The Wonderful Power of a Nap

Life has its way of wearing us down. From the hyper-connectivity social media frenzy to the busybody work days we put ourselves through; seldom do we have time to sit back and recharge. Since we often sleep-procrastinate mainly because of our fear of missing out, it’s hard to ever catch up on the unpaid sleep debt. Telling ourselves, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is good enough to accelerate our demise. Sleep is crucial; it essentially keeps our bodies stable and repairs our system, internally and externally. However, some of our livelihoods prevent of us from getting adequate sleep time, so we constantly put it off — unaware of the noxious effects that’s being placed upon us for every minute lost. Recently, napping has been proven to increase memory and restore an insufficient night’s sleep.

Fortunately, researchers at Sorbonne university in Paris found that just a 30-minute nap can reverse the deleterious effects of a short night’s sleep. The study was conducted on 11 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 32. The first night, all participants had a sufficient 8 hours of sleep. The second night, participants were limited to two hours of sleep. Upon waking up, researchers took samples of the participants urine and saliva to get a grasp of how the lack of sleep affected their hormonal levels. What researchers found was a major increase in norepinephrine — a stress hormone that raises blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure. Subsequently, the subjects napped for just 30 minutes and the results showed that all norepinephrine levels were returned to normal. This evinces the special restorative power of a day time power nap and how your brain recognizes that it must get the most of the abbreviated sleep session.

Another study conducted in Germany revealed that napping for 45 to 60 minutes can boost memory. Participants had to learn pairs of unconnected words and thereafter some were allowed to nap while others stayed up and watched a DVD. Those who napped were remarkably better at retrieving information. The brain’s region of memory — the hippocampus — seemed to be heightened after a nap.

Going forward, it would be wise of companies who push a lot of monotonous, mind-numbing tedium on employees to implement a nap period for better business. Google and technology-based companies have already added this to their work schedule to get the best of our their workers. Schools may soon do the same, so that students can be better apt to learning things in the allotted 8-9 hour school day rather than bringing work home to a distraction-filled environment. Napping can also increase alertness and we all know how many accidents occur because of a lack of sleep. If you’re feeling lethargic and sleepy, your brain might be directing you in the direction that will save your life. Nap your way to better productivity.

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Figuring Out Your Body

Many people of all shapes & sizes ring in the new year with an immense amount of confidence. The idea of reforming one’s self and being able to examine how much potential one has can feel extremely uplifting. New Year’s resolutions vary from minute goals such as cursing less than normal to grandiose goals like partaking in an Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, all done successively without a break. But, the most troubling goal that people continually fall short of is weight loss. If you browse any library or Barnes & Noble, you’ll notice a plethora of books pertaining to the subject of “dieting.” Semantically, I try to avoid using the word diet, because it comes with an evanescent connotation. Dieters merely aspire to be lifestyle changers. The path to changing your body composition is no easy task, but the low-hanging fruit must be to understand how your anatomy works and how to do what’s best for your body.

In the past year, I’ve dropped 35 pounds. I’ll tell you this one thing: it was not easy; there were endless nights fraught with hunger pangs and cravings ad nauseam. My plight with weight loss was an ongoing battle with no armistice in sight. I was eternally at war with my mind – in the hope of improving my body, I began to introspect and outsmart myself. But why, all of a sudden, did I have the urge to succeed after many fruitless attempts at dropping weight?

During college, I had many schemes to trick my body into a skinnier physique: eating once a day, working out completely malnourished, drinking booze instead of edible food because “liquid calories can’t be that bad.” All these gimmicks worked, but only for a very short time. As my body would naturally return to homeostasis, I’d eventually be back up to my hefty weight – and with interest! I always thought of it as punishment for trying to cut corners instead of attacking the problem head on. College, in general, is a tough time to lose weight because partying and cheap food is ubiquitous around campus. One night of imbibing various alcoholic concoctions on top of late night eating will set you back a few days. Our bodies can’t overcome the consumed calories in such a short span of time. Having been a college running back, I still would always excuse my bad eating with “I’ll work it off at practice” which, of course, is a zero-sum ideology.

After college, year in and year out, I fought tirelessly. I would have glimpses of weight reduction, but once the friends called me to accompany them on a night out (which comes with a two-day package: the calorie consumption from the revelry that overflows into the following day with horrific, fatty-food cravings), everything would go straight out the window and into the dumpster.

