Lifestyle Solutions for a Happy Healthy You!

Archive for September, 2011

Brain Experts’ 6 Best Memory Tricks

Brain Experts’ 6 Best Memory Tricks 

Wish your memory were a little sharper? Want to remember names and numbers as well as you could a few years back? Brain experts swear by the following six simple techniques.

1. Never forget a name: Look, snap, connect.

There are three steps to psychiatrist Gary Small’s favorite tactic, which he calls “Look, Snap, Connect.” The first is to tell yourself that remembering a particular name is a priority, says Small, who’s also the director of the UCLA Center on Aging and author of several books about memory and cognition, including The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head.

Step 1: Really focus (LOOK) on a name and face you want to remember.

Step 2: Create a visual snapshot (SNAP) of the name and face. Note a key visual characteristic: Big ears? Silver hair? Blue eyes? Dimples? Also create an image about the name: A cat stands for Mrs. Katz, a dollar bill for someone named Bill. “I sometimes see a famous person with a similar name,” Small says. “So Angela Shirnberger becomes Angelina Jolie wearing shined shoes and eating a burger.”

Step 3: Join the two images (CONNECT): Maybe blue-eyed Bill is a blue dollar bill, or Angela Shirnberger is a silver-haired Angelina Jolie with shiny shoes eating a hamburger. The simple act of thinking up these images helps cement them in your memory — and ups the odds that the new name will materialize for you the next time you encounter the person.

2. Another name trick: Use it before you lose it.
If a new name goes in one ear and out the other, try to trap it inside your head by using it immediately, suggests University of Wisconsin geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins, who’s also board certified in internal medicine. When you meet John Jones, Robbins says, deliberately repeat his name: “Nice to meet you, John.”

Then use his name in conversation every few minutes while you talk: “So John, how long have you been with your company?” And, “That’s a great point, John.” You might feel a little like a genial newscaster, but you don’t have to overdo it. Every few minutes is sufficient.

Remembering names is tricky because we’re distracted by the social interactions of the moment. And names are arbitrary, a type of information that’s harder to retain.

“Simply saying the name aloud a few times helps it stick,” Robbins says. As you walk away from the person, say the name again to yourself: “So that was John Jones of ABC Company.”

3. To remember to do something: Picture it.

Don’t want to forget to meet your friend for lunch? Need to remember to take your medicine? Create an image that associates the task with something else happening around the same time, and then picture yourself following through when you see that cue, suggests memory specialist Mark McDaniel, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Say the mailman comes just before lunch. Now picture yourself getting up to go to lunch when you see the mail truck. Odds are good that when the truck appears, that’s what you’ll do.

“The concrete environmental event cues you. It triggers the intention,” McDaniel says. Studies have shown that women who visualize doing breast self-exams in the shower are more likely to actually do them. Diabetics are more likely to monitor blood glucose daily when the task is tied to another everyday event.

More examples: Remember to take a new morning medication by imagining yourself doing so when you sip juice at breakfast (if you have juice every day). Remember to drop off dry cleaning by picturing doing so as you pass a particular landmark at that intersection.

4. To remember where things are: Put them in your path.

Visual reminders are like crutches. Without them, we have to conjure up an answer from thin air (“Now where did I put my umbrella?”) or, worse, remember to remember the thing in the first place (“Darn! Forgot my umbrella again!”). Storing an umbrella (or keys, or sunglasses) right by the door makes you more likely to remember to find it and take it with you. Having a habitual storage spot, like an umbrella stand, is another memory booster.

“Leaving it where you can see it so you don’t forget helps your prospective memory, which is remembering to remember things, like where you put something,” psychiatrist Gary Small says.
But what if the umbrella stand becomes “invisible” to you because it’s sunny on most days, so you risk forgetting the thing when it rains? Again, use a visual reminder, Small says. Move the umbrella right in front of the door as soon as you see the rain forecast.

Similarly, leave papers you need to take home with you on the floor beside your desk, right in your footpath. Assemble ingredients on a counter before you begin cooking, so you’re unlikely to forget
any. Put a package bound for UPS in your car when you have it ready; don’t expect to remember to look for it when you’re leaving the house.

5. To recall important events: Do a nightly review.
Parents sometimes use a “review the day” tactic at bedtime to give young kids a warm, fuzzy feeling and to recap the day’s best teachable moments. A similar process can help your brain recap what’s important.

It’s easy: Before going to bed, run a mental review of the key things that happened that you want to
remember. You got a call confirming an appointment for tomorrow? Promised a friend you’d follow up about lunch? Made a new acquaintance? (What was her name? Her job? Her partner’s name?)

Better yet: Carry a small notebook into which you jot critical things to remember during the day. Review these notes at day’s end. “Most people find that the combination of writing and then reviewing really helps,” psychiatrist Ken Robbins says.

6. To recollect anything: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A tactic that goes by the fancy names of “spaced rehearsal” or “expanded retrieval” is a favorite because it’s so effective. Simply repeat something over and over at slightly extended intervals. Memory specialist Professor Mark McDaniel says the tactic is often used with Alzheimer’s patients. “And if it works for many of them, it can work for someone with a healthy brain,” he says.

To use it: Say you want to remember a name or a short grocery list, or — as is often the case for Alzheimer’s patients — you need to remind yourself or your loved one to check a calendar. Repeat the
name or task to yourself. Wait 15 seconds. Silently say it again to yourself. (“Bob Smith” or “Check the calendar.”) Wait 45 seconds. Bring it back up. Wait 90 seconds, then repeat. “If you can remember it after five minutes, you’re in good shape,” McDaniel says. “It’s been well stored.”

“Spaced is the operative word,” says Martha Weinman Lear, author of Where Did I Leave My Glasses? The What, When and Why of Normal Memory Loss. “Rapid cramming — muttering someone’s name to yourself over and over in rapid succession — is not the best way to commit a name, or anything else, to memory.”

By Paula Spencer, senior editor

7 Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

7 Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the EPA, scientific evidence indicates that indoor air can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other studies indicate that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. The math isn’t so great–for many people health risks may be greater due to indoor air pollution rather than outdoor pollution.

Ill effects may arise after just a single exposure as well as repeated exposure, and can run the range from irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. These effects are usually short-term and treatable–sometimes simply eliminating the exposure to the source of the pollution is treatment enough.

Other health effects can show up years after a single exposure as well as long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is important to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.

There are a number sources of air pollution that are more commonly known as others–many already know about the dangers of cleaning products and air fresheners. Here are seven sources of indoor air pollutions that may be less commonly known–adapted from

1.New carpet. Carpet materials can emit a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Tip: If you have carpet installed, ask for low-VOC, formaldehyde-free adhesives. Air out new carpeting for a few days before installing it. After it’s laid, keep windows open in the room and run a fan for two or three days.

