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Health

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Myth: You have a lizard in your head

You may have heard that your passions lie deep in ancient parts of your brain that you apparently inherited from prehistoric reptiles. Or that your "rational brain" which sits on top of your "lizard brain" tries to moderate your desires.

The only animal with a lizard brain is a lizard. Neuroscience clearly shows that brains don't evolve in layers but follow a single manufacturing plan.

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Health

Generally, no part of your brain is exclusively dedicated to creativity or mathematical reasoning. Neurons compute every action you take from across the entire brain.

While your cerebral cortex consists of two halves, both are intricately connected. Language ability does take place mainly in the left hemisphere, but this lateralisation develops gradually in most people.

Hormones don't just have one specific psychological purpose, and all the chemicals work together in your mind.

  • Cortisol boosts the amount of glucose in your bloodstream for a quick burst of energy, such as before you exercise or wake up in the morning, not just when you are stressed.
  • Serotonin has many functions. It regulates how much fat is made and helps keep track of your energy. It also helps other neurons pass on information as they create your thoughts, feelings and actions.

All of your sensations are computed in your brain.

  • You see with your brain, based on what is in your brain and the sense data from your eyes.
  • You hear with your brain as it makes sense of sounds based partly on the data from your ears.
  • Your skin has no sensors for wetness. Instead, your brain combines several sources of information, including touch, temperature, and knowledge from experience, to create a feeling of being wet.

During any day, it can seem like your brain is reacting to events around you. You're pricked by a needle and feel a bit of pain.

However, your brain constantly predicts the next moment and compares the guess to the data it receives from the world and inside your body. These predictions turn into your actions.

Decades ago, scientists noticed neurons increase their activity when an individual is taking a particular action, for example, waving when others are waving. They named them "mirror neurons."

But, your brain is really predicting your next action based on what you see, hear, and feel if you move. Seeing someone wriggle their fingers in the air and understanding it as a greeting is a normal part of your brain's predictive processes.

Your brain doesn't store memories like a filing system. Your brain reconstructs your memories on demand with electricity and chemicals.

"Remembering" is really "assembling" and may be influenced by your current situation, so your brain may reshape each occurrence so that it differs in the details.

Most parts of the human brain can't grow new brain cells, but some parts can.

The hippocampus can grow new neurons. The hippocampus is important for learning, remembering, regulating your eating, and other biological functions.

Snacks are part of a healthy diet

Snacks keep us over till the next meal. Balanced snacks and meals at consistent times during the day keep your blood sugar stable and keep you from overeating.

Healthy snacking include protein, fibre, and other nutrients that will keep your blood sugar in an optimal range. In contrast, low blood sugar causes exhaustion and makes you crave sugary or fatty foods.

Establish a regular eating schedule and stay with it. For example, breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, a snack around 3 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.

The biggest health benefit to eating at regular times is appetite regulation. Your body will adjust to the pattern within a week and you will become hungry at expected times. It will help you to recognise when you are really hungry or just desire to eat because of boredom or stress.

Eating three meals doesn't work for everyone. Some people like to graze. They may crunch on veggies and dip, potato chips, cheese with cracker, chips and salsa, or rice crackers and hummus.

A snack should match your nutritional need. Higher-calorie snacks give energy, while lower-calorie choices with more fibre and protein help to feel full and satisfied.

Snacks can be seen as fuel that helps to keep your energy up until mealtime.

  • Before a workout, nutritionists eat things like peanut butter and jelly toast, a banana and peanut butter, yoghurt, frozen berries and flax seeds or cereal.
  • During long exercising sessions, nutritionists eat bars that include protein, carbohydrates and sugar, or bananas.

Parents can provide six meal opportunities: three meals, with two to three snacks.

Kids that graze all day may not learn to listen to their hunger and fullness signals. However, with designated snack time, kids are often more willing to eat what they need or stick with healthier options.

If you want to eat some snacks right now, consider if you're just thirsty. It is not uncommon to confuse hunger with thirst.

