31 December 2007

Christmas & Goats: a Time for Giving

This Christmas my father suggested we do something different. Instead of spending large amount of money on Christmas presents for each other we decided to buy some goats. “Goats!” you cry, “are you insane?” No, as far as I can tell my mental faculties are still completely intact. Allow me to explain:

These goats weren’t bought for us, they were bought for a couple of families in Southern Sudan. We bought the goats from World Vision. You can see the results they accomplished in Australia alone here:


I certainly feel proud to have supported the purchasing of two of those 12,464 goats. Maybe my role alone isn’t much, but it’s the individual actions that add up. Just imagine the difference those goats are hopefully making in helping a large number of families to live with just a little more nourishment.

I keep hearing how Christmas is a time of giving, and indeed it seems much more valuable to give a family in Southern Sudan a means of getting some goats milk and a goat which will live off almost anything, rather than simply spending the same amount of money buying more stuff we (as a society at large) don’t really need.

Now I must admit my family and I were not completely altruistic this Christmas. Everyone got a small present and together the family purchased two goats. But the individual presents would have cost only a small amount of money. I for instance got Terry Pratchets “Making Money”, his latest book. Speaking of Terry Pratchet I hear this book may well be his last book as his been diagnosed with dementia, poor guy. He’s a fabulously witty writer and wherever he may be I salute him for at very least adding entertainment and joy into my life, let alone the lives of countless others.

Back to goats and Christmas. What I wish to purpose is that everyone adopt the true spirit of giving at Christmas by giving to the less fortunate, what better way to celebrate Christmas than knowing you have done a little something to make the world that much better. Helping others is a great way to feel good, it’s been proven, (http://www.livescience.com/health/070503_doing_good.html) volunteering for work apparently increases our happiness, and similarly giving to the needy makes us realise our own importance in helping those around us.

I’m not saying you have to give up your Christmas presents, maybe just buy less, or maybe just by a goat as well. Heck it hardly has to be a goat either. You could sponsor a child or family in Africa or donate to reforestation schemes in barren areas. The possibilities are endless. I know Christmas has just passed, but consider it for next Christmas, and all the Christmases thereafter, make it a regular family thing! You could even do something similar for other important calender days of the year.

While some people will argue that money is lost through beurocratic processes when donated to charities this is hardly a reason not to donate. It may be that some money is not as well spent as it should be, but the proof is in the pudding that 12,464 goats are now in Southern Sudan probably thinking “How the fuck did I get here”. Even if some money is lost, donating is still a worthwhile cause. Find a charity you believe is honest and reputable, and start improving the world one little bit at a time. Simply imagine if everyone who read this blog entry donated to charity and also made a commitment to tell five people about the idea. Then imagine if they likewise took on this challenge! Indeed the individual can make a difference, go and do something like buying a goat, and encourage a few friends to do similarly. I know I am trying to do my bit by encouraging you to also adopt a positive view in relation to the change we can create. As next Christmas roles around I will not doubt also encourage other families in person to buy a goat, or something along those lines, and I hope you too will join me in doing our little bit to better the world we all share.

30 December 2007

The Nature of Happiness:

Happiness, a little word with a big meaning. Can there be any greater virtue? I have been thinking of late of the nature of happiness. Happiness is a rather elusive quality, something rather hard to put ones finger on, like most psychological concepts, but in general it is assumed to be a positive mood or frame of mind (a bit vague isn’t it!). Thinking positively really does reap its own rewards as it typically means that the thinker does better at whatever he or she attempts to do, and regardless of the outcome enjoys a happier life.

So how important is happiness? Well I suppose this is subjective, but my opinion is that it would have to be one of the major pillars for the very reason of our existence, or at least our continued subsistence. I asked above if there could be any greater virtue? Essentially I’d argue “no”, but several people have brought to my attention the matter of liberty. The example of Soma from Huxley’s “Brave New World” is an interesting one, depicting happiness (in the form of a drug) at the expense of liberty. It is provided in such a way as to disgust our senses. Clearly Happiness without liberty cannot really be happiness? Or so one is inclined to believe.

My response would be to say that happiness is not a purely external phenomenon. A part of what it is to experience happiness must come from within. Like all things (at least in my humble opinion) it is a dialectical process between the physical and the psychological. I often wonder why these two categories were ever separated! The very notion of liberty has a strong connection within our minds. Biologically we are driven to seek as much liberty as possible, in the hopes of then fulfilling our desires and so on. But even then happiness seems to provide a foundation as to why we do things. Liberty may allow us to do them, but happiness is the motivator.

Like most things in life there is no doubt a need for balance between the two characteristics. A close friend of mine argued that liberty was far more important than happiness, yet personally I believe that they must be intrinsically linked. For if you had unlimited liberty but no happiness what would you do? You could do whatever you wanted, but would never have any motivation to actually begin something. Of course on the other extreme one could argue that if you had all the happiness in the world but no liberty you would equally never be able to do anything in that your lack of liberty made it impossible to do so, but on the bright side at least you’d be happy, happy just existing. Of course if you take away the liberty to exist (which theoretically would be the case if we took away ALL liberty) then you would just die, but even this seems preferable to a lacklustre, hapless life of uninhibited liberty.

An interesting question on which I have often thought, regards sadness and the nature of happiness. Firstly consider that all things in life are given meaning through comparison. For example, if everything in the universe was the same colour of orange (and always had been), how would we be able to even comprehend what blue was? In this example blue is defined, by its relationship to orange, and vice-versa. So by the same token how would we even identify the colour orange if everything was orange? Simply put I doubt we would. We’d simply assume unconsciously that all was the same colour. More than this, we would have no word for “orange” or even a conscious or unconscious understanding of it. If everything was orange, orange ceases to become something that can be compared to anything, and hence has no meaning or relevance.

Where exactly am I going with all this you might ask? Well in the case of happiness we must ask, can we be happy without sadness? The answer logically seems to be that if we had never known sadness or anything like it, then we would not distinguish happiness in the way we do. This seems self evident. From this however we draw a more important question. What is the nature of happiness, in so far as it relates to sadness?

This is a tricky one. If one person is happy in the world, does it theoretically mean that another has to be sad? Certainly studies of happiness seem to suggest that it most often is adaptive. For example, many people think making more money will make them happier. Maybe in the short term it will, but in the longer term they adapt to their changed circumstances and again they feel as they originally did. So again the hapless man might again increase the amount of money he earns, but this process of adjustment will simply keep happening. I suppose this is the purely material pursuit of happiness at its best.

There is only one variable I know of that is an exception to this adjustment cycle, and interestingly that is commuting time. The lower your commuting time is the higher your happiness will statistically be. Similarly, the longer your commuting time is the lower your happiness will statistically be. The idea is also touched on in “Cycling and the Philosophy of Happiness” for those of you who are interested in the idea.

In regards to the relationship between happiness and sadness I found a rather potent quote from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet which states:
“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

The nature of happiness is a tricky question, and its relationship to sadness only serves to make things more confusing. Ultimately I don’t think the question can be properly answered, but it’s defiantly an interesting brain teaser. There is certainly something however to the idea that people can improve their wellbeing and happiness, and in turn help others, in fact giving an overall benefit in happiness. The big question is really, whether this is just a short term adjustment, and whether yet again happiness would become another thing to strive for.

