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Add a little more music to your life.

In 2016 I wrote and posted here an article on the power of music that summarized over a dozen benefits of music. It included its beneficial impact on stress, creativity, pain, depression, healing, sleep, fatigue, memory, performance, blood pressure and more.

But music affects different areas of the brain in different ways. For example, sad music can make some people feel sad while not affecting others. A moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity while loud noises can impede creativity. Listening to music can drown out fatigue during low or moderate-intensity exercise, but not during high-intensity exercise, and so on.

With music, in some cases it’s a trial and error process of determining what works for you.

Music can actually distract us while driving – although most people believe otherwise. Studies have shown that it is safer not to listen to your favourite music. Drivers listening to their own choice of music made more mistakes and drove more aggressively. It would appear that unfamiliar or uninteresting music is better when it comes to driving safely.

Although the above comments indicate that music is not a panacea for health and happiness, research keeps revealing more and more advantages of introducing music into our lives at any age.

An article from New York Times magazine stated that “surrounding ourselves with music and an environment and décor from our younger years can help keep our attitudes young.

Ephraim P. Engleman, a noted rheumatologist who was still active before he died at 104, when interviewed for an article on aging in the January, 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest, claimed that “playing music is a real stimulus, and very, very good for the soul.”

Research has pointed to the astounding effects of learning an instrument; one study carried out by the Radiological Society of North America found that taking music lessons increases brain fibre connections in children, which is why music is such an important part of learning.

Doctors are recommending that older people learn to play a musical instrument to keep their brain young; much in the way that brain games enhance important skills such as problem solving and creativity, music, too, can keep the brain sharp, staving off memory loss and dementia.

Pat Martino was one of the most original of the jazz-based guitarists to emerge in the 1960s, made a remarkable comeback after brain surgery in 1980 to correct an aneurysm that caused him to lose his memory and completely forget how to play. It took years, but he regained his ability, partly by listening to his older records.

Music is used to rev up spectators at hockey games and other sporting events – so it might rev you up as well if you find life is not as exciting as it used to be.

And anything that helps develop cognitive reserve is worth some time.

 

 

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Develop a positive attitude

We can grow old physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually or we can simply continue to mature in all of these areas until the day we die. Yes, sorry about that – we will all die someday regardless. But don’t make this your goal. Don’t make death your destination. Instead, make growing older a journey, and make that journey as enjoyable and meaningful as possible. You can do this regardless of any handicaps or hang-ups you may have picked up along the way.

We could start by reminding ourselves of all the blessings – the good things that have happened to us in the past. As author J. Ellsworth Kales remarked, “One of the gifts of getting older is that we get to keep all the ages we’ve been.”

Never regret growing older. As musician Tom Petty once said, “If you’re not getting older, you’re dead.” (Of course if you were a Jellyfish, you would live forever if it weren’t for disease or predators. But who wants to be a Jellyfish?)

Neurologists tell us that we tend to remember the negative things that happen to us better than the positive things – except when it involves emotional events that really make an impression, such as your wedding day.

June J Pilcher, a psychologist at Clemson University, says the human brain is more attentive to negative events – probably because of a survival mechanism keeping us alert for life-threatening situations. According to the March/April, 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, this was demonstrated in two studies published in 2015 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

That seems to have held true for me. I vividly remember the day the doctor told me I had cancer. I can easily recall the surgeries throughout my life – gall bladder, appendix, and prostate – even tonsils as a youngster. (Isn’t it amazing what we can live without?) I can recall stepping on a nail as a kid, having stories rejected by magazines, and sitting on the bench most of the time as a high school basketball player, and even those really bad toothaches as a toddler.

When the brain experiences an emotional event, the amygdala releases dopamine, which helps memory and information processing. That’s the principle we use when teaching memory training and overcoming absentmindedness. For more details on specific memory training techniques, see my book, Boost your memory and sharpen your mind, published by Bookboon.com.

We should remind ourselves of those things we take for granted, such as never having to go hungry or having loving parents or healthy children or great friends and so on. This will put us in a more positive frame of mind. As we will see later, a positive attitude helps to promote health, happiness and longevity. So put a positive spin on life. It’s the healthy thing to do.

Dr. Edward Creagan in his book How not to be my patient refers to research indicating that pessimists have a 19 percent shorter lifespan than optimists. Bernie Siegel in his book Love, Medicine and Miracles mentions research that reported a ten-year survival rate of 75 percent among cancer patients who reacted to the diagnosis with a fighting spirit, compared with a 22 percent survival rate among those who saw their situation as hopeless.

