The following post is sponsored by HydroJug. For our sponsored post policy, click here. We all know we need to drink more water. Because water and staying hydrated is SO good for us! From digestion to energy to brain power to just feeling good, water is where it’s at when it comes to being healthy and feeling good. So, if we all know it’s good for us and we want to drink more water, then why do so many of us not get enough of it each day? Why is it that most of us struggle with staying hydrated? In…

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woman looking out the windowThis whole year has felt like a continuous cycle of repetitiveness. Wake up, brush teeth, put on a clean-ish shirt, and begin the day. It’s become so monotonous that most of the time, you don’t really need to think about what you’re doing, you just do it. You’re on total autopilot. And before you know it, you’re scarfing down a low-fat muffin or skipping your workout entirely because your next Zoom call is about to start — even though you had loose aspirations of having this be the week you got up early to exercise or set aside time for a solid protein-packed breakfast before work.

When you’re stuck on autopilot, you’re not consciously aware of your choices. As adults, we make an average of 35,000 decisions each day. And research shows that 96% of people admit to making most of them with zero thought.‘>2 Your mind strives to take the path of least resistance to conserve resources. It also craves routine. Because, generally speaking, not knowing what’s going to happen next is stressful.

When you don’t have to think about how to do your to-dos, it’s a much easier request of your body and brain. You do the same thing over and over again, staying neatly tucked inside your comfort zone and you don’t have to put in extra effort or feel the effects of added stress or uncertainty.

That’s why, if you’ve been continually beating yourself up about why you can’t seem to lose the weight or get in shape, your comfort zone could be to blame. There’s too much uncertainty! And really, I’d argue that 2020 has given us more than our fair share of that feeling already.

But uncertainty does have its benefits.

According to research from Yale, it signals the brain to kickstart new learning capabilities. In this study, monkeys were taught to press various targets – each with their own reward system.‘>1

Another study found that among older cognitively intact adults, those with a history of musical training had better episodic memory scores.‘>3 They didn’t control for IQ but they did control for education attainment, which is a decent barometer of intelligence (though exceptions definitely exist).

What about more direct trials? Can we show that playing instruments can actually elicit changes to the brain’s function?

Recent research shows that music practice, which forces our brains to work in a completely different way than normal waking reality, is an important contributor to neural plasticity. Even just two weeks of piano practice elicits neuroanatomical changes to the auditory cortex in non-musicians.‘>5 The same protective effect has been seen in the auditory cortex, which controls speech recognition among other things, of aging musicians.‘>7‘>9‘>11  Furthermore, anything that gets you into the flow state will lower stress, almost as a rule. I could elaborate with even more extensive citations, but instead I’ll tell you about the drums.

I might not be that good, but man is my electric drum kit I keep in the office a stress release. I put earbuds in, fire up a rock song on my iPad, then put the headphones to the drum kit over that, and wail away for an hour and a half almost every night. A legend in my own mind (the only mind that matters). If you walked into the room while I was doing this, all you would hear is Pita pit a pitta TapTap softly. But inside the headphones, I’m killing it. Highly recommended.

Playing an Instrument for Happiness

No, that isn’t sexy. It’s not going to sell any online e-courses. You won’t get clout and “happy” can’t be quantified, even if you start citing neurochemicals. But happiness is . When you boil things down, most people will name “be happy” as a major long-term goal. It’s not everything, you need meaning and drive and a mission as well, but moment-to-moment happiness really does matter for brain health.

Playing an Instrument Is Magic

If magic exists, music fits the bill. It can change your emotions on a dime. It can conjure up vivid memories, even those previously calcified and inaccessible via normal modes of cognition. It can capture and even alter the energy of the room. It makes people move their bodies without realizing or wanting it. Music can’t be touched or felt, only heard; it’s real but intangible, abstract but verifiable. And if you are making the music and wielding the instrument, you become the magician.

