More ArticlesDevelopmental psychology

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How does the brain change when we stop exercising


All, or almost all of us, we are aware that the phisical exercise is very useful, but few know that to take máximum advantage of it we must be constant. Research in this field suggests that to keep fit and healthy, it would be sufficient approximately 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week.

But, of course, it’s not a good idea to condense the entire exercise in one day, ideally you should do at least half an hour of physical activity three days a week. In fact, if the goal is to get significant changes in the brain it is essential to be constant. However, have you ever wondered what might happen in the brain when you stop exercising? What happens every time that we stop running or abandon the gym? A group of neuroscientists of the University of Maryland has the answer.

Aerobic exercise boosts brain functions

Aerobic activity is highly beneficial for the brain. This type of exercise facilitates neurogenesis, that is to say, the formation of new neurons, which will replace those that die every day, in such a way that neural connections are not excessively deteriorating and we can continue thinking, remembering and put into practice the learned habits.

Of course, these new nerve cells also help establishing new neural connections, that means learning new things. In fact, it has been seen that aerobic exercise increases the formation of glial cells, which exert a support function for neurons and are involved in information processing in the brain.

All this happens mostly because, thanks to physical activity, increases the blood flow to the brain. Researchers at the University of Iowa found that physical activity also stimulates angiogenesis; that is, the formation of new blood vessels starting from pre-existing vessels. Since the brain consumes a lot of oxygen, the fact that has more vessels and increased blood flow, can only be beneficial and enhance cognitive functions.

What happens in the brain when you stop practicing physical activity?

It was found that physical activity not only increases the blood flow during exercise, but this effect is maintained for the rest of the day. Various experiments shown that when people who were sedentary begun exercising, rapidly increased the blood flow to the brain, and this were also maintained at rest.

But the effects of exercise don’t last forever, a study with athletes who spent at least the last 15 years of their lives by training an average of 4 hours per week, shows it. The results were amazing.

This research revealed that after 10 days of inactivity the blood flow decreased in eight different regions of the brain, including the inferior temporal gyrus, which plays a key role in the visual processing, semantic memory and recognition of complex objects, faces and numbers.

Even the inferior parietal lobe, which allows us identify the emotions looking at the faces of people and helps us interpret sensory information, is one of the affected areas. In addition, it was also affected the fusiform gyrus, which is involved in the recognition of words and faces, as well as the hippocampus, which has proved to be the most affected area. Hippocampus plays a key role in memory and is one of the parts of the brain most affected in dementia.

These neuroscientists say these changes were detected after only 10 days of inactivity, then a longer period of time would be disastrous. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to a higher risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.

So, now you know it: a moderate, constant physical activity is the best way to keep your brain active.

Alfini, A. J. et. Al. (2016) Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience; 8:184.
Lee, T. M. et. Al. (2014) Aerobic exercise interacts with neurotrophic factors to predict cognitive functioning in adolescents. PLoS One; 9(6): e99222.
Tomanek, R. J. (1994) Exercise-induced coronary angiogenesis: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc;26(10): 1245-1251.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Allow yourself what you deserve and you’ll get what you need

personal growth

Did it ever happen that suddenly, when you least expected it, you got something you always wanted?

Did you ever try, sometime, the almost magical feeling that everything works as it should?

Did you have some days when everything flowed, almost naturally?

Some try to explain these facts resorting to fate, others say that the stars are aligned. But the explanation is much simpler, and it is within us. It’s not fairies or guardian angels, but ourselves that build these wonderful situations.

Good things don’t come by themselves, are not mere flukes, it is necessary that we actively seek them, that we want them and, above all, we do the necessary steps to get closer to them. Only this way, one day, they will materialize. Small steps, done consistently, will bring us closer to our goals.

The problem is that many times we become the main obstacle to the achievement of these goals, we are assailed by such a fear that, unconsciously, we sabotage everything we had done. From that momento on, things start to go wrong and we blame bad luck.