A negative attitude can cause stress and lower the body’s immune system. One Harvard study showed that those with the most negative attitudes at 25 suffered the most illnesses in their forties, fifties and sixties. Another study involved 69 women with breast cancer who were asked three months after their surgery how they viewed their disease and how it affected their lives. 5 years later, 75% of those who had responded positively and with a fighting spirit were still alive compared with less than half the other patients. There is little doubt that attitude can have either a negative or positive impact on your health, productivity and well-being.

An agreeable personality may enhance your brain’s built-in pain-killing powers, according to an item in the March April 2013 issue of Scientific American Mind. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the brains of volunteers with more agreeable personalities released more natural painkillers, thus enhancing the placebo effect.

Exposure to non-stop negativity can disrupt learning, memory, attention and judgment according to Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. Researchers have linked negative emotions to increased risk for illness, and positive emotions to health and longevity.

A happier, healthier lifestyle is more important than ever, and along with it, an attitude that tends to stress-proof your life. It’s important to get sufficient sleep, daily exercise and social support. But it’s equally important to be aware of the good things that happen to you – those positives amid negative events.

When things look bleak, humour helps. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugher reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, aids immunity, changes mood for the better, helps you think – and improves memory.

Sandra Kornblatt, in her book, A better brain at any age, also gave an account of how humour during instruction led to increased test scores.

For sure humour is an enthusiasm builder, and some health care professionals refer to it as “internal jogging.” Since it’s contagious, it’s also good for the people who are with you. Watch comedies, read jokes and recall humorous things that have happened to you in the past.

A sense of humour may actually increase longevity. There are reasons to think so. I checked the dates of comedians – or at least those I have quoted several time in the past when I needed to add a little humour to a book or article. Over half the people I checked lived into their nineties. Two of them reached 100.

So when it comes to developing a positive attitude, having a sense of humour is no joke.

Note: The above article was excerpted from the book, How to grow older without growing old – available at our website, www.taylorintime.com.

 

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Ways to conserve your personal energy

In previous blog articles I discussed energy sources and activities that deplete your personal energy. In this article I suggest how you might conserve your energy. Much of the information is summarized from my eBook, Manage your personal energy, published by Bookboon.com.

The more you use your brain the more energy you consume. The brain draws fuel, oxygen and glucose, from blood delivered via 400 miles of blood vessels. When certain brain areas work hard at something, more blood flows to those regions to help them refuel. They do this by dilating near spots that need a supply boost. This widening causes blood to reroute. The more active your brain, the more energy is consumed. If more blood is not delivered when neurons needed, those cells might starve and cognition could suffer.

Managing your energy is like increasing gas mileage in your car. If you run the air conditioner with your windows open, exceed the recommended speed limit, drive all night, and periodically drive with your emergency brake engaged, you are going to consume a lot more gas. Similarly, you will burn more energy if you push yourself when you are tired.

You must pace yourself when you work. European experiments have shown that short, three-minute breaks every hour helps rejuvenate people more than two fifteen-minute breaks.

Whenever you use your head, you use energy; but you certainly don’t want to stop thinking. So it’s important to tap into those energy sources mentioned a few blogs ago, and prevent those energy drains referred to in last week’s blog. And if you can conserve energy as you go along, so much the better. Here are a few more tips.

Maintain an active lifestyle.

Tom Rath, in his book Eat Move Sleep, (Missionday, 2013) called sitting “the most underrated health threat of modern times.” He claims that sitting more than six hours a day greatly increases your risk of an early death.

Get up and move around, as we were created to do, rather than lead a sedentary life. Walk around while you talk on the phone, work at a stand-up desk, have stand-up meetings, take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk to the local mall instead of taking the car.

Tom Rath claims that as soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off, the number of calories you burn drops to one per minute, and enzyme production, which helps to break down fat, drops by 90%. And after sitting for two hours your good cholesterol drops by 20%.

Staying physically active, socially connected and mentally stimulated has been shown in studies to help keep brains sharp.

Don’t rush needlessly.

Speed is the enemy of both time and energy management, Life is meant to be savored, not dispensed with as quickly as possible. Slowing down will result in fewer errors, fewer accidents, a healthier lifestyle, improved relationships, and more energy for an enjoyable and memorable life.

According to Matthew Edlund in his book The Body Clock Advantage, those who don’t rush through the day in a panic, but pace themselves & work efficiently, actually survive longer. That’s a greater time management strategy than working more efficiently.

