6 Ways to ‘Quiet’ Your Brain and Live Longer
By Dan Gray
- Newer research links "quiet" brains with longevity.
- Researchers theorize that a less active brain uses less of the body's energy.
- Experts say there are a number of ways to calm your brain, including meditation, active listening, and mindful eating.
Everyone wants to stay mentally sharp as they get older — and it stands to reason that one way to do this is to maintain an active brain.
But new research suggests that less may be more when it comes to your brain activity.
In a study published in the medical journal Nature, researchers from Harvard Medical School report that a calm brain with less neural activity could lead to a longer life.
After analyzing donated brain tissue from people who died at ages from 60 to more than 100, researchers said they noticed that the longest-lived people had lower levels of genes related to neural activity.
A protein, REST, that suppresses neural activity was found to be associated with neural activity and mortality.
In experiments on worms and mammals, boosting REST led to lower neural activity and longer lifespans while suppressing it did the opposite.
"This study shows that daily periods of slowed activity, whether spent in meditation, unitasking, or simply being still or sleeping are as important for brain health and longevity as activity and exercise," Gayatri Devi, MD, a neurologist and psychiatrist at Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline.
"The brain is the most energy-hungry organ in our body, consuming nearly a third of our energy, although it weighs only about one-seventieth of our body weight," explained Devi. "For our brains and our bodies, less is more and rest is best."
In a world that often feels like it's moving too quickly, what are some of the best ways to quiet the brain?
Maryanna Klatt, PhD, a professor of clinical family medicine at The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, specializes in stress-related chronic illness and is trained in mindfulness, running a program called Mindfulness in Motion.
She shared some strategies for your brain with Healthline.
Tune into Your Body
Klatt says a great way to start on your path to lowered stress and heightened mindfulness is to be more aware of your body.
"Just some gentle stretches and awareness of where you're holding your tension is a great starting point because when people acknowledge their body, they open up to what really is going on for them," she said.
Another exercise in mindfulness is to establish a habit that sets events into motion.
"Since we deal a lot with medical doctors, I suggest touching a doorknob before meeting with a patient," explained Klatt. "This creates a moment to focus on why they're doing what they're doing and how they're going to connect with the patient. The habit is a helpful way to be present with a patient or co-worker."
Meditation works hand-in-hand with mindfulness because it provides a helpful barometer of one's mental state.
"It's not about clearing your mind, it's about seeing where your mind's at," said Klatt. "That's why having a little meditation practice, even 5 or 10 minutes a day, can make a difference in bringing mindfulness to your activity during the whole day."
In a spirited discussion, it's all too easy to stop listening to others as you wait for your chance to speak.
Klatt says she's seen this in a classroom setting.
"One way to recognize that we are going a thousand miles an hour is to watch our thoughts," she said. "If you're not really listening, or not being present with whoever you're with, that can be a wake-up call to be present and not miss the moment."
Chart It Out
A simple exercise can spell out, in stark terms, whether we're truly living the life we want to live.
Klatt asks students to create two pie charts, one to show how they'd like to divide the 24 hours in their day, and one to show how they actually spend their time.
While the breakdown likely includes time away from the office, it often doesn't include any time that's truly free.
"Earmarking open space intentionally every day, so it's not for X, Y, or Z, not for exercising, not for reading, but for unstructured time, can help," said Klatt.
During this time, it's important to set boundaries and consciously tell yourself that you're taking time for yourself.
"It's about being really honest with yourself about having clear boundaries and telling yourself that you're going to take a break from work, or kids, or trying to solve problems, during the downtime," Klatt explained. "I think that people waste their downtime. People feel doubly bad because they didn't get anything productive done and what they really didn't get done was relaxing."
Think About Meals
We're often told to watch what we eat, but we're rarely told to watch how or where we eat.
While it's fine to enjoy a treat full of empty calories from time to time, it's probably best not to wolf down a bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television.
"I tell people that if they're going to eat it anyway, they need to savor it," said Klatt. "Savor every moment of it because otherwise you're getting all those calories and you're missing the pleasure of it."
Many people don't acknowledge burnout until they're fully burnt out.
Recognizing the signs of burnout before it sets in can help with re-assessing and re-prioritizing.
Klatt says symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, the lack of a sense of personal accomplishment, a lack of excitement, and a pervasive mood of irritation.
"It's when stuff that hadn't in the past been a big deal suddenly becomes a big deal," she said. "That's the point where you want to step back before you get to the point where you're really not effective at your job, nor effective at living the life that you want to live. Then it's lose-lose."
It's always good to learn from the best.
To this end, Klatt suggests reading up on mindfulness and meditation. (She suggests the book Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Positive examples can also be found in daily life. People who are engaged in their job and their life might have good advice for finding the right balance.
"I think mentorship in terms of mindfulness has really meant a lot during my life," said Klatt. "Sometimes, you stumble and don't know how to move forward. I think people all around us have this wisdom, but we don't take the time to think about who we respect in terms of how they live their lives."
Reposted with permission from our media partner Healthline.
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What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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