Little things mean a lot. That there are lots of little things out there that we can do, adjustments we can make, that could prompt both immediate and long term benefits to our health.
The finding of a small, preliminary study recently conducted by researchers at the University of Auckland presents but one example: follow the age-old advice you may have heard countless times from your mother to sit up straight. Come to find, according to the study’s preliminary findings, people with symptoms of depression may see at least some temporary improvements by doing just that.
Previous studies show stooped posture as being a characteristic of people suffering from depression. At the same time, other studies have shown that adopting an upright posture seems to improve mood and self-esteem in people without depression. Few studies have looked specifically at how changes to posture might affect people with depression.
In the University of Auckland study, which focused on subjects who indicated that they had mild to moderate symptoms of depression, approximately half of the participants received instructions on how to practice better posture. The other control group was not given any instructions about posture. At the end of a battery of tests, among other things, people in the upright-posture group reported feeling more enthusiastic as well as physically stronger than the people in the regular-posture group.
Is it possible that people could affect a shift in mood based merely by an adjustment of their posture? While not conclusive at this point, the results are promising. This preliminary study also indicates that sitting up straight resulted in some physiological changes, such as increased brain activity, that may influence mood.
Little things, such as the recognition of the health benefits of our natural environment, can also lead to some big changes. This appears to be true within our built environment (human-made spaces where we live and work), where the latest thinking is seeing a merging building science with health science.
With ever-increasing urbanization, it is estimated we will see a doubling of the built environment before the century is over. A new Harvard study has found that introducing nature into the built environment is seem as a way to get people to work better, sleep better and to feel better. Today, varying levels of natural elements are being rooted in the design, maintenance and operation of buildings where people spend the majority of their time. The incorporation of more greenery, brighter, blue-enriched day-like lighting and enhanced ventilation are some of the changes this “greening” movement is implementing.
In this national study, conducted by researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health, researchers looked at 10 high-performing green-certified office buildings in five cities across the United States and found that occupants scored 26 percent higher on tests of cognitive function and had 30 percent fewer symptoms of “sick building syndrome” than those in high-performing but noncertified buildings. They also had 6 percent higher sleep quality scores.
Getting back to this “little things mean a lot” concept, some seemingly little things – like turning off your smart phone for a walk in the woods – is seen as a big deal for lots of folks. As noted last week, according to the North American Camping Report, a majority of campers bring their mobile phones with them when camping, and Wi-Fi ranks as a top campground amenity. Approximately 76 percent of campers go online while camping.
Meanwhile, various studies are now adding fuel to the campfire that not disconnecting can interfere with the health benefits of connecting to the great outdoors. As reported recently in Time magazine, these studies liken the kind of media multitasking we obsessively do with our smart phones as the cognitive equivalent of too much sedentary time. The habit of relying on your phone or the Internet to lighten your mental workload is seen as being very similar to relying on a car, rather than your legs, to get you places.
By way of example, in one study conducted by research from McGill University in Canada, it was found that drivers who depended on GPS-style navigation to get around, as opposed to those who relied on their own spatial abilities, demonstrated less activity and gray matter volume in the brain.
“With these devices, when we’re always jumping from task to task, we have this perception that our constant activity is a sign of efficiency – like we’re getting a lot done,” Dr. Gary Small, a professor of behavioral sciences at UCLA and author of the book iBrain tells Time magazine. “But actually this process of jumping around is not economical.” Dr. Small goes on to say that every time you switch tasks, your brain needs a moment or two to find its bearings. The more you engage in rapid task-shuffling, the harder it becomes for you to ignore distractions and stay focused.
So maybe we need to try a little harder to every once in awhile disconnect from technology – if only for a short time – to reap the benefits it can bring. Because, after all, as the lyrics of a classic big band hit of the 1950s once put it: “Now and forever, that always and ever, little things mean a lot.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.