Speed consumes energy. A frantic level of activity can generate busyness without the concomitant results. And there is a difference between working fast because you want to and working fast because you have to. If you want to, it’s more relaxing and consumes less energy. So it is important to have a job that you enjoy.

Don’t skip breakfast.

Sure that cup of coffee will give you a short energy boost; but for sustained energy throughout the day, you can’t beat a good breakfast. Several studies have shown that people who eat breakfast have more energy throughout the day. You can get by just fine on a helping of low-fat yogurt, a slice of whole-grain toast and a banana or handful of nuts. But any energy gained by a coffee or doughnut will quickly dissipate.

Keep on top of your workload.

The more things in your life that you think should be done but that you leave undone, the more anxiety and stress you experience. And stress depletes your energy. Being in control of your work does the opposite. Seldom would a person think of a project they had completed or a meeting they had attended or a phone call they had made and feel stressed as a result. The opposite is true. They would feel good about themselves for having completed those things. Unfortunately that feeling doesn’t last if they think of the dozens or hundreds of things that they have yet to do.

If some things don’t get done, rest assured it’s not your fault. Your job is to do what’s possible, not what’s impossible. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Worry or anxiety weakens your immune system as well as your executive skills, and leaves you open to energy loss.

Develop routines.

Few people balk at the morning routine of taking a shower, getting dressed, brushing their teeth and so on before starting their day. It’s necessary groundwork upon which to launch their significant activities. Neither should they question the validity of developing routines for planning their day, dispensing with email, making calls, and working on their significant projects in chunks of time throughout the day.

Develop the habit of scheduling time for the priorities in advance of the day. Relegate the less important tasks to your To Do list, preferably on the same week-at-a glance planner page.

You must manage your energy in order to gain control of your time. Routines require less energy, leaving plenty for creativity, decision-making, and the mental demands of your significant projects and tasks. And the tendency to procrastinate is reduced to a minimum.

Maintain a healthy attitude.

A happier, healthier lifestyle is more important than ever, and along with it, an attitude that tends to stress-proof your life. It’s important to get sufficient sleep, daily exercise and social support. But it’s equally important to be aware of the good things that happen to you – those positives amid negative events.

Be more conscious of the things that go right in your life, and remember that when things look bleak, humour helps. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugher reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, aids immunity, changes mood for the better, helps you think – and improves memory. Exposure to non-stop negativity can disrupt learning, memory, attention and judgment according to Robert Sapolski, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. Researchers have linked negative emotions to increased risk for illness, and positive emotions to health and longevity.

It takes less energy to be happy and well than sad and dejected. So if you’re down in the dumps, climb out as quickly as possible and put a smile back on your face.

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Activities that drain your energy

In the last blog article I discussed energy sources, and this article, drawing on information from my eBook, Manage your personal energy, published by Bookboon.com, indicates how our energy is quickly depleted.

Excessive use of technology.

We seem to be obsessed with the need to stay connected, check email every few minutes, respond immediately to every email and text message we receive, interrupt ourselves from important tasks to answer our smartphones, and continually disrupt family plans and scheduled events.

Getting more things done faster is no longer limited by technology, but by our brain. Our brain has a limited capacity for processing information, and this limit is being approached and frequently passed by the ever-increasing rate at which it is being assaulted by new information.

Absorbing new information burns energy. And it takes more energy to multitask, make decisions and work on demanding tasks. To maximize brain efficiency, we must protect our brain from energy- draining activities encouraged, if not caused, by technology.

Technology was meant to speed up the completion of tasks, not the behavior of people. We must continue to use technology and all that it has to offer in order to improve both our performance and lifestyle. But we must do so in a manner that protects our health – including the health of our brain. This involves judicious use of the Internet, control of technology, and the practice of moderation as opposed to excess.

Multitasking.

In studying how the brain uses energy, scientists have learned that it’s virtually impossible to do two things at once with equal amounts of attention. And attempting to do so consumes energy.

Dr. Amir Allen Towfigh, a neurologist with Weill Cornell Medical Center claims that multitasking can jam up your brain processing. He says our frontal lobes are the main engines directing our attention, and they Whether hiring new employees or deciding to go with a new product, executives sometimes go with their gut feeling rather than plow through all the accumulated information and comparing the pros and cons In business there seems to be a preference for the quick over the right; because there are so many decisions to be made.

Daniel J Levinson, in his book The organized mind, claims that multitasking also disrupts the kind of sustained thought usually required for problem solving and creativity. He also indicated the impact of interruptions when he said the awareness of an email waiting to be answered can reduce our IQ by 10 points.

