behavior · brain · cognition · health · play

Make your cells cleaner by exercising

Cells stained for keratin and DNA: such parts ...
For cleaner cells, work up a sweat. Image via Wikipedia

We joke about getting the cobwebs out of our brain, but it turns out there really is some truth to that. And one of the best ways to give our bodies a thorough spring (or winter, or fall…) cleaning, is not through cleansing diets or saunas, but exercise! It’s beneficial on so many levels, including making you cleaner and a better environment for yourself down to the cellular level!

In the new research, which was published last month in Nature, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas gathered two groups of mice. One set was normal, with a finely tuned cellular scrubbing system. The other had been bred to have a blunted cleaning system.

It’s long been known that cells accumulate flotsam from the wear and tear of everyday living. Broken or misshapen proteins, shreds of cellular membranes, invasive viruses or bacteria, and worn-out, broken-down cellular components, like aged mitochondria, the tiny organelles within cells that produce energy, form a kind of trash heap inside the cell.

In most instances, cells diligently sweep away this debris. They even recycle it for fuel. Through a process with the expressive name of autophagy, or “self-eating,” cells create specialized membranes that engulf junk in the cell’s cytoplasm and carry it to a part of the cell known as the lysosome, where the trash is broken apart and then burned by the cell for energy.

Without this efficient system, cells could become choked with trash and malfunction or die. In recent years, some scientists have begun to suspect that faulty autophagy mechanisms contribute to the development of a range of diseases, including diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The slowing of autophagy as we reach middle age is also believed to play a role in aging.

Read the full article at the New York Times: Exercise as Housecleaning for the Body

The best part is it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of exercise, so anything from hop scotch to marathons will give you some benefit!

anthropology · behavior · brain · community · happiness · health · mental health · psychology

Life Lessons Passed On

English: Elderly Muslim during the Republic of...

I was really inspired by that blog post I shared a couple of months ago about cancer survivors and what they’d learned about life. I also posted a survey done with older folks last year giving advice on what NOT to do.

Well, thankfully all of that hard-earned knowledge is coming out in book form. Many of the interviews can also be at legacyproject.human.cornell.edu. From the NYTimes:

Eventually, most of us learn valuable lessons about how to conduct a successful and satisfying life. But for far too many people, the learning comes too late to help them avoid painful mistakes and decades of wasted time and effort…

Enter an invaluable source of help, if anyone is willing to listen while there is still time to take corrective action. It is a new book called “30 Lessons for Living” (Hudson Street Press) that offers practical advice from more than 1,000 older Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata who were interviewed as part of the ongoing Cornell Legacy Project.

Its author, Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell and a gerontologist at the Weill Cornell Medical College, calls his subjects “the experts,” and their advice is based on what they did right and wrong in their long lives.

You can also read a summary of their advice in the article: Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets

What are your life lessons?

behavior · brain · happiness · health · Me · mental health

June is “Me” month

Cardio Boxing Group Fitness Class
This month, kick your self-maintenance into high gear! Image via Wikipedia

Interested in joining me for a little “me” time? How about a whole month of it?

My mother and I have decided that for June, 2011, we are going to be totally self-centered. That’s right, we are going to focus entirely on ourselves; our health, our mental wellness, our physical fitness, taking time for ourselves, and figuring out what we want out of life. Neither one of us is very good at this kind of self-focused behavior, so it will be an interesting experiment to see if we can both pull it off.

So far I have done pretty good: I woke up early and did a productive, challenging workout, I have eaten quite healthy meals (oatmeal with raisins and a tuna salad, thank you very much!), did not spend an exhorbitant amount of time at work, tidied up some stuff online I’ve been meaning to do, finally asked my boss about a couple of nagging issues, and am planning to spend time doing fun stuff with my husband before going to bed at a reasonable hour. I actually started a day early yesterday and bought new clothes (some new, some new-to-me) that made me look and feel good, and had a decent dinner. Pretty good track record for only a day and a half.

I invite everyone to join me for “Me” month. If you can’t do a whole month, maybe choose a week. Or even one day a week. This isn’t about indulging in your every whim or being hedonistic or a narcissist. It’s about taking care of yourself for an extended period of time. Getting enough sleep. Eating healthy food, and not too much. Moving around, getting exercise. Figuring out who and what you want to spend more time on and DOING it!

We all have things we could be better at for self-maintenance, and often we take a lopsided approach. Some people focus entirely on what they put in their bodies, some only focus on how their body or mind performs, paying no attention to the other side. But we are all one big giant package of tissue and firing neurons, and all of it needs to be taken care of, not just the muscles OR the brain OR some other feature (your hair?).

Recently I asked what your deathbed regrets would be, so think of this as the next step: what can you do today to take better care of yourself, to make sure you don’t have those regrets, or at least delay that deathbed a bit more? I know some very healthy, well-rounded people, so I’m curious to see what they secretly think they need to work on.

Take some time to think about what your body and mind really need, unless you already know, and leave it in the comments below.