As time progressed, I began to bury my head in articles and books on different ways to alter one’s body composition. From observing tons of workout techniques to noticing the worst times of day for my body to deal with food, I became health-conscious to the utmost degree. Booze is a weight loss impediment. The empty calories and chemical-altering aftereffects will leave you searching for harmful carbs as obsessively as a damn honey badger sniffs out its prey. By cutting down drinking, you’ll notice immediate physiological changes. No more brain fogs. No more eating voraciously as if you’re not in the driver’s seat of your body. No more being tired just enough to keep you from making it to the gym. Water is essential – dehydration thwarts all plans of muscular development and cardiovascular expansion. By lessening my alcohol consumption, I became reinvigorated and ambitious. I also implemented cardio in my weight lifting regimen, which consists of circuit training (3 different workouts then a brief break, repeat, etc.) At first, spending a couple hours in the gym for a session soon would lead to two-a-days. I became infatuated with sweating; a euphoric moisture pouring from my epidermis, which was evidence of the changes taking place anatomically.

I attribute much of my ‘getting-in-shape’ to the stairmaster. The machine is truly transformative and efficient. Since my intensity was increasing 4-fold, I had to figure out a way to mollify my insatiable appetite. This most definitely varies astronomically with people, genetically & biologically. Much of my weight gain was always amplified in the evening hours, when I would get struck by thoughts of sweets that only a crackhead could attest to. Rummaging through cabinets, at the moment, I was sure I had an undiagnosed case of “Night Eating Syndrome.” But all these issues were just bad habits that became enhanced over years of conditioning. If you do something long enough, your body will adapt to it and it will become automatic. Also, when you know you’re susceptible to eating untimely snacks, just banish them from your house. You’ll never have a strong enough hankering to get in your car at 4 am just for some Cool Ranch Doritos, well, unless you’re impaired.

When the weight started steadily dropping, I knew I couldn’t revert to my erstwhile behavior. By inculcating myself with health insights, I soon felt obliged to keep striving for less & less weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect – I still eat unhealthy, but certainly not as much. I’m a sucker for pasta and sweets, but I’m keenly aware of when to eat them: earlier in the day, when my metabolism is still rapidly churning. The metabolism radius is what I call it – the 3-hour period of time that occurs before or after your workout that will basically eliminate what you ate.

My buddy Brandon Wilson – who lost more than 80 pounds all the while still eating voraciously – once told me, “You want to lose weight? Fall in love with exercise.” I echo those sentiments to this day. Exercise and nutritional intake equally play a role with losing weight, and you won’t get too far by adhering to one and neglecting the other.

That said, moving more and getting your body into a flow where everything becomes blissful with your neurotransmitters being fired off in all different directions is a habit that’ll create happiness and a long life. By slowly increasing your willpower from going a minute longer or a second faster will lend you excellent results. The brain is plastic – we have the ability to transform it into something better, stronger, smarter. Become aware of your proclivities and propensities. Fruits and fibers are vastly better than junk food and sodium. Just remember: There are no free lunches in life; everything comes with a cause & effect; a price tag; a consequence. Slow and steady wins the race. There’s no beating nature and there’s no easy way out, because the hard way is how we got here. Understand your body, for it is yours and you occupy it for only so long; appreciate it.

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We’re Nothing But a Victim Of Our Brain

There’s nothing more dehumanizing than realizing that you are beholden to a part of your brain of which you have no control–the unconscious. For years, philosophers have squabbled over whether or not there’s free will, or, rather, are we just an amalgamation of neurons being shot off and transmitted throughout our prefrontal cortex thereby mitigating our sense of self. It’s quite evident that we aren’t always the drivers of our bodies and the authors of our thoughts, but astonishingly, the observers. This concept of a lack of free will is somewhat arcane, but is being uncovered slowly by neuroscience. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are derived from our unconscious (once dubbed as the “subconscious;” both terms are interchangeable.) Our predispositions and predilections are primarily out of our control; it’s only at the moment they arise that we feel we’ve created these feelings–which of course is illusory. Moreover, we’re plagued by cognitive biases that we generally fall victim to in the midst of quick-thinking. But, we aren’t robots (as far as i know) and we do waffle over choices ad infinitum until we stumble upon an answer that is most conducive to our wellbeing. However, if something is unbreachable, such as the aforementioned unconscious which makes up the majority of our actions, aren’t we not truly responsible for most of our wrongdoings, missteps, and negative behavior, given that we had no other choice? Aren’t we just playing to the beat of our own brain? If we were able to choose differently, wouldn’t we need a different brain that doesn’t constitute a potential predictable outcome of which you had zero choice in developing?

