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Why we should all be celebrating National Relaxation Day (August 15th)
When was the last time you took some time to relax? Can’t you remember? August 15th is National Relaxation Day, so take some time for yourself and relax. Modern life is stressful and stress can lead to numerous health problems, but simply making some time for yourself and making some changes you could alleviate them before they take root.
What is it ? Who celebrates it ?
August 15th is National Relaxation Day and although it is not a particularly well known day it SHOULD be. There is a theory that it evolved from Slackers Day in the UK but no one really knows exactly where it came from or why. However everything needs to begin somewhere, so this year we’re throwing our weight behind it and suggesting that everyone takes some time to celebrate National Relaxation Day 2019.
Benefits of relations
Relaxation can reduce blood pressure, relieve pain and improve immune systems as well as alleviate stress. Long term stress can lead to or worsen a variety of health conditions including cardiovascular problems, mental health issues, eating disorders, skin and hair problems and gastrointestinal problems. Any of these conditions can cause considerable distress and have long term effects which can be debilitating and costly; so it is in our best interests to minimize stress before it gets to be too much.
It’s easy enough to say ‘just relax’ but for many people, the actual mechanics of how to relax are not so straightforward. So here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Laugh: when was the last time you laughed? I mean really laughed, not a little chuckle or fake giggle; a real belly shaking, eye-watering laugh. Can’t you remember? That’s a shame because laughter really is the best medicine. Studies show that laughter can reduce stress and give your diaphragm a workout, among other benefits. There are even classes teaching laughing yoga with the intention of improving positive emotions while reducing stress and anxiety So meet a friend for a catch-up, watch a movie or T.V. show that always makes you laugh, go to a comedy show, join a laughing yoga class or even just pretend to laugh until you do. For so much benefit surely everyone can find time in their busy lives to laugh a bit more?
Music: Listening to music can reduce stress and anxiety, reduce emotional distress and boost self-esteem. Studies have also shown that listening to music can help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, with some care homes scheduling regular sing-a-long sessions for residents. This article on TakeLessons goes into detail on the benefits of listening to classical music; but in practice any music that relaxes YOU is fine, after all, we all like different things.
So try working some music into your life; listen to a playlist on the way to or from work, maybe play some music while you are making dinner or in the shower; or even find a song or playlist to listen to just before going to sleep.
Plants: the previous post on taking back control discussed the benefits of Shrin yoku or forest bathing for depression and anxiety; but other studies have found that the presence of plants in living or working spaces can raise productivity and reduce anxiety. Even NASA has devoted research to the benefits of plants with their Clean Air study. They produced a list of plants that are highly effective at removing pollutants from an atmosphere and which could be easily added to an office or home. These ‘air purifying’ plants not only brighten up a room but can also help stave off headaches and eye irritations often caused by air pollutants.
There are certain plants that are well known for their aromatic properties linked to relaxation, ones such as lavender are almost synonymous with reducing anxiety and stress and can be kept in a pot. Rosemary is more usually associated with cooking but can also reduce stress and promote memory so it would make an excellent addition to a kitchen window sill.
While plants do require a little bit of looking after, they are a relatively cheap and easy addition to your life which could alleviate stress and anxiety, so why not look at the list and pick one you like?
Chocolate: consuming chocolate is a tried and tested method of cheering yourself up but did you know that even smelling chocolate can relax you? Studies have shown that eating chocolate regularly can reduce stress levels as well as having positive effects on metabolism and health. So eating and smelling chocolate is good for you?! Well yes but that doesn’t mean you can or should eat a huge bar of chocolate every day. In fact, you should be eating dark chocolate, not milk or white-the darker the better. Dark chocolate has a higher level of cocoa solids than milk and therefore has a higher level of the flavanols and minerals present in chocolate; 70% cocoa or more is generally considered to be better for health than milk chocolates which tend be far lower.
That being said chocolate can be high in calories so while a little bit of dark chocolate each day can be considered ‘medicinal’, a large bar or more every day is too much. Try 1.4 ounces or 40 grams as a little snack or an after-work treat.
Pets: Having a pet can have a whole host of health benefits, depending on the pet. However in general people with pets are less likely to suffer depression, have lower blood pressure and visit their doctor less often than those without. Pets can reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and provide companionship to those who may live alone.
If you have a pet then simply setting aside time to spend with them without distractions can help you relax. If you don’t then maybe look around and see if a neighbor, friend or family member has a pet that you could take for a walk or look after while they’re away for a night or so. Alternatively see if you could volunteer at a local shelter, you may even find yourself a new friend to take home.
Bath: A good soak in a hot bath can reduce blood pressure, encourage the brain to fall asleep quicker, relieve muscle tension and improve blood circulation. You could put on some relaxing music, dim the lights and light some candles – perhaps ones with a lavender scent to really amp up the relaxation effect.
If you don’t have a bath then a hot shower can also have similar effects and you could still have the candles and music while showering.
Meditation: perhaps one of the most famous methods of conscious relaxation, the benefits meditation are too numerous to list (e.g. reduces stress, alleviates anxiety, improves sleep patterns and can reduce blood pressure); but the thought of attempting it can be off-putting for some. Fortunately, the rise of technology has made life much easier; there are many step by step articles on the web and many guided meditations of varying styles in apps that you can download to your phone.
This article from Mindful has a video and some great advice if you would like to try it yourself.
Modern life is fast and we always have something that needs to be done; as a result, we very rarely take time out to just relax. However in order to remain healthy and actually do all of the things we need to do; we need to relax, to allow ourselves to disconnect and recharge our batteries.
