Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

Muscle Meditation

walking1Meditation is currently “en vogue” for a very good reason. It facilitates the unity of mind and body. It helps us de-stress, quiet our mind, and find that point of stillness within ourselves. Most of us spend the day with one thought after another racing through our heads; encompassing everything from work–to family–to our “to do” list of chores and activities we need to accomplish by bedtime.

Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize we are being controlled by our incessant thoughts. What’s even more frustrating is realizing that much of the time we spent on those thoughts was unnecessary, especially time spent worrying. When you quiet your mind in meditation, you start to realize how many distractions compete for your attention. Distractions will never let up, but you can teach yourself to let them go.

Some people pray, some do yoga; others just spend time in quiet contemplation and solitude as a source of meditation. My favorite form of meditation is to walk outside. I call it muscle meditation in the outdoor “gym.” Exercise is as important for your head as it is for your heart. Regular exercise brings incredible changes to the mind and body. It is uniquely qualified to relax, to calm, and to dissipate stress. We know that both meditation and exercise are good for us. Why not combine the two?

Exercise provides opportunities to get away from it all and to enjoy some solitude. I find that outdoor movement reduces and minimizes life’s problems. If you are not currently an out-of-door exerciser, you may find that in the beginning you have to make yourself get up and go out. But as you get into shape, you’ll begin to tolerate exercise–segue into enjoying it–and finally get to the point where you depend on it every day for your sanity.

Almost any type of exercise helps, but many people find that using large muscle groups in a rhythmic, repetitive fashion works best. That’s what makes it “muscle meditation.” Walking and jogging are two primary examples; a simple 20-minute stroll can clear the mind and reduce stress. People who prefer running enjoy a more vigorous workout, but the end result is the same.

There are many different meditation traditions and techniques. Americans, accustomed to fast-paced living, may be more inclined to choose active meditation techniques. I know that walking works best for me. It helps me find balance in my life. To start your own muscle meditation:

• Choose a pleasant location, such as a park or pretty neighborhood.

• As you walk, try to avoid thinking too much. Set your conscious thoughts aside and focus instead on the joy of your legs working, and fresh, pure oxygen flowing in and out of your lungs.

• Tune into your surroundings, focusing on the perfection of landscape and sky.

• Get into the habit of stepping outside the flow of your conscious thoughts and allow yourself to settle into a state of calm, steady movement.

Guess what? You’re meditating!

Written by:Donna Green, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, Erie Basin EERA, green.308@osu.edu
Reviewed by:
Liz Smith, M.S., RDN, L.D.
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension


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Brain-Exercise1Many people exercise primarily to firm, tone, and/or lose weight. Those are all admirable goals, but they focus primarily on the outside of the body. A big “inside” part of the body affected by physical activity is your brain. We don’t put our heads into exercise equipment or walk upside down (at least not on purpose), so we tend not to think of the brain as an organ affected by exercise. But exercise improves brain function in both children and adults. “I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being.”

Why move to help your brain?

• Exercise increases blood flow within the body. This allows the brain cells greater access to the food and oxygen in the blood, which helps improve attention and memory function.
• Exercise increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine; neurotransmitters that make the brain’s neurons function more efficiently.
• Aerobic exercise actually causes neuron synapses to grow denser, improving the ability to learn and remember.
• Physical activity builds self-esteem. Even if your body doesn’t change dramatically, the improvement in your fitness level can cause you to feel better about yourself.
• Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and you feel less anxious. Excessive stress can alter brain cells, structure and function.
• Exercise protects the hippocampus, the part of your brain that governs memory and spatial navigation. It is one of the first regions of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.


Researchers have found that a significant relationship exists between physical activity and cognitive function in children aged 4-18 years. Physical activity improves a youth’s perceptual skills, intelligence quotient (IQ), achievement, verbal tests, mathematic tests, developmental level and academic readiness. Wow! So many good reasons to get your children off the couch and get them moving.


Remember the old song “the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone…?” Your body systems also interconnect when you move. During physical activity, the cardiovascular system ramps up. It in turn tells the renal system to move, which then tells your muscular system to get cracking. Those systems are overseen by the central and sympathetic nervous systems, which are also communicating with each other. And topping it all off is the brain. It is the bossiest part of your body; it controls virtually every other part. The brain will be the last part of you that dies. Take good care of it and move–your–body!!