The Buddhist religion has some interesting things to say against materialist thinking and this sort of thought process which stresses “Living in the Now...:”, which is essentially taking the time to love yourself right now, as you are. This along with their emphasise on ““The Middle Way:”” help to advocate their belief in balance and living a contented life.

Happiness is vital to a fulfilling existence. We live and then we die, we may as well do some stuff which is enjoyable in the middle. The problem here becomes drawing a line between hedonism and a life without happiness. As usual balance seems to be the key. It is difficult to take away anything concrete from such abstract thought, but we should remember that happiness is a source of motivation and pleasure in life. Try and pursue it and make sure not to deny yourself happiness, after all, were only human.

29 December 2007

Vegetarianism From a Different Perspective:

As the name suggests this short series of posts is about vegetarianism! Shock horror! However I would ask that everyone stop yelling about how animals have rights, or how cows are inherently evil and thus need eating, or even that vegetables generally taste bad, to allow me to take a new look; well actually an old but often overlooked perspective, on why vegetarianism has several things going for it.

Firstly I would like to say that I am not going to even touch the subject of animals and ethics, because personally I’m more interested in some interesting ideas which might change a few minds, based not on ethics, but rational thinking. But the ethics argument does deserve touching on, so maybe another day I’ll write about it, if I feel up to the task!

For those out of the loop-hole and or living under a rock, a vegetarian eats no meat. Then again there are a myriad of variations such as lacto-ovo-vegetarians, but lets keep it simple for now. Good, now that we have our definition we can begin.

An Economic driven perspective on Vegetarianism:

As much as I love meat, and am inclined to eat it, I must admit that practicing vegetarianism does have certain advantages, for us and for our planet. Firstly I would like to view the matter from an economic standpoint. Vegetables and most vegetarian basics are cheaper than meat, so eating more vegetables could be easier on your wallet. But putting individual greed aside vegetables are economically easier to produce, particularly on a large scale.

Here’s one of many sites that cites some amazing figures:


9. Amount of potatoes that can be grown on 1 acre (4,047 square meters of land: 20,000 lbs. (9,072 kg)

10. Amount of beef that can be grown on 1 acre (4,047 square meters) of land: 165 lbs. (75 kg)”

Firstly we can see that we can grow much more in the way of vegetables than we can produce meat per unit of land. Thus vegetables are much more space efficient to grow. If everyone in the world is to get adequate amounts of food it would be much easier to do this with a vegetarian diet. The land is used much more efficiently if we used it to grow potatoes rather than feed cattle.

Secondly we must realise that for every pound of meat we create, several pounds of vegetables are used to create it. Whereas this is not the case if we eat the vegetables ourselves.

But wait, there’s more:

16. Number of pure vegetarians who can be fed on the amount of land needed to feed 1 person consuming meat-based diet: 20 (This number could be closer to 150 if you're talking about pure Raw-vegetarians.)”

The list goes on and on. Meat production, when compared to growing various vegetables, uses more water, damages the topsoil more, and is also a major cause of deforestation and general land clearing. If that’s not enough it seems that meat production uses more energy (by a significant amount) than producing vegetarian foods.

Another interesting fact is of course the amount of waste created. The article is definitely worth a quick look… Keep in mind these statistics are from 1996. If they are reliable in the first place than the situation has probably only gotten worse.

A nutritionally driven perspective on Vegetarianism:

So we move on to the next milestone… Nutrition. As much as many meat lovers might not like to admit it, the fact is that vegetarians as a whole, seem to be healthier people. It is also true however that many of them lead generally healthier lives in regards to habits such as the amount of exercise done, whether they smoke or not, how often they drink alcohol or do other drugs. Still, even if we were to factor all of this out of the situation I think we would find that most vegetarians are healthier for their diet. Limiting the saturated fat intake of meat means they usually have lower bad cholesterol levels while all the fruits, vegetables, grains and good fats mean they have high good cholesterol, lots of fibre for good bowels, heaps of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. (With maybe the exception of some b-vitamins which can be a little harder to find – still mushrooms, yeast and other vegetarian sources can be used). Yes, science might not be completely sure as to the exact specifics but vegetarians do seem healthier.

Of course this isn’t to say all vegetarians are healthy. I know several that eat a lot of candy and junk. But even so, they’re still healthier than there pal eating the candy the junk, and lots of meat. In particular red meat seems to be the main culprit. I remember once reading that people who eat red meat more than twice a week increase their chance of getting bowel cancer by 40%!

Here’s some more interesting information regarding a vegetarian diet and cancer:

“A major study published in February 2005 reconfirmed the link between meat consumption and heart problems. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that among the 29,000 participants, those who ate the most meat were also at the greatest risk for heart disease. The researchers also reported that a high intake of protein from vegetable sources like tofu, nuts, and beans lowers our risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Dr. Linda E. Kelemen, the scientist who headed the study, told reporters, “Not all proteins are equal”—while vegetable protein can help keep our hearts healthy, eating animal protein can put us in an early grave.”

Even if these numbers aren’t exact the general trend is still proven so by now I hope you get the general idea. A study named the China study (which is of some repute) came to the conclusion that vegetarian diets are healthier. And even just looking at most of the healthier diets of the world they typically contain far more fresh produce and vegetables, fruits and grains than the typical rich western diet. Granted they often contain traces of meat… but in very small quantities compared to what we are used to. Indeed I might argue that meat is infact a wonderfully fine thing to eat, but only very occasionally, say once or twice a week.

We can also look at our closest relative the chimpanzee and see that their diet is by and large vegetarian. They do eat the occasional insect, termite or each other. But generally it’s based around fruits and vegetables, even grains are cut out here, which makes an interesting argument for anti-grain supporters.

The rather controversial “ape diet” (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3966) is centred on fruits, vegetables and nuts all uncooked and in their natural state, i.e. raw. Sounds like an argument for raw foodism doesn’t it. But the interesting thing is that the diet seems to really work, for health purposes anyway, I’m not sure how good it would taste. Raw vegetables tend to be a little hard to stomach, or so I find (with exceptions such as carrots), but then again I’ve never really eaten vegetables raw very often. Anyway the people on the ape diet saw a massive slash in cholesterol.

After four-weeks, levels of the harmful LDL-cholesterol plummeted by 29 per cent on the ape diet…Bad cholesterol fell by only 8 per cent for those on the standard low-fat diet.”

Pretty impressive and needless to say it’s about as vegetarian as you can get really. However a couple of articles seemed to suggest that cooked, oily fish was added in after the first week. Even so, this is a largely vegetarian based diet, and the addition of fish does not significantly rise the saturated fat component but does significantly increase the amount of unsaturated fats, thus further helping to improve cholesterol levels.

Global concern – a Global warming based perspective on Vegetarianism:

The production of meat requires more energy than the equivalent production of a vegetarian style diet. In this way the energy put in is less efficient to the nutritional value we get out of it, particularly when we consider that in many ways the vegetarian diet is healthier anyway.