So let’s take August 15th as the first day in a new commitment to ourselves: pick one or more of the suggestions above and work them into your life and see how much better you feel.
Can the food we eat help keep our brains healthy?
We all know that food is necessary to live, but can the food we eat actively help keep us healthy? Can it help fight the effects of depression? Modern science seems to indicate that eating certain foodstuffs at promote brain health and stave off damage.
FOOD AND IT’S EFFECTS ON BRAIN HEALTH FUNCTION AND DEPRESSION
Food has long been associated with health and our ancestors had witches or medicine men who would ‘prescribe’ teas, pastes and other herbal based medicines way before they had doctors. The Greeks and the Romans were fanatical in some of their ideas of how different diets and foodstuffs could improve their thinking or physical abilities. A popular theory of medicine that originated in the time of the Greeks and persisted in some way right up until the 17th century; was that the body contained 4 major fluids called ‘humors’. The basis of humors and health was that in order for a person to remain healthy all four must be kept in balance. There were the melancholic black bile, choleric yellow bile, sanguine blood and phlegmatic phlegm; each of them were associated with different parts of the body, emotions and seasons, and each had an opposite. The theory was based on the premise that every illness could be attributed to an imbalance in one or more of these fluids. For example, if someone had a cold then the treatment might involve consuming something with a warming effect such as a chili. The idea that every illness was associated with an imbalance of these humors persisted right through the Renaissance and well into the 17th century when medicine began to focus a bit more on science, e.g. the invention of the microscope allowed doctors to study illnesses in greater detail.
Modern societies were perhaps more concerned with achieving a certain body type or shape but the medical world has been studying the diets of people for centuries. Historians made copious notes of the differences between rich and poor everyday diets, with considerable time being dedicated to the elaborate feasts that the rich would have. The first and second world wars heralded an unprecedented time of rationing for much of Europe and lead to considerable efforts in educating home cooks on how to get the most out of the very little food they had. The British government had an entire department dedicated to research and development of recipes that would look and taste good; as well as provide the necessary vitamins and minerals while using the very sparse rations provided to households. Fast forward a few decades and science and medicine focuses now on the physiological effects of foodstuffs and the mechanisms of how the body processes each component.
In recent years a growing body of research has focused on the effects of foods on the health and function of brains. It is almost common knowledge that oily fish is good for your brain, that leafy greens are good for your brain, that eating nuts is good for memory, that avocado is good for…well everything. But why are they good for our brain? And can we protect and improve our own brains by merely adding in certain foods to our diets?
The brain is up to 60% fat, this means that in order to function optimally our diets have to include fats. Obviously this does not mean eating greasy fatty foods everyday, so what does it mean?
First off, there are different kinds of fat, and while previous diet advice demonized fat and recommended reducing it considerably; recent evidence suggests that ‘good fats’ are necessary for good health and should be consumed regularly. Bad fats include saturated fats and trans fats. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and consumption of these can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent abnormal heart rhythms and lower blood pressure. Monounsaturated fats have also been found to have a more positive effect on cognition than saturated.
As we age our brains begin to lose plasticity, that is your neural pathways start to deteriorate and our brains lose the ability to make new ones. This can lead to depression, anxiety, memory problems and vin some cases Alzheimer’s or dementia. So it would make sense for us to start taking care of our brains as much as we seem to take care of our bodies.
Our brains also release hormones and endorphins all day everyday, these chemicals control pretty much everything in our body from growing hair, whether we retain the calories we eat or store them to whether we feel sad. A growing number of professionals have begun to focus on whether the food we eat can have an effect on our moods, and whether they can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Oily fish: large source of omega-3s which are used by the brain to build nerve cells and are essential for learning and memory. Not consuming enough omega-3s has also been linked to incidences of depression
- Coffee: people who drink coffee seem to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s , Parkinson’s, dementia and Type-2 diabetes. Coffee contains small amounts of essential nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and riboflavin, it also has a more obvious stimulatory effect on the brain, resulting in enhanced concentration.
- Berries: these are chock full of anti-oxidants which help reduce and repair the damage caused by oxidation in the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory effects on the brain which can help to prevent ageing effects
- Nuts and seeds: not only are they good sources of omega-3 they also provide excellent sources of anti-oxidants as well as vitamin E; all of which help protect the brain from the effects of ageing and oxidative stress.
- Avocado: not only a trendy food the avocado is high in monosaturated fats which contribute to low blood pressure and high blood flow, meaning a healthy blood flow to the brain to keep it working optimally. They are high in oleic acid which can help memory function, and are good sources of fibre, potassium, vitamins b6 and C and folate which has mood boating effects.
So if you want to begin taking an active interest in maintaining your brain health for the future start adding in :
- Nuts ( e.g. walnuts, peanuts, Brazil ): maybe keep a tin in your bag or on your desk for the midmorning or afternoon munchies
- Oily fish (e.g. salmon, herring, tuna, trout): try a bbq, or baking a piece in a foil parcel and baking
- Leafy greens (e.g. kale, spinach, bok choy): try adding them into your salad with an oil based dressing, or maybe try making kale chips!
- Oil (e.g. olive, flaxseed, coconut): try making your own dressings for salads or meat dishes; try olive oil, cider vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper- so simple and will keep in the fridge!
- Avocado: the ever popular smashed avo on toast is a great way to start the day, and with wholegrain bread gives a good dose of fibre too; you could drizzle over your favourite oil for an extra boost!
- Berries: combine with granola and yoghurt for a quick breakfast, put as a topping for porridge, take a tub for a for afternoon snack or even add them to a salad
- Coffee: provided you don’t personally feel any negative impact of drinking coffee you can now stop feeling guilty about your morning pick me up
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