Internal resistences and fear of abundance

Even if it costs us admit it, we are too used to our comfort zone. In that space, although there are many things that concern us, there are also many things that give us security. We achieved a balance in which, more or less, we can survive. And we’re terrified to break this balance.

So often, we step back just when we are about to get a radical change for which we worked very long. When things break down, instead of blaming fate, we should ask ourselves what are the internal resistances that are activated.

In fact, in many cases, as close as the goal, the greater is fear because it means breaking forever with the comfort zone that we already know and follow the course of a new life that, even if we find it attractive, generates also a lot of fear. We suffer from what might be called “fear of abundance”. This fear is often paralyzing. Fear is so great that we're stuck and fail to act, it is at that moment when things that seemed to be going so well, start to get complicated.

How to overcome this resistances?

In some cases, these internal resistances are a sign that we are not ready yet to take the plunge. In fact, although the positive things seem perfect, they may involve changes for which we are not sufficiently prepared. It happens very often to celebrities who are crushed by the weight of success. In these cases, it is better not to force the events, have a little patience and work within us.

In other cases, these resistances are only an expression of fear of the unknown and leave what is familiar. Being aware of their existence is already a huge step. The second step is to prepare for the future, see what we will do, so to feel more and more comfortable in that situation that before frightened us. If we continue to move in this direction, sooner or later, this goal will come true.

If you change your thoughts, change your reality

In many cases, simply changing our thoughts we can change the reality around us. This is not to think you will become rich and get it, but a change in your way of thinking opens up numerous possibilities that before were closed.

Because in life, sometimes you don’t need to fight, but let yourself go with the flow, remaining attentive to opportunities that present themselves along the way.
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Better alone than with someone who makes us feel alone


There are moments when we feel lonely, even if we are surrounded by people. Being with others does not imply connect with them. For example, at a party where you don’t take part of, you don’t just get bored but also feel excluded, strange and lonely. But sooner or later the party is over, and you’re back home and get rid of these unpleasant sensations.

The problem starts when people with whom we interact every day, people who should be emotionally closet o us, make us feel lonely. If we don’t realize right away this “accompanied loneliness” or simply don’t know how to end this situation, we will be invaded by a huge vacuum and suffer emotional wounds difficult to heal.

The signs that we are alone, even if we are in good company

We tend to think that once we find a partner or after the first child, we won’t feel alone anymore. Unfortunately that’s not true. The kind of relationship we establish and the conflicts that arise over time can make that, even if accompanied, we feel alone and misunderstood. But sometimes we need too much time to understand from where it comes the feeling of emptiness and let years pass before we address the problem. At that point, our emotional balance will be deteriorated.

The good news is that we can prevent the situation get worse, simply recognizing the signs that we are alone, even if we have someone on our side:

- The person who should motivate you in your new projects and ideas, discourages you and creates obstacles.

- The person who should support you in difficult times put the blame on you for what happens and washes his hands.

- The person who should share your interests, constantly criticizes you and does not consider your tastes and needs.

- The person who should be near you don’t pass quality time with you, so you don’t feel understood or loved.

- The person who should help you grow and improve, makes you feel inferior.

Emotional wounds generated by the accompanied lonliness

Spending time with the wrong person can become a very bad experience which will open deep emotional wounds. In these cases it tend to appear also a deep sense of guilt. In fact, the problem is often that this type of solitude is experienced as a rejection. So, slowly, this person will feel more and more inadequate and unworthy of affection, then his/her self-esteem will be destroyed. If the situation is not resolved in time it can surge depression, by the moment the person sinks into a state of apathy and lose the joy of living.

On the other hand, sometimes this person tries to do everything possible to attract the attention of the others. Thus, the search for approval may end up turning him/her into a puppet in their hands. At this point, his/her mood and self-esteem depend on the attention, the praise or criticism of the others, which will take him/her on an emotional roller coaster that will eventually cause him/her great imbalances.

Why is it so hard to break away from it all?

Deciding to end a relationship that makes us really feel alone can be quite complicated for different reasons.