However just the other day I reread something I find particularly astonishing. In essence it seems that cows, and more particularly their tendency to burp methane and have particularly odorous sheisse, are huge culprits for global warming. The reason being that we breed so many of the damn things (mostly for eating, but also for milk) that collectively they number a huge amount, and the costs involved in processing the land and so on, all the way up to the waste created by the cows adds up to a rough 18% of all global warming. That’s right. 18% caused by and large by cows.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you, I’m still sceptical, but then again the bbc said it! Feel free to be enlightened by clicking on this here link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2007/02/meet_daisy_the_cow_global_climates_enemy_number_on.html

“No, the main culprit is out there in the fields, chewing her cud. It turns out that livestock – predominantly cattle – are responsible for an astonishing proportion of global warming gases - 18 per cent of the total, to be precise…That’s right, almost a fifth of all emissions which is more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport on earth – planes, trains, cars, skidoos the lot…You’ll be wondering how I reach that staggering conclusion… The research implicating Daisy and her bovine brothers and sisters in global warming is very well sourced. A good start is “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.”

The author (Justin Rowlatt) then goes on to later state that due to other chemicals other than co2 causing global warming livestock are in fact responsible for more than 18% of the damage. He thinks it would be more like 60%!

“which means sixty per cent of the global warming potential of the average diet is from animal products.”

There you have it. Certainly seems to suggest that there’s often more to a problem than meets the eye. I certainly don’t think vegetarianism is for everyone, indeed I Think small portions of meat (particularly lean meats and fish which contain unsaturated fats) if anything improve our overall health, but as we can see the consequences of eating large amounts of meat are disastrous. If everyone collectively only ate a little less meat, the combined difference would be huge. It would ultimately benefit everyone by keeping us healthy and also our environment, which think about it, is absolutely essential to our own wellbeing.

28 December 2007

Omega-3: Something Smells Fishy, What’s all the Hype About?

Omega-3: what is it, you ask? Where is it? Is it friendly? Why won’t everyone shut up about it, I mean fish really aren’t that interesting? Fear not children for all the essentials shall be revealed in this brief article.

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. There, now that we have the technical definition sorted we can get down to business. Omega-3 is a type of fat, and one which is commonly associated for most people with seafood. Seafood often contains abundant amounts of omega-3 particularly certain fish such as Tuna and Salmon. It is also contained within various plant sources, most notably some nuts like: walnuts, flax seeds and hemp seeds. It is also found in small quantities in dark green leafy vegetables. Foods like broccoli and kale are, believe it or not, sources of Omega 3. Because of their low caloric levels however, large amounts must be eaten to obtain decent amounts of it.

Now there is currently a lot of hype around omega-3 and its benefits. Why exactly is this? Well until recently fat was severely stigmatised by nutritionists and the public alike. Only recently are we starting to realise that there are different types of fats which in fact play different roles and have differing effects upon the body. Omega-3 in particular has had some very interesting health benefits recorded.

Ironically enough when I first starting typing the idea for this article yesterday lunch I was eating tuna at the time. I certainly had a good smirk about it. Yet as I do the final edit of this article this morning there lies a copy of the Australian edition of the “Clinical Psychiatry News” (Vol. 3, No. 6) and despite it still being wrapped in plastic I can see on the front page a picture of some nice looking cooked fish and an article called “Postartum Depression” – the subheading simply says ‘Fish and omega-3 fatty acids may help manage postpartum depression.” Trust me Omega-3 is big at the minute, and with good reason, it seems to be having some remarkable results in scientific studies, lets investigate shall we.

Omega-3 is probably best known for its fat burning ability. Research has shown that it elevates the amount of fat burnt, particularly if it is taken after exercise. (For a related links see: http://www.fishoilblog.com/benefits/fish-oil-exercise-fat-loss.php)

Omega-3 has also been shown to help with cholesterol levels (as have other polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats [known as the “good” fats], but omega-3 seems to do so even better than other “good” fats) by lowering blood triglyceride levels and increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), in turn reducing risk of heart attack. It has also been shown to help lower blood pressure, and even to help cancer (here a reference for the unbelievers: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060920092447.htm)

But the benefits of omega-3 don’t end there, it gets even better! Studies on the effects of Omega-3 on the brain have yielded fascinating results. It seems that it can potentially help with a whole spectrum of mental problems from depression to schizophrenia, even problems like ADHD can be solved or at least the symptoms reduced by simple Omega-3 supplementation!

Why is this so you might ask? Simply put our brain is made up of cell membranes which are coated in a lipid solution (that is to say fat – lipid is the scientific name for fat), thus it makes sense that eating more fat gives your more structural material with which the body can build its structural links within the brain. However obviously not all fats are equal here as most westerners still eat tons of saturated fat, but don’t get these amazing effects. As I addressed in a recent article called "Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as well as Potentially Life Threatening:” the type of fat you consume does matter, as it is utilised differently by the body. Think of it almost as different grades of material. Lets say you want to build a house and you’ve got one really strong durable wood and another really crappy weak and prone to rot wood, which would you use? Providing your intention was that the house was durable and lasted a while you’d use the better material. Now think of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as higher grade materials for your brain to build itself with, whereas saturated fats and even worse, trans fats, are more like crappy material. There, now that I’ve gotten a really shite metaphor out of this article I may continue with the knowledge of a world of good done and another literary masterpiece accomplished.

Now honestly I’m not making all this stuff up, I am not prone to misinformation, so here’s one of a myriad of sources that essentially argue a similar line to myself: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1691896.htm.

It may seem unlikely that fish oil could help Thomas control his ADHD, but our brains are literally swimming in fat. Most of it’s in the cell membrane, and high levels of Omega 3 allow the brain cells to transmit electrical signals more effectively.
So could increasing your Omega 3 intake influence the very way we think and behave? At CSIRO Human Nutrition in
Adelaide, Natalie Sinn is attempting to find this out. She recruited 130 children with learning and behaviour difficulties, and set them tasks to test their attention. After more than 6 months on 6 fish oil capsules a day, around half the children showed improvement.

It seems grandma was always right when she said eat your fish it’ll make you brainy. However the stereotype of fish being dumb seems to be dwindling. All those stories you were told about fish having 3 second memories… they seem to be unfounded fishist comments… damn those fishists. Ironically scientists now think fish aren’t so dumb after all:


At very least they're tasty and seem to be very good four our brains! I personally think everyone should either eat fish several times a week, or take fish oil supplements, if not both!

Some relevant links:


27 December 2007

Fats: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly as well as Potentially Life Threatening:

First let me enlighten those who are innocent, of the four major types of fats:

1) Trans Fats

2) Saturated Fats

3) Polyunsaturated fats

4) Monounsaturated fats

As a simple rule of thumb, don’t eat excessive amounts of fat, keep it moderate and make sure to eat most of your fat from the last two forms of fats (the Unsaturated groups), less from the saturated fats, and steer well clear of Trans fats. Believe it or not the type of fat does make a difference. An interesting calorie controlled study on monkeys showed that a group eating the same diet but with their fat coming from Trans Fats gained more fat than the control group eating unsaturated fats and that the trans fat group also gained more fat around the abdominal area (which is associated with an increased chance of heart disease).

