadness and anger muscles were paralyzed.

“Normally, the brain would be sending signals to the periphery to frown, and the extent of the frown would be sent back to the brain,” UW-Madison professor emeritus of psychology Arthur Glenberg (and Havas’s adviser) said in a statement.

“But here, that loop is disrupted, and the intensity of the emotion and of our ability to understand it when embodied in language is disrupted.”

The research is part of a exciting field called “embodied cognition,” which posits that all our cognitive processes are rooted in, and reflected in, the body. I think this is very interesting.

Some very interesting questions come to mind if this is replicated. Can we simply paralyze certain expressions out of existence? Can we simulate “happy” expressions somehow in order to help people experience deeper levels of happiness?

This also seems to demonstrate just how complicated our emotional lives are. It kind of flies in the face of the notion that all you have to do is think yourself into certain states of being - it appears you need a body that can cooperate!

Anyway, I would love to know what you think about this! Please do comment.

*source: University of Wisconsin
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