- Nothing is black and white. In interpersonal relationships nothing is black and white. This means that perhaps that person that makes us feel alone today, once was a source of joy, support and satisfaction. Those memories keep us bound to the past, avoiding the present problems.

- Fear to leave the comfort zone. Although we are aware that we are not going through our best moment, we may be accustomed to this situation and have found a balance within the malaise, and we fear that our decision can worst things. Habits and routines are very powerful factors that keep us tied to situations that make us sick.

- Rejection of "failure". On many occasions, when we decide to give him/her a second, third or fourth chance, in reality we’re giving it to ourselves. Some people believe, for example, that divorce means having failed and are reluctant to accept it, trying to rekindle a relationship that is already dead.

Loneliness by choice: Enjoying your company is an extraordinary gift

Abandoning a relationship where we feel alone, a relationship that, instead of satisfying our needs creates problems and shortcomings, is an act of self-love and, in many cases, even survival. Worrying about your psychological balance and give yourself another chance, is really the best gift you can give to yourself.

At this point it is not necessary to look immediately for another person to fill the void, but we should learn to feel good about ourselves, enjoy our company and do the things we like. We have to take this as a phase of growth and discovery, to accept us and close the wounds that left us that relationship.

The English poet John Milton already told it in the seventeenth century: “Loneliness is sometimes the best company, and a brief exile makes sweet return”.
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Friday, October 21, 2016

Husbands stress out their wives more than sons


Every couple is different, every family too. In an ideal family, the adults should support each other and contribute equally to the education of children. However, we know that in many cases “between saying and doing is half a sea” and, unfortunately, in many homes is still the woman who has to bear the burden of housework and child rearing.

Therefore, it is not strange that a survey conducted in the United States with more than 7,000 mothers revealed that husbands generate 10 times more stress to them than children. 46% of women surveyed said that their partners were contributing more of their children to increase the stress.

Unfulfilled expectations of mothers

Some of the women have even claimed that their husbands were making them “work” more than their children. Others observed that kids didn’t cause them many headaches, but the childish attitudes of their partners bothered much.

In addition, some also complained about the fact that their partners helped not enough with chores, and therefore not much was left as free time. There were some who pointed out that the wedding itself is stressful, because of the effort that requires each day.

Certainly not everyone is lucky enough to have an understanding partner willing to share the housework and the education of children. But it is likely that in these results are also affecting the expectations. For example, you can expect that a child face a whim and you prepare to deal with it, but don’t expect an adult to behave like a child. We can not expect a child to understand certain things, but we expect understanding from our partners.

When the person, which can be the man as as much as the woman, doesn’tt meet these expectations, not only we feel disappointed, but also defrauded. These negative feelings are added to daily stress and may end up being the straw that breaks the camel.

Fathers are convinced to make enough and demand more recognition

Interestingly, in another survey conducted by the same researchers with 1,500 fathers, half of them recognized having shared the care of children with the partner. But the strange thing was that out of 2,700 mothers interviewed, 75% said they were doing all their own.

Many fathers also confessed they feel wounded because thought they had a secondary role in the family. Two thirds of the fathers also said they would like to see recognized their efforts from time to time, at least with words of encouragement.

This study reveals that there is a problem of communication and expectations in many homes. Some fathers believe they are doing enough and that is not recognized, while mothers think it’s not true.

Whose fault is it?

Leaving aside the cases in which one of the parents does not apply enough to the education of the children, the fact is that be a father is stressful and often is easier to give the responsibility of our bad mood or our inability to manage the daily routine to the other adult.

Maintaining a relationship also requires a fair amount of work and women often ask too much to themselves, pretending to be perfect mothers, partners, daughters and girlfriends. This tension to satisfy everybody ends up destroying them.

However, it is important to find the cause of this dissatisfaction because it will end up affecting the couple's relationship. In fact, several studies found that a stressful marriage, where there are constant conflicts, is harmful to heart health as much as smoking and increases the chances of suffering from cardiovascular diseases in men as well as in women. A survey conducted recently with 300 Swedish women found that the risk of suffering from a heart attack is multiplied by three when their marriage is conflictive.