Interruptions.

Interruptions, which are a form of multitasking, also help to use up your daily supply of energy. The average smartphone user checks his or her device about 150 times a day according to the 2014 book, Thrive, by Arianne at Huffington. And according to a study conducted in 2005, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to a task once interrupted, and people spend only 11 minutes on a project before being pulled away. In addition to self-interruptions are the hundreds of daily distractions resulting from your working environment, including décor, clutter, and other people.

Distractions waste our energy; concentration focuses it. If we have reduced external distractions to a bare minimum by turning off smart phones, engaging voicemail, and working alone in the home office devoid of other people, the bulk of the distractions will still remain. The tendency of our minds to wander or daydream is a function of our reactive brain, which is always on the alert for unusual or sudden motion, sound or sightings.

Disorganization.

One U.S study mentioned in an article by Leah Etchler in The Globe & Mail (April 6, 2013) found that employees lose 76 hours per year as a result of disorganization so you have more than just energy drain to be concerned about if you are disorganized.

Disorganization definitely consumes energy, whether by searching for misplaced materials in your office or scanning dozens of folders left unfiled on your computer desktop. Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, authors of YOU: On a Diet, claim that visual clutter slows down the brain. They say that’s why clusters of road signs double the chances of missing the one you’re looking for. It also explains why website designers aim for simplicity. So clearing clutter from your desk, office and home and leaving more wide open spaces also helps to clear your mind so it will be more productive and consume less energy.

Organizing your office and home not only helps you to find things, it helps you to find purpose in life as well. According to recent research reported in the July/August, 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind, an ordered life lays the groundwork for the pursuit of larger goals, purpose, and significance.

Stress.

Fatigue and information overload tend to weaken executive skills, lower your energy level and make you more susceptible to distractions.

Excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex – an emotional learning center that helps regulate the “executive skills,” including working memory. The overproduction of cortisol was found in seniors who were experiencing memory loss. And it is believed by many neurologists that memory loss experienced by seniors is largely a factor of stress, not age. Prolonged exposure to cortisol has been shown to shrink the hippocampus by up to 14%.

In stressful situations, your weakest executive skills fail first and become more pronounced. Fatigue and information overload tend to weaken them further. Avoiding, releasing or being able to manage stress is important.

Avoiding, releasing or being able to manage stress is important. You should re-examine your workload. Simplify if possible. Delegate and outsource. Pace yourself.

Decision-making, problem solving & willpower.

They all consume energy. As far as your brain is concerned, less information frequently results in better decisions. Too many choices and too much information taxes the brain and depletes your mental energy. Researchers have found that coming to a decision often involves listening to two parts of the brain – one that relies on taking advice and the other on experience. The brain considers both views, sometimes conflicting, and makes a decision.

Experiments show that there is a finite amount of mental energy available for exerting self-control, willpower, problem solving and decision-making. Making decision after decision eventually leads to poor decisions. Similarly it has been shown that exerting willpower reduces your energy.

Too much mental exertion without breaks taxes the executive skills. In fact studies described in Scientific American Mind (May/June, 2011) have shown that people who exert themselves mentally, such as resisting the temptation to eat chocolate or whatever, gave up on problems sooner when presented with them immediately afterwards.

In the next blog article I will suggest some ways to conserve your energy.

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Tapping energy sources for peak performance.

Managing your energy is as important as managing your time. The next few blog articles will be discussing personal energy management. Most of the information was excerpted from my book, Manage your personal energy, published by Bookboon.com. Consider taking advantage of the following sources.

Sunlight

Norman Doidge, in his 2015 book, The brain’s way of healing, explains how cytochrome in all our cells converts light energy from the sun (originating 93 million miles away) into energy for our cells to use. Our eyes are not just used for sight. Every morning light-sensitive cells send electrical signals on a pathway separate from the one used for sight to cells in the brain that operate our biological clock. It’s difficult to imagine that sunlight not only warms the surfaces of our body, but is actually transported to our brain – where it sets in progress a sort of “human photosynthesis” that supplies us with energy. Not until about 2005 did researchers prove scientifically what Florence Nightingale had already shown – that natural sunlight can reduce pain, accelerate healing, and even cure some depressions. It’s a “wonder drug,” when it comes to energy.