Here are a couple of extracts from: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn9318

“Monkeys fed a diet rich in trans-fats – commonly found in fast foods – grew bigger bellies than those fed a diet rich in unsaturated fats, but containing the same overall number of calories. They also developed signs of insulin resistance, which is an early indicator of diabetes.”

“After six years on the diet, the trans-fat-fed monkeys had gained 7.2% of their body weight, compared to just 1.8% in the unsaturated group. CT scans also revealed that the trans-fat monkeys carried 30% more abdominal fat, which is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.”

Fat has gotten a pretty negative wrap from nutritionists up until quite recently. However it is important to realise that fat is a very important nutrient in itself. It is used to make cell membranes and also plays an important role in the uptake of several vitamins. Fat also helps keep your hair and skin healthy.

However as emphasised before it is the quality of the fat we ingest which is of importance. As http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats.html puts it:

“Detailed research -much of it done at Harvard - shows that the total amount of fat in the diet, whether high or low, isn't really linked with disease. What really matters is the type of fat in the diet.”

As common sense would dictate a diet of mostly fruit, vegetables, nuts and minimal grain products (which should when consumed be wholegrain) will provide us with a very healthy diet. In such a natural diet there are indeed sources of fat such as nuts, avocadoes and olives. The best meat source for these healthy fats is fish, and these provide the extra benefit of omega 3 fatty acids, which I have blogged about here:!!!

For those of you fortunate enough to live in Australia then I suggest you try Kangaroo, a rather healthy tasty meat. It is very lean and contains little fat, and of the fat it does contain the greater proportion is from the unsaturated categories rather than saturated fat! So if you can get it, and you don’t mind its gamey flavour, go for Kangaroo!

While the unsaturated fats lower our “bad” cholesterol and increase the “good” cholesterol, saturated fat simply increases the “bad” cholestrol. Of course limited amounts are unavoidable and they are chiefly present in meats (particularly less lean meats like lamb), dairy products, as well as cocoa and coconut. Saturated fats are somewhat worse for us, and have a tendency to increase our “bad” cholesterol. However Trans fats, a form of man made fats, created through a process known as hydrogenation and notably present only in man made foods are best completely avoided.

Again I quote from: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats.html:

“The Nurses' Health Study found that replacing only 30 calories (7 grams) of carbohydrates every day with 30 calories (4 grams) of trans fats nearly doubled the risk for heart disease. (9) Saturated fats increased risk as well, but not nearly as much.”

Let me just add that 30 calories is not much at all! Its only 4 grams of the stuff! Yet that amount daily can “nearly double the risk for heart disease”, I mean think about it for a minute… only 4 grams!

“For the good fats, there is consistent evidence that high intake of either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat lowers the risk for heart disease. In the Nurses' Health Study, replacing 80 calories of carbohydrates with 80 calories of either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats lowered the risk for heart disease by about 30 to 40 percent.(8)”

So the easiest way to implement a healthy diet is simply to avoid processed foods (easier to say than it sounds!) or at very least cut back on them drastically, and stick to what are commonly called “whole” foods. This is to say foods that are unprocessed, and are eaten in a very close manner to how they naturally develop. In the case of fats this means avoid using too much oil and eating too much in the way of dairy, as well as sticking to leaner meats. To be honest I believe that slowly implementing these changes in your life will work best. I advocate a slow approach to change, one that is manageable, instead of the traditional sudden leap which will normally always fail after the initial motivation has passed.

So there you have it. Fats in a nutshell! And remember nuts are a good source of the “good” fats, as well as having smaller amounts of saturated fats in them! J - How’s that for applied knowledge eh? Now when I say fats in a nutshell I lie, as to be honest I have not really touched on some areas, most importantly of which is Omega-3. But fear not, for here is a link which shall explain just that to you: "Omega-3: Something smells fishy, what’s all the hype about?”

26 December 2007

Cycling and the Philosophy of Happiness:

Sydney University is providing a new course in philosophy next year (2008) called “The philosophy of happiness”. My previous philosophy lecturer gave us a briefing about the new course citing some studies that have been done. Now I’m not really sure how they measure happiness (this itself could be seen as a large flaw in the study!), but essentially they tried to find variables that affected long term “happiness” (whatever that is!). For instance researchers discovered that if one bought a larger house they were actually more unhappy for the first 6 months (due to the stresses of moving and so on), but were then happier from 6 to 18 months later (as they enjoyed their newer, bigger house); But after 18 months they had seemingly adapted to their bigger house and were now identically happy (or unhappy as the case may be) as they had originally been in the old house. A similar thing happened when moving to a smaller house, except that the occupants were unhappy until 18 months after moving (as the house was smaller, more cramped etc). It seemed that regardless of what happened, after 18 months people had adjusted and happiness went back to a “normal” level.

Several such studies seemed to imply that happiness seems to be relative, and adjusts as such. Thus something can make you happy, but most likely it will only be short lived. However, one variable they found which made you happier long term, was commuting time. The shorter your commuting time (for this study I believe it was to and from work) the happier you are, presumably as it gives you more time in the day to do things, and maybe you live in a close nit community etc. So in the case of commuting time it was found that individuals were happier both immediately after reducing commuting times as well as much further down the track (that is to say 18 months later and beyond).

Now the lecturer who told us this (Professor David Bradon Mitchell, a fabulous lecturer) happens to be a cyclist. So as the class filtered out after the lecture I went down and approached him, with a question set in my mind. I essentially went up to him and asked “But what about cycling?”

“Cycling!” he said, “Well that’s a whole different kettle of fish.” (Please note that those weren’t the lecturer’s exact words, although the meaning was identical. I suppose I am taking my artistic license a little far here by paraphrasing adlib!) We then proceeded to both talk about how as cyclists we were happier to have both exercise and travel time rolled into one, thus saving time. This in turn enabled us to spend more time on other pursuits such as leisure, which helps to make for a happier life. Also we get the many health benefits of exercise and as we both lived in the inner west (although he is now in Newtown and so close that he doesn’t really ride, as he can simply walk) we could even cycle around the city faster than cars and public transport in peak hour and heavy traffic.

Thus from a time saving point of view commuting by bike (this is of course again within the context of the city and inner suburbs) can indeed help to increase your happiness. So cycling is good for your health, your pocket and your happiness is there anything more we can learn from this? Yes, there is one other important lesson! As our rather humourous lecturer said in concluding this lecture “If there’s one thing you can learn from this whole philosophy course its don’t move out to the suburbs to buy a bigger house!”

I suppose another way cycling makes me happy is that I know I’m doing something good for me and the environment and thus those around me. I like helping people, and by cycling I feel I help everyone, albeit it in the smallest way. One person can really only create so much change. If you’re a completely average person without great finances or great intelligence or great determination or great luck or some other such quality how can you possibly completely change the world? Well as far as I’m concerned you can, sort of, but only within reason. By cycling every day I keep myself fit and healthy so that I can help others. I also do not create pollution for others to have to inhale or the planet to have to absorb. Lastly, and in some ways most importantly, by riding as often as I do I might make an important impression on some people who see me riding. I tell my friends, co workers and family of the benefits of cycling. So far I’ve got one friend cycling around, and I hope to convert many more.