What is the solution?

Nine out of ten couples recognize that their relationship has deteriorated following the birth of their first child. In any case, to avoid that one of the two members be overloaded of tasks and ends up stressed, it is important that communication keep flowing at any time and in both directions. So if you're a dad or a mom:

- Ask your partner what you need, when you need it. Don’t pretend that he/she read your mind.

- Don’tt try to do everything, you don’t have to and don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Be satisfied to give love to your children every day.

- Talk with your partnerof you fears, insecurities and dissatisfactions. It will bring you both closer.

- Make it clear what you expect from your partner, with no recriminations.

Liu, H. & Waite, L. (2015) Bad Marriage, Broken Heart? Age and Gender Differences in the Link between Marital Quality and Cardiovascular Risks among Older Adults. J Health Soc Behav; 55(44): 403-423.
Doss, B. D. et. Al. (2009) The Effect of the Transition to Parenthood on Relationship Quality: An Eight-Year Prospective Study. J Pers Soc Psychol; 96(3): 601–619.
Barnet, R. C. et. Al. (2005) Marital-role quality and stress-related psychobiological indicators. Annals of Behavioral Medicine; 30(1): 36–43.
Orth, K. et. Al. (2000) Marital Stress Worsens Prognosis in Women With Coronary Heart DiseaseThe Stockholm Female Coronary Risk Study. The Journal of the American Medical Association; 284(23): 3008-3014.
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why do we get goosebumps when listening to a song?

goose bumps

Close your eyes and try to remember the last time a piece of music made you come goosebumps. It is likely that at that time you also felt a shiver throughout the body, starting from the head and radiating down the spine.

An estimated 86% of the people experienced this feeling listening to a song, although some people are more prone than others to react this way. Why?

An ancestral heritage

To understand what happens in our bodies when we get goose skin, we must go back in time. In fact, the explanation is found in mammals. Researchers at Utah State University explain that when mammals feel cold, the muscles around each hair follicle shrink, so the hair stands on end. This way they create a layer even more thick that protects them from the cold and helps them warm up. Of course, with the passage of time we have lost most of the hair that covered our bodies, but kept this ancestral mechanism.

But the curious thing is that this mechanism not only is activated in response to cold, but even when adrenaline is released, a hormone associated with stress whose levels increase when we are in a dangerous situation. If we feel threatened, frightened or excited, adrenaline floods our system and we get goosebumps.

The brain processes music in a very special way

Music is a very special stimuli because has a direct impact on the oldest parts of our brain, just those related to the most basic emotions. Indeed, neuroscientists at McGill University have found that the amygdala responds particularly to music.

A sad and somber melody, for instance, can activate the amygdala fear response, triggering the consequent physiological reactions, such as we found ourselves in front of a real danger. In fact, we get often goosebumps when something unexpected happens in the melody, as the entry of a new instrument, when the notes are swinging or when the volume of the music increases. In some cases, the element of surprise is responsible for the thrill that runs through us and turns our skin into goosebumps.

But also a well-known piece of music can get us goose bumps. Obviously, in this case it’s not the surprise but the pleasure we feel when we hear the melody to give us the willies. In fact, it’s been discovered that music also stimulates the release of dopamine, which floods the striatum, a part of the brain associated with reward, motivation and addiction.

The strange thing is that the level of dopamine increases a few seconds before it comes the highlight of the melody, which means that our brain is anticipating what will happen, and enjoys it in advance.

Personality and sensitivity also matter

A study by psychologists at the University of North Carolina helps us understand why we get goose bumps when we listen to some songs. These researchers believe that beyond the ancestral and physiological mechanism which are at the base, the explanation lies also in our personality.

These psychologists created a playlist that included songs that tend to make us shudder, such as the first few seconds of the song "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" by Air Supply.

After having completed a personality test, the participants of this study were connected to a computer that measured their level of physiological arousal through the skin, while listening to the songs. In addition, they had to press a button every time they had a chill.

