Jeanne Tripplehorn 06.10.1963

Posts Tagged ‘aging’

Stress Reduction Tip #2: Breathing

10.25.13

Who knew that something so simple could reduce stress?!

 

Yes, we are talking about breathing. Let’s face it, many of us Menopaused Minds are so frazzled because we’re often carrying a lot of stress around with us. Not only is stress unpleasant, but it can really take a toll on our bodies and minds. In fact, recent research has found that high levels of stress in middle age can increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease. From the ordinary daily stressors (managing your hectic schedule, refereeing kid’s fights, work demands, etc.) to life’s whoppers (aging parents, divorce, unemployment, etc.), being stressed has become the new normal for so many of us. The great news is that we are doing something every day, every minute, without even thinking, that can help moderate your body’s response to life’s challenges.

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Breathing has been scientifically proven to be an effective stress reducer. But not just any breathing, we’re talking about deep breathing. Why is that? Our bodies’ stress responses are hardwired physiological reactions that served to protect us back in the early days of humans. Stress is what told us that we were in danger–usually in danger of not having enough food or the danger in becoming something else’s food. The body has two opposing systems that regulate our basic bodily functions (like breathing, organ function, etc.): sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When we’re in danger, the sympathetic nervous systems kicks in and we go into fight/flight/freeze mode to survive. Our hearts race, certain “non-essential” organ systems shut down  and blood rushes to our muscles in preparation to run away. Once the danger is no longer a threat, our parasympathetic system starts up and basically calms the body down, slows our heart rate, cues the shutdown systems to go back online, etc.

 

The fight/flight/freeze mode was okay when it was short lived – when we needed it because we were being chased by a lion. The problem is that now our stress tends to be more chronic. So, we end up being stuck with our sympathetic nervous system in overdrive. Our body gets tired and glitchy. We get sick more, our energy drops, we’re more irritable, and we even have a harder time losing weight, either from eating more to cope with stress or due to the body holding onto fat b/c of the perceived threat to survival!

 

So, how is breathing going to help? When we engage in deep, slow breathing, we actually cue our parasympathetic system that we’re not in life threatening danger and we can chill out.  Your breathing is strongly tied to our heart rate. Ever notice how when you get worked up about something, either fear or anger, your heart rate picks up, and your breathing becomes faster. So, deep breathing helps slow down the heart, muscle tension eases, pain can even decrease, blood pressure goes down, and mental alertness increases, and even the pH of our blood changes. The amazing thing about all of this is that you can get results even with doing as little as 3 or 5 minutes of deep breathing!

 

Want to try it?

Here’s a very basic example of a 3 minute breathing practice :

(adapted from Breathing, Stretching, Relaxing Program, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System–yes, veterans are doing this and they love it!)

 

Sit upright and gently maintain a natural spine alignment with your hands resting comfortably on your lap.

 

Either close your eyes or gaze at something on the wall or floor.

 

Breathe normally and just notice your breath. Notice how the air feels sweeping into and out of your nose. Notice how your body moves with each breath. Notice the pace of your breath, the length of each inhale and exhale. Your mind might wander. If it does, just bring your attention back to your breath.

 

Start to breath more deeply, from deep down in your abdomen. Count your inhale and exhale length and try to get them to match. Once they’re in sync, try breathing this way three times.

 

The key to stimulating that parasympathic response is to spend some time breathing out longer than you breath in. For example, you can practice by counting your breath rate, say 1, 2, 3, 4 in, and 1, 2, 3, 4 out, a few times. Then do 1, 2, 3, 4, in, and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 out, a few times. You can work your way up to a count of 8 out and then back down to 4.

 

Here are more resources on breathing exercises and guided practices:

UCLA Mindfulness Research Center
Dr. Weil Guided Breathing Exercises
6 Breathing Exercises to Relax  in 10 min or Less (TIME)

 

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Vitamin D & Menopause: Put a Lil’ Sunshine in Your Life

2.6.12

 

Here comes the sun…doo dooo, doo doo. Okay, depending on where you live, this may not be happening anytime soon.

 

If the sunlight is scarce or it’s too cold to go outside in your neck of the woods, you might not be getting enough vitamin D.  Unfortunately, rates of vitamin D deficiency are particularly high amongst post-menopausal women. What’s the big deal, right? Well, not only does vitamin D play a critical role in the absorption of calcium, low levels of it  have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, and breast cancer, as well as lower cognitive functioning and slower information processing speed. Yikes! We’d say that’s a pretty big deal.