2. Broken compact fluorescent lights. If they break, CFLs can emit mercury, a neurotoxin, in small amounts into the air. Carpets cannot be fully cleaned of mercury and vacuums should not be used to pick it up.

Tip: Don’t use CFLs in lamps that could easily tip, especially in homes with children or pregnant women. If a CFL breaks, open a window, shut off central air, clear the room for 15 minutes, and follow the EPA cleanup guide.

3. New electronics and other plastic products. Products made with polyvinyl chloride can emit phthalates, which have been linked to hormonal abnormalities and reproductive problems. Plastics can also release flame-retardant chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which have been linked to neurobehavioral changes in animal studies.

Tip: Ventilate space until the chemical odor dissipates. Vacuum around computers, printers, and televisions regularly.

4. Glues and adhesives. They can emit VOCs, such as acetone or methyl ethyl ketone, that can irritate the eyes and affect the nervous system. Rubber cement can contain n-hexane, a neurotoxin. Adhesives can emit toxic formaldehyde.

Tip: Look for water-based, formaldehyde-free glue. Work in a well-ventilated space and don’t get too close to your work.

5. Heating equipment (stoves, heaters, fireplaces, chimneys). Heating equipment, especially gas stoves, can produce carbon monoxide, which can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and even death if not ventilated properly. It can also emit nitrogen dioxide and particulates, which can cause respiratory problems and eye, nose, and throat inflammation.

Tip: Hire a professional to check that your boiler or furnace is working properly every year and keep chimneys and other heating equipment well-maintained. Install carbon-monoxide alarms and use a hood over kitchen stoves.

6. Paints and strippers. Latex paints are a big improvement over oil-based paints because they emit fewer chemical fumes. But as they dry, all paints can emit VOCs, which can cause headaches, nausea, or dizziness. Paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints can also contain methylene chloride, which is known to cause cancer in animals.

Tip: Use low-VOC paints. When applying paint, open windows or doors, ventilate the space with fans, and wear a respirator or mask. Pregnant women should avoid using paint strippers with methlyene chloride.

7. Upholstered furniture and pressed-wood products (hardwood plywood, wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard). When new, many furniture and wood products can emit formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen that can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; and severe allergic reactions.

Tip: Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into your home. Use exterior-grade pressed-wood products (they’re lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins). Look for formaldehyde-free furniture and wood products.

(For healthy living resources and recommendations for products, services, and more, Leesa recommends a visit to our Recommended Resources section at!)

by Melissa Breyer

9 Reasons to Drink Green Tea Daily

9 Reasons to Drink Green Tea Daily

Have you been wondering “what’s all the fuss about green tea?” Now you can stop wondering and start drinking…green tea, that is. This flavorful beverage offers many health benefits to anyone who drinks it regularly. Green tea contains a potent plant nutrient known as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, for short. But don’t fret, you don’t have to keep track of its chemical name to reap the health benefits. Here are 9 reasons to start drinking green tea or continue drinking it if you’re already hooked.

1. Green tea is a superb fat fighter. Its active ingredient, EGCG, increases the rate at which fat is burned in your body.

2. It targets belly fat. Research at Tufts University indicates that EGCG in green tea, like other catechins, activate fat-burning genes in the abdomen to speed weight loss by 77 percent.

3. It keeps energy stable by balancing blood sugar levels. EGCG improves insulin use in the body to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes that can result in fatigue, irritability, and cravings for unhealthy foods.

4. Research shows it may be helpful against lung cancer. In an April 2010 study published in Cancer Prevention Research, EGCG was found to suppress lung cancer cell growth.

5. It may halt colorectal cancer. In numerous other studies, EGCG appears to inhibit colorectal cancers.

6. In research it appears to cause prostate cancer cells to commit suicide. A March 2010 study in Cancer Science indicated that EGCG aids the body by causing prostate cancer cells to commit suicide.

7. It may prevent skin damage and wrinkling. EGCG appears to be 200 times more powerful than vitamin E at destroying skin-damaging free radicals. Free radicals react with healthy cells in the body, causing damage so lessening their numbers may help reduce wrinkling and other signs of aging.

8. It contains a potent antioxidant that kills free radicals. Because it is a potent antioxidant it can positively impact a lot more than skin cells. Free radicals are increasingly linked to many serious chronic illnesses like arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.

9. It tastes good. If you’re not wild about the flavor, try a few different kinds. Try it iced or hot. Add some of the natural herb stevia to sweeten it if you want a sweeter drink. I wasn’t crazy about green tea the first few times I tried it, but now I love it with a fresh squeeze of lemon and a few drops of stevia over ice–et voila! Green tea lemonade. Mmmmm.

Reap the Rewards
Add one or two teaspoons of green tea leaves to a cup of boiling water, preferably in a tea strainer. Let steep for five minutes. Pour over ice if you prefer a cold beverage. Most experts recommend three cups daily. And, don’t worry it contains a lot less caffeine than coffee or black tea.

(Leesa recommends Organic India Tulsi Green Tea!!)

By Michelle Schoffro Cook

Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook. Adapted with permission from The Life Force Diet.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international best-selling and eleven-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body Detox, The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme Cure. Check out her natural health resources and free e-newsletter at

33 Tips for Better Sleep!

33 Tips for Better Sleep


Sleep is one of the great mysteries of life. Like gravity or the quantum field, we still don’t understand exactly why we sleep—although we are learning more about it every day.  We do know, however, that good sleep is one of the cornerstones of health.

Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults, and too much or too little can have adverse effects on your health.

Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health.

For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:

  • Dramatically weaken your immune system
  • Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
  • Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
  • Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day
  • Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability

When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone AND an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.

Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Constipation
  • Mood disorders like depression

Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as Peak Fitness Technique). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger.

One study has even shown that people with chronic insomnia have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause.

Lost sleep is lost forever, and persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as most of you probably know.

The good news is, there are many natural techniques you can learn to restore your “sleep health.”

Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning—or maybe you simply want to improve the quality of your sleep—you are bound to find some relief from my tips and tricks below.

Optimizing Your Sleep Sanctuary

  • Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. This will help decrease your risk of cancer.  Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. Cover up your clock radio. Cover your windows—I recommend using blackout shades or drapes. All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for action.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep. When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
  • Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can disrupt the pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
  • Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view. It will only add to your worry when you stare at it all night… 2 a.m. …3 a.m. … 4:30 a.m.
  • Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, an alarm may even be unnecessary. I gave up my alarm clock years ago and now use a sun alarm clock. These clocks include a built-in light that gradually increases in intensity, simulating a natural sunrise.
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
  • Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom.