The more people that start cycling the more people will see people cycling and the more other people will begin to cycle. In turn the more demand for cycling products and cycling infrastructure will increase and hopefully this demand will lead to greater research and development into both these sectors. This really puts the moral impetus on an individual’s action, a good thing to, as all of societies greatest accomplishments have ultimately been a joint effort. It really does create a positive snowball effect which gains momentum. The Sydney morning herald mentioned in an article that the amount of cyclists in Sydney has increased by 50% in just three short years (the article was published on the 8th of October 2007). That’s an amazing amount and clearly shows that some positive change is taking place in today’s society. If you wish to check it out (and some great reasons about how bike riding isn’t as dangerous as people think it is due to an increase in cyclists themselves) then see the following link:


Happiness is an interesting little topic, and a rather important one in my view. I will be sure to write more on the pursuit of happiness later in life, and if I do happen to study “The Philosophy of Happiness” as a course at Sydney Uni next year I’ll be sure to write more about the topic. So until then give yourself a piece of happy pie and savour the wait.

25 December 2007

The Most Efficient Form of Transport in the World:

I’m about to let you in on a big secret… one of mans most coveted gifts of knowledge. I’m about to tell you of the most efficient form of transport known to man. Is it an alien spaceship? Nope they are not known to man. Is it an airplane, nope they do really quite poorly efficiency wise. Is it human locomotion? Nope, but your pretty damn close. Well then, what is it? It my friends, is the humble bicycle.

You laugh, you cry and then you look me in the eye and say “bollocks”. I knew you wouldn’t believe me, it must be some sort of insecurity complex of mine. Yet it is true I swear it and many books and websites document this little known truth, or at very least quite obvious but seldom thought of truth.

So what sort of efficiency am I talking about here? Well largely I mean how efficient a vehicle is to transport its passenger. Here Bicycles come out top. Simply take a quick glance at the graph featured at: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html

However Bicycles are also far more efficient to produce and repair than other forms of transport while also being more space-efficient than other forms of transport. Heres a nice chunk of information from:

“Not only are bicycles most efficient to propel, they also take far less energy (and lower levels of technology) to produce than motorized transport. The energy and materials needed for one medium-sized car can produce one hundred bicycles! Starting up a bicycle production or repair and maintenance business requires very little capital; the amount of money needed is insignificant compared to what is required to manufacture, maintain, and repair automobiles. Bicycles are also more space-efficient than cars. That is, more people on bikes than in cars can move through a given lane in a given amount of time. Cars are in fact the least space-efficient form of transport on the planet.”

We live in a day and age were people are fixated with efficiency and health and fitness and the likes, yet why does bike riding still remain so unpopular in places like Australia and America. At least in Europe they have a larger cycling population. I can think of many reasons as to why this is the case such as that Europe simply has much better infrastructure for cyclists. I’ll admit even cycling has disadvantages like getting a little sweaty on a hot day or struggling when it comes to transporting your fridge to your new home, but even so, I believe it has been greatly overlooked as a fantastic way to save the environment, save our wallets and not to mention improve our health dramatically. The fact that the humble bicycle is the most efficient vehicle in the world is simply one more reason on a long list as to why almost everyone should cycle!

Well now I’ve given you the information and it’s up for you to decide whether you are willing to take to cycling. Remember it need not be extreme, even cycling to work one day a work will do wonders compared to no days a week. I only wish I could somehow encourage you as well as the Chinese government does its citizens! As
http://eco-living.net/writings/transport/effengine.html puts it:

“In China, bicycle avenues with five or six lanes are common, as is plenty of safe and convenient bicycle parking. The government provides a monthly allowance for cycling to work.”

Here are some more snippets of information from:
http://eco-living.net/writings/transport/effengine.html which will hopefully further convince you of the benefits of cycling, enjoy:

“More than half of all commutes in the U. S. and more than three-quarters in the U. K. are less than eight kilometers (about five miles). This is a reasonable cycling distance; it is also the range in which internal-combustion engines get the poorest mileage and emit the most pollution.”

“Besides placing drastically less stress on our environment, human power also benefits the engine - the human body! The advantages of regular, sustained exercise are already well documented, and bicycling is a low-impact form of exercise as well. Studies have shown that workers who commute by bicycle are happier, more alert and more productive than average.”

24 December 2007

The Importance of Sleep:

Everyone knows that sleep is important to our health, it’s self-evident. When people don’t get sleep they get tired, lose concentration, become irritable and eventually collapse in a heap. Yet it seems that sleep is becoming something we are getting less and less of, especially in developed countries.

Think about it, we spend nearly a third of our lives asleep, clearly there is some need for it. The average adult requires around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. Of course it can vary a little bit given individual needs, but generally it is within these parameters. Even a slight loss of sleep can negatively affect ones health. Studies done at the University of Pennyslvania found that those who slept for only six hours were later diagnosed with increases of certain chemicals in the blood associated with both heart disease and diabetes. Newer research has also shown that those of us who sleep less are more likely to gain weight. A lack of sleep changes our hormonal chemistry and it is now known that two important hormones relating to hunger and weight control are greatly controlled by sleep. These hormones are called Gherlin and Leptin. Another important aspect of sleep is that it is when the majority of human growth hormone (HGH) is released. People who don’t sleep enough typically don’t get the same release of HGH.

Sleep is primarily of importance as it allows these hormonal changes to occur and also allows our mind to store and categorised memories. Essentially we store what we have learned when we are asleep. Not getting enough sleep is therefore detrimental to ones mental ability to store information and later to recall it. While we don’t know everything there is to know about sleep it is obvious that its important to our general wellbeing. Be sensible and make sure to regularly get good amounts of sleep as well as considering exercise as a means to help you obtain a better quality of sleep. Personally I would advise against sleep medication unless you are particularly stressed or unable to sleep as it is medication toying in a rather unexplored field.

Like most things in life doing what comes naturally yields the best results. Go to bed when you feel tired and get up when you feel like you’re waking up (of course I understand that work and other commitments makes this all but impossible in the modern day world). Try and establish a rough time at which you awaken naturally each day, its also great for your ability to get into a routine. When you do sleep do so in a room which is as dark as possible and as quiet as possible. It has also been shown that using your bedroom solely for the purpose of sleeping will help with your ability to fall asleep, as the mind adapts to understand that the bedroom is a place for sleep and thus you fall asleep better. But again, this is almost impossible to do unless you happen to have a big house with extra rooms to spare.

Try not to stress too much just around bed time and stay away from physically exerting activities or activities just prior to going to bed. This includes things like watching horror movies! Give yourself half an hour before you go to bed just to relax and have “quiet time”, read a book or do some meditating, something like that which relaxes the mind. This may all sound like rather a lot to do if you live as most people do, but don’t be intimidated, simply change your habits gradually so that over time you will have adopted and become familiar with a healthier sleeping pattern. For your efforts you will be both physically and psychologically rewarded as your body will function better and in turn you may well find that your mood will improve and become more positive. However remember that these changes should not be instantaneous but rather gradual, doing things gradually almost always implies that they are therefore viewed as less challenging and therefore more likely to be accomplished. Anyway, why are you still reading? You should be in bed! :)

23 December 2007

Exercising Efficiently, the Intensity Debate:

There has been a debate raging for some time regarding how we should exercise. One side argues for anaerobic based training and the other for aerobic based training. The essential question being debated is whether or not we can exercise more efficiently. However, as we will find, this is a rather vague question as there is no set criteria to deem what efficiency is in this instance.