 

Lengthy sunbathing is frowned upon for a variety of reasons (for example, skin cancer and, eh hem, wrinkles) and anyway, who really wants to get into a bikini?  But the problem is that our major source of vitamin D is from sunlight on exposed skin – skin without sunscreen.   It’s recommended that we be out in the sun for at least 15 minutes, three to four times a week.  If you can’t get this much sunlight, vitamin D is also available in some fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna.

 

 

As mentioned in Science Daily (1/10/12) low vitamin D levels are so prevalent in Europe (50 to 70% of the population) that the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) has recommended that post-menopausal women take supplements.  They’re so concerned about this vitamin D deficiency epidemic that they’re calling upon the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the issue.

 

Here, closer to home, the North American Menopause Society recommends a daily intake of 800-1,000 IU either through 15 minutes of sun exposure daily (again, without a sunscreen), diet, or supplementation. So if the sun is shining – get out there and enjoy it. It’s good for you…and your mind!


What do the Super Bowl and Menopause have in common? Madonna!

2.5.12

 

We’re not your typical Super Bowl fans. But this Sunday, there’s something you may want to witness…Madonna, at age 53, will be performing during the halftime show!  We hear pom poms will be involved so this may be your chance for 12 minutes of aerobic exercise.

 

Aerobic exercise is just about the best thing you can do to maintain that memory muscle… it’s no wonder Madonna still remembers all of those lyrics and choreography.


If this isn’t proof that life’s not over when you hit menopause, we don’t know what is!


Relationships: The Menopause Test

1.15.12

As you’ve probably figured out by now, menopause can wreak some serious havoc on your mind, body, and relationships. Which actually might not be such a bad thing. If this sound familiar to you, Dr. Hyman, a functional medicine expert known for the Ultra-wellness series and one of Dr. Ozs favorite guests, recommends that you take a peak at The Wisdom of Menopause, a menopause wellness guide by Christine Northrup, MD. One thing she points out is how a Menopaused Mind can actually offer you a creative and social renaissance!

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Northrup’s book that Dr. Hyman highlights in his most recent post:

“It is no secret that relationship crises are a common side effect of menopause. Usually this is attributed to the crazy-making effects of the hormonal shifts occurring in a woman’s body at this time of transition. What is rarely acknowledged or understood is that as these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, they give a woman a sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them. In other words, they uncover hidden wisdom—and the courage to voice it. As the vision-obscuring veil created by the hormones of reproduction begins to lift, a woman’s youthful fire and spirit are often rekindled, together with long-sublimated desires and creative drives. Midlife fuels those drives with a volcanic energy that demands an outlet.


“If it does not find an outlet—if the woman remains silent for the sake of keeping the peace at home or work, or if she holds herself back from pursuing her creative urges and desires—the result is equivalent to plugging the vent on a pressure cooker: Something has to give. Very often what gives is the woman’s health, and the result will be one or more of the “big three” diseases of postmenopausal women: heart disease, depression, and breast cancer. On the other hand, for those of us who choose to honor the body’s wisdom and to express what lies within us, it’s a good idea to get ready for some boat rocking, which may put long-established relationships in upheaval. Marriage is not immune to this effect.”


Check out the rest of Dr. Hyman’s post for Dr. Northrup’s tips on navigating those stormy social waters.

 


Memory Tip #4: Avoid Multitasking!

1.7.12

As the holidays approached, my girlfriend Tina began calling her cat Seymour. Her cat’s name is Garvey.  Seymour was the cat who lived next door many, many years ago. Tina wasn’t dementing. She wasn’t losing her memory. She was just another victim of Holiday Haze - a state of mind that occurs when you try to keep track of way too many things at one time and usually gets worse around the holidays.


Multitasking, keeping “too many balls in the air” or mental tracking (as psychologists call it), requires a great deal of attention and it’s exhausting. In fact, in terms of using up the brain’s energy, multitasking  is very expensive. Think about it this way: when you have a ton of programs running on your computer, it’s processing speed just isn’t as fast as when you’re only checking your e-mail.  Mental tracking is also a cognitive skill that declines dramatically with age. Hooray.

 

 

Unfortunately, we tend to beat ourselves up when we can’t manage everything as well as we  used to. Even though my gal pals now work full time, they’re still the ones who remain determined to create the perfect family holiday: festive decorations, yummy sweet treats, merry gatherings and thoughtful gifts for everyone. The need to recreate a 1950s vision of the holidays is probably nuts, but it seems that most moms suffer from this delusion. Mom may be the glue that holds the family together but she’s starting to melt!