Preparing for Bed

  • Get to bed as early as possible. Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health. Prior to the widespread use of electricity, people would go to bed shortly after sundown, as most animals do, and which nature intended for humans as well.
  • Don’t change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. This could include meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils or indulging in a massage from your partner. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the tensions of the day.
  • Don’t drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom, or at least minimize the frequency.
  • Go to the bathroom right before bed. This will reduce the chances that you’ll wake up to go in the middle of the night.
  • Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production.
  • Also eat a small piece of fruit. This can help the tryptophan cross your blood-brain barrier.
  • Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars. These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
  • Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it’s time for bed.
  • Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. A study has shown that wearing socks reduces night wakings. As an alternative, you could place a hot water bottle near your feet at night.
  • Wear an eye mask to block out light. As discussed earlier, it is very important to sleep in as close to complete darkness as possible. That said, it’s not always easy to block out every stream of light using curtains, blinds or drapes, particularly if you live in an urban area (or if your spouse has a different schedule than you do). In these cases, an eye mask can be helpful.
  • Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more). This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow’s deadlines.
  • No TV right before bed. Even better, get the TV out of the bedroom or even completely out of the house. It’s too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function.
  • Listen to relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep.
  • Read something spiritual or uplifting. This may help you relax. Don’t read anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel, which has the opposite effect. In addition, if you are really enjoying a suspenseful book, you might be tempted to go on reading for hours, instead of going to sleep!
  • Journaling. If you often lay in bed with your mind racing, it might be helpful keep a journal and write down your thoughts before bed. Personally, I have been doing this for 15 years, but prefer to do it in the morning when my brain is functioning at its peak and my cortisol levels are high.

Lifestyle Suggestions That Enhance Sleep

  • Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep. In many cases, it is helpful to look into alternatives to address the condition causing the drugs to be taken in the first place.
  • Avoid caffeine. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine (for example, diet pills).
  • Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
  • Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it.
  • Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep. (Click here for my nutritional recommendations.)
  • Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems.
  • Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress.
  • If you are menopausal or premenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.

If All Else Fails

  • My current favorite fix for insomnia is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Most people can learn the basics of this gentle tapping technique in a few minutes. EFT can help balance your body’s bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.
  • Increase your melatonin. Ideally it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. If that isn’t possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep. I prefer to use a sublingual melatonin product because it is absorbed much faster and therefore works more quickly.

By Dr. Mercola

Dr. Mercola has been passionate about health and technology for most of his life. As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, he treated many thousands of patients for over 20 years. In the mid 90’s he integrated his passion for natural health with modern technology via the internet and developed a website, to spread the word about natural ways to achieve optimal health.

25 Ways to Make Time for Fitness

25 Ways to Make Time for Fitness


Most common excuse for not exercising? Survey says: “No time.” But examine that excuse at close range and you’ll see it’s usually about something deeper, says Lavinia Rodriguez, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management (iUniverse, 2008). “Typically, it’s lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment, negative associations, fear or maybe low self-esteem,” she says.

Busy as we may be, we have less trouble finding time for television, social networking or even dull household tasks, Rodriguez observes, because there simply aren’t the same steep psychological barriers to those activities.

If you want to exercise, you’ll make the time. We interviewed psychologists, exercise scientists, celebrity trainers, authors and busy everyday people to get a handle on the 25 most promising strategies.

1. Make a Plan.

“The best way to make time for exercise is to have a written plan,” says Chris Evert, 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion. “Decide on the best time for exercise in your schedule and actually enter it into your computer or cell-phone calendar as a repeat event. This way it shows up daily and there’s less chance of you scheduling something during that time. Also, when you check your schedule in the morning, you’ll see it there and form a mental picture of when and how you’ll be exercising that day, which helps you stay motivated.”

2. Subdivide Your to-do list.

Rather than making one long to-do list you’ll never complete, divide your list into three categories, advises Lisa Druxman, MA, exercise counselor and founder of the Stroller Strides ( and Mama Wants Her Body Back ( programs. “It’s not enough to get things done,” she says. “You need to get the right things done. It’s OK to have dirty clothes in your hamper. It’s OK if you don’t read every email the moment you receive it. It’s not OK to cheat your health.” Druxman suggests the following to-do list makeover:

• Take out a sheet of paper and create three boxes that represent the most important parts of your life (e.g., family, work, yourself).
• List the top three to-dos that would make the most difference in each category. For family, it might be cooking or helping with homework. For work, it might be returning phone calls or completing a presentation. For yourself, include exercise, plus something else nurturing, like calling a friend or having a healthy lunch.
• Finally, block out times on your calendar for those specific to-dos, and honor those very specific commitments.

Having trouble deciding which to-dos are most important? “Think about the things that will have the most impact not just today, but a year from now,” Druxman says.

3. Find five minutes.

Even if your day is packed with meetings and other commitments, you absolutely can eke out five minutes for yourself, says Simmons. And that simple act of self-care has the potential to change your life. “I tell people it’s OK to start very, very small.” A five-minute walk now can easily turn into daily 30-minute walks a few weeks from now. “You have to start somewhere,” he says.

4. Limit screen time.

Don’t aimlessly surf cable channels or the Internet, says Rodriguez. That’s a surefire way to waste time you could be spending in more active ways. Before you sit down, set a time limit (consider keeping a kitchen timer nearby to alert you when time’s up). Most of us occasionally watch shows we don’t love because we’re bored, notes Franklin Antoian, CPT, founder of “Consider trading just 30 minutes of that low-value television time for exercise,” he says. “My guess is you won’t miss it.”

5. Be an active watcher.

When you do watch TV, make the most of it. Do some ball-crunches, planks, yoga poses, squats, lunges or pushups while you’re watching. Keep fitness equipment, such as a kettlebell, resistance bands and a jump rope, near the TV. Or use the commercial breaks to mix in brief cardio intervals. Run in place or up and down the stairs; do some burpees or jumping jacks.

6. Delegate like crazy.

Reassess household chores: Can the kids do laundry? Can your spouse cook dinner? What professional tasks can you hand off so you can get out for a walk at lunch or stop by the gym on the way home? Don’t think you’re the only one who can do all of the things you’re currently doing. Look, too, for things that could be done less often — or that might not need to get done at all.

7. Be motivated by money.

Putting some money on the line may provide you with the motivation you need to show up for activity. Sign up for a yoga workshop, book some sessions with a personal trainer, or plunk down some cash for a race or other athletic event you’ll have to train for. Schedule a babysitter to watch the kids while you go for a run. Or take a few salsa lessons.

