It has long been observed that art can profoundly influence emotions and even the physical body. Stendhal syndrome (aka hyperkulturemia) was named after the 19th century French author, who described his visceral reaction to seeing Giotto’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Basilica di Santa Croce during his journey to Florence, Italy:
“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul.”
Stendhal, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio
Although the symptoms of Stendhal syndrome can be hazardous in some cases, the psychosomatic phenomenon exemplifies the immense power that art can have on the mind/body. Recent research from the University of California in Berkeley elucidates how this connection much more commonly serves to benefit one’s health and well-being.
Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi (PC: Kristas Valbonas)
In this recent study conducted at UC Berkeley, scientists found that experiencing art and nature boosts the immune system and decreases inflammation in the body by triggering positive emotions; particularly awe, wonder, and gratitude. According to psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner, these emotions “promote healthier levels of cytokines, [which] suggest[s] the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”
Cytokines are small proteins that play a key role in cell signaling in the human body, influencing processes such as immune response, inflammation, and neurotransmitter balance. While they serve an important role, sustained elevated levels of these proteins are linked to a host of illnesses, such as type-2 diabetes, clinical depression, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders.
In the study, researchers measured inflammation marker cytokine Interleukin 6 in samples of gum and cheek tissue of over 200 young adults. Same-day surveys revealed an inverse correlation between the amount of positive emotions (particularly awe and wonder) experienced by each participant and their levels of this pro-inflammatory marker.
Lead author of the study Dr. Jennifer Stellar emphasizes the real-life implications of these findings, explaining, “Rather than seeing a walk through the park or a trip to the museum as an indulgence, we hope people will view these kinds of experiences as important ways to promote a healthy body in addition to a healthy mind. Folding these kinds of positive experiences into your daily routine may be more important for health than we previously realized.”
Perhaps it is time we regard nature, art, and beauty as vital sources of preventative medicine.
Many adults remember a time when smoking was common in public places. Smoking used to be common in restaurants, offices and even airplanes. As the health risks of secondhand smoke became better understood, corporate policy, laws and regulations changed. Fast forward to today, when there are a number of limitations about where smoking can occur. As a result, adult non-smokers can generally avoid inhaling someone else’s smoke.
However, one setting in the U.S. where secondhand smoke is still a problem is households with children. A recently published CDC study analyzed data on 8,000 households with a child under 18 years old and at least one smoking parent. The study found that approximately 40% of households did not completely ban smoking indoors.
The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke concluded that even small amounts of secondhand smoke create a health risk. Children exposed to secondhand smoke can have breathing related problems right away, and increased risk of lung cancer and heart and blood vessel problems as adults.
…there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke
The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, a Report of the Surgeon General, 2006, p. 11
A Massachusetts study of adult smokers with children looked more closely at parents’ barriers to banning smoking at home. Barriers included the inconvenience of going outside to smoke, difficulty of single parents in finding someone to watch a child while they stepped out to smoke, and a perception that it is disrespectful to ask others not to smoke inside. Parents in the Massachusetts study also reported perceived benefits of home smoking bans: it’s good for my child’s health, avoidance of fires and burns, a cleaner and better smelling home, and the tendency of smokers to smoke less.
Both quitting smoking and never allowing smoking indoors are good ways to protect our children from secondhand smoke. Smokers wanting to quit can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit www.smokefree.gov for help. The website www.smokefree.gov recommends setting “smoke free rules” for areas where children play, study, eat, travel, ride, and live.
Butter is the current fad. Foodies and scientists around the world have claimed that butter has been falsely maligned. They say that refined carbohydrates (like bread, sweet drinks, and corn syrup) are the real problem and that you can have as much butter as you want. It is true that refined carbs are unhealthy -no one disagrees with that. But a recent study funded by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation demonstrates once and for all what the best science from the 1940s – 1990s indicated—that butter is not benign. Rather, butter is no better than other foods rich in saturated fat. Saturated (or hard fat at room temperature) is the unhealthiest kind of fat, and the recent research shows that butter raises cholesterol levels more than alternatives like olive oil.
