Wellbody Blog

At Professor Wellbody's Academy of Health & Wellness, we understand there's only one thing harder than making healthy behavior changes: Sticking to them! We all need a little help from our friends, and that's the purpose of the Wellbody Blog, a friendly online gathering spot--a community well--where you can dip into health news; wellness tips; recipes; latest research about nutrition, exercise, sleep and hygiene; plus, real stories from virtual neighbors who are also trying to change their lives for the better. Start from wherever you are; share ideas, information, inspiration. At Pacific Science Center, we believe each of us can do something everyday to improve our health and well-being.

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Gumdisease200February, the month of love, is the perfect time to focus on the heart.

The heart is a vital, muscular organ that pumps blood to various parts of the body. A sick heart can spell disaster for overall health; heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the U.S.

Surprisingly, one of the keys to a healthy heart is a healthy mouth. That’s because gum disease roughly doubles the risk of heart disease.

How are the heart and mouth are connected? And what can we do to prevent gum disease? 

almondsA handful of nuts a day may keep heart disease and strokes away, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who recently published a large study in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

(Keep reading for fabulous recipes for Brockett Pecans and Rosemary Chipotle Roasted Almonds, perfect for holiday gifts.)

Why do people who have warm relationships and frequently experience positive emotions live longer, healthier lives and suffer fewer heart attacks and colds? Vagus Nerve Economist Wellcome Library LondonWellcome Library,London/The Economist

Recent research by psychology professors Barbara L. Frederickson and Bethany Kok points to the vagus nerve, a literal mind-body connection that starts in the brain and winds through the neck, branching into the chest and abdominal cavities. (See illustration on right.)

The vagus nerve sends signals to the heart, telling it to slow down during calm moments. People with healthy vagal tone have a subtle increase in heart rate while inhaling and a slightly decreased heart rate while exhaling. Higher vagal tone helps your body regulate your cardiovascular, glucose and immune response.

Dr. Frederickson and Dr. Kok found that people with high vagal tone not only have better physical health, but they're better at stopping bad feelings from getting overblown. So feeling good can help you from feeling bad.

Here's the fascinating part: You can increase your vagal tone by practicing compassion toward others. This is not fringe science! Read about it in The Economist and the New York Times!

In one study, half the participants, randomly chosen, attended a six-week workshop to learn how to cultivate warmer interpersonal connections using an ancient meditation technique known as metta, or, lovingkindness. After six weeks, the meditators felt more upbeat and socially connected—and they had increased their vagal tone.

"In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa," Frederickson writes in the New York Times. "This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart's capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of 'use it or lose it.' If you don't regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you'll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

"When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It's micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

"If you don't regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good. . . . So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You'll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don't let friends lose their capacity for humanity."

Visit The Loft at Wellbody Academy and be sure to check out Who Do You Turn To... a cool way to reflect on your social network by creating a personalized collage about your friends and family with a computer interactive that asks you thought-provoking questions about your relationships: Who could you talk to if you're upset? Who could you call if you needed a ride? Who confides their hopes, dreams and fears in you?



LA Times Photo - Mummy Heart DseaseLA Times PhotoGreasy steak fries, cigarettes and wide-screen HDTV's didn't tempt our ancient ancestors back in the day, but recent CT scans of 137 antique mummies found they had coronary artery disease anyway.

So much for the Paleo Diet!

One in three of the mummies from Egypt, Peru, the American Southwest and Alaska had heart disease, according to research published in the Lancet by a team of physicians, biologists and anthropologists. Even hunter-gatherers from the Aleutian Islands, who subsisted on berries and a heart-healthy marine diet, were not immune.

This might suggest a healthy lifestyle and healthy environment can't prevent heart disease; clogged arteries are just a natural part of the aging process.

But don't reach for the donuts just yet! Doctors urge us to maintain good nutrition and exercise habits and, if you're on blood-pressure and cholesterol meds, keep taking them. If you don't, atherosclerosis could set in that much sooner! Read more in the Los Angeles Times and listen to NPR interview with cardiologist Randall Thompson.

Visit Wellbody Academy's Cafedium to explore how nutrition and exercise can impact how you feel day-to-day.