Exercise

Although you might think exercise would consume more energy than it produces, it actually helps you to sleep better, and you feel more alert and energized as a result. A study from Northwestern University, in Chicago, showed that insomniacs who did about 40 minutes of moderate cardio between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. four times a week got an average of 75 more minutes of sleep a night.

Exercise also helps us to expel negative thoughts, and those who free their mind during exercise have more energy. According to research from California State University at Long Beach, a 10-minute walk can increase your energy for up to two hours.

Nutrition

There is little doubt that the food you eat has a significant bearing on your level of energy. Many years ago eating enough protein was suggested as a key to optimal energy. But according to a lengthy article in Prevention.com magazine, August, 2015, it’s is the good bacteria that aid in digestion and are helping you to retrieve energy from the food you eat. The author of the article, The way to a woman’s energy is through her gut, claims that the bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin, a key hormone for boosting energy – much of which is produced in your gut, not your brain.

Water

To keep yourself energized, drink plenty of water. It will help improve your mood as well as your energy. According to research conducted at the University of East London in the UK, researchers believe that bringing water into an exam room can raise students’ marks. Studies indicated that those who drank water while writing exams out-performed those who didn’t. In one study, the scores averaged 4.8% better. One explanation is that students are in a mild state of dehydration when taking exams, and drinking water corrects this. Perhaps some of us should be drinking less coffee and more water.

Working environment

Your surroundings not only impact your energy level and personal productivity, they can also affect your health, mental attitude and general well-being. For example, studies have shown that the presence of potted plants improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability. And researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners, removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

Batching consumes less energy and increases efficiency.

Batching refers to scheduling blocks of time in your planner for tasks that are similar in nature and require similar resources. Batching consumes less energy and causes less mental fatigue since you are using the same areas of the brain and not switching back and forth from one task to another or putting demands on your energy supply by having to make frequent and unrelated decisions. It also increases productivity since you are wasting less time locating materials, interrupting yourself or deciding what to do next.

Coffee

Coffee is a “good news – bad news” energy source. Although drinking too much coffee has been associated with anxiety and stress, in moderation it seems to give energy and memory a boost. A brief article in the spring, 2014 issue of Health magazine describes a link between caffeine and memory. Michael Yassa of John Hopkins University asked 60 people to view a series of images of different objects. Then, five minutes later, after receiving either a placebo or 200 milligrams of caffeine, were tested the next day on their ability to recognize images from the day before. More people from the caffeine group recognized that an image was similar to rather than identical with one they had viewed earlier. Separate research published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition also showed that one or two cups of tea a day can boost brain power and athletic performance. This held true for children as well.

Sweets

Consuming glucose when you are given a problem to solve will likely improve your performance. At least that’s what studies indicate. Glucose goes directly to the brain and feeds the neural circuits that are working on the mentally demanding tasks. Unfortunately doing this too often could lead to diabetes and sugar crash – not to mention your waistline. The brain burns glucose like a car burns gasoline, a little extra energy could be useful. But avoid a steady diet of sugary drinks and candy bars. Like most things, moderation is the key.

Building sound relationships

Strong friendships give both your physical and mental health a boost. The February, 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind reported on a quantitative review of numerous studies, concluding that having few friends is the mortality risk equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People with a close friend at work are more productive and more innovative. Strong social connections are the biggest prediction of happiness in general – and happiness has been linked to do an increase in longevity.

 

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22 ways to get more sleep

If you haven’t heard or read something on the importance of sleep within the last month or so, you haven’t been paying much attention to the media. Magazine articles, blogs, books, newsletters, newspapers, TV specials and radio reports have all covered some of the consequences of inadequate sleep. I have even written an eBook on the importance of sleep from a time management perspective titled Sleep: A time management strategy, published by Bookboon.com.

I have already written past blog articles covering many of the consequences of inadequate sleep – everything from stress and obesity to diabetes and premature aging. So I decided to summarize in this article all the ways you may be able to gain more sleep – and I am referring to actual sleep time, not the amount of time spent in bed. If you get less than 6 hours actual sleep a night, you’re in trouble.

 Make sleep a priority. It’s as important as exercise and diet.