The researchers thus discovered that those who showed the most intense reactions had in common certain characteristics of personality. They were more open to experiences and new ideas, more emotionally sensitive, appreciated beauty and were more imaginative.

These psychologists are convinced that this is not simply a visceral response or an emotion to an agonizing stimulus or a pleasant one, but that this chill also has a cognitive counterpart, because, after all, are our thoughts that facilitate interpenetration.

In fact, these researchers believe that people who get excited listening to music and show signs of physiological arousal, perceive the world and process the stimuli differently. These people are more open to experiences and are able to get carried away with the music flowing, therefore react more intensely.

Salimpoor, V. N. et. Al. (2011) Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience; 14: 257–262.
Nusbaum, e. C. & Silvia, P. (2011) Shivers and Timbres: Personality and the Experience of Chills From Music. Social Psychological and Personality Science; 2(2): 199-204.
McCrae, R. r. (2007) Aesthetic Chills as a Universal Marker of Openness to Experience. Motivation and Emotion; 31(1): 5–11.
Blood, A. J. & Zatorre, R. J. (2001) Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion. PNAS;98(20): 11818–11823.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

7 lessons you wouldn’t learn too late in life

personal growth

All life is a learning process. If we stop learning, when we believe that nothing can surprise us anymore and the desire to discover new things abandon us, we begin to die slowly. However, there are some lessons that we should learn as soon as possible, to avoid repenting later of everything we would have done and we did not. In this regard, the American writer Harriet Beecher said: “The bitterest tears will be those of the unspoken words and unfinished Works”.

Valuable life lessons to avoid regrets

1. Life is now.
We spend too much time complaining about the past and worrying about the future, while the present escapes us. We live in two eras that do not exist, and let all that we really have, the “here and now”, vanishes. The sooner we learn this lesson, the sooner we will be able to make the most of our time.

In fact, learning to enjoy the here and now, pay more attention to what surrounds us and to those we have close, will make us avoid to repent in the future. When we are aware that we are making the most of our time, we will have no reason to repent.

2. Don’t live thinking about what “you have” and “you don’t have” to do. The family, the partner, friends and society charge many expectations on our shoulders. The others expect us to behave in a certain way, take some decisions, and even that we feel certain emotions. However, direct our life trying to please everyone is the surest way to be unhappy.

Sometimes our wishes, dreams and decisions do not match the expectations of the others. But never mind! We shouldn’t feel guilty about it. If we are happy, we will trasmit this happiness and make others happy. And this is the true meaning of life, or at least should be. And we don’t need anyone's permission to be happy or to indicate us the path to follow, because each path must be different. So, don’t limit your life to meet the expectations of others.

3. Don’t make a storm in a glass of water. We have an innate talent for tragedy. But every time we put in motion our catastrophic thought, we end up only harming us. In fact, it is likely that more than in one occasion, when you look at the past, you become aware of being worried for no reason or that you overreacted, always fearing the worst.

Life, usually, takes care to put everything in place and teaches us to have a more realistic and objective perspective for the situations we face. But if we learn early to take this attitude, we will save many headaches. Remember that when we are immersed in the problem it always seems bigger than it is, but it only takes just a step out to put everything in perspective.

4. Face your fears before they consume you. We all have fear, it is normal and we should not be ashamed of this. In fact, fear is a defensive emotion and warns us that something may be dangerous. But there are fears that are crippling, prevent us from growing. In such cases, it is necessary to overcome them.

Indeed, fears are only a product of our mind and our insecurities. A French philosopher said: “The man who is afraid when there is no danger, invents a threat to justify his fear”. The good news is that every time we overcome a fear we broaden somewhat our comfort zone, we grow as people and expand our horizon.

5. Step by step we go far away. When we are young we want everything immediately. We set objectives, and if we do not get them right away, we are disappointed and we surrender. This is due in large part to the erroneous messages that transmits our society, because we expect that our ambitions materialize like magic.

However, ancient philosophies such as Buddhism teach us that one step at a time we'll go far away. Hurry is almost never a good counselor and the best things are achieved with patience and perseverance. Remember that often isn’t the goal, but the journey that counts. So, sometimes it is not the goals we have achieved that are important, but the person we have become while trying to reach them.