The older school of thought supported the aerobics craze. Everyone knows the old exercise videos from the 80’s with girls in coloured swimsuits jumping up and down for hours on end. If you don't, consider yourself lucky. Aerobics systems they argued burn more fat for fuel than anaerobic systems, and thus are better for fat loss. But the anaerobic fans retort that post exercise recovery from anaerobic exercise has the greatest affect on fat burning. In turn the Aerobics group advocate that aerobic exercise or “cardio” as its often called is better for the heart as it improves cardiovascular health and the circulatory system.

The more modern trend has been a move away from aerobics and into the weight room where anaerobic exercise has come to dominate. The anaerobic supporters argue that extensive aerobic exercise causes injury; however the aerobic supporters argue the same of intensive anaerobic exercise, so it’s a draw on that front. Anaerobic exercise also has the added benefit of stimulating more muscle growth and improving bone density. Another thing that is sometimes too lightly overlooked is the increase in hormones that anaerobic exercise causes.

The debate between the two groups has largely revolved around fat loss, which is really only one small category of total health and wellbeing. Regarding fat loss the anaerobic supporters often argue that one only has to compare the physique of a sprinter to a marathon runner to see the benefits of added muscle and hormonal changes as a result which typically mean the sprinter also has lower body fat levels! Yet as far as I am aware type 1 muscle fibres (which are best at endurance work) tend to burn fat much more effectively than type 2 muscle fibres (which are best at brief intense work).

Genetic experiments on mice have certainly had interesting results and can help to shed light on the difference between the muscle types (and by association types of exercising). There are many sites which cite these genetic tests on mice, but this one: http://www.sciencenewsmagazine.org/articles/20041030/bob9.asp seems to be quite in depth and as such I shall use it as a reference.

Mice who have had their genes altered so as to give them more fast twitch muscles (dubbed “Schwarzenegger mice”) have a much easier time growing muscle and staying strong. However, the shocking part is that these mice can gain strength without exercise simply by being injected with a certain gene! “Young mice injected with the gene grew stronger and more muscular, even without exercise.

On the other hand: “Another set of experiments, by scientists at the Salk Institute in San Diego, produced mouse muscles that just keep going without fatiguing...Ronald Evans and his colleagues had started out with the intention of engineering mice that stay trim. To do this, the researchers inserted genes that code for a fat-burning protein called PPAR-delta…The mice that resulted stayed slender, even when fed a high-fat diet, but also developed an unusually large number of slow-twitch muscle fibers, the type the body relies on during extended exertion. ‘This change produced the 'marathon mouse,' able to run twice the distance of its normal littermate,’ vans says.

Personally I would argue that it seems that the slow twitch mice win when it comes to maintaining a low body fat, while the fast twitch mice win when it comes to strength and muscle mass. So ultimately the question then becomes what are we trying to accomplish more efficiently through exercising? Most people wish simply for fat loss, and in the case of mice it would seem that slow twitch endurance based work would serve one better, however again we can compare the images of a sprinter to a marathon runner and wonder.

The debate rages on and it seems that each side has ample ammunition, we will find no answers on the battle field. In particular the recent increase in popularity of
“High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):” has thrown another spanner in the works, but this itself deserves its own article and so I shall write one in the future.

Common sense would seem to suggest that while one method of exercising may be slightly superior to another (of course this also depends largely on what your goals are!), it is ultimately best to do what you are comfortable with. Most people forget that we are only human. For instance, while in theory we may gain best results from doing something everyday, maybe in reality the most we can consistently do it so that it is sustained is once every second day. What this ultimately means is if you like marathon running then do it, on the other hand if you like sprinting then do that!

Of course I would ask that we look further than just the aesthetics here and look at our total wellbeing. From a point of overall health it would seem self-evident that doing both aerobic and anaerobic activity will be best for our health. This would indeed allow for a more moderate exercise routine which would probably yield better results long term anyway.

It is also interesting to think that we should not all be doing the same thing. When one thinks about it, it makes perfect sense, but often we simply do not think about it and follow the herd instinct of doing what others are doing. The simple truth is that while we are genetically not that dissimilar from one another (say in comparison to a soy bean) we do vary and thus we as a society should be more open to the idea that different people require different things based on their differing genetics. Sprinting might help make your friend lose weight given his biological chemistry, but maybe you’d have more luck with aerobic work. In the future we will no doubt have gene testing which will help us to be able to work with our strengths, but until then all I can say is experiment, enjoy the process, and figure out yourself what you enjoy doing and what works for you.

22 December 2007

Exercise and Motivation:

We all know the benefits of regular exercise, we are bombarded by its importance nearly every second day. Yet the irony is that the majority of us still have no inclination to do it. If I gave you a pill and said it could curb many diseases, allow you to not only have greater longevity but also quality of life with the added benefits of “natural highs”, helped you get better sleep, increased your libido, kept your hormones in check… and the list goes on, would you not say “Fuck yes, how much for one of these magic pills?”. I know I certainly would. What if I then went on to say it was virtually free? I think I’ve found an audience… But the minute I add that it would perhaps require a small bit of exercise, maybe two or three times a week, the crowd dissipates and only a handful of people still remain. Why is this? Exercise is proven to be bloody good, check out "The Many Benefits of Exercise, Part 1" if you need further convincing of this.

We all know that we should be exercising, so why aren’t we?Is it laziness? Or perhaps lack of time? I doubt it, because some still manage to do it, and I know several lazy and or busy people who exercise regularly. If I had to give one major reason for our inability to exercise it would largely be to do with psychology. Simply put, people seem to dread exercise. Exercise has a negative association. It is like the potion of youth and success, but with an utterly horrible aftertaste.

The negative association with exercise does not have to exist, indeed the view is most often unfounded, being largely the byproduct of people trying to go from doing no exercise to exercising two hours everyday and in the process overexerting themselves, often injuring themselves and generally taxing their psychological ability to bear exercise. Thus they quickly develop a pessimistic relationship with exercise, the exercise does not last, and whats more they finish feeling disheartened as they have not changed as they thought they would. This often goes hand in hand with grossly unrealistic expectations regarding the results they should expect.

The simple fact is that exercise does not have to be hard or unbearable. It can indeed be enjoyable and recreational. The biggest secret to doing exercise and doing it consistently (especially when we think about it in the scheme of life as a whole) is to do exercise that you like. Don’t do the latest fat burning routine, its probably bollocks, and even if it isn’t you probably won’t be able to do it for more than a week unless you happen to find you enjoy it. If you hate running and your told running is best for fat-loss why run? Why not cycle, or swim, or play tennis?

Motivation is a funny thing. Think about it like this. There are two kind of people who succeed in this world. Those who are determined and push through and do things that they hate to do to succeed (by whatever your definition of success is), and those who just do what they love and succeed because they love doing it and thus get good at it and thus do it more and thus love it more, creating an ongoing positive cycle. Which person has an easier time? The first person may have all the dedication in the world (and good on them in that regard), but ultimately they are leading a life of misery doing something they wish they weren’t doing. There is more to life than just determination, there’s this important factor called contentment, or happiness. And if you’re happy and determined that’s great, but the fact is you don’t have to be extra determined to do something you love, as you’d do it regardless!