Brain processes that happen automatically with little to no conscious effort surprisingly occur more than we think. Experiments conducted at the University of Columbia asked participants to perform a set of tasks under functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). One of the tasks was pressing a specific button with their right or left hand, which seemingly would be unpredictable to onlookers and one’s self. However, what the participants didn’t know was that whatever choices they eventually chose, it was already decided by their unconscious 7 seconds before with 98% accuracy! The FMRI was beaming with blood flow to that specific area in the brain which would press the right or left button. This stood as a clear indicator that our unconscious is in the driver seat and we are just the presenters of what it chooses, in the end. As soon as consciousness kicks in, it’s by that point we are duped into thinking we’ve actually, consciously, made the decisions ourselves.

We are constricted and influenced by our genes, environment, and evolutionary upbringing, all of which we had no conscious modifications toward. When you really inspect your thoughts, you’ll come to a stark realization that thoughts arise out of nowhere. We tend to witness our inner lives so frequently that we aren’t jarred by the outcomes of things that happen solely because we think we’re always in control and it was our fault for choosing this or that. Causes and effects that happen systematically in the universe make things irreversible or unchangeable; if you were given a chance to redo your final decision on something, as long as the universe is configured the same way (mostly your brain & body) then you’ll choose that same exact choice the second time around.

Think of all the chemicals that propel you into a merry temperament or a testy mood. These emotions are sustained through a myriad of brain functioning variables that are mostly out of our grasp. If we really have absolute free will, wouldn’t we all be in great shape, happy as a clam, smart as whip, and in deep love? Our brain dictates our behavior and we can’t tap into our most profound facet of our brain that’s responsible for most of how we act. Thus, as disconcerting as it may be, we are, which Sam Harris so elegantly states: “You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm”

Cognitive biases also have their way of manipulating us into using shortcuts as survival tactics developed through years of trial and error. The confirmation bias–a bias which tends to favor the preconceived beliefs a person thinks are true no matter how much opposing evidence is provided– is what keeps inveterate traditions around. I find myself conforming to the confirmation bias sometimes by looking up something that favors my outlook on a particular subject, but usually things that are opinionated and trivial. This bias can be detrimental when people start believing in unrealistic things and devise their life around something that’s extraordinarily farcical such as thinking UFO’s are hovering over your house every-night, for the odd and narcissistic sake that they want to abduct you and no one else. Blocking out contrary evidence can hamper someone’s mental development and ultimately affect those around you. Conspiracy theorists and the like tend to gravitate toward conformation of their irrational notions rather than the dis-conformation of what lies beneath the veracity of that belief. We are preprogrammed to act this way in order for the brain to make sense of things in an easier fashion and to fill the gaps in our logic. Overcoming this bias takes practice and an open-minded attitude to see things from both sides and recognize that empirical evidence supersedes belief no matter how near and dear that belief may be to you.

I think the for most part our brains have been molded over years and years of evolution to act a certain way. And since we don’t exist in an era where survival is urgent every single day, we’re burdened with these subtle glitches in our thinking that leave us swayed toward one side rather than the other. Our will is finite; it can only go so far. Some people can wake up tomorrow and decide to go on a strict diet, while others will vacillate the idea until they’ve essentially run out of time. Our brains are plastic and we can mend them to some degree, but we cannot replace them (not yet at least.) So, whichever way your brain is constructed you have to realize your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly because your brain has an uncanny way of misleading you towards conclusions that may be good for you in the moment, but harmful for you in the long run.

 

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Three Reasons to Fall In Love With Exercise

Activity is better than dormancy. We’ve all been immersed by health and fitness commercials, reminding us of the importance of staying busy, physically and mentally. Here’s some concise insight on how exercise truly does benefit you…

 

1. You’ll live longer

Regularly exercising can extend your life up to seven years, and eating correctly can even bump up that number. Take heed at how many elders are incessantly burning calories in the gym, exploring the vestiges of virility they still have left in them. We all want to live as long as possible; what good is a successful life if you end yours early only because of the unwillingness to acquiesce to a healthy way of living? Whether it’s Crossfit, Pilates, yoga, basketball, tennis, lifting, walking, jogging, or spinning, any of these avenues of exercise will pay major dividends to having a longer life. It’s about putting in the time and staying faithful to your regiment. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is one that calls for the grave prematurely. Most of us are confined to a sitting position, which is the antithesis of being active and upbeat. Not only does our lack of posture awareness create back problems, but in general it’s hazardous to our health. Recent studies proclaim that even with good physical activity habits, remaining sedentary and on one’s butt for excessive hours can lead the way to death and disease. Physiologically, exercise can curtail muscle atrophy, improve the brain’s plasticity, and lessen cardiovascular risks just from allocating a scant 20 minutes a day to working out.