8. Think positive.

Psychologists suggest that actively editing your negative self-talk patterns is a powerful way to support healthier lifestyle choices. For example, anytime you catch yourself thinking, “I am too busy to work out,” rephrase the thought in more positive, empowering terms, such as, “I choose to make myself a priority.” Or, “I do have time to be healthy.” Or, “I am willing to do something active today.” Over time, those positive thought patterns will elbow out the negative ones, helping you to see your available choices more clearly.

9. Be a hot date.

Dinner and a movie is so cliché, says Shannon Hammer, motivational speaker and author of The Positive Portions Food & Fitness Journal (Fairview Press, 2010). What if, instead, you took your date/partner/love-interest to a cycling class or a ballroom dance lesson, went on a hike or a picnic, or kicked a soccer ball around the park? Bonus: Research shows that shared activity builds attraction.

8 Ways Exercise Makes You Gorgeous

10. Do brisk business.

Chances are, many of your coworkers are in the same boat as you: They want to exercise, but have trouble finding the time. So, what if you move the weekly progress update or brainstorm session to the sidewalk, or stand during meetings? Can your group hike to the coffee shop rather than order in? Can you woo a new client over a tennis match instead of dinner? The fresh air and endorphins will spark more creative ideas, Hammer says.

11. Socialize on the move.

Next time a friend suggests meeting for lunch, dinner or drinks, counter with an active invitation. How about joining you for a yoga class or a quick walk around the lake? Instead of spending time on the phone or emailing back and forth, suggest that you catch up on the latest news over a leisurely bike ride, or bond by trying an athletic pursuit, like indoor climbing, that neither of you has ever tried.

12. Work it in.

Diedre Pai, 35, is a mom to two girls under age 3. With an infant and toddler constantly in tow, she’s had to get creative with her exercise routine. While picking up toys, towels and trash off the floor, she increases glute and leg strength by doing squats instead of bending at the waist. “I do calf raises whenever I’m standing at the counter or stove, and when I’m going upstairs to change a diaper,” she says. Whenever she picks up her baby, she does a few overhead lifts. “That always makes her giggle.” Kids playing outside? “I get in there and run and climb at their speed, which gets my heart rate up,” she says. Over the course of a single day, Pai estimates she gets about 60 minutes of exercise this way.“I consider parenting to be a full-contact sport,” she says, “and being in shape makes me a better player.”

13. Find a cheerleader.

What looks like lack of time is often lack of motivation, so consider recruiting emotional support. “I decided 35 years ago that I would be the court jester of health and get people excited about fitness,” says legendary activity advocate Richard Simmons. “Because, when you’re excited about something, you find time to do it.” Nominate a friend, family member, life coach or personal trainer to be your cheerleader and encourage you (positive messages only; no nagging) on a daily basis. Or, join an online community like that emphasizes can-do camaraderie.

14. Be yourself.

Part of the reason you can’t make time for exercise may be because you’re not focusing on the right workout for your personality, says Marta Montenegro, MS, CSCS, CPT, celebrity trainer and exercise physiology professor at Florida International University. For example, don’t assume you’re a runner just because your best friend loves to run, she says. “Instead, analyze your lifestyle and personality to find a routine that suits you.” Once you understand your fitness personality, you’ll be able to identify activities you actually enjoy, and squeezing them into your schedule won’t be nearly as hard. (For more, see “Your Fitness Personality.”)

15. Bring the family.

If family obligations prevent you from fitting in regularly scheduled workouts, rope your gang into other types of group activities. Schedule family hikes, soccer games, after-dinner walks, bike rides or family trips to the gym. Let the kids suggest family-activity options. And remember that exercise is something you’re doing for your family, says Pai. “When the kids see that exercise is important to Mommy and Daddy, it will be important to them, too.”

16. Take your show on the road.

As you’re packing for a business trip or vacation, be sure to include your workout clothes, says tennis champ Chris Evert. Just packing them signals to your brain that you intend to make time for exercise. As for what to do? “Spend 15 to 20 minutes swimming laps, running stairs, or jogging on the hotel treadmill first thing in the morning,” she says. No gym or pool? Ask the front desk if they offer guest passes to a neighborhood gym. “Or, when my schedule is tight,” says Evert, “I do some yoga while catching the morning news on TV.”

17. Hit “play.”

“Exercise DVDs are cost-effective, private and flexible, and they allow you to stop and start your workouts based on real-life time constraints,” says Hammer. (So, for example, you can do laundry while working out.) Hammer used this approach to shed more than 100 pounds while going to school full-time and working. Try Pilates workouts from Brooke Siler (Anchor Bay), fitness training with Erin O’Brien (Acacia) or yoga with Shiva Rea (Acacia).

18. Rise and shine.

For most people, the day only gets more demanding as it goes on, says celebrity trainer and fitness DVD star Sara Haley. “Exercising first thing in the morning will ensure you fit it in,” she says. Lay out your workout clothes the night before, she suggests. “This way you won’t waste any time and can’t claim you forgot anything.”

19. Ditch your ride.

Whenever feasible, hop on the bus, train or subway, or ride your bike to work or to run errands, says Haley. If you can’t do it every day, try for once a week. People who take alternative transportation tend to get more exercise than daily car commuters.

20. Master the micro-workout.

Whether you’re at work or home, never let yourself sit idle for more than a couple of hours, says Mark Lauren, certified military physical-training specialist, triathlete and author of You Are Your Own Gym (Light of New Orleans Publishing, 2010). Build in a loop around the block when you grab a cup of coffee, or plan 10-minute breaks at regular intervals to stretch or do a brief circuit workout. “I like to throw in random sets of body-weight exercise throughout the day. One hard set of 12 or fewer reps won’t make most people sweat if they’re in an air-conditioned building, but it will be enough to make a difference if done several times throughout each day,” says Lauren. It takes less than 30 seconds to do 15 pushups or sit-ups, he points out. So don’t say you don’t have time. Set an alarm on your computer to remind you. (For specific exercise ideas, see “Workday Workouts.”)

21. Hit it hard.

“When you’re short on time, focus on higher-payoff workouts,” says Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (Crown Archetype, 2010). “If you’re focused, there’s no reason you can’t get results in less than 20 minutes a week.” His favorite routines? Kettlebell swings (consider keeping a kettlebell by your desk) and slow-motion resistance training. “One female case study cut her body fat 3 percentage points in roughly four weeks with only five minutes of kettlebell swings three times a week,” he says. The key is staying focused and maintaining a high intensity throughout the mini-workout session. For a fast and furious workout idea, check out weightlifting complexes in “Simplicity Complex” — or search on “HIIT” (short for high-intensity interval training).