So, be sure to do some form of exercise you like. There are so many sports and activites out there, these always something for someone. Think rock climbing, martial arts, canoeing, hiking…the list is endless. As long as it gets you up and moving abit its good enough, you could even invent your own sports!

Another good trick is to do your exercise socially. As a cyclist who rides to work I’m a bit of a hypocrite here, but I definantly wish I did more exercise with friends. Get yourself a training partner, or play a team sport, or compete with other people. Not only will you make friends and broaden your social horizons but you will enjoy a sport with other people, giving you all a healthy interest you share. Exercising socially will provide an added stimulus to turn up to training (not wanting to let the team down etc), as well as making you feel connected and a part of something.

If you like achieving things, set goals, compete professionally or chart your progress. This approach is certainly not for everyone, but rather for those who are more competitive. Still, as long as it makes you feel empowered and as though your going somewhere it’s fine and good. The minute you feel your going backwards because of it, stop, take a step back, and reconsider whether this approach is really right to motivate you for long term exercise.

Remember not to force yourself to do exercise, but at the same time do try to make a commitment. Often we feel lethargic and don’t want to exercise, but a few minutes into it we feel great. This may partly be because of endorphins, but I think its more than that, I think its about getting into a rhythm, a routine of sorts, and just feeling productive. Plus I think there’s a primitive pull to get outside and stretch your muscles. So remember that while there may be initial apathy simply get up and give it ago. Nine times out of ten if you push through you end up enjoying the activity and afterwards really feel good about it. If your absolutely positive that you won’t enjoy the activity (and this is your call to make) then don’t, and don’t stress about it, the guilt will not help in anyway.

If you find yourself continually dreading your chosen exercise (as I did at one time doing sprints three times a week at an ungodly hour!) then simply stop it. We want this to be an activity you ENJOY. Enjoyment is the key word here. Remember if you enjoy the activity it will not require nearly as much commitment or dedication to keep it up. If on the other hand you hate the exercise you do it will take all your dedication and willpower to keep up the routine. In the latter scenario your psychological wellbeing will ultimately suffer and you will typically find yourself worse off in the long term than if you had simply done something you would have enjoyed more and been more able to stick to.

You can also spice up your exercise routine from time to time. For example, if after three months of running your bored, try swimming for the next three months (especially if its warmer weather). Not only will this keep you psychologically happy but it will exercise your body in different manners to! If you’ve been exercising for a long period of time (were talking a few months at least here) and you’re really losing momentum, sometimes taking a week off is good, just to allow you to relax, take a quick break, and come back all the more refreshed. Providing these breaks stay the exception they are perfectly within reason, indeed encouraged. Sometimes it’s good to time these breaks too. If you’re about to go on holiday or if the gym is closed for a week over Christmas, this the perfect opportunity to take refreshing break from your exercising. You’ll really be surprised how effective these breaks can be for your psychological wellbeing and how a simple break can help boost morale. Often after a week off a sport you love and enjoy (but are just temporarily a bit tired of) you’ll find yourself wanting to be doing the activity towards the end of your break off.

If for some reason you simply still cannot bring yourself to do any form of exercise I would ask you to simply go for a walk around your area. Find a nice park (preferably on a nice day) go for a little stroll for say half an hour or so and just see the mood you are in when you get back home. Typically you will be feeling greatly refreshed and amazingly upbeat. If you do simply tell yourself that this is the sort of quality of life I can expect to have if I find a form of exercise that I enjoy and can commit too.

Motivation is a complex topic and different techniques will work for different people. My best overall advice for motivation is to stay positive, progress at a realistic pace in your activity of choice and make sure you enjoy what you do. Enjoying what you do will motivate you further. Not only this, but life simply is to valuable to waste doing things you don’t enjoy, yet at the same time realise that certain things will pay off long term and help improve your overall quality of life. Make sure to think long term, as anything gained by a small burst of willpower will typically not last. What we need here is long term motivation, all the more reason why you should make sure you enjoy what you do.

21 December 2007

The Many benefits of Exercise, Part 3:

This is the final section of "The Many Benefits of Exercise" series, in which we explore the most fascinating aspects of physical activity, namely: How exercise affects us psychologically, and improves our minds!

As you may know exercise is good for us physically, but it’s important to realise that many of the physical benefits in turn benefit the mind. The age old adage “healthy body healthy mind” rings true. The increased ability for the blood to pump oxygen can for instance help send oxygen to the brain which increases its ability to work effectively. There has indeed been a link found between exercise and intelligence, although intelligence is of course a difficult thing to measure (generally IQ is used for intelligence tests in humans). There have been studies done on mice which show how one group with access to running wheels do better in what is known as the “Morris water maze” test than those without access to a running wheel. So it seems that by exercising (and thus being generally fitter and healthier) these mice are able to function better in how they think. Why does this always surprise us so much? After all our brains are still physical entities, and benefit, like the rest of the body, from physical activity.

Exercise strengthens the brain such that is increases cognitive processing speed and boosts memory. Thus it essentially builds the most useful muscle of all, the brain (I was of course speaking metaphorically there). There have also been studies that show that there is a strong relationship between academic achievement and fitness, clearly there is something here.

“Many studies have proven that people who exercise on a regular basis have better memory, reaction time and concentration than their sedentary counterparts. They also stand a much better chance of avoiding such diseases as Alzheimer’s and senility. And it doesn’t take much: walking for 45 minutes three times a week is enough to improve your degree of mental sharpness. Aerobic activity stimulates the middle-frontal and superior parietal regions of the brain, which are associated with attention and keeping goals in mind.” - http://ririanproject.com/2007/10/11/10-benefits-of-exercise-and-how-to-start-doing-it/

But wait it gets even better. Scientists once thought that quite early on in life the brain could no longer renew itself and that the neurons in our brains were fixed almost from birth. The theory was that as we aged these neurons died off and were not replaced causing mental decline. However the neuroscientist Fred H. Gage, through tests on mice, found that neurons do in fact keep renewing themselves up until we die. That’s lovely Sam you say, but what does it have to do with exercise? Well, while all the mice were producing new neurons up until death, those mice who were athletic were producing up to two to three times as many neurons that those that weren’t!

So what you’re saying here Sam is that exercise can increase my intelligence simply by exercising? Well I’m not exactly sure if I’d say it quite like that. Clearly genetics play a role, as do other factors like nutrition and so on, but, hypothetically I’d say that if we had two realities, one in which you made the commitment to exercise regularly and one in which you didn’t, that your brain would function better in the first case, plus it would degenerate less and would not only work better but longer. But let us be realistic, this does not mean you can increase your IQ by 20 points or anything like that. But if you could just feel a little more refreshed and think with greater ease all while curbing your chance of suffering from mental illness and depression by simply running around a few times a week, wouldn’t you take it? I know I would.