Reach for a glass of water or a can of seltzer before grabbing a snack. You may discover that you were not really hungry.

Hormones control our food intake

We all need food to generate energy. Our body uses hormones that circulate in the blood to control our food intake.

Hormone levels change when we lose weight and are also the reason why most of us will regain the weight we lose.

  • The Ghrelin hormone is made in the stomach and released as the stomach empties.
  • Insulin-like peptide 5 is another hormone that stimulates hunger but is produced in the colon.
  • Cholecystokinin (CCK) is produced in the upper small bowel soon after food reaches it and gives a feeling of fullness.
  • Peptide YY, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), oxyntomodulin and uroguanylin make us feel full. They are made from the last part of the small bowel.
  • Leptin is an appetite-suppressing hormone and made in fat cells.
  • Amylin, insulin and pancreatic polypeptide are made in the pancreas.

The hypothalamus coordinates the body's system that regulates food intake.

  • The hypothalamus contains nerve cells that produce the sensation of hunger when activated. They do so by making two distinct proteins that cause hunger.
  • Close to these nerve cells is another set of nerves that inhibit hunger. They also produce two proteins that inhibit hunger.

Whether you feel like eating depends on the balance of the activity between these two sets of neurons.

Studies found that diet-induced weight loss is associated with hormone changes that promote weight gain.

After weight loss, leptin levels will decrease. But ghrelin, GIP and pancreatic polypeptide will increase in circulation while PYY and CCK will lower. Most of these changes favour regaining lost weight. These hormonal changes seem to be present for at least one year after weight loss, leading to a constant increase in hunger.

Take Control Of Your Health

Heart disease and strokes are the number one cause of death worldwide. However, almost 80 percent of all cases of cardiovascular disease is preventable.

Making some changes to your lifestyle can lower the risk of heart disease.

Exercise is the one thing that can improve nearly every aspect of your health.

Extensive studies have found that exercise enhances the cardiorespiratory system, increases HDL cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, reduces blood pressure and heart rate, lowers inflammation, and improves blood sugar control.

Research has shown that even a few minutes of exercise leads to benefits.**It’s all about increasing the intensity.**

The ideal exercise for adults are :

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, such as running, swimming, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, and doing yark work.
  • 2 sessions of about 30 minutes of resistance training a week. Examples include resistance bands, bodyweight exercises like yoga, push-ups and sit-ups, and heavy gardening.

For more intense workout sessions, you should aim for:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week.
  • 2 sessions of at least 30 minutes resistance training.
  • High-intensity exercise should get your heart rate up to 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
  • High blood pressure puts mechanical stress on the walls of your arteries, making them to narrow and harden. Stress can increase the development of plaque and cause your heart muscle to weaken over time.
  • Your blood pressure should be no higher than 120/80. The top number (systolic) is the pressure when your heart is contracting. The lower number (diastolic pressure) is when your heart is at rest.
  • You're at greater risk if you are older, have diabetes, have complicating conditions such as sleep apnea, kidney disease, obesity, high levels of stress, or heavy alcohol consumption.
  • Lose weight. Excess weight increases the amount of work your heart has to do to pump blood throughout your body.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. Try to consume no more than two drinks a day.
  • Exercise. Both aerobic exercise and resistance training significantly lower blood pressure.
  • Moderate your salt and sugar intake. Keep your salt intake to no more than five grams per day. A high sugar intake is also linked to hypertension.

Cholesterol plays a big role in heart disease. The heart association recommends getting your cholesterol levels measured every four to six years.

  • HDL cholesterol. Higher HDL levels are considered better for cardiovascular health.
  • LDL cholesterol. High LDL is linked to heart diseases and low LDL with cardiovascular health.
  • Triglycerides. This is a type of fat in your bloodstream. High numbers of triglycerides are linked to both heart disease and diabetes.

