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Mind and Body for Women

Mind-Body News Roundup: Winter 2021

Discover the latest news and trends relating to mind and body.

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The Look of Love

Did you know that simply thinking about or viewing pictures of your romantic partner activates the brain regions related to mood and pain regulation? It also has a positive effect on energy and reduces your stress hormone levels. Researchers theorize that a good relationship includes trust and security, helping calm your nerves and alleviate the stress response. Not currently in love? Not to worry: close relationships with friends or family were shown to have similar positive effects on both physical and mental health.

Napping Notes

Plenty of research touts the restorative benefits of short naps, but there is a napping time limit that should not be exceeded: A recent review of more than 20 different studies indicates that long naps can leave you groggy and that study participants who napped for 60 minutes or longer each day had a 30 percent greater risk of earlier death (from any cause) and a 34 percent higher chance of developing heart disease. This association was stronger when subjects were older, less physically active women with poorer mental health. So what is the napping sweet spot? According to an Australian study published in the journal Sleep, a 10-minute nap is your best bet to improve energy and cognition.

Young couple sleeping on a couch

That being said, you should not feel the need to nap all the time, says New York City cardiologist Satjit Bhusri, M.D., FACC. “Frequent napping is a result of not having enough quality sleep,” he notes. “Sleep helps you process the day’s stress and cleans out inflammation.” If you regularly long for a midday snooze, Bhusri advises getting checked for sleep apnea or hormonal causes such as menopause or pregnancy.

Chemistry Lesson

Reducing exposure to products that contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as parabens, triclosan, bisphenol A (BPA) and “fragrance” seems to have a positive impact on health, according to a study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. Study participants who purposely avoided products containing those chemicals were found to have lower levels of them in their systems. Experts advise limiting the use of polycarbonate plastics and canned foods when possible and to avoid handling thermal receipts.

Also, word to the wise: The term “fragrance” (as well as parfum, perfume and aroma) is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and using this term allows companies to opt out of disclosing the chemicals they use to create that fragrance. Because many of those chemicals have been identified as endocrine disruptors, you should always search for products that contain natural ingredients such as lavender essential oil, jasmine extract, rosemary CO2 extract or an essential oil blend.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Reaching out to a friend via text or email is fine, but a phone call can help foster greater feelings of connectedness, say researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. The 200 study participants initially assumed that the medium wouldn’t matter, but hearing each other’s voices made for much stronger bonds between the speakers. Bonus: Calling didn’t take any more time than texting.

Say Cheese

Forcing a smile actually can spur a sunnier outlook, according to recent research reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Subjects were asked to judge images of faces and computer animations either while holding a pen in their teeth (to mimic a smile) or in their lips (to mimic a frown). When “smiling,” subjects were more likely to judge the people and animations as being positive or happy, and when “frowning,” they were more likely to judge them as being sad. Researchers believe that muscle movements can “trick” your brain into feeling a specific emotion, which can affect your overall outlook and demeanor. So if you’re feeling particularly curmudgeonly one day, paste on that smile for an attitude adjustment.