I recently attended the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) conference held in Austin, Texas. It was an excellent conference, with many informative and useful workshops. I came away from the conference with messages from two of the Keynote Speakers that I thought to be of particular importance for public consumption. What follows is a brief summary of those two:
Anxiety as a Contributor to Mortality and Ways to Combat It
One of the Keynote Speakers, Dr. Julian Thayer, has published over 250 research papers and chapters over the years. His topics include such things as behavioral medicine, the effect of emotions on health, cardiology, etc. His message was clear: In our society, the biggest contributor to early mortality (i.e., death) is anxiety. In trying to summarize his research I would say that anxiety causes a “reflex response” that puts stress and strain upon our bodies that ultimately breaks us down. The magnitude of that response is modulated by “context,” and context is determined by what we think. Consequently, learning to think less, or certainly about less stress-producing things, is beneficial. That is why mindfulness and other forms of meditation can be so helpful. EEG-biofeedback can also be helpful in learning to calm or quiet the mind. Furthermore, anything that relaxes the body (e.g., relaxation exercises, HRV biofeedback, yoga, movement therapy, etc.) makes it easier to control our thinking along with relaxing the body directly. Bottom line is – learn to monitor your anxiety/stress level, and find ways that help you reduce it.
Factors which we Control and which Greatly Impact our Health
Another Keynote Speaker was Dr. Michael Roisen who is the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. He discussed how the current upward trend of chronic disease in the American population will bankrupt our country in about fifty years if it continues. He went on to say how four factors account for about 85% of the problem. These four factors are: tobacco, food choices/portion size, physical activity, managing stress. Obviously, the fewer tobacco products one uses, the better. He cited statistics that indicated that we, that is Americans, were eating about the same number of calories until 1983. Since then there has been a 2% rise in caloric intake a year. We do not need to eat as much as we do, and the excess calories are hurting us. In 1988, 17 % of Americans reported getting no real physical activity. In 2010 that percentage had risen to 47.5%. Our bodies need to move around on a regular basis to be healthy. The managing stress part echoes the research of Dr. Thayer cited above. The good news is that it is possible to curb the trend. The Cleveland Clinic’s 40,000 employees had the same incidence of chronic diseases as the general population. They embarked on a program where they offered quit smoking programs, removed junk food and soda machines from all their locations and offered healthier food choices, encouraged portion control, offered/encouraged exercise/physical activity programs, and offered stress management classes. Within two years the upward trend in the incidence of chronic diseases had leveled off. Please, for your health and that of your family, consider eliminating/decreasing any tobacco use, consider making better food choices and decreasing the amount you eat, consider increasing your physical activity, and find ways to manage your stress. If you find that you cannot do these things on your own, enlist the aid of a buddy and/or find a professional who will help to get you on the right track.