Whatever you do, don’t wait any longer. Pick up that instrument you’ve been thinking about and get after it. Over the last few years I’ve picked up the piano and have been dabbling in the drums, but man, there’s a HUGE difference between trying to learn at my age and trying to learn as a kid. You want to talk about compound interest, learning music (or any skill, really) as a child is a relatively small initial investment that quickly accumulates value. And most importantly, it never loses value. You learn the thing when your brain is still physically developing and the thing becomes embedded in the physical structure of your brain. It’s almost impossible to forget a skill like that. I wish I had that with music. If you have that opportunity, take it.

Do you play any instruments? How has it affected your brain health, as far as you can tell?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!


The post Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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growth mindsetEver heard the quote, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work?”

Originally said by NBA all-star, Kevin Durant, this is a perfect example of utilizing a growth mindset — meaning your success can be cultivated by your efforts. When you operate from the opposite perspective (called a fixed mindset) you believe your talents and abilities are predetermined. Either you’re good at something or you’re not. End of story.

Maybe you believe you’ll always have a layer of fluff around your middle because you never stick with anything. Or you avoid working out because everyone in your family is uncoordinated. Or you’re “so intelligent” but can’t seem to figure out how the heck to lose those last ten pounds. If that’s you, congratulations, you have a fixed mindset.

When you start viewing things through a more optimistic lens, you move into growth mindset territory. And that’s where the magic really happens.

Let’s Define Growth Mindset

You can’t talk about this term without acknowledging the famous Stanford University psychologist who coined it. Decades ago, Carol Dweck published research that kind of changed the world.‘>2 In this study, they taught one group about the brain and how intelligence can be developed, while the other group had no intervention. As you might expect, students who adopted a growth mindset were more motivated and got better grades than their fixed-minded counterparts.

Students with a growth mindset not only believed that their abilities could improve through effort and persistence, they actually made it happen.

Examples of a Growth Mindset

  • I’d like to get better at this
  • Mistakes help me learn
  • This has been a challenge, but I’m working on it
  • I haven’t figured out how to do this yet
  • This might take some time

Dweck’s research proved that changing a key belief about yourself can make a big difference. But clearly, it’s not just students who can benefit from this concept.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadellauses growth mindset tactics with his management teams to create an environment of constant learning…

Michael Jordan (who was initially cut from his high school basketball team and was passed up during the first two NBA draft picks) used it to persevere and become uber-famous…

I use it in my own health coaching practice to help my clients overcome their previous, self-described failures…

And you can too. You just need the right tools to shift your mindset.

So, What Causes a Fixed Mindset?

Anyone who shaped your childhood – parents, teachers, coaches – may have inadvertently had something to do with it. Research shows that the way children are talked to (both positively and negatively) can have a profound impact on their mindset. Maybe you were told that you were super talented growing up. Or that you were “so skinny” or “not strong enough” or some other trait-based comment.

This sends the message that what you can achieve is completely tied to something innate. On the other hand, if you were praised for your hard work, you might have gotten the message that your effort is what led you to your success. And that anything you want (looser clothes, better relationships, a better night sleep) is within reach.

Examples of a Fixed Mindset

  • I’m a binge eater
  • I just have a slow metabolism
  • I’d never be comfortable doing that
  • I’m bad at sticking to routines
  • I’m a night owl

Regardless of your upbringing, you’re not stuck with what you’ve got.

Moving away from a fixed mindset requires you to take a deeper dive into your beliefs and stories, the way you talk to yourself, and the actions you take. Keep in mind, no one stays in a growth mindset all the time. You could be inherently growth-minded but get triggered into a fixed mindset state by certain people or situations.

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

The key thing to remember here is that attaining a growth mindset isn’t about ignoring your past. Actually, quite the contrary. It’s about leaning into learning — taking educated risks, gaining wisdom from the results, and surrounding yourself with people who challenge you to grow. These are six strategies I use to help my own clients work toward shifting their mindset.

1. Check your self-talk. These are the (conscious and subconscious) messages you send to yourself all day long, and they have the power to motivate you or limit you. Your brain’s job is to protect you, so it sometimes enables negative self-talk to keep you safely tucked inside your comfort zone. So, if you’re used to telling yourself “I’m not good at this” try reframing it as “I’m learning something new every day” and see how that feels. And don’t give up. Rewiring your brain’s neural pathways takes time.