  1. Make your environment as comfortable as possible for sleep. This may involve a softer pillow, comfortable mattress and even the habit of wearing socks to bed or having relaxation tapes or classical music playing in the background.
  2. Determine your required sleep time and add about a half hour to allow time for getting to sleep and getting up during the night.
  3. Never go to bed earlier than your normal bedtime. If you are not sleepy, don’t go to bed until you are.
  4. Stick to a routine. Where possible go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. It helps regulate the body clock. When people try to catch up on sleep on the weekend the quality of the extended sleep is quite low.
  5. Don’t go to bed during the day if you’re sleepy; take a power nap instead.
  6. Skip the caffeine. Avoid coffee or other caffeine drinks at least six hours before bedtime. It can actually stay in your system for 12 hours. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes as well.
  7. Go light on dinner. Heavy meals keep the digestive system working and delays of sleepiness. It’s best to have a heavier lunch and lighter dinner.
  8. Use your bed for sleeping. It’s not a good idea to use your bed for watching TV, checking your e-mail, working on your laptop or other activities not associated with sleeping or resting.
  9. Control technology. Turn off your computers, laptops, smart phones, iPad’s and other electronic gadgets at least two hours before bedtime.
  10. Exercise daily. It’s best to exercise earlier in the day but avoid strenuous exercise at least two hours before bedtime. You may feel tired immediately after exercising but over the course of the day people who exercise actually have more energy.
  11. Keep the bedroom cool. Scientific evidence indicates that 65°F to 68°F is the ideal temperature for sleep.
  12. Keep in the dark. Light inhibits the production of melatonin, the body’s sleeping pill, so you might even turn off the night light.
  13. Don`t be a clock-watcher in bed. If necessary face the alarm clock the other way so you won`t be tempted or disturbed by the fluorescent screen.
  14. Crash early. The optimal bedtime is between 10 PM and midnight. It is generally recommended that you go to bed by 11 p.m.
  15. Have a transition routine. Have a half hour or more of relaxation away from the bright lights and work activities. This could be light reading, walking, yoga or a warm bath.
  16. Researchers at Wesleyan University found that sniffing lavender oil before bedtime increased slow-wave sleep, the deepest form of slumber, by 22 participants in study participants.
  17. Don’t linger in bed when the alarm clock goes off. More time in bed than needed increases the time that you’re awake in bed and produces poor quality sleep.
  18. Avoid shift work if possible. Working rotating shifts or in a regular sleep schedule weakens the circadian clock that regulates sleep. Even varying it by an hour is the equivalent of traveling across one time zone.
  19. If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed. Don’t spend too much time trying to sleep; it reduces the sleep drive.
  20. Make your bed. Terry Small reported in one of his bulletins that the National Sleep Foundation found that those people who make their beds tend to sleep more soundly than those who don’t.
  21. Organize your day, and go to bed with an uncluttered mind and the knowledge that you have the next day planned.

There are probably others. Experiment a little until you find something that works for you. And never regret the time needed to get a good night’s sleep. It’s an investment in your health, increased productivity and longevity.

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Be smart when using your smartphone.

Years ago we were warned about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. One recent article reported that about one quarter of car accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting and talking on the phone while driving.

Then it became obvious that the increase in screen use and digital technology in general was impacting our ability to focus. People were becoming more easily distracted, ADHD symptoms appeared to be increasing, some of us were becoming addicted to email and/or the Internet, and evidence seemed to suggest we are becoming less empathetic, more shallow in our thinking, and more open to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.

Soon there were indications of physical problems emerging as a result of overuse of digital technology as well. The first of these to become evident was carpal tunnel syndrome and many of us have already made adjustments with the way we use our mouse, position the hand, and support our wrist.

But research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine, and reported in the Toronto Star, November 24, 2014, indicates that bending your neck over a smart phone for hours a day could lead to early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. And smartphone users spend an average of 2 to 4 hours a day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking the social media sites.  

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, according to an article by Adam Popescu in the January 25, 2018 issue of the New York Times. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle according to Kenneth Hanrai’s research mentioned earlier.

Since posture is known to affect mood, behavior, personal energy and memory in addition to the physiological impact mentioned above, the way we are tethered to our smartphones can cause even more problems.

Adam Popescu, introduces the antisocial aspect of smartphones in his article by asking us to observe how much time passes the next time we’re sitting among a group of friends before someone grabs their phone to look at it. This antisocial behavior is bound to negatively impact friendships as well as the effectiveness of communications. And yet, according to the Pew Research Center, 75% of Americans feel their use of a smartphone doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting.

This denial is even more disturbing. I shudder to think of the negative impact this could have on important business meetings or family life.

We’re at the point where over half the world’s population owns a smartphone and the Internet has surpassed the 4 billion mark. And many of us are quick to adopt a new technology, regardless of its merit, for fear of being left behind.