The Danish Dairy Research Foundation-funded study results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that when people were randomly assigned to diets with moderate amounts of butter or olive oil that people who ate butter had increases in bad cholesterol—both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol—compared with people who ate olive oil. Should we believe the study? Yes, for three reasons. First, it was a randomized study—the best kind—and used rigorous research methods. Second, it was funded by the butter industry. The butter industry wanted the study to show butter was healthy. Studies funded by industries investigating their own products are notorious for showing the result the industry wants. This makes the current study, conducted by scientists at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise, and Sports at the University of Copenhagen, even more convincing. Third, the study is consistent with most previous research that shows that diets high in saturated fats like butter raise bad cholesterol and put people at increased risk for hardening of the arteries, strokes, and heart attacks.
Sure butter tastes good. But so do alternatives like olive oil. Why not choose the delicious healthy alternative?
Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician by Sandeep Jauhar. This wonderful memoir tells of the common experience of American cardiologists and other American physicians who find themselves providing expensive care that isn’t care at all. Dr. Jauhar describes how a perverse payment system drives doctors to routinely order dangerous unnecessary tests rather than doing a thorough history and physical exam. “I felt really dirty about it,” Jauhar says of his feeling compelled to perform dangerous tests ordered by other physicians when patients really just needed a good evaluation by a general physician.
We already know the causes and how to prevent some two-thirds of cancer. Let’s launch a real movement to eliminate cancer at its root -encourage healthy living!
Read The State Of The Cancer Nation at NPR.org.
In his book, In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré details his poignant observations about the pace of our modern lives and its relationship to our health both as individuals and as a community. As he explains in his TED lecture below, “We get more pleasure and more health from our food, when we cultivate, cook, and consume it at a reasonable place.” He points not only to the organic food and farmers market movements as solutions, but also to our mindset towards time itself, which permeates not just what and how we eat but everything that we do:
Honoré challenges the predominant cultural narrative of our time that denies any benefit or even possibility of slowing down, pointing to Nordic countries which work less hours, yet have thriving economies and have demonstrated that working less hours can actually increase productivity. He points to cases in which homework bans have resulted in higher test scores. Perhaps most importantly, he elucidates how our relationships, our mental and physical health, and our enjoyment of life suffer when we do not practice this art of slowing down.
Echoing the mission of the International Slow Movement, Honore encourages us to “get in touch with [our] inner tortoise” for better work, better health, better relationships, and more happiness.
Most Type 2 diabetes results from being overweight or obese. A well known, large U.S. randomized trial conducted several years ago showed that moderate weight loss from increased activity and diet changes can prevent diabetes. A group of people at high risk of developing diabetes who had weight loss of only 7% after exercise and diet changes showed a 58% reduction in the onset of diabetes, vs. a control group with no changes. For example, 7% weight loss for a 200 pound woman would equate to just 14 pounds. In the study, medication use also prevented or delayed the onset of diabetes, but not as much as increased activity and diet changes. The moderate weight loss group set an exercise goal of 150 minutes per week (or 30 minutes, 5 days per week) of medium intensity activity, such as brisk walking, and ate a reduced calorie, low fat diet.
Your first step is to know whether you are at risk for developing diabetes. Talk with your provider.
Next, the National Diabetes Education Program identified several simple things that you can do to help prevent Type 2 diabetes. Here are five of our favorites!
1. Drink water instead of juice or soda.
2. Choose brown rice instead of white rice.
3. Find some type of regular physical activity that you like. Try for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If you can’t get outside or to a gym, you could even march in place while you watch TV.
4. Compare food labels on packages. Look for lower calorie, lower fat, and lower sodium foods.
5. Write down what you eat for a week, or even a day. It can help you see when you tend to overeat or eat foods high in fat or calories.
To many people, taking a nature walk seems like a intuitive approach to coping with stress. However, there are many distractions in our modern world that simply override our mind and body’s innate wisdom, and not all of us take the time to consider this approach or choose to make the effort. A new, large-scale study may help remind you why to value this simple, yet effective activity of walking outside for better health and quality of life.
Photo Credit: vermontvacation.com
Researchers from the U.K. and U.S. monitored nearly 2,000 participants in England’s Walking for Health Program, and found that “group walks in nature were associated with significantly lower depression, perceived stress, and negative affect, as well as enhanced positive affect and mental well-being.”
Despite the daunting weather, winter is perhaps the most important time to brave the cold and get outside. Seasonal affective disorder affects up to 20% of Americans, and going on a nature walk seems simple, but it is a powerful tool to combat the effects of depression and stress. Check out American Hiking Society and Meetup to find hiking groups in your area and get outside!