2. View challenges as opportunities. Asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” is a huge part of self-improvement. Unfortunately, it’s easier to focus on the perceived failures. And a lot of times it leads to giving up before you even get going. When you fear getting it wrong or making mistakes or just flat out taking it as a sign that you’re just not cut out for whatever it is you’re attempting, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to grow. The more you can test your abilities, the more you learn about yourself.

3. Stop looking for approval. Or more appropriately, stop doing things to avoid disapproval. If you’re a self-described people pleaser, you know what I’m talking about. Whether you’re attempting to eat healthier, move your body more, or take better care of yourself in general, looking for outside approval can lead you down a path of self-sabotage because you’re always waiting to see if you got it right. Or worse, never starting because of the overwhelming fear of that disapproval. Instead, work on your underlying beliefs about yourself (i.e. your stories) and learn to trust yourself enough to see what’s possible.

4. Use the word “yet” regularly. This is a really powerful way to begin switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Using this word shows that while you might be struggling with something right now, it’s only because you haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. Try saying, “I haven’t conquered my sugar cravings yet” or “I haven’t woken up at 5am to meditate yet” and pay attention to what happens.

5. Develop more grit. According to Angela Duckworth, TED talk speaker and author of Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance, “grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” She adds that while people are born with different degrees of grit, it’s a trait that develops through experience. And that can lead to a growth mindset since grittier folks are more apt to stay the course even when they struggle, falter, or all out fail. Here are a few APA-approved ways to build more grit.

6. Appreciate the journey more than the destination. Your end goal might be to lose 15 pounds or get super ripped, but when you have a “journey mindset” as researchers call it, you benefit from the opportunity to learn and grow from your actions. Plus, studies show that you’re more likely to continue the new behaviours you’ve adopted even after you’ve reached your goal.

6 Strategies to Shift Your Mindset

I’ll tell you firsthand that believing your abilities are carved in stone will send you down a path of trying to prove yourself over and over again — and not learning from any of it. Even if you grew up with a fixed mindset, it’s never too late to grow. Do me a favor. Whenever you hear yourself say things like “I can’t stick with this” or “I’m terrible at sprints,” give these strategies a try:

  • Check your self-talk
  • View challenges as opportunities
  • Stop looking for approval
  • Use the word “yet” regularly
  • Develop more grit
  • Appreciate the journey more than the destination

What do you think? Do you have more of a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset?


The post Having a Growth Mindset Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Health appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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how to boost your serotoninSerotonin is a funny one.

Although the prevailing sentiment is that we want to “increase serotonin,” it’s not that simple. There’s no indication that more serotonin is necessarily better in every situation, or even generally. The link between serotonin and “happiness” or “mood” isn’t so clear-cut as the experts would have you believe, either. So while I am going to tell you how to “boost” serotonin levels because serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter, I plan on sticking to foods, supplements, and behaviors that promote physiological levels of serotonin. Boosting serotonin beyond what the body is designed for may not help you, and it may have unpleasant and unwanted effects.

Is Serotonin a Mood Booster?

Yes and no. For evidence, I submit two items. The first is clinical research and the second is pure anecdote, albeit personal anecdote.

Everyone has heard of SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The most common form of antidepressants, their purported mode of action is to reduce the re-absorption of serotonin by neurons which increases the circulating concentration of serotonin in the brain. They increase brain levels of serotonin so it’s able to act longer. The evidence in favor of SSRIs in treating depression is mixed. Not everyone benefits, and it often takes several months to take effect. But they do help some people.

In recent years, depression studies have pitted SSRIs against another drug—tianeptine—that does the opposite: increases the absorption of serotonin by neurons and decreases the concentration of serotonin the brain. If the “serotonin=happy” hypothesis is correct, tianeptine shouldn’t improve depression. It should worsen it. But that’s not what happens. Both tianeptine, which lowers brain serotonin, and SSRIs, which increase it, have been shown to improve depression symptoms in patients with clinical depression. If anything, tianeptine might even be more effective.‘>2 Adequate levels of serotonin help us deal with stress, while chronic stress can deplete serotonin. As the precursor to melatonin, serotonin also has a powerful effect on sleep and circadian rhythm.

