Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Simple Secrets of a Longer, Healthier Life

By Tom Venuto

As I was standing at the newsstand today, I couldn't
help but notice the headline on the cover of the latest issue of National Geographic:

"The Secrets Of Living Longer"

As I flipped through the cover story feature inside, two
photographs really got my attention...

"Who You Calling Old?" says the caption under a photograph
of Frank Shearer, age 100, as he kicks up the spray water skiing near his home in Washington State.

Also inside (and on the cover) is a photograph of 84 year
old Okinawan Fumiyasu Yamakawa standing on his head in a Yoga posture. The story explains that this is part of his training for his annual decathalon (where his favorite events are pole vault and high jump).

As I continued to read, the parallels between this story and
the findings Jon and I uncovered when we were doing reasearch and interviews for our Fit Over 40 book were striking.

Geographic writer Dan Buettner posed the question, "What if I
said you could add up to ten years to your life?"

Great question, isn't it?

The fact is, there are simple steps you can take to dramatically
increase the probability that you will live a longer and healthier life. Lifelong fitness and health are not accidents. Genetics help,
but lifestyle choices under your control are far more important.

Although the "secret to long life" still seems to be a mystery
to many, the truth is, it's a fairly simple matter and more people are coming to agreement about how it is done.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Everyone Can Read Minds

By Ker Than
Special to LiveScience

Empathy allows us to feel the emotions of others, to identify and understand their feelings and motives and see things from their perspective. How we generate empathy remains a subject of intense debate in cognitive science.

Some scientists now believe they may have finally discovered its root. We're all essentially mind readers, they say.

The idea has been slow to gain acceptance, but evidence is mounting.

In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did.

Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them "mirror neurons."

Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.

"Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person's mental shoes," says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person's mind."


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Orgasms Are All in the Mind

By James Doherty and Kath Gourlay
The Scotsman

It's a scientific fact: human brains are programmed for orgasms - with or without the actual sex act.

Dr Robert Lomas - a solid-state physicist and an internationally known author on religious symbolism - says that evolution has allowed humans to develop the sex-free orgasm.

"It’s the same reward mechanism that encourages us to share our DNA," said Dr Lomas. "But it can be achieved without the physical act of copulation."

Only humans have this power to induce mental ecstasy, and it’s a complex set of responses that can be achieved by learned behavioural patterns or triggered by hyper-arousal during peak experiences, he says.

"At times of hyper-arousal, our brains are designed to freeload on the behavioural reward that encourages us to reproduce," he said. "And that is another name for orgasm."


Monday, March 13, 2006

The Power of Mind and the Promise of Placebo

Source: World Research Foundation

For decades, the gold standard of medical research has been the double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. You give one group of patients a medicine you want to test, and another group a dummy pill that has no active ingredients. Neither the patients nor doctors know who is getting which.

Placebo trials are used to tell researchers whether a tested drug has any healing effect beyond that which occurs a certain percentage of time when people take an inert pill. A patient's belief in a pill - a supposed medicine, but chemically innocuous - is thought to activate their body's healing powers.

I am fascinated that a major debate erupted when a group of doctors discussed the immoral and unethical aspects of utilizing a placebo. Their reasoning was that regular and beneficial medicine was being withheld from a patient.

The co-authors of an article addressing this topic, Kenneth Rothman, a Ph.D. From Boston University School of Public Health, and Karin Michels of Harvard School of Public Health, both stated that to give a patient a placebo, that has a 'known efficacy of zero,' was highly unethical.

Some other medical doctors and researchers have jumped into the debate stating that placebos are just a nuisance variable.

There has been sharp disagreement on this point, due to the fact that medical literature includes a great deal of testimony that the placebo effect routinely works 30 percent of the time, with Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard stating that it may work up to 90 percent of the time.

Overlooked by its critics in this discussion, is the fact that studies that have utilized placebos have produced some rather remarkable, and at the same time unexplainable, results. Rather than looking at it as a nuisance, we should be looking at the placebo as a key to ascertain a remarkable phenomenon that seems to be a part of the human psyche.