Written by:
Donna Green, BS, MA
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Ohio State University Extension

Reviewed by:
Liz Smith, M.S, RDN., L.D
NE Regional Program Specialist, SNAP-ED
Ohio State University Extension

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The goodies of the Holidays are hard to resist.  Now that the holidays are almost over how do you stop your body from wanting more of those goodies you ate?   How do you stop the mid-afternoon, evening or all-day cravings?

First, it may help to understand your body.  Our body thrives on routine and wants us to eat at the same times.  The fat and sugar in many goodies satisfies our tests preferences.  Thus, our body actually opposes us when we make changes in the way we eat.

There is hope!  Although our body likes the goodies and constant eating, we just have to replace with good habits and follow them.  Every time you resist temptations you set up a pattern to resist the next one.   Each time you eat a healthy meal, one you planned to eat at a set time, you start up a positive eating cycle.  So, if you have not been a breakfast eater and start eating breakfast every morning, before long your body will desire breakfast everyday.   You can make your body work for you.

When you are hungry try to eat a healthy food instead of candy or left over cookies.  Eat an apple or orange.   By eating a healthy food you actually weaken your urge to eat the high-calorie treats when you are “starving.”  It will probably be hard at first, but it does work

Don’t watch the food commercials or the food channel on television when you have low resistance.  Turn pages quickly in magazines when you see food or recipes.  It’s hard to resist tempting foods when we smell them too.  So, breathe through you mouth when you are around tempting foods.

By eating regular meals and snacks you can avoid being very hungry which will help  decrease your cravings for certain foods.  Setting up this planned meal and snacks routine will help as your body likes structure.  Your body will be less likely to encourage you to break the rules.

You can use the tapping technique which has been proven to work to help people resist cravings.  Place your five fingers of one hand on your forehead.   Tap each finger in turn at intervals of one second while watching each one carefully as it taps.  Keep repeating until the craving disappears.  Other suggestions when trying to stop a craving include tell yourself “not today”  and wait 15-20 minutes while you call a friend, chew a piece of sugar-free gum, brush your teeth, drink a glass of water, go for a walk or meditate.  Keep a record of your thoughts and feelings leading to the craving and what methods worked best.

Starting some healthier habits can be hard.  One way is to make it a gradual transition from the old way to the new healthier way.  Give yourself some time but remember that each time you resist or change to eating healthier you are making progress.


Roberts, S. and Sargent, B.K. (2009).  The Instinct Diet, Tufts Media., Medford, MA.

USDA website, Choose My Plate available at http://www.choosemyplate.com

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Sure, we all want toned abs, a firm stomach and muscular legs. But what about our brain? Does it benefit from exercise like the rest of our body? Should we keep in shape physically as a way to keep strong mentally as well?

The answer is an emphatic “YES”! Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that even ten minutes of activity can change our brain in several ways, including our mood, memory, and ability to learn. If you’re the type of person that needs the extra incentive to grab the tee-shirt, water bottle and hit the gym, here’s a short list of the improvements that exercise can have on your brain health:

  • Improves Mood 

Research has show that exercising three times a week and burning 350 calories each time can be as effective for reducing depression about as effectively as antidepressant medication.  The science behind the effect is exercise has been found to stimulate growth of neurons in parts of the brain that have been damaged during depression.  Animal studies have shown that brain molecules which  improve neuron connections are boosted by exercise as well.

  • Helps Develop Learning

Chemicals in the brain that help make new brain cells and create connections are called “growth factors”.  Physical activity helps increase the level of these chemicals in the brain to enhance learning.  The more complicated the physical activity, the higher the brain-boost.  When you’re taking a dance class and learning new moves, your brain cells are challenged which causes them to grow, just like our muscles.  Complex activities increase our learning capacity by enhancing our attention and concentration skills.

  • Relieves Effects of Stress

You may be familiar with the stress-relieving chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.  However, exercise has been shown to work in our cells to reverse stress of the aging process.  In a study conducted at the University of California – San Francisco, women who identified themselves as being under extreme stress showed fewer signs of aging in their body cells after exercising an average of forty-five minutes a day over a three-day period compared to women who were stressed but were not physically active.  Blood flow in areas of the brain during exercise helps  trigger chemcials that can relieve stressful thoughts.

  • Build Body Image

A little bit of fitness goes a long way towards helping your body get in shape and building self-esteem.  You don’t have to run a marathon to feel good about yourself and your physical achievements!


Source:  U.S. News & World Report, August, 2010.

Author:  Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County.

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