The underrecognized effect of serotonin on the brain’s ability to learn may explain why increasing serotonin levels through SSRIs can help depression patients.‘>4 Gut serotonin may also travel to the brain via the vagus nerve, the “highway” that allows our gut to interface with our brain.

Serotonin also has other peripheral effects. For instance, it plays a role in bone formation and maintenance, with brain serotonin maintaining bone formation and gut serotonin inhibiting it.

How to Increase Serotonin

While you don’t necessarily want to boost serotonin to supernatural levels, it’s quite clear that low brain serotonin can have some unwanted effects. How do you make sure you’re making enough serotonin in your brain to enable optimal neuronal communication and melatonin synthesis, minimize rumination, and improve mood?

  • Eat tryptophan foods
  • Get plenty of natural light
  • Get sun or take vitamin D
  • Eat seafood or take omega-3s
  • Spend time in nature
  • Eat some carbs
  • Take curcumin
  • Move
  • Drink coffee
  • Get a massage
  • Get your micronutrients
  • Take tryptophan on an empty stomach

Eat Tryptophan Foods

We often forget that “thoughts” and “feelings” aren’t just ephemera floating around inside our heads without a material representative. Every thought, feeling, emotion, or mood we experience is a physical thing made of matter. We don’t just “feel better.” To feel better, we manufacture serotonin using an amino acid called tryptophan as the precursor.

Whether it’s turkey, eggs, dairy, beef, lamb, chicken, or fish, animal protein is a reliable source of tryptophan. Studies show that whey protein and egg protein both acutely increase tryptophan availability in the brain.‘>6

Get Plenty of Natural Light

Sunlight is a direct trigger of serotonin synthesis. The brighter the sunlight, the higher the serotonin production.‘>8‘>10

I recommend getting most of your vitamin D from the sun. It’s better regulated that way, and you get the added benefit of lots of natural light. If you need or want to supplement (probably a good idea for most people during the colder seasons when sun exposure is low), look for a high potency formula. Here’s what I take.

Eat Seafood or Take Omega-3s

Not only does seafood provide ample amounts of the amino acid tryptophan, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in marine fat increase serotonin production in the brain and improve serotonin transport across neurons.‘>12 Turns out that turmeric (or curcumin, rather) increases brain serotonin levels in a dose-dependent matter.‘>14 This is probably why going for a walk or grabbing a quick workout is a surefire way to beat ruminating thoughts.

Drink Coffee

Generic alternative health gurus will tell you caffeine depletes serotonin. It sounds right, doesn’t it? What they won’t say is that caffeine has actually been shown to increase brain serotonin, at least in rats.‘>16

Get Your Micronutrients

This should really be standard advice for any health issue. Many problems go away when we eat more micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—because micronutrients are essential to fundamental physiological processes and pathways. It’s a safe bet that all of us are at least mildly deficient in a handful of important nutrients—like B6, which regulates serotonin synthesis.‘>2

Not only that, when faced with tasks of mixed urgency and importance, participants in this study prioritized to-dos that were time-sensitive over ones that were less urgent but had a greater reward‘>1 Numerous studies confirm that once you activate the shallow, reactionary brain function in the frontal cortex with a smartphone engagement—especially first thing in the morning when you are locking habit patterns into place—it’s difficult to transition into high-level strategic problem solving mode.‘>3 When work gets either challenging or boring over the course of the day, you are hard-wiring a reliable method of escape into the realm of instant gratification and instant relief from cognitive peak performance. As detailed in the excellent book by anti-sugar crusader Dr. Robert Lustig called, The Hacking Of The American Mind, we are chasing the dopamine high today like never before. We are doing this in assorted ways that are strongly driven by marketing forces behind Internet fodder (social media, pornography, click bait, and even email and text messaging), prescription drugs, street drugs, alcohol, processed sugar products, overly stressful exercise patterns,consumerism, and other sources of escape and instant gratification.