 

 

So how do we avoid the overload of multitasking ? Here’s how:


1) Cut out anything superfluous. Learn to say “no” to commitments and delegate tasks to others. Acknowledge that you only have so much cognitive capacity and if  you commit to handling too much, you’re going to probably do a crummy job of it, or worse, drive yourself batty. Keep in mind that this will require some of us control freaks to get comfortable with others helping out and doing things their way. I know, perish the thought. But remember that this is all in the name of saving your brain. Trust us. Real Simple offers some great tips on how to politely say “no” to extra commitments.


2) Don’t try to juggle details or hold information in your mind, write it down, make a list, add it to your “log of the dayand then dismiss it. Keeping things off of your brain’s hard drive will allow it to run more efficiently.


3) Get organized! Don’t waste precious cognitive energy trying to retrace your steps to find those keys and that lost mitten. Organize your life so that it requires as little extra attention as possible.


4) Try to create a quiet, distraction free environment in which to work. Even something as simple as extraneous noise or voices drains attention.  In my office, voices permeate the walls.  I have found that a simple white noise machine or the background noise from a fan improves my concentration immensely.


5) Focus on one task at a time and finish it before moving on. Tell yourself that until you finish your task, you are not allowed to check your e-mail, answer the phone or roam the internet (yes, that includes Facebook).


Obviously, we can’t completely avoid multitasking, so here’s how you can perform your best while doing it:


1) Complete your multitasking  in the morning when you are fresh and rested. As the day progresses and you get fatigued, your skills will decline.


2) Eat a piece of fruit in the afternoon. The brain relies on glucose (sugar) and when glucose is depleted, attention skills suffer.  If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, keep prunes, raisins or cranberry juice on hand. Your attention should improve and you’ll be  getting those important antioxidents as well.


3) Avoid stress. Worries use up brain energy and diminish our ability to pay attention. (Yes, easier said than done, but we’ll be posting a list of some stress busters soon. Stay tuned!)


4) Avoid alcohol. Surprise, surprise: alcohol impairs our ability to perform tasks that require a lot of attention.  Now, before you throw your laptop across the room in protest, there’s good news: At the end of the day, when the multitasking demands are over, that one margarita may not be such a bad thing. In fact, in the long run, it might even improve your memory. Say what? Yes, you read that right! Cheers!

 

 

 

Menopause Mind Proof: Not Losing Memory, But Brain Works Harder

12.8.11

Although we’ve been convinced that the Menopause Mind is real for a while now, hence this blog, finding empirical support for the connection between menopause and memory declines has been as easy as finding those car keys you left in the fridge.

 

Well, it seems like we’re both right and wrong. The Los Angeles Times just ran an piece on the findings of a recent study designed to examine whether or not post-menopausal women complaining of memory problems performed significantly worse on memory tests than women who did not share these complaints.  Researchers at the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 22 women while they worked on various memory tasks. It turns out that the performance of the 12 women who complained of memory problems on these tests was no different from that of the 10 women who claimed that their memory was fine.

But, the researcher’s also found that the brains of the complainers were much more active than the non-complainers. Specifically, the action was increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in intellectual functioning and working memory, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in a variety of autonomic  functions (think blood pressure,  heart rate) and cognitive functioning including decision making, learning and emotion.

 

So, what does this mean for you? Even though you feel like your memory is shot  (the subjective experience of menopause mind), it may not really be that bad (your objective memory ability), but your brain is probably working overtime to compensate for memory slips.  To us, this translates to the following:  if you feel like you have memory problems, they probably exist, but your brain kicks into high gear to make up for them. Keep in mind that this study was done with 22 women, all of whom were post-menopausal. They did not compare post-menopausal women with pre-menopausal women  This does not yet support the theory that physiological changes during menopause cause memory deficits. But it seems we’re one step closer to grasping the workings of the mind’s mysterious metamorphosis during and after menopause than we had been–although not entirely there.

 

The LA Times piece also includes a discussion of the findings from another recent study that examined hormone changes and brain matter. To put it very simply, they examined the brains of women before and after a brief round of hormone therapy (increased estrogen). They found an increase in the density of grey matter after hormone therapy. This suggests that hormones may influence brain’s functioning by playing a role in how much grey matter–the more grey matter, the better your cognitive functioning. But it’s still unclear what exactly is going on.  The University of Vermont and Vanderbilt researchers plan to test hormone therapy as a way to improve memory among the complainers.  Or, maybe they’ll just get them to stop complaining. We’ll keep you posted.