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Your brain on nature, exercise, and empathy

Dr. Ugur Sahin, whose family moved from Turkey to Germany when he was 4, is the head of BioNTech. Albert Bourla is the Greek chief executive of Pfizer. These two men, from countries historically hostile toward each other, discovered an empathic bond in their shared background as scientists and immigrants. The result of their partnership is a vaccine that has leaped to the forefront of the race to find a cure for Covid-19, the disease that has killed more than 1.2 million people globally. Dr. Sahin and his wife Dr. Ozlem Tureci, who is the chief medical officer at BioNTech, are among the richest people in Germany, yet they live in a modest apartment with their teen-aged daughter, and ride bicycles to work. Material success was never their aim: Sahin and Tureci are immersed in a life of scientific purpose with the goal of having an impact in the medical field. Our goal with this edition of the 5-Minute Recharge is to share evidence-based expert knowledge, tips, and inspiration to help you get through the next few months that are likely to be the most challenging of the pandemic. ONE CELEBRATORY QUOTE My wife and I sat down, talked to each other and made cups of tea. The relief was a very good feeling. – Upon learning that their vaccine had 90% efficacy in preventing Covid-19, Drs. Sahin and Tureci celebrated with a cup of Turkish tea ONE LOVELY IMAGE

81-year-old Stefano Bozzini serenades his wife Carla who looks on from her hospital window in Castel San Giovanni, Italy THREE IDEAS #1 YOUR BRAIN ON NATURE Because we have spent so much of our human history in nature, are we primed to respond positively to being outdoors? Based on growing scientific evidence, some doctors are prescribing nature for anxiety, depression, and even asthma, but the study of nature’s effect on the brain is still in its infancy. It isn’t easy to lug electroencephalogram (EEG) machinery into the wilderness to take brain wave measurements, but it has been done. Researchers taking EEG readings before, during, and after a five-day hike in Southern Utah found a decrease in the strength of alpha waves after exposure to nature. Low alpha power means that being outdoors takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries, frustrations, and to-do lists, and makes us more aware of the present moment. It's no wonder that people from around the world gravitate to the same pictorial representation: a landscape with trees and open area, water, human figures, and animals. When you step into nature, your mind experiences a kind of homecoming. If you can today, take in a healthy dose of your home in the great outdoors. “Our brains are not evolved to deal with the number of different channels competing for our attention in the modern environment. A natural environment is more suitable to the ways our attentional systems operate.” – Sara LoTemplio, University of Utah #2 YOUR EXERCISE RX Another week, another study showcasing the protective effects of exercise on mental health. Research from University College London examined over 150,000 people aged 40 to 69 over a 7 year period. Unlike other studies that relied on self-reports of physical activity, scientists actually measured aerobic fitness using a stationary bike and muscularity using grip strength. Participants with the lowest levels of both aerobic and muscular fitness at the start of the study were 98 percent more likely to report depression 7 years later. This sedentary group was also 60 percent more likely to report anxiety, and 80 percent more likely to report either anxiety or depression. Now more than ever, you need physical activity, not only to boost your physical immunity, but to give you shelter from the mental turbulence of the pandemic. Just a few weeks of regular exercise involving both aerobic and strength training can lead to substantial improvements in fitness that can make a big difference to your risk of mental illness. “Improving fitness through a combination of cardio exercise and strength and resistance training appears to be more beneficial than just focusing on aerobic or muscular fitness.” – Dr. Joseph Hayes, University College London #3 READ YOUR WAY TO EMPATHY Jamil Zaki is the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab and the author of The War for Kindness. Zaki describes empathy as the multiple ways we respond to other people's emotional lives, from taking on someone else's feelings to actively entering into another person's world with the goal of improving their wellbeing. Empathy is a not a talent you're born with, but a skill you can sharpen by broadening your curiosity about another person's experience. One of the most enjoyable ways to enter into the minds of other people is to engage with stories. Books, either fiction or memoir, offer a portal to different lives and, along with building your capacity for empathy, are proven stress relievers that lower heart rate and muscle tension. “Narratives are performance-enhancing drugs for empathy.” – Jamil Zaki, Ten Percent Happier Podcast, “How (and Why) to Hack Your Empathy” *********************************** THE FAST FIVE 1. Why We Sigh - Vice (A sigh isn't just a sigh: it's an emotional reset that in anxious people can become problematic. *sigh*) 2. Be a 'Secret Agent' and other new ways to exercise - (Running Stories is an app that casts you as a secret agent in an heroic story accompanied with a heart-thumping soundtrack.) 3. How to Cope with Election Agony - The Atlantic (When it comes to elections, losers lose more happiness than winners gain happiness.) 4. Every day since March has felt the same: here's the fix - Fast Company (This 'fix' helps you remember events and comes with lots of feel-good rewards.) 5. Why You Should Brave the 'Bad' Weather - Oliver Burkeman, The New York Times (“Much of the discomfort of rain or cold temperatures arises not from the sensations themselves, but from a kind of internal struggle to avoid feeling them.”) *********************************** YOUR 5-MINUTE RECHARGE CHALLENGE YOUR EMPATHY SCHEDULE Covid-19 is the largest shared experience in most of our lifetimes, and also, unfortunately, when we're most separated in our suffering. Jamil Zaki, the empathy expert behind Idea #3 is the inspiration for this week's 5-Minute Recharge Challenge. Simply take a few minutes and schedule some form of connection with others over the next few days. Zaki recommends that you connect with purpose rather than out of obligation. Ask yourself: who do I want to reach out to, when and how do I want to connect, and why? We tend to underestimate the impact we have on each other. Make a plan to connect. Make it now. “When we don't pick up the phone, send that message, reach out, we're missing out on an opportunity for common humanity. And we don't have to.” – Jamil Zaki Wishing you a happy, healthy, and empathetic week ahead, The 5-Minute Recharge

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