Live Music’s Charms, Soothing Premature Hearts (NY Times)

April 15, 2013

Live Music lullabies to premature infantsBeth Israel Medical Center in New York City led the research, conducted in 11 hospitals, which found that live music can be beneficial to premature babies. In the study, music therapists helped parents transform their favorite tunes into lullabies.

The researchers concluded that live music, played or sung, helped to slow infants’ heartbeats, calm their breathing, improve sucking behaviors important for feeding, aid sleep and promote states of quiet alertness. Doctors and researchers say that by reducing stress and stabilizing vital signs, music can allow infants to devote more energy to normal development.

Erik says: There are many breakthroughs in our scientific understanding of how music affects the brain and our emotional state. It is becoming more obvious that we may be genetically "programed" to be affected by music, rather than just learning how to be affected by music later in life.

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Music, It's a Matter of Trust (Market Street)

Music to gain trust“We know that music affects people’s behavior, their moods, their emotions,” Gefen says. “The reason happy music is played 
in the supermarket is so people buy more. The reason that you go into an elevator and hear soft music is because you are entering a claustrophobic metal box that can plunge you to your death. It’s not for entertainment; it’s to calm you down.

It’s been said that the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. But according to David Gefen, an MIS professor at LeBow, playing music can help; it just depends on the tune.

Erik says: It seems intuitive that music affects our emotions and our state of mind. Recent studies are confirming these feelings. What is not obvious is how music is used to manipulate our brain chemistry, thoughts and desires. Advirtisers have been using music for years. I'm sure that good dancers are able to tap into their emotional state (driven by the music) to connect and build trust with their partners to create a good, emotionally-connected dance.

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How Working the Muscles May Boost Brainpower (NY Times)

Exercise affects the BrainScientists at the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging recently set out to examine whether changes in muscles prompted by exercise might subsequently affect and improve the brain’s ability to think. “We wondered whether peripheral triggers might be activating the cellular and molecular cascades in the brain that led to improvements in cognition,” says Henriette van Praag, the investigator at the National Institute on Aging who led the study.

Muscles are, of course, greatly influenced by exercise. Muscle cells respond to exercise by pumping out a variety of substances that result in larger, stronger muscles. Some of those compounds might be entering the bloodstream and traveling to the brain, Dr. van Praag says.

Erik says: A good night of dancing Hustle or upbeat West Coast Swing might constitute the type of exercise that helps promote brainpower.

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The Surprising Shortcut to Better Health (NY Times)

Ms. Reynolds has distilled the knowledge gained from years of fitness reporting into a new book, “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer,’’ published last month.

Ms. Reynolds makes a clear distinction between the amount of exercise we do to improve sports performance and the amount of exercise that leads to better health. To achieve the latter, she explains, we don’t need to run marathons, sweat it out on exercise bikes or measure our peak oxygen uptake. We just need to do something.

Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy. If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do. There are some people who honestly can’t walk, so I would say to those people to try to go to the local Y.M.C.A. and swim.

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Don’t Just Sit There (NY Times)

sitting is deathWhile writing about the benefits of exercise, my muscles slackened. Fat seeped insidiously into my blood, liver and ventricles.

To see the results of such inactivity, scientists with the National Cancer Institute spent eight years following almost 250,000 American adults. The participants answered detailed questions about how much time they spent commuting, watching TV, sitting before a computer and exercising, as well as about their general health. At the start of the study, none suffered from heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

But after eight years, many were ill and quite a few had died. The sick and deceased were also in most cases sedentary. Those who watched TV for seven or more hours a day proved to have a much higher risk of premature death than those who sat in front of the television less often. (Television viewing is a widely used measure of sedentary time.)

Erik says: I've recently started using a standing desk addition for my laptop and hardly ever sit while working/email/etc. It helped me recover from a back injury in 3 weeks instead of 3 months. It's not easy, but my body feels better because of it.

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Cancer survivors urged to eat better, exercise (USA Today)

The cancer society on Thursday released new guidelines, saying there's now enough evidence to strongly recommend physical activity and better nutrition for survivors. The message: For many cancers, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk that cancer will return.

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Fitness Trackers Use Psychology to Motivate Couch Potatoes (Wired)

runningGadgets like the Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit Ultra and BodyMedia Fit Link use accelerometers, altimeters and algorithms to track everything from how many steps you took to how many calories you burned. By providing this data instantaneously, and in some cases allowing you to share it via social media, they do more than inform. They reinforce, motivate and reward by turning exercise into a game.

Erik says: I now owns a FitBit and I'm activily monitoring my steps while teaching and dancing. I highly recommend this product since it allows you to see your activity level and make adjustments to improve your life.

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Meet the Active Couch Potato (NYTimes)

couch potato (cat sleeping)They [Australian researchers] found that the more hours the men and women sat every day, the greater their chance of dying prematurely. Those people who sat more than eight hours a day — which other studies have found is about the amount that a typical American sits — had a 15 percent greater risk of dying during the study’s three-year follow-up period than people who sat for fewer than four hours a day.

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The Brain On Love (NY Times)

The brain on loveAll relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons — sweet or villainous — can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.

Erik says: Dance is great way to meet new people and even find love. See my article about the Top 5 Things That Everyone Wants.

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Your Brain on Fiction (NY Times)

March 17, 2012

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active.

Reports in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.

Erik says: Perhaps there is something about fiction that stimulates our brain uniquely. Could dancing to music on the radio (a fictious story) or even dancing a feigned emotional dance also stiumulate our brain in the same way?

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Why Bilinguals Are Smarter (NY Times)

March 17, 2012

Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. In a study bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating greater mental efficiency.

Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

Erik says: Similar findings have occured with dance. Although dance itself is not considered a "language" by scientific standards, perhaps the brain treats dance and language similarly as it diversifies and broadeds the neurological pathways in the brain.

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