It’s more important than ever that we control the use of our smartphone – or any other electronic device – so that it remains a useful tool to increase efficiency and does not become an addiction that negatively impacts our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

 

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Holistic time management revisited.

In the past I have described holistic time management, as I see it, as the application of strategies necessary in order to lead a happier, healthier, longer, and more productive and fulfilling life. It addresses the person as a whole as opposed to simply their management of time.

But many time conscious people could be turned off by this definition; because they want to simply focus on efficiency and effectiveness and getting more work done in less time.

Either they think they are already happy, healthy, and destined for a long, fulfilling life – or they are not at that stage of life where those things seem important to them. After all, why would they be concerned about such things as exercise, getting more sleep, building personal relationships and spending time in the garden or walking in the park? These things consume time rather than save time, don’t they?

The short answer to that last question is “yes.” The long answer is that they only consume time on a short-term basis – just as organizing your office, training staff members so they can take over jobs that you are currently doing, and learning to use available technology all consume time. But these are all investments of time, which soon pay off by freeing up even more time that you can spend on those priority personal and organizational goals that will ensure your success.

For example, getting more sleep could increase your energy, boost your memory, improve your creativity, reduce lost time through illness and even extend your productive time by two or more years. Wouldn’t that be considered a time management strategy? Get less than six hours sleep a night, and you work as efficiently as you would if you were drunk. And if you think you can get by just fine on five hours sleep a night, remember it’s your sleep deprived brain that’s telling you that.

If you want scientific evidence of these things, refer to my e-book, Sleep: a time management strategy, published by Bookboon.com. There are plenty of references there. I’m just a reporter, not a researcher.

Similarly it has been shown that attitude, exercise, environment, mindfulness, stress management, relationships, music, volunteering, laughter, diet, nature, memory training, purposeful living, and even scenic views can increase your personal productivity – as well as umpacting your longevity. All these and more are discussed in my most recent book, How to grow older without growing old, a 147-page book now available as a download at my Taylorintime website.

It summarizes the relevant information in at least half of my 21 e-books that have been published to date by Bookboon.com. Although it is directed at fellow seniors, I believe it’s an even more important read as a time investment for those sixty-five and younger.

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Avoiding dementia and increasing longevity.

In a previous article I said I would provide a list of actions that are recommended in order to guard against dementia and improve longevity. Here is an abbreviated list of strategies from my new book on growing older without growing old. An electronic version of the book will soon be available at our website.

Stimulate the brain.

Good old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic stimulate the brain and grow more connections. Keep mentally active, whether it’s by doing crossword puzzles, discussing the weather, writing poetry, reading or working on your income tax.

Maintain lifelong learning.

Wisdom usually comes with age; but sometimes just age comes with age. So keep on learning. Lifelong learning could delay the onset of cognitive impairment by 3 to 8 years.

Build and maintain relationships.

Staying socially engaged affects your cognitive functioning and keeps your cells from aging too fast. Research indicates that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection and keep your cells from aging too quickly.

Reduce stress.

Do everything you can to reduce excessive stress in your life since stress serves to exacerbate dementia. Stress can induce the release of cortisol and excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex. The overproduction of cortisol was found in seniors who were experiencing memory loss.

Exercise regularly.

Physical exercise not only increases circulation of nutrient-carrying blood to the brain and stimulates the creation of new neurons. It also reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, diabetes – and improves mood, muscles, bones and lung capacity.

Get enough sleep.

Although many people sleep less as they get older, your need for sleep does not decrease. Sleep is one of the most important predictors of how long you will live — as important as whether you smoke, exercise or have high blood pressure.

Move around.

Researchers are now finding that even getting up from your chair is a lot better than sitting down most of the day. One study indicated that sitters had a 50% greater likelihood of dying from any cause during the eight and a half year study.

Watch what you eat.

Any food that reduces high blood pressure or helps the cardiovascular system in any way is good for the brain, since the brain’s blood supply is critical. This includes such foods as oatmeal, brown rice and grain breads. EPA omega-3 fish oil is also recommended since it keeps the cell membranes in the brain flexible, slows cognitive decline, and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Spend more time outdoors.

It is a fact that trees, grass, plants and vegetation affects us both physically and mentally. And sunlight causes the body to release serotonin – one of the reasons you feel in a good mood on sunny days. Hospitals and seniors homes are introducing more greenery into their facilities because of the impact of vegetation on healing, mood and pain control.

Maintain a view of nature.

If you are unable to spend much time outdoors have a view of nature if at all possible. Patients in hospital rooms with a window view require less pain medication and spend less time in the hospital. Recent studies found that urban green spaces, such as plants and gardens, also improve cognitive development.

