Better Living

  • Happiness & Health
  • Exercise for health
  • Walking for Wellness
  • Stress Management
  • Understanding Sleep

Happiness & Health

Happiness and Health Go Together. It is said that ‘laughter is the best medicine'. But research backs up that happiness and health really are connected and that one's level of happiness really can impact the level of one's health. If you’re stressed out, a positive attitude can do wonders to turn your mood around. Positivity helps us be happier, healthier and more productive. Happy people likely take better care of themselves and choose healthy behaviors like eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep - over unhealthy ones. Happiness can also have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems, influence hormones and inflammation levels and speed wound healing.

Know your Happy Chemicals:

The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself. When we find something that works, we repeat it. The brain builds a “happy-chemical habit.” The human limbic system is surrounded by a huge cortex. Your limbic system and cortex are always working together to keep you alive and keep your DNA alive. Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, Endorphin etc. are called happy chemicals. When your brain releases one of these chemicals, you feel good.

When you feel good, your brain is releasing dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, or endorphin. You want more of these great feelings because your brain is designed to seek them. Each happy chemical triggers a different good feeling:

  • Dopamine produces the joy of finding things that meet your needs – ‘I got it’ feeling.
  • Endorphin produces oblivion that masks pain – often called euphoria.
  • Oxytocin produces the feeling of being safe with others – now called bonding.
  • Serotonin produces the feeling of being respected by others – pride.

We all want to form lasting habits that improve our health and wellbeing. But, it feels so hard to break routines and establish new behaviors. Changing the brain and reshaping habits takes time. Boosting your brain day-to-day with positive habits helps you move positively and productively toward your goals.

Cortisol: The Stress Hormone:

Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone and it's produced in the adrenal glands of your endocrine system. On a good day, cortisol is released into your blood stream to regulate important bodily functions (like metabolism, controlling salt and water balance, memory formation, and anti-inflammation). But when you're stressed, anxious or in a state of fear, an excessive amount of cortisol is released. Over time, this excessive cortisol wreaks havoc on your entire body and can lead to severe consequences.

Cortisol is an important hormone in the body, secreted by the adrenal glands and involved in the following functions and more:

  • Proper glucose metabolism
  • Regulation of blood pressure
  • Insulin release for blood sugar maintenance
  • Immune function
  • Inflammatory response

Positive Effects of Cortisol

Normally, cortisol is present in the body at higher levels in the morning, and at it is lowest at night. Although stress isn’t the only reason that cortisol is secreted into the bloodstream, it has been termed “the stress hormone” because it’s also secreted in higher levels during the body’s stress response and is responsible for several stress-related changes in the body.

Small increases of cortisol have some positive effects:

  • A quick burst of energy for survival reasons
  • Heightened memory functions
  • A burst of increased immunity
  • Lower sensitivity to pain
  • Helps maintain homeostasis in the body

Effects of too much Cortisol and Stress

While cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s important that the body’s relaxation response be activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress.

Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (such as those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have negative effects, such as:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle tissue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences.
  • Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, developing metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems.

Stay Balanced & Happy

To keep cortisol levels healthy and under control, the body’s relaxation response should be activated after the fight or flight response occurs. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place.

Studies confirm that cortisol levels tend to be lower when people are happier. Thus happy people tend to produce lower levels of cortisol in response to stressful situations.

Want to feel better and improve your health? Start by focusing on the things that bring you happiness. Scientific evidence suggests that positive emotions can help make life longer and healthier.

To feel better and improve your health - start by focusing on the things that bring you happiness. Scientific evidence suggests that positive emotions can help make life longer and healthier.

Exercise for Health

Sound vital health leads to successful living. The best way to improve your health is through regular exercise. Human body is an amazing and fascinating organism, which works BEST when it’s active.

Human body was designed to move. When we sit down, electrical activity shuts off in the leg muscles. Calorie burning is significantly reduced and lipase, an enzyme in the legs that assists with the breakdown of fat, dramatically and rapidly drops. After two hours of sitting, HDL (the so-called good cholesterol) levels drop by 20 percent. After 24 hours of sitting, insulin effectiveness drops 24 percent and the risk for diabetes rises. Sitting increases the risk of death up to 40 percent.