2. Boosts energy and lowers anxiety

When your body is in the midst of strenuous activity, the body’s oxygen circulation is maximally churning to dole out all the appropriate nutrients that get the body aroused; accruing a faster metabolism will instantly have you feeling your oats. The more adept you become at working out, the easier it will be, giving you the ability to maintain higher bouts of output for longer periods of time. This yields a better sex life, higher levels of concentration, and expands cognitive retention, which leads to more productivity in the workplace. Also, the increased release of endorphins keeps a worrying mind at ease. For example, in terms of depression, exercise acts as a therapeutic remedy when drifting off to the land of expending kinetic energy and stymieing the release of the daunting stress hormone “cortisol.”

3. Improves quality of life

Once you begin to fall in love with exercising you’ll instantly be bombarded by feelings of exuberance, higher self-esteem, and a rise in willpower. You’ll notice that you’re capable of things you once thought were not possible. A rigorous daily routine will keep your brain as sharp as a tack and your temperament will remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to tackle whatever it is you want to achieve in life. Keeping your brain highly active can stave off the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s. All the aforementioned qualities that you’ll develop lead to more happiness and less dissatisfaction with what one has accomplished. With a salubrious state of mind, you never feel burdened by feelings of stress, and can go through life with a clear vision of what to value. Things will suddenly fall in place because you pride yourself on remaining healthy. Good moods elicit creativity and better relationships regardless of any situation. Knowing that you thoroughly reduce your chances of disease elevates your state of wellness, and with a hale physique you can progress in many different domains of life.

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Photo Courtesy of Louis Crispo

Curiosity Does Not Kill the Cat

        The most essential tool in life is learning. Whether we learn through experience or observance, we tend to gradually progress in ways that are conducive to our own independence. Inquisitiveness provides us with a greater understanding of the world and betterment of ourselves as individuals. Setting goals and assimilating as much as you can from this life before your expiration date arrives seems, to me, imperative. Life without curiosity is analogous to a hollow glass for which it is impossible to discern whether it’s half-empty or half-full. The greatest thinkers in our history have had multiple “Eureka” moments as a result of the simple process of being unrelenting in discovering what they wanted to know. Whether you’re a bookish bibliophile or a multifaceted polymath, curiosity is the impetus for your cerebral advancement. This insatiable passion for information doesn’t kill you; it merely uplifts you and expands all the vacant areas within your brain.

        The origins of the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” stem from ambiguous sources in the early 1900s. It essentially means that, the more you inquire about something, the higher the chance you will place yourself into a dangerous situation. Of course, that may be true for snooping feral cats and fainthearted people in horror movies; but, in an objective sense, curiosity delivers a multitude of learning opportunities that ultimately engender success and self-gratification. Thoughtfulness develops in children at a young age, which is why they are so meddlesome. In order to encourage their curiosity, we must let children explore the unknown in a healthy, investigative manner. Choosing to be rigid in your thinking will not develop your intellectual abilities; eagerly questioning the world is the panacea for a benighted mind. Constantly embracing new things and practicing new crafts can be beneficial for not only the brain, but also for the all-around health and well-being of your body.

        Becoming an ignorant Scrooge who is so dogmatic about what you believe or stand for leads you to a mental impasse. In today’s society, ignorance is not bliss, mainly because all of the available information we’ve ever gleaned is readily accessible for anyone to delve into. The Internet has provided many avenues of exploration that are free to examine. You literally have to choose to be unintelligent, nowadays. Not learning is a choice rather than the unattainable luxury that it once was a mere 50 years ago. The advent of the technology age has put everyone on an even playing field.

        The best analogy I can provide for the argument in favor of curiosity I have just presented is this: Imagine two athletes who are similar in talent. One is naturally more gifted than the other just from hitting the genetic Lotto, but the other, who is devoid of such natural attributes, has a stronger knack for training and improvement. The latter person, who augments his skill via desire to become greater, is no different from the person who is intellectually handicapped, compared to his peers, who wants to gain a stronger understanding of what’s going on in his or her world. That said, being immersed in curiosity gives you a head start over your peers because you won’t settle, in your ambitious, overzealous hunger for higher learning, for mediocrity. Going the extra mile can be stimulating—it motivates people to stretch their potential thinking ability and to exhibit innovation in the way that Steve Jobs or Isaac Newton would have.

       In every area of life, we can see that the most prominent people never take a day off and never lose sight of how short our lives really are. This realization elicits an appetite for wonder and awe; to find interest in things that are valuable and pertinent to your life will lead you to absolutely enjoy your existence. Relishing all that life has to offer and ascertaining how things work, why things grow, why we get stressed, why we feel pain, and how we evolved can all induce a sudden feeling of satisfaction. Just look at the stars: you’ll suddenly be overwhelmed with questions; and that, my friend, is the beginning of your journey to enlightenment.

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