22. Wear your pedometer.

“As we get older, we typically take fewer steps per day,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, medical director of Take Shape For Life, a nationwide health and lifestyle coaching program based in Owings Mills, Md. “By age 60, most people are down to about 4,500 steps. Your goal should be to maintain 10,000.” The best way to do that is to get a pedometer at your local sporting goods store, or download an app that converts your cell phone to a pedometer. Those wearing pedometers tend to walk more because they’re more conscious of their steps. Looking for extra credit? “Climbing a flight of stairs is the equivalent of walking 100 steps,” says Andersen.

23. Adopt a DIY mentality.

“Start doing things by hand instead of letting a machine do them for you,” suggests Andersen. This might include snow shoveling, pushing a lawn mower, raking leaves or hanging laundry to dry. “Also, ditch remote controls and other automatic devices that undermine your body’s energy use.”

24. Work while you wait.

Katy Gaenicke, mother of two boys, found a creative solution to her “no time” dilemma. She spends a lot of time on the sidelines of football practices and games near their home in Boston. “I started bringing my bike with me and riding around near the fields while my son practices,” she says. Evert has used this technique, too: “Instead of cramming in one more errand while your kids are at their activities, put on your sneakers and take a walk for the hour.”

25. Phone it in.

Have a conference call you can’t miss? Need to return a few phone calls to family and friends? Grab your cell phone (and, ideally, a headset) and get walking. Assuming your area has reliable reception, strive to walk whenever you’re on the phone. A note of caution, though: Talking and listening will tend to distract you from the fact you’re exercising. That can be a good thing, or a dangerous thing. So always take care to remain aware of your surroundings, traffic and so on. The goal is to squeeze exercise in wherever you can — safely.

By Gina DeMillo Wagner, Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

12 Surprising Reasons to Eat More Blueberries

12 Surprising Reasons to Eat More Blueberries

1.  Catechins found in blueberries activate fat-burning genes in abdominal fat cells to assist with weight loss, and belly fat loss in particular.  According to research at Tufts University, regularly ingesting catechins increases abdominal fat loss by 77 percent and double total weight loss.

2.  They contain a group of natural phytonutrients (plant nutrient) called proanthocyanidins which have a unique ability to protect both the watery and fatty parts of the brain against damage from some environmental toxins.

3.  Blueberries are one of the richest sources of proanthocyanidins.  These phytonutrients decrease free radicals levels that are linked to aging (yes wrinkling!) and disease.

4.  In animal studies, those given an extract of blueberries had less motor skill decline and performed better on memory tests than animals not given the blueberries.  Researchers conclude that compounds in blueberries may reverse some age-related memory loss and motor skill decline.

5.  Blueberries are packed with vitamins C, E, riboflavin, niacin, and folate.

6.  They are a rich source of the phytonutrients ellagic acid.  Ellagic acid has proven anticancer and genetic-material-protection capabilities.  It also encourages a healthy rate of apoptosis—how the body seeks out and destroys harmful or damaged cells, like cancer cells.

7.  Because they contain plentiful amounts of the phytonutrient quercetin, they may reduce the likelihood and severity of allergies.

8.  Blueberries contain minerals like iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.

9.  Blueberries contain salicylic acid—the natural version of aspirin.  Salicylic acid is known to thin the blood and reduce pain.

10.  Blueberries are excellent anti-inflammatory agents.  They increase the amounts of compounds called heat-shock proteins that decrease as people age.  When heat shock proteins decrease the result is inflammation and damage, particularly in the brain.  Research shows that by eating blueberries regularly, inflammation lessens.

11.  They increase the production of feel-good dopamine.  Dopamine is a natural neurotransmitter (brain messenger) that tends to be low in Parkinson’s.

12.  They just taste great.  Ok, this is no surprise but it’s a great reason to eat blueberries anyway.

(Leesa recommends eating organic or pesticide free blueberries!  She also recommends Chews4Health which is a convenient way to eat your blueberries…learn more at

by Michelle Schoffro Cook

Adapted from The Life Force Diet by Michelle Schoffro Cook.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international best-selling and eleven-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body Detox, The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme Cure. Check out her natural health resources and free e-newsletter at

6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers

6 Surprising Heart Attack Triggers

Clogged arteries may be the root cause of heart attacks, but there’s usually something else that triggers them. Here’s how to protect yourself.

Heart attacks often come without warning, and although it’s well documented that they’re caused by atherosclerosis (plaque buildup on arterial walls), there are certain triggers that can set off a heart attack in people who are at risk. This week, Belgian researchers published a study in The Lancet ranking various heart attack triggers according to their prevalence in people who are already at risk for cardiac problems. Here’s a list of some of their more surprising findings, and some ways to protect yourself from heart attack triggers:

#1: Traffic Exposure

Commuters beware: Traffic exposure triggers about 8 percent of heart attacks among those who are vulnerable, according to the study, and it can affect you if you’re a driver, a passenger, or even a bicyclist riding along the road. Previous research on the link between traffic and heart attacks has been inconclusive as to whether it’s traffic-related pollution, the stress of being in traffic, or some combination of the two that causes heart attacks. But the clear message is that getting stuck in rush-hour jams isn’t good for anybody. Save your ticker and ask your boss if you can work from home one day a week. Telecommuters are healthier, past studies have shown, and they even work longer hours while still maintaining a better work-life balance than their colleagues in cubicles.

#2: Physical Exertion

Second on the list of heart attack triggers was physical exertion, accounting for just over 6 percent of cases. But they weren’t talking about the good kind of exertion that comes from exercise. The study authors noted that people who are sedentary most of the time, and then suddenly engage in heavy-duty physical activity, are most at risk. The best protection against this is at least 150 minutes per week of regular exercise. But if you’re already sedentary and need to, say, shovel out four feet of snow from a recent storm, be sure to warm up first, and delay the strenuous activity till later in the morning. Strenuous exercise first thing in the morning is a shock to your system and can up the risk of a heart attack.

#3: Alcohol and Coffee

These drinks, whether to get you going or calm you down, each contribute 5 percent to total risk of triggering a heart attack. Heavy alcohol intake is the primary villain, although doctors aren’t sure how it triggers heart attacks. A few theories are that too much alcohol can increase inflammation and interfere with your body’s ability to dissolve blood clots. But keep in mind that one glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage per day can help prevent heart disease because of the beneficial polyphenols in wine and beer. Coffee, on the other hand, seems to work in exactly the opposite way. Most studies linking coffee to heart disease have found that people who drink it less frequently are more prone to heart attacks than people who drink a lot of coffee. So if you drink less than one cup of coffee per day, consider switching to tea to get your caffeine boost.