As a healthy living enthusiast reading this blog, you can acknowledge the great sense of self-satisfaction and peace of mind that comes from implementing self-discipline and persevering through challenges and setbacks to achieve meaningful goals. These behaviors stimulate the serotonin and oxytocin pathways in the brain, triggering feelings of contentment, connection and love. Bestselling author Mark Manson asserts that self-discipline is a key to a happy, fulfilling life.‘>5 Direct sun exposure in the morning (no sunglasses, no window barriers) triggers a spike in energizing and mood elevating hormones like serotonin, cortisol and adenosine. Kick starting these sunlight-driven hormonal processes is actually the first step toward getting a good night’s sleep, as you will optimize the timing of the evening conversion of serotonin to melatonin to help transition into sleep.‘>1

Even if you don’t feel dependent on coffee, taking a break from coffee is akin to doing a 21-Day Primal Transformation or a Keto Reset. It’s a chance to shake things up and try something new. You might feel better, worse, or the same. In any case, you’ll have learned something about yourself. We should all strive to be curious and open-minded in the pursuit of health. For many people, coffee is a blind spot. They conveniently overlook the ways in which it’s not serving them and how they’re more dependent on it than they’d like.

Besides the philosophical, there are concrete reasons for taking a more honest look at your coffee habit.

Coffee: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As I said, on the whole, I think that coffee consumption is beneficial for most people, assuming you drink it in reasonable quantities. Nobody needs a gallon of coffee per day, sorry. A “reasonable quantity” is up to four cups a day, or so say the experts. As a one-or-two-cup-a-day guy, that sounds like a lot to me.

Even at that level of consumption, some people can have adverse reactions to caffeine depending on their genetics and underlying health issues. Headaches, jitters, and racing heartbeat are common, and of course it can majorly mess with your sleep. It’s easy to slip into a vicious cycle where you’re sleeping poorly, so you drink coffee throughout the day to combat fatigue, which means you don’t get enough restorative sleep that night, and repeat ad infinitum.

Caffeine can also cause your adrenal glands to release cortisol, although this effect is tempered in habitual coffee drinkers.‘>3 This is why practitioners often recommend that folks with HPA axis disorders limit or avoid coffee.

Caffeine consumption also worsens anxiety in some people and can even trigger panic attacks. ‘>5 People with certain psychiatric conditions are advised to limit or avoid caffeine consumption.‘>7‘>9‘>11

Need I go on? Okay, one more: caffeine can interact with prescription drugs, blocking absorption, increasing absorption rates to unsafe levels, or otherwise changing their effects.‘>13 I intentionally supplement collagen to combat this effect.

Finally, if it’s a calming morning routine you crave, consider alternatives like journaling, meditation or deep breathing exercises, yoga or tai chi, doing a crossword puzzle (my favorite), or reading. Just don’t read the news!

Sip on a Matcha or Chai Collagen Keto Latte, or for a no caffeine option, mix up a soothing turmeric tea using Golden Milk Collagen Fuel 

What if You Quit Coffee and Don’t Feel Better (Or Even Feel Worse)?

As with any big change, you’ll have an initial adjustment period after quitting coffee. After that, you should feel better. Still, some people don’t. Let’s go through the difference between the initial withdrawal and other reasons you might not have a great experience with the change.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

For a few days, you may experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms, like:

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Feeling anxious or “on edge”
  • Irritabiliy
  • Low mood

These should resolve within a few days. After about a week, you can truly assess how you feel without coffee.

If you don’t notice any differences once you quit coffee, then I’d say go back to drinking it in moderation to reap all the great benefits.

If you end up feeling worse, that doesn’t mean that you need coffee. It’s possible you were using coffee to mask the symptoms of an underlying health issue. Maybe you already suspect that’s the case, and you’re using coffee to push off having to deal with it? Before you go diving for your French press, take a health inventory, and see a doctor if necessary.

I’m not suggesting that you give up coffee for the rest of your life. I certainly don’t intend to. Coffee is one of life’s pleasures, as far as I’m concerned. However, it shouldn’t be a vice, and that can be a slippery slope. Periodically taking a break from coffee allows you to make sure you still have a handle on things and see more clearly where you need to be paying more attention to your health and stress management. Give it a try. There’s always a Starbucks on the next corner awaiting your return.


The post How to Stop Drinking Coffee, and Why You Should Consider It appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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