Inactivity is killing people and is arguably one of the greatest threats of our time. The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that physical inactivity constitutes the fourth leading cause of death globally, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.

There are two major types of exercise - Aerobic and Anaerobic.

Aerobic Exercise:

These are fast paced exercises. These burn heavy calories. These increase breathing rate and oxygen consumption is increased. That is why these are called aerobic. These provide beneficial changes in respiratory & circulatory systems. The exercises include running, jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing, skipping ropes etc. Brisk walking is included in this type of exercise.

High resistance aerobics include rowing, running, stairs climbing and cycling. For a higher resistance the muscles have to work harder. This results in greater muscle mass and also burn calories. Walking, running on flat ground and aerobic dancing are few ways of low resistance aerobics. Like high resistance aerobic exercises this also has cardiovascular benefits but has no perceivable impact on muscular mass.

Anaerobic Exercises:

Anaerobic means without air or oxygen. In this type of exercises, the oxygen consumption is more as compared to its availability. These are high intensity exercises that burn the calories and direct energy. The stored energy in muscles becomes the source of energy. This helps you gain more strength. These improve the muscular endurance, power and your capacity for other functions.

Levels of Physical Activity:

There are two basic levels of physical activity.

  • Moderate: This includes walking briskly (about 5-6 KM in an hour), climbing, gardening/yard work, dancing, walking short distances for fetching milk and vegetables, bicycling (about 16 KM in an hour), and weight training (a general light workout), yogasanas and pranayama, playing with children.
  • Vigorous: Examples are running/jogging (7 KM in an hour), cycling (> 16 KM in an hour), swimming (freestyle laps), aerobics, brisk walking (6 KM in an hour), weight lifting (vigorous effort), competitive sports and heavy yard work, such as digging, cutting wood.

If a physical activity does not increase the heart rate, it is not intense enough to be counted in the category of “45 minutes of exercise a day”. Activities that do not increase the heart rate include walking at a casual pace, grocery shopping, and doing light household chores.

Types of Physical Activities:

These activities are very beneficial to health.

Aerobic Activities:

These speed your heart rate and breathing while improving heart and lung fitness. Examples: brisk walking, jogging and swimming.

Resistance, Strength Building and Weight-Bearing Activities:

These help build and maintain bones and muscles by working them against gravity. Lifting weights, walking with child in arms are a few examples.

Balance and Stretching Activities:

Dancing, gentle stretching, yoga, martial arts and Tai chi reduce risk of injuries by improving physical stability and flexibility.

Health Benefits of Physical Activity:

  • Controls body weight and composition.
  • Reduces risk chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure,
  • heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and certain types of cancers.
  • Builds strong muscles, bones and joints.
  • Improves flexibility.
  • Wards off depression.
  • Improves mood, sense of well-being and self esteem.

A minimum 30-45 minutes brisk walk/physical activity of moderate intensity improves overall health. Include ‘warm-up’and ‘cool- down’ periods, before and after the exercise regimen. Forty five minutes per day of moderate intensity physical activity provides many health benefits.

People with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis and obesity should consult physician before taking up the exercise program. Men over 40 and women over 50 should also consult doctor or health care provider before starting a vigorous physical activity program.

Walking for Wellness

Walking is the best and simplest form of aerobic exercise. A brisk walk has tremendous benefits to your body and mind. The best thing is it can be performed by all persons of any age and at any stage of life. It has only advantage and NO disadvantage in its regime. According to a study by the Harvard Medical School, walking for just 2.5 hours a week, which is 21 minutes a day can cut the risk of heart disease by 30%.