Many foods can improve your cholesterol levels. They include:

  • Fatty fish, which lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts. They increase HDL and lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Soybeans, tofu, and soy milk slightly lower LDL.
  • Apples, strawberries, and citrus fruits contain pectin, which helps to reduce LDL.
  • Olive oil and unsaturated fats.
  • Beans, vegetables, and flaxseeds contain a lot of soluble fiber and may lower LDL.
  • Triglycerides are driven mostly by empty carbs. Removing sugar, bread, pasta, fruit juices, and other refined carbs from your diet should lower your triglycerides.

A high fasting blood sugar level can indicate Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. People with diabetes are four times more likely to die from heart disease.

An A1C test indicates your average blood sugar levels over time. It measures the amount of glycated hemoglobin in your blood, which shows your average blood sugar levels over the past three months.

  • An A1C score below 5.7 is normal.
  • A score between 5.7 and 6.4 is indicative of pre-diabetes.
  • A score of 6.5 or above indicates diabetes.

Aside from a medical issue, you can do two things to improve your blood sugar control: exercise and eating smart.

Things that can contribute to chronically high blood sugar or throw off a test are:

  • A lack of sleep
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Consuming alcohol or caffeine.
  • Birth control pills, antidepressants, nasal decongestants and other medications.
  • Hormonal changes during menstrual cycles.
  • Chronic stress or illness.
  • Foods that are good for your heart: nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, avocados; fruits and vegetables; seafood, especially oily fish like wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel; fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh; healthy fats like olive oil.
  • Foods that negatively impact cardiovascular health: Foods with added sugar, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, and candy; refined carbohydrates found in breakfast cereals, granola, white bread, and pasta; processed meats such as salami, hot dogs, and ham; packaged foods loaded with salt, sugar, trans fats, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. Examples include potato chips, chicken nuggets, canned soups, instant noodles, and boxed snacks.
  • Excess body fat cells release many substances that increase inflammation, promote insulin resistance, and contribute to the hardening of arteries.
  • Visceral fat - the type that collects deep inside your abdomen around your internal organs - is more toxic to your cardiovascular system than subcutaneous fat, the kind that sits just below your skin.
  • The amount of visceral fat you carry can be determined by measuring your waist circumference. Women at high risk have a waist circumference of 35 inches or greater, and men with a waist circumference above 40 inches are at a greater risk.

Smoking is the most common cause of heart disease. Smoking causes emphysema, cancer, gum disease, and harms almost every organ in your body. Tobacco smoke damages blood vessels, increases blood pressure, lowers HDL cholesterol, and causes peripheral artery disease and atherosclerosis.

Quitting will immediately lower your risk of a heart attack.

  • Get a pet. Dogs, in particular, have shown to lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Reduce stress. Chronic stress can damage your immune system, increase your risk of high blood pressure, and eventually contribute to heart attacks and strokes.
  • Optimize your sleep. Sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, is strongly linked to heart disease. A good night's rest can protect your heart.
  • Meditate. While research is not clear, there is some evidence that meditation can lower blood pressure.
  • Dental checkups. Many studies have found that gum disease increases your likelihood of having heart disease.
  • Drink tea. Studies show that tea contains potent compounds that lower inflammation, protect the endothelial cells that line the arteries, and positively affect blood lipids.
  • Drink wine, especially red wine. It improves HDL cholesterol. But it should still be limited to one drink a day for women and two for men.
  • Taking a walk in the forest among trees and plants promotes relaxation. Plant compounds circulating in the forest air may also provide health benefits.
Emotional eating

Emotional eating occurs in response to stress, and in people who restrict their food intake.

Eating sweet and fatty foods may improve mood temporarily by making us feel more energetic and happier, but when comfort food becomes a habit, it comes at a cost, such as weight gain.

Poverty is associated with psychological distress, including depression and lower mental well-being.

Employment insecurity, financial difficulty, and hardship due to a global crisis are more likely to turn people to emotional eating as a way of coping.

The theme of baking has become strong on social media with hashtags such as #QuarantineBaking.

Research suggests there are benefits from baking, including boosts in socialisation, self-esteem, quality of life, and mood. Cooking alongside children may also promote healthy diets.

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