6. Don’t postpone happiness. Someone said that if you're not happy with what you have, you won’t be happy with what you desire. Happiness, or at least daily happiness, is not in great strokes of luck but in small things. Therefore, the biggest mistake we can make is to postpone our happiness until we reach the goal of our life, only to realize that when we arrive, we will have a new goal that will consume all our energy.

Don’t expect to solve all the problems to be happy because there will always be other problems that take their place. Don’t put happiness on standby, because it’s not possible to standby life. We have to assume that each day has its good and bad things, but it is always a wonderful gift that should not be wasted.

7. Appreciate everything in life. Too often we take many things for granted, we think it has always been like that and always will. But it’s false! In fact, as we age we begin to appreciate those little things and understand that each of them is a huge gift, including health, life and people around us.

We can learn this lesson while we are still young and feel gratitude each day of our lives, a key feeling to feel happy and satisfied. So, make sure you thank everyday for something, however small. Many of the things you have the others don’t have them, such as take a simple walk or enjoy the sight of a beautiful flower.
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Friday, October 14, 2016

The bad mood of the fathers causes havoc in the emotional and cognitive development of children

child psychology

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “who has no father should get one”. The philosopher meant that fathers are important to the development of children as much as mothers. In fact, love as much as refusal by both parents can profoundly affect emotional balance, self-esteem and mental health of their children.

Several studies found that the absence of the father cause problems of adaptation in their children, as well as the surge of destructive behaviors as they grow. Of course, his presence and understanding have the opposite effect: facilitate the adaptation of the child and promote a healthy psychological development.

The mental state of the father directly affects children

Researchers at Michigan State University conducted a study that analyzed the importance of fathers in their children’s life. During the research they collected data from 730 families across the country.

These psychologists focused in the analysis of the effects of paternal stress and mental problems such as depression and anxiety on children. Thus, they discovered that these problems influenced the relationship of the fathers with their children and thus also their development.

Obviously, it is a predictable result, something like reinventing the wheel. But the most interesting thing is that it was found that the father's mental state has long-term implications on his children, especially related to social skills such as self-control and the ability to collaborate with peers.

For example, it was discovered that when the father suffered from depression during the early years of his children's lives, this influenced more children's social development compared to depression or anxiety of the mother. The research also found that a high level of stress of the father when children are aged between 2 and 3 years old, is particularly damaging to the cognitive development and language.

The curious detail is that these problems arose independently from the influence that could have positive mothers. But, as expected, father's influence was most evident in male children than females, probably because they identify more with the figure of the father and therefore his behavior has a greater influence.

The damage caused by the lack of love from the father

In recent years, psychologists have begun to investigate further the role of parents in child development. Thus, different studies have surged that highlight the importance of the father figure. It was seen that when children have a father actively involved in their training, they explore their environment with greater confidence and are more emotionally stable as they grow. Also they tend to have better academic performance and develop better social skills.

Recently, some psychologists from the University of Connecticut analyzed data from 36 studies that involved 10,000 parents and their sons and daughters. These researchers wanted to understand how a cold or distant father could affect the development of his children. Then they discovered that children who had been rejected by their fathers, showed signs of anxiety and insecurity, as well as a more aggressive and hostile behavior.

These results highlight the fact that fathers are important to the psychological well-being of their children as much as mothers, and have a great responsibility in emotional and cognitive development of their children.

How can fathers improve their mood?

Fatherhood is not an easy role, especially for new fathers. It is normal that fathers, like mothers, have their fears, insecurities and worries. Added to this is that many fathers feel compelled to appear strong and supportive for their partner, so they run a greater risk of feeling emotionally overwhelmed. In fact, this situation makes them more likely to suffer from high stress, which will have an impact on children.

- Recognize signs of stress. The first problem many fathers have is that, deeply involved in their daily routine and feeling obliged to support the family, don’t even recognize the signs of stress. Therefore, the first step is to recognize that you are feeling anxious or stressed. It is also important to learn how to identify the triggers of stress in daily life, to eliminate them or at least minimize their impact.