This brings me to the next part of this article which relates to hormonal changes caused by exercise that help our psychological wellbeing on a daily basis. Exercise releases hormones called endorphins which you may well have already heard of. Endorphins are natural pain killers and are related to hormones like dopamine and serotonin which increase happiness levels and thus general feelings of well being. So exercise can help alleviate depression, give us a psychological boost and sharpen our ability to think. I know I have brushed over these concepts quite quickly but I think the benefits here are rather self-evident. If your always feeling happy and sharp you will obviously succeed more in whatever manner you wish to in life, than if you were to drudge through life in a depressed negative state. Clearly exercise has many benefits for the mind, indeed the list is ever growing as scientists continue to reveal the benefits of exercise for our psychological wellbeing. Here is a little extract from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web2/mmcgovern.html which you may find interesting:

“Fortunately, it may be possible to exercise to happiness. It has been shown that physically active people recover from mild depression more quickly, and physical activity is strongly correlated with good mental health as people age (7). Depression is related to low levels of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. Exercise increases concentrations of these neurotransmitters by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (12).

In fact, a combination of exercise and antidepressants (which increase BDNF via the serotonin-BDNF loop) has been particularly effective in treating depressive behaviors in rats.”

There is still one more aspect of exercise I wish to touch on, this time relating not so much to exercise itself, but rather the routine behind it.Making the commitment to exercise regularly requires some commitment and dedication. Simply by giving yourself a routine and sticking to it you are increasing your ability to set yourself goals and actively pursue them, exercise again helps in this area. Regular exercise can not only provide a sense of routine, security and structure but also allow the exerciser time to relax, as the conscious mind does not have to stress over the days troubles. Make sure you make exercise enjoyable, make sure you make it a way for your mind to unwind this will grant some of the greatest benefits by simply giving you a well deserved mental break while at the same time encouraging commitment to a regular activity.

I know that I often think a lot when exercising, although often this is not very consciously, and often people get good ideas while they are exercising. Think about Einstein, who got his theory of relativity while riding a bike. Coincidence? Quite possibly, but I guess we’ll never truly know. There is however some proof to the idea that we get our best ideas when we are in a relaxed state of mind, and exercising is just one way of being just that. Another place people often get good ideas is in the bathroom, but that’s a story for another article.

20 December 2007

The Many Benefits of Exercise, Part 2:

Exercise (or any physical activity) is of essential importance to both physical and psychological wellbeing. In this article we will examine the physical benefits of exercise, of which there are many indeed. If nothing else I hope this article will motivate those who do little exercise to increase it, for it truly does pay off great dividends.

Most people think only of the benefits of weight loss or weight maintenance when it comes to exercise. This is indeed one important aspect of it however it has many more important facets which are well worth thinking about. Often we get far to caught up with media driven images of body image and thus use exercise to obtain a more aesthetic physique. The focus should more so be on health, as many of the benefits of exercise may not be physically obvious, but nonetheless it has been proven without a doubt that exercise is fantastic for our overall wellbeing. When we exercise all sorts of hormones are released which change how the body reacts to further external stimuli. It is a very complex hormonal interplay which to be honest I am not qualified to speak of in detail however, regardless of what exactly is going on, we do know what many of the results of this are:

Exercise has been shown to decrease ones rate of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis (better bone density as a result of exercise), diabetes and weight gain. It has been shown to increase energy levels and also increase ones quality of sleep. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle try exercising more and see if it helps you to sleep better. Exercise also strengthens the immune system, sharpens reflexes and can even combat the most feared disease of all, cancer! (Heres a reference for that rather strong claim: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/exercisephysiology/a/aa090501a.htm) Exercise has also been proven to increase longevity, albeit only by a small amount. (I will add a link to a future post on this shortly)

However one way in which exercise is often overlooked is in its ability to increase ones strength and energy, which results in a better quality of life. Particularly the elderly, disabled and weak can benefit from these effects. As people do less physical activity today than ever before more and more people are susceptible to easily avoidable injuries. Exercise could curb this problem.

Increasing your activity levels will also help with more psychological based problems, thus exercise is good for both your physical and psychological wellbeing. The next post, "The Many Benefits of Exercise, Part 3", will focus on these psychological benefits and illustrate how the psychological and physiological aspects of humanity are indubitably intertwined. You’ll no doubt be surprised at what a remarkable effect a little exercise can have upon the brain.

19 December 2007

The Many Benefits of Exercise, Part 1:

In today’s society we exert ourselves less than ever before. It’s hardly surprising given the circumstances. We simply live in a society that encourages a lazy lifestyle. Lifts instead of stairs, cars instead of walking, running or cycling, you get the idea. When coupled with the ready availability of food, well, problems abound and their not hard to spot!

Essentially the modern definition of exercise is identical to “activity”, although it can certainly get a little more academic than I have just described it as. Yet the word exercise specifically has become a nasty word caught up with matters of obesity, weight gain, sex appeal, success and the list goes on. These associations aren’t very positive, are highly competitive and lead the majority of society to feel guilt at not meeting a largely unobtainable media ideal. People dread exercise more and more as it becomes something associated with sweat and pain. While not all people have a negative internal definition of exercise, it seems that many do. If you believe you are one of them I suggest you read "Exercise and Motivation".

Regardless of whether we enjoy exercise or not (an important question in itself, but not the one being debated here, again refer to the link above) it has been scientifically proven to be one of the most beneficial things we can do for our own health. Yes part of the benefit can be related to what every one thinks about when we think exercise, namely weight control. However, there are even more important aspects to exercising than simply fat levels.

Exercise helps physically through the manipulation of hormones, controlling energy balance, improving the immune system and so on. However it does more still, helping psychologically through feelings of wellbeing and protection from depression. Yet still further exercise has been proven to help with intelligence and stopping both mental and physical decline. Diseases can be averted, cancer curbed and all because people do a little exercise. Part of the greatest irony is that it doesn’t even have to be much. The more you do the less return you get. So the greatest return is for those who go from doing nothing to doing just a little exercise every week. Of course the more you do the fitter and healthier you are, but even us mere mortals who are not professional athletes and don’t get paid to stay fit can obtain great benefit from just a few short exercise sessions every week, particularly if your willing to jack up the intensity a bit. See "Exercising Efficiently, the Intensity Debate” if you wish for for a more in depth look at the impact of exercise intensity.

I will be following this post up with two posts, the first relating to the physical benefits and the second with the more psychologically based benefits, only so as to split it up and stop it being too much for one go. In the meantime, start looking for an exercise or activity you can do and really enjoy, you’ll thank me for it one day.

18 December 2007

About the Author:

The author of this website, Samuel Bryson, is somewhat unsure of how to best describe himself. This website is in many ways an interesting insight into his own character, much as a journal or diary is for any individual. Broadly speaking his interests concern personal development, philosophy, cycling, generally staying fit and healthy both physiologically and psychologically all while enjoying the world we find ourselves in. He is creative and enjoys experimenting, and feels that certain ideas are important and or interesting, and thus deserve sharing with the world. Hence this website, "Total Wellbeing" came into existence.

This “about the author” page is somewhat of a work in progress, and at the time being relatively bare. Consider the above as a guideline into Sam’s interests, to help you understand the viewpoint he comes from. As this website grows this page will no doubt become more detailed in its description of its author. He knows he will benefit from discussing the ideas contained on this website, ideas which he considers of importance, and hopes you will too.

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