#4: Air Pollution

Smog, vehicle exhaust, and all those tiny particulates emitted by burning woodstoves all combine to form a potent, but silent, killer. Air pollution triggers 4.75 percent of heart attacks among those vulnerable, and even though it’s one of the lowest percentages, the authors considered it most concerning because no one can avoid air pollution. For that reason, experts in a new field of medicine called environmental cardiology agree that preventing heart attacks in other ways is more effective than trying to cope on the individual level with air pollution. Minimize stress, treat migraines if you have them, don’t eat red meat and salt, and do eat a Mediterranean diet. You’ll protect yourself against air pollution and all the other heart attack triggers included in the study.

#5: Feeling Happy and Feeling Mad

Strong emotions seem to trigger a heart attack even if they’re good ones. Anger and negative emotions contribute more to your risk—almost 7 percent—than positive emotions, which contribute just 2.5 percent. “Both intense positive and intense negative emotions can cause stress to the body,” says Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts, and a advisor.

All strong emotions increase adrenaline output, heart rate, and the stickiness of red blood cells, which combined can trigger heart attack. But there’s a reason you should still try to embrace more positive emotions to ward off heart attacks. “Positive emotions generally result in more balanced heart rhythms than negative emotions, and disrupted heart rhythms are a contributing factor in some heart attacks,” Rossman says.

Furthermore, he adds, “Because we tend to resist negative emotions, they produce more muscle tension than positive emotions, including tension in the muscles in the periphery of blood vessels. This blood vessel constriction also makes negative emotions more likely than positive emotions to contribute to heart attacks.”

#6: Sex

Rounding out the top seven heart attack triggers is sex, which increases your chance of heart attack by 2.2 percent, the authors found. All that horizontal activity can raise blood pressure and heart rates, triggering a cardiac event. The various studies looking at the link between sex and heart attacks have all concluded that this risk is still relatively low for healthy people, somewhere around 1 chance in a million. But people already at risk for heart attacks should take it easy. The good news, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is that regular exercise can keep you from succumbing to a sex-induced heart attack.

By Emily Main, is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice. features a Daily Newsletter, and provides simple, powerful tools including Recipe Finder and Home Remedy Finder to help audiences improve their health and their environment. also includes “Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen,” a personal blog where Editor-in-Chief and Rodale, Inc. CEO and Chairman Maria Rodale is “Cooking Up Trouble, Dishing Out Advice.”

Best and Worst ‘People’ Food for Dogs and Cats

Best and Worst “People” Food for Dogs and Cats

Like buying candy for kids, we often think snacks that have been specially packaged for pets are the best treats in the world. Why would they want anything other than a tasty treat? But a lot of those packaged pet snacks and treats are the equivalent of candy. They are not a big deal, as long as you don’t do too much of it, since they are mostly devoid of nutritional value.

And just as we encourage kids to eat their veggies rather than another candy, we can also encourage a love for veggies in our pets. These low calorie, low fat, vitamin and mineral-packed “treats” are a great alternative to the packaged dog biscuits and kitty chews.


Which Vegetables Are Best and Which Vegetable Are Not Safe for Pets?

There are some plant foods that are toxic to pets, so you will want to be familiar with what to avoid and even prevent access to. If you are unsure, check with your veterinarian to make sure that your planned treats are not going to be harmful to your pet. Also keep in mind that while dogs are omnivorous and thus more open to trying different kinds of foods. Cats, on the other hand, are carnivorous. They are not just picky about what they eat — they are constitutionally incapable of digesting some types of foods.

Good Foods

  • Apples – without seeds or core (apple seeds contain chemical compounds that are poisonous to animals)
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon – without seeds
  • Frozen bananas
  • Green beans
  • Carrots – raw or cooked
  • Sweet potato – cooked, cubed or mashed without butter or seasoning; regular potatoes are also good, but in limited amounts since they are high in sugar and can increase weight
  • Squash, zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Popcorn – unsalted and unbuttered
  • Catnip or cat grass


Bad Foods

  • Grapes and raisins – contain chemical compounds that are toxic to dogs
  • Garlic and onions – both have chemical properties that can be toxic and even life threatening to dogs and cats
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Mushrooms – particularly wild mushrooms
  • Fruits with pits, such as peaches, cherries, and plums – in some cases the pit can be toxic or can simply present a choking hazard
  • Nuts – particularly macadamia nuts, which are toxic to pets

What is the Best Way To Feed These Types of Treats?

The foods should be baked or steamed, cut up into smallish pieces, and only given in small amounts at a time. This will prevent both choking and an overload of carbohydrate- and calorie-rich foods. You can give the vegetables and fruits by themselves, or you might mash or puree them and mix them up with the prepared food and given at meal times.

Replacing your pet’s dense, high fat packaged treats with healthy treats like fruits and vegetables will be one of the most beneficial things you do for your pet. Over the long term, your pet’s health and immune system will be stronger, aging will not be as severe, its weight will stay steadier, and if weight is already an issue, you may even see your pet’s weight become more manageable — if you stick to it and include moderate exercise.

With any change in diet, it is important to observe your pet for issues that can arise in response to the change. If your pet begins to show digestive or behavioral changes, stop feeding the new foodstuff and consult with a veterinarian if the problem does not go away in the absence of the added food.

by PetMD

petMD is a leading online resource focused solely on the health and well-being of pets. The site maintains the world’s largest pet health library, written and approved by a network of trusted veterinarians. petMD was founded to inspire pet owners to provide an ever-increasing quality of life for their pets and to connect pet owners with pet experts and other animal lovers. petMD is a subsidiary of the Pet360 family of brands, which also includes — the most complete pet food and supply retailer online, and — a fully certified, full-service pet pharmacy delivering pet meds, vitamins and comprehensive pet health and wellness products.

For more information, visit

8 Toxins Lurking in Your Fabric Softener

8 Toxins Lurking in your Fabric Softener
8 Toxins Lurking in Your Fabric Softener

If you enjoy the smell of clean clothes straight out of the dryer you may be shocked to learn that smell comes at a cost.  Most commercial fabric softeners–dryer sheets or the liquid variety–contain many toxic chemicals.  Here are eight toxins found in most fabric softeners (and eight reasons to switch to natural options.) 