It has been termed as ‘best exercise’ because it works in many ways:

  • Walking is natural phenomenon.
  • Walking is the only exercise that gives all the benefits which aerobic exercises can provide.
  • Walking is easier because you have been walking since you were one year old. You need not learn it.
  • Walking is the safest and injury free exercise known till date.
  • Walking is most inexpensive.
  • Walking improves strength of the body muscles and their flexibility as a whole. It includes almost all the muscle groups of the body.
  • Walking can be practiced at any age without any fear of prejudice.
  • Walking is the best exercise to keep body fit because this activity involves most of the organs of all the systems in your body.
  • Walking is the best prescription for longevity. ‘Walk longer and live longer’ is a very old saying.
  • Walking can be done anytime, anywhere alone or in company of anyone.
  • Walking can be done even when on eis sick, pregnant or in recovery stage.
  • Walking is ideal to combat stress and worries of life.
  • Walking is best to prevent many health problems specially involving musculoskeletal system even in old age.
  • Walking is the only exercise which is practiced as a curative measure for so many diseases.
  • Walking has a synergetic action that means it burns calories but provides fresh energy with a greater stamina.
  • Walking is a universal stress reliever. It energizes and helps you relax and copes with anything that life throws at you especially at work place.
  • Walking improves & boosts up immune system.
  • Walking provides the feeling of well being. Endorphin, a chemical is provided by pituitary gland which results mood lifting and has pain relieving effect.
  • Walking tones up neuromuscular system and builds up your strength. Body gains strength & flexibility.
  • Walking improves your figure to maintain your body in shape i.e, flatter tummies with trimmer thighs.
  • Walking is rated as the best way to burn fat deposit all over the body.

Hundreds of benefits can be obtained by walking which can keep you healthy, happy & successful. Walking provides the same metabolic, anti-inflammatory, and hormonal benefits that you’d expect from any other kind of exercise and several studies have found it helpful overall for managing all kinds of chronic diseases.

Free Radicals

Your body functions depend entirely on oxygen. It is involved in thousands of chemical reactions going on in the cells. It is also essential for energy production in each and every 60 trillion human body cells. When cells utilize oxygen they create molecules of transformed oxygen like superoxide, hydrolylradicals hydrogen peroxide. These are collectively known as free radicals. These are by products of burning fuel for energy within the cells.

These are highly reactive molecules which react with molecules of the vicinity and cause damaging. Daily walk has substantial input on free radicals and prevents damage caused by these. Walking helps improve the metabolic response to a meal even in obese teenagers who were fed a high-sugar diet.

30 minutes of walking after a meal improved blood sugar control in diabetics. 30 minutes of daily walking improved blood lipids and inflammation markers in otherwise sedentary participants.

There’s also some evidence that walking can help improve chronic pain, reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis, and improve motor function and quality of life in multiple sclerosis and cancer patients. It’s true that walking doesn’t burn as many calories as jogging or more intense exercise. Walking this much at a slow pace of 2 miles per hour can be enough to lower your risk of things like heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure by 31%. People who walked farther and faster got even more benefit. WHO recommends 8000 steps a day for a perfect balance of healthy mind, body & soul.

Stress Management

Stress is a common problem that affects almost all of us at some point in our lives. Learning to identify when you are under stress, what is stressing you, and different ways of coping with stress can greatly improve both your mental and physical well being.

For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond. Yet if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health.

Too much stress can have negative impacts on your health. When stress starts interfering with your ability to live a normal life for an extended period, it becomes dangerous. The longer the stress lasts, the worse it is for both your mind and body. You might feel fatigued, unable to concentrate or irritable for no good reason. But chronic stress causes wear and tear on your body, too.

Common Effects of Stress

Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts, your feelings and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you managing them. Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems.

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or under eating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Stress is exhausting for both the body and mind.

Stressors have a major influence upon mood, our sense of well-being, behavior, and health. Acute stress responses in young, healthy individuals may be adaptive and typically do not impose a health burden. However, if the threat is unremitting, particularly in older or unhealthy individuals, the long-term effects of stressors can damage health. High-pressure workdays, long commutes, raising kids, not enough sleep or exercise, trying to make ends meet etc - the accumulated stresses of everyday life can damage your health in irreversible ways - from early aging to blood pressure to heart problems to long-term disability.

Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge. Chronic stress may increase your risk of developing type2 diabetes. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can also upset your digestive system. You’re more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux due to an increase in stomach acid. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers (a bacterium called H. pylori often does), but it can increase your risk for them and cause existing ulcers to act up.

Stress can also affect the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, or a stomachache. Stress can also affect your muscular system, Sexuality and reproductive system. Stress stimulates the immune system. But over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders.

Stress Management

If you have stress symptoms, taking steps to manage your stress can have numerous health benefits. Act before it's too late. Healthy habits can protect you from the harmful effects of stress. Here are few positive healthy habits you may want to develop.

  • Talk with family and friends.
  • Engage in daily physical activity.
  • Embrace the things you are able to change.
  • Remember to laugh.
  • Give up the bad habits.
  • Slow down.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Get organized.
  • Practice giving back.
  • Try not to worry

Effective stress management techniques can help counter the negative effects of stress in your life. Empower yourself by taking actions to control your stress level. Set goals that are reasonable to achieve.

Understanding Sleep

Sleep is an important part of your daily routine and we spend about one-third of our time doing it. Sleep is as essential for your well-being as food and water. Quality sleep - and getting enough of it at the right times is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.

Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.

There are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (which has three different stages). Each is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity. You cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep several times during a typical night, with increasingly longer, deeper REM periods occurring toward morning.

  • Stage 1 non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches. Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns.
  • Stage 2 non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep. Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and muscles relax even further. Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop. Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity. You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.
  • Stage 3 non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep. Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you. Brain waves become even slower.

For most adults - 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, however some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10.

Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

Sleep & Disease Connection

Sleep and sleep-related problems play a role in a large number of human disorders and affect almost every field of medicine. For example, problems like stroke and asthma attacks tend to occur more frequently during the night and early morning, perhaps due to changes in hormones, heart rate, and other characteristics associated with sleep. Sleep also affects some kinds of epilepsy in complex ways. REM sleep seems to help prevent seizures that begin in one part of the brain from spreading to other brain regions, while deep sleep may promote the spread of these seizures. Sleep deprivation also triggers seizures in people with some types of epilepsy.

Neurons that control sleep interact closely with the immune system. As anyone who has had the flu knows, infectious diseases tend to make us feel sleepy. This probably happens because cytokines, chemicals our immune systems produce while fighting an infection, are powerful sleep-inducing chemicals. Sleep may help the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an attack. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction.

Sleeping problems occur in almost all people with mental disorders, including those with depression and schizophrenia. People with depression, for example, often awaken in the early hours of the morning and find themselves unable to get back to sleep. The amount of sleep a person gets also strongly influences the symptoms of mental disorders.

Extreme sleep deprivation can lead to a seemingly psychotic state of paranoia and hallucinations in otherwise healthy people and disrupted sleep can trigger episodes of mania (agitation and hyperactivity) in people with manic depression. Sleeping problems are common in many other disorders as well, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, cancer, and head injury. These sleeping problems may arise from changes in the brain regions and neurotransmitters that control sleep, or from the drugs used to control symptoms of other disorders. Once sleeping problems develop, they can add to a person’s impairment and cause confusion, frustration, or depression. Patients who are unable to sleep also notice pain more and may increase their requests for pain medication. Better management of sleeping problems in people who have other disorders could improve these patients’ health and quality of life.

Sleep Disorders:

Millions of people suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders and many experience occasional sleeping problems. These disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation interfere with work, driving, and social activities. Doctors have described more than 70 sleep disorders, most of which can be managed effectively once they are correctly diagnosed. The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.

Benefits of Good Sleep:

  • Sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
  • Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity. Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity in other age groups as well.
  • Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested.
  • Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
  • Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Sleep also plays a role in puberty and fertility.
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy.

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep:

  • Set a schedule - Go to bed on a set time every day
  • Exercise & follow active lifestyle
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
  • Avoid blue light (mobile/computer screen) before going to bed.
  • Relax before bed (a warm bath, reading or any other relaxing routine)
  • Maintain a comfortable room temperature
  • Keep your bed room free from mosquito, bugs etc.

One should visit a doctor if there is any sleeping problem.