Grow indoor plants.

Plants not only give off oxygen, they are able to absorb environmental chemicals and transport them to the soil. They act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability.

Volunteer.

Scientists have tracked 2025 people aged 55 and older for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. That was reduced to 26% when the only volunteered for one organization. By helping others you are helping yourself.

Listen to music.

Music can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. It increases creativity and learning skills. Background music has also been known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration – and helps keep dementia at bay.

Grow spiritually.

Spiritual people tend to live longer, happier, healthier lives. Research from the University of Toronto showed that thinking about God or other spiritual beliefs keep you calm under fire. People with depression who believe in a caring, higher being are 75% more likely to get relief from medication. 99% of the physicians in 1999 meeting of the American Academy of family physicians said they believed that religious beliefs aid healing.

Maintain purpose and pursue goals.

Have a purpose in life – a reason to get up every morning, and the motivation to face the day’s trials as well as its joys. Having goals and focusing on long-term challenges, keep you mentally alert, and give you that extra push that keeps life interesting and fulfilling. Challenge the brain results in more brain cells and more connections.

 Laugh often.

Laughter has healing power and it has been known to reduce blood pressure decrease, heart rate and increase respiration. When you laugh, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines. When you relax again afterwards, that good feeling lasts for a day or two.

Get organized

An article in Rodale’s January/February, 2018 issue of Prevention Guide states that “People who consider themselves self-disciplined, organized achievers live longer and have up to an 89% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than the less conscientious, according to two studies.”

Watch your attitude.

Your outlook on life is linked to your health and well-being. A survey of more than 500 people 70 and over thought it was important to keep a youthful mindset, and researchers at the University of Michigan also linked it to a longer life.

 

 

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The sound of silence

In my book, How to grow older without growing old, to be published in late February, 2018, I discussed over a dozen strategies for strengthening body, mind and spirit. But one significant strategy that I failed to discuss is “silence” – probably due to the incessant background noise of our loud, distracting fast-paced world. My brain was not operating on all cylinders, so to speak, when I originally put together the outline before moving from the city.

That’s what exposure to noise can do to us over a long period of time. I’m not talking about the construction that was going on down the street or the annual fireworks display or the car crash we witnessed at the intersection. I’m talking about sound pollution, both indoors and outdoors from such things as TV, radio, air conditioning, computer printers, cell phone chatter, traffic and other noises of the city.

We don’t realize what this overstimulation of our hearing does to our brain cells. And among other afflictions it has been proven to cause stress, moodiness, anxiety and depression. It has been discovered that noise pollution can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and impaired hearing. Those exposed to loud noises, usually for long periods of time, can suffer from such things as tinnitus, a constant or intermittent ringing noise in the ears  that can interfere with sleeping, impede concentration and even interfere with work. One of my sons has tinnitus that was caused by the loud music of his and others’ rock bands during his youth.

You don’t have to be in a rock band or live near commuter train tracks to be victimized by noise. It’s now everywhere – unless you live in the woods, and according to the World Health Organization, persistent sounds of just 30 decibels, similar to that produced by people whispering in a library, are sufficient to disturb sleep patterns.

What can we do about it – short of living in a sound-proof room for the rest of your life? You might start by taking a “silence break” and gradually increase its duration until you are experiencing an hour or more a day of peace and quiet. This is referred to as “attention restoration.” According to a 2017 article in Science, “the brain can restore its finite cognitive resources when we’re in environments with lower levels of sensory input than usual.” This could take the form of a walk through the woods or a quiet park – far away from the noise pollution of the city.

If you want to experience what silence feels like, get a free hearing test. My first real experience of the “sound of silence” happened while sitting in a sound-proof booth waiting to have my hearing tested. It was nothing short of euphoria. Over a year after my move to the country, away from the constant background noises of city living, I find my hearing is more sensitive (even without my hearing aid) to the sounds of nature – such as the rustling of leaves, whispering wind, gurgling streams and the sudden flight of birds.

Silence has been found to repair and regenerate brain cells, relieve stress, improve our power of concentration, and in many ways improve our health and well-being. The article from Science, referred to earlier, mentioned a 2013 study on mice that found that two hours of silence daily led to the new development of cells in the hippocampus, a key area of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotion.

We’re not mice; but the research suggested that silence could be therapeutic for conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s.

I regret having omitted it from my book. It sure is peaceful listening to the sound of silence.