1.  Alpha-Terpineol–This chemical has been linked to disorders of the brain and nervous system, loss of muscle control, depression, and headaches

2.  Benzyl acetate–Benzyl acetate has been linked to cancer of the pancreas

3.  Benzyl alcohol–Linked to headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, depression, as well as disorders of the brain and nervous system

4.  Chloroform–Chloroform is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Waste list because it has been identified as a carcinogen and neurotoxin (toxic to the brain and nervous system)

5.  Ethanol–also on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list for its ability to cause brain and nervous system disorder

6.  Ethyl Acetate–causes headaches and is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list

7.  Linalool–in studies, this chemical caused loss of muscle coordination, nervous system and brain disorders, and depression

8.  Pentane–causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, and depression

The standard argument in favor of using fabric softeners is that the amount of the chemicals to which a person is exposed is insufficient to cause harm.  Studies are showing that even small amounts of these toxins can have serious effects.  So, think twice before you add that dryer sheet or liquid fabric softener to your laundry, particularly for children whose developing brains are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins.

Read about effective natural options to use in place of harmful chemical-laden fabric softeners.

Adapted from The Brain Wash by Michelle Schoffro Cook, DNM (John Wiley & Sons)

If you missed my article on The Toxic Effects of Perfume, be sure to check it out.  And, if you want to give your liver a boost to help it detoxify these toxic chemicals, check out my article, Spring Cleanse Your Liver.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international best-selling and eleven-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body Detox, The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme Cure. Check out her natural health resources and free e-newsletter at

How Stress Messes With Your Memory

How Stress Messes With Your Memory

Researchers are just now beginning to uncover the thorny relationship between mental pressure and recalland their findings have special significance for women.

By Gretchen Voss, Women’s Health

Everyone has had an experience like this one: You’re running late for an important meeting, frantically tearing apart the house on a desperate search for the car keys you just put down… somewhere. Or at the other extreme, you spent weeks freaking out over an upcoming presentation only to deliver all the key points with Oscar-accepting eloquence when the day arrives.

So what is it that makes a person either go completely blank or perform brilliantly on simple tasks involving memory when feeling stressed?

Quick and easy ways to stress less.

The answer is complicated, and neuroscientists are finally teasing out some of the bigger mysteries behind how that three-pound mass of electrochemical soup remembers, or forgets, where the damn keys are. An old adage says a little stress is good for memory, and a lot is bad–but it turns out to be true only for men. New research suggests that gender matters when it comes to memory and stress, whether that stress is acute, chronic, or traumatic.

Acute Stress

“Your son’s test came back, and it’s irregular,” the doctor told Denise Carleton, then a stay-at-home mom in Mill Valley, California. After hearing those alarming words, the 36-year-old nearly fainted as her body crashed over with waves of stress and fear. For the past month, she’d worried that her 2-year-old was regressing on all of his developmental milestones, such as talking and walking. But she never suspected that he could have a serious medical problem.

Initially, she could barely hear the rapid-fire questions the physician blasted at her. But then she snapped to, answering in detail about when he first walked, talked, and smiled; the dates of his last vaccinations; and every symptom over the past month. “In the midst of this incredible stress, I suddenly remembered everything,” she says today. “Stuff that on a normal day I would be hard-pressed to recall.”

Try these stress-busting foods.

Being able to remember things and learn new info depends entirely on the ability of networks of neurons–mostly in the areas of the brain called the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus–to communicate with one another. Picture each neuron as an old-fashioned telephone, but with multiple wires snaking out from the receiver. Some of those wires are called axons, and they intersect with other wires called dendrites at connections called synapses.

The brain creates and retains memories in part by growing thicker, more efficient communication lines between groups of neurons–basically, by hooking up the phone wires and keeping them on a biological speed dial. When you try to remember when your son first smiled, says Todd Sacktor, M.D., a professor of neurology at the State University of New York Downstate College of Medicine, the phone lines should start buzzing with activity, connecting the neurons that hold those memories. Ah, he was 4-months-old and reaching for his favorite teddy bear.

6 Strategies for all-day calm.

But then you hear that your child might be really sick. Immediately, the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system unleashes stress hormones, such as epinephrine and cortisol, into the “phone” system, generally making the connections crisper and clearer. The result: “As a safe general rule, a moderate to strong amount of acute stress–stress that happens once and then goes away–tends to be good for memory,” says Larry Cahill, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California at Irvine. Over the years, research has backed something called an inverted U response, meaning that as stress levels increase, so does memory performance–up to a person’s own optimal level of stress. Add more than that and memory function fizzles.

Then, on a hunch, Cahill’s lab decided to take a closer look at how sex differences might play a role in this long-established “safe general rule” and, surprisingly, discovered in one experiment that the rule did not apply to women. In that experiment, Cahill tested the memories of both men and women after an acute stress and found that the stressful event enhanced the memories of the men but did not do so for the women. (Yes, Denise Carleton’s killer recall seems to contradict this, but stay with us.) It was a puzzling finding: The levels of stress hormones were elevated equally in both males and females–so why didn’t it have the same affect on their memories?

Thinking that perhaps stress hormones were interacting with sex hormones, they ran the experiment again, this time using only women and controlling for various phases of the menstrual cycle. They discovered that when women had high levels of estrogen (before and during their periods), stress fuzzed up their recollection, but when they had high levels of progesterone, following their cycle, stress boosted recall–just like it did for guys. In other words, women received the memory lift that acute stress provides only when their estrogen levels were normal.

Cahill’s work was groundbreaking–and goes a long way toward explaining Denise’s peak performance in the doctor’s office (she was in that high-progesterone part of her cycle). It also explains why, on other days when she’s been pelted with curveballs, she’s been known to forget that she tossed her cell phone on the bumper of her truck or left a takeout pizza on the roof.

“Most of the research on stress and memory has been done in adult male humans, rats, and monkeys,” says Victoria Luine, Ph.D., a neuroendocrinologist at Hunter College in New York City, whose own work has since revealed similar findings. “Scientists have taken the male model and just assumed that females are the same. It’s a big assumption, and it’s wrong.”

Especially, it turns out, when it comes to the impact of chronic stress.

Chronic Stress

Sarah Wieland, 40, of Concord, Massachusetts, couldn’t find her breath. She was already anxious about quitting an executive job in order to start teaching yoga, and was nervously trying to put together her first class. Then suddenly, all the moving parts in her personal life jammed up. She was diagnosed with shingles (a painful virus); her twin 6-year-old daughters had to have their tonsils removed and required round-the-clock care; and she was scrambling to pull together the final touches of a long-planned blowout birthday dinner party for herself, with 45 friends invited, and a much-anticipated 10-day trip to Bermuda.