- Have a space for you. It is important that fathers have their own lives, as well as the care and attention they can give to their children. So, be sure to spend quality time with your partner and do not completely abandon your hobbies. This time will allow you to relax and recharge your batteries. Remember, to take care of your child you must first take care of yourself.

- Express what you feel. Talking about your fears, worries and anxieties will help you feel better. No need to hide these feelings. In fact, it is important that your partner is aware of your concerns about being a good father and support her, feelings that will strengthen the bonds that hold you together.

Vallotton, C. et. Al. (2016) Child behavior problems: Mothers’ and fathers’ mental health matters today and tomorrow. Early Childhood Research Quarterly; 37: 81-93.
Khaleque, A. & Rohner, R. P. (2011) Transnational Relations Between Perceived Parental Acceptance and Personality Dispositions of Children and Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2011; 16 (2): 103-115.
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The personality trait that increases by 48% the risk of developing dementia


Do you get exalted for virtually anything?

Do you get angry when something doesn’t go as you planned?

Do you get stressed for the little mishaps of everyday life?

Each of these emotions and moods have an impact on your body and, of course, on the brain. We can imagine the emotions like small drops. One by one they do not cause serious damage and may not have effects on the body, but when build up, day after day, they can fill the jar.

The academic medicine started only now to recognize the impact of emotions and personality’s characteristics in the appearance and aggravation of diseases, but currently we are conducting a number of studies showing the impact that the emotional state has on our health.

In this regard, a recent study conducted at the Karolinska Institute reported what would be the personality trait that increases the most the likelihood of developing dementia. Undoubtedly, the results are very interesting because, unlike genetics, the personality expression is something that we can influence, that we can change, to reduce the risk of suffering from a disease that already affects 47.5 million people worldwide.

Dementia: The disease that steals memories

Every year are reported 7.7 million new cases of dementia and it is estimated that by 2050 they will triple. It is a cruel disease, since it steals us the best memories and then, gradually, prevents us from recognizing our loved ones, erasing the traces of who we were and who we love.

Now a group of American and Swedish scientists have published a study in which 1,082 twins were followed for 28 years. During this period, the participants were subjected to different personality test every three years. This way was possible to find out that anxiety is the characteristic affecting the most the risk of developing dementia. Anxious people showed to be, no more and no less, that 48% more likely to develop dementia.

What is the “trait anxiety”?

Trait anxiety is a term used to refer to a characteristic of the personality relatively stable over time. It is a tendency of the person to react anxiously to different situations, a predisposition to perceive facts as dangerous or threatening, and respond to these with severe anxiety.

Why anxiety can cause dementia?

Researchers say that the master key in the relationship between anxiety and dementia lies in cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”. In fact, are countless the studies showing what are the damages caused by high levels of cortisol in the structure and functioning of the brain.

In this regard, a study conducted by the University of Iceland with 4,244 elderly, found that high levels of cortisol, measured in saliva when people just woke up, were related to a decrease in the amount of gray matter and volume of the hippocampus, an area of ​​the brain that plays a key role in memory. This and other studies suggest that cortisol has a toxic effect on the brain, especially on the areas associated with memory formation.

However, one of the most decisive research in this direction was made at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. These researchers worked with 309 seniors and found that elevated cortisol levels were associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, regardless of APOE-ε4, a molecule that increases the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease by more than 50%. This means that, beyond genetic, in many cases the emotional states are crucial in the appearance of many diseases, including dementia.

Now we know this for sure, anxiety is not a good traveling companion. Therefore, it is best to do everything possible to fight anxiety.

Petkus, A. J. et. Al. (2016) Anxiety is associated with increased risk of dementia in older Swedish twins. Alzheimers Dement; 12(4): 399-406.
Geerlings, M. I. et. Al. (2015) Salivary cortisol, brain volumes, and cognition in community-dwelling elderly without dementia. Neurology; 85(11): 976-983.
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