Yet, shockingly, instead of drowning in details, she found herself kicking butt. She remembered doctor’s appointments and medication dosages, and had a perfect handle on the party and trip details. “My first yoga class went amazingly well too,” she says. “I really think all the overwhelming stress actually helped me calm down and focus.” She was lucky that her husband was traveling and the craziness fell on her shoulders: New research shows that men generally flounder in the face of chronic stress, and women excel.

While the increased levels of stress hormones washing over your brain during acute stress quickly recede once life returns to normal–and any resulting memory enhancements disappear–chronic stress (i.e., stress that lasts a least a few weeks) keeps the spigot turned on. Too much of the stuff is toxic and essentially disconnects those phone-wire dendrites, says Luine. The result: The brain is prevented from laying down new memories and accessing old ones, making it difficult to think clearly and remember crucial details.

At least in men.

“Very few neuroscientists know this,” says Cahill. “The conclusion that everybody knows–that chronic stress damages hippocampal cells–just isn’t the same in females. It’s quite different. And that’s remarkable. The sex difference is a big, unfolding story. The idea that sex doesn’t matter in neuroscience is crumbling rapidly.”

While the fact that female brains are better able to handle chronic stress might be news to neuroscientists, it sure isn’t to any woman with a male significant other. In a study last year, Zhen Yan, Ph.D., a professor of physiology and neuroscience at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that chronic stress in male rodents suppressed the communication ability in neurons in the prefrontal cortex, impairing the working memory–the kind of short-term information storage that remembers, say, what you gave your mother-in-law for her birthday last year. This did not happen with females (It was a coral sweater, duh), thanks to the sex hormone estrogen. It somehow keeps the phone lines humming along even under crazed conditions.

Luine reached similar conclusions when looking at the hippocampus, the area of the brain crucial to memory storage. In her study, stress caused male rats to fail miserably on all memory tests, while it helped females ace some tests (those that involved spatial memory–the kind that knows the location of your purse, for instance) and didn’t affect the outcome of others. “If you chronically stress males, they get worse, absolutely. Females actually get better,” she says. “It’s pretty astounding.”

It all makes sense, says Luine, if you put it in the context of evolution. While cavemen were out chasing ferocious animals to eat–and trying not to be eaten themselves–women were back in the cave toiling away at endless child-care tasks. “The men became adapted to acute stress,” says Luine, “while the women became adapted to chronic stress. This is clearly a hypothesis, but it could account for why the responses are different, why females won’t show this loss of dendrites in the hippocampus to the extent that males do.”

The good news for men is that the scatterbrained effects of chronic stress disappear once things calm down. In other words, the severed phone wires grow back. Still, it’s not a condition men or women want to endure over the long haul, because it might permanently impair their memory, says Luine, although this hasn’t been tested.

Traumatic Stress

In December 2004, Alexis Moore was driving on the freeway near her home in northern California when she spaced out. “My mind was a complete blank,” the 36-year-old says today. “I had no idea where I’d been headed.” Other days, she’d find herself standing in the grocery store, staring at the rainbow of choices in the produce section, unsure of what she’d gone there to buy.

For six years before that, Alexis had been the victim of domestic abuse and stalking at the hands of her now ex-boyfriend. “The trauma, the nonstop, red-alert stress was unbelievable,” she says of those days when she always wore running shoes in case she needed to, literally, run for her life. After nearly being beaten to death that November, she finally escaped, though the scars from the traumatic stress still linger even now. “I noticed right away that I began having difficulties with memory when thinking of dates and times to share with police and the courts,” she says. Though she had always prided herself on her razor-sharp recall, she entered law school in 2008 with her memory in tatters. “Simple tasks, such as memorizing laws, take much longer for me than for other students,” she says. Alexis works hard to compensate, using flash cards twice a day, but any memory improvements are very slow in coming.

Traumatic stress (defined as a threat to one’s life or integrity, or to someone close, and characterized by intense fear and helplessness) unleashes a deadly assault on the hippocampus, the memory bank of the brain–actually causing it to shrink measurably in size. According to J. Douglas Bremner, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this kind of stress can spring from such psychological traumas as childhood sexual abuse, car accidents, military combat, or assault. The massive brain mess left in its wake includes deficits in declarative memory (remembering facts or lists), fragmentation of memories (remembering only bits of an event), and dissociative amnesia (gaps in memory lasting from minutes to days).

Even worse: The damage to the hippocampus from extreme stress not only destroys memories already in the bank but also impairs the creation of new ones. It’s as if the whole telephone system–now consisting of severed wires and disconnected calls–shuts down. And the damage, even with new drugs and therapies, is not always reversible. Alexis’s experience with a patchwork memory, says Bremner, is fairly typical.

As with acute and chronic stress, sex hormones probably play a role in PTSD’s effects on memory, but this hasn’t been studied in clinical populations. “PTSD affects two to three times as many women as men,” says Cahill. “Nobody knows why. Almost no one is studying it, but they should be.” If they did, perhaps effective treatments would be developed, which could be a huge help at a time when women are on the front lines of two wars and rates of reported domestic abuse are rising.

In the meantime, researchers say, these breakthroughs in stress and memory can help women think about–and manage–their own lives. And more information is coming. “This is a whole new world,” says Cahill. “My eyes have been opened.”


Somewhere between mellow and meltdown is an anxiety sweet spot that sharpens memory. Find yours.

Research shows that, for women, acute stress can enhance memory. “But we don’t want you to say, ‘Stress is good, so I should seek it out,’ ” says Zhen Yan, Ph.D. “To boost memory, stress needs to be at some kind of an optimal level.” And that optimal level is different for each woman.

So how do you go about sussing out your stress sweet spot? The answer will require some sleuthing.

Keep in mind the inverted U function, in which memory sharpens as stress piles up until it reaches an in-the-zone peak before traveling downhill. That’s the balance you need to gauge for yourself. “If you are giving a speech and can still do it even when you’re having major symptoms–like nausea and loss of appetite–then that’s encouraging, and the anxiety should lessen with practice,” says Margaret Altemus, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. “But if you’re trying to manage multiple tasks at once, such as filling out a form online, giving directions over the phone, and talking to a child, this amount of distraction is stressful and will likely impair your memory. The sweet spot is an optimal level of alertness, without feeling overwhelmed or anxious. That’s the rule to use in finding your stress balance: Look to see if the stress is impairing your functioning, including your job performance and your ability to enjoy life. If it is, try to reduce the stress with lifestyle changes, and if necessary, psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral therapy, or lastly, taking psychiatric medication.”

The great news, she says, is that with this kind of help, the intensity of perceived stress can be reduced. “I wouldn’t advise people to avoid stressful situations because they are worried about their memory performance,” she says. “These situations provide an opportunity to find better ways to cope.”

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