Ji Sun Guest Blogs: Religion’s Influence on Mental Health

This Guest Blog Post is from Ji Sun Lee, one of Dr. T’s Health Psychology students:

In this study, researchers investigated religious coping behaviors among medically ill hospitalized adults and compared their health to those without religious coping behaviors. There were two types of religious coping behaviors: the negative, which considers God as punishing and forceful, and the positive, which considers God as benevolent and supporting. The results indicated that negative religious coping behaviors led to poorer physical health, decreased quality of life, and more depression, while positive religious coping behaviors led to better mental health outcomes.

Julie Guest Blogs: Write your illness away

This Guest Blog Post is from Julie Nam, one of Dr. T’s Health Psychology students:

Adjusting to an illness is not easy, especially if that illness is cancer. Ms. Kyle Potvin, a breast cancer patient, uses an effective technique, writing about her illness, but takes it up a notch, by creatively expressing her cancer through poetry. In her poems, Ms. Potvin disclosed her emotions, such as loss ad mortality, and processed her thoughts. The support for poetry writing as a therapy has been effective in diverse populations, such as people struggling with pain and adolescents struggling with bullying. People suffering from both physical and mental illnesses have, amazingly, found a way to fight for health through artistic approaches. Historically, this approach does make sense, considering that many of the greatest authors in literature wrote through their struggles. Read more about Ms. Potvin’s story and the research behind writing therapy here.

Superhero Effects

Interestingly enough, this article suggests that pretending to have superhero powers could increase one’s tendency to help others. Based on this study that used “immersive virtual reality” (wearing gear and adapting roles in the form of avatars), college-level participants who had acquired avatars with superhero powers (like flying) were more helpful to others in real life than those who had acquired avatars without superhero powers (who were virtual passengers in a helicopter). Afterwards, researchers of the study purposely knocked down a tin of pens. Researchers found that those who had pretended to have superhero powers responded quicker in helping pick up the pens and picked up a larger number of pens. Also, of the 60 participants, 6 did not help at all and they had all been the passengers on the helicopter.
So the next time you see someone in need? Just think of yourself as Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman (for the ladies). Even more important are the huge implications these findings have for behavior change interventions.

Facts from fiction in the obesity hype

In our society so focused on battling the “obesity epidemic”, here is an article that everyone should read before making any presumptions or judgements about weight and obesity. The authors debunk several myths about obesity regarding weight loss maintenance, weight loss goals, breast feeding, and sexual activity. They also touch on breakfast, childhood habits, fruit and vegetable consumption, weight cycling, and snacking as commonly misconceived factors in obesity. Ultimately, this is a great source to inform your own understanding of this hot-topic societal issue.

What this article doesn’t address, though, is the issue of obesity and health, and the debate over whether we should (or even can) use weight as a meaningful indicator of physiological health… stay tuned for future blog posts!

Keeping track of your health: There’s an app for that!

With the constant advancement in technology, this article suggests that more people have taken advantage of their electronics and gadgets, especially with their smartphones, as a way to keep track of their health. It has become increasingly more common to download apps onto mobile devices, or use self-monitoring devices, to track personal health. And a recent survey shows that now 21% are utilizing these new technologies. Regardless of whether it’s electronic tracking, written diaries, or mental notes, general results do show that just the act of tracking health – such as diet, heartbeat, exercise routine, blood pressure, weight, sleep patterns, etc. – helps those who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle or manage a chronic conditions (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, etc.). Findings suggest that people are overall more inclined to ask doctors questions, more influenced to take a different approach and change their daily life habits to treat their illnesses, and more interested in improving their overall well-being. So instead of checking Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone, it may be well worth the time to check up on your health!

Tracing obesity to even before birth

With “curing” the “obesity epidemic” on the forefront of much of today’s health research, this new finding from Berlin published in PLOS ONE suggests that the mother’s lifestyle during pregnancy can have huge implications for the child’s weight throughout life. Specifically, researchers found that mothers’ overweight/obesity, over-nutrition, and lack of exercise may lead to high birthweight. High birthweight in turn carries with it almost double the risk of becoming overweight later in life. (I guess I would skew that data, since I was actually eleven pounds at birth!) Overall though, these findings highlight important ways that expectant mothers can influence the weight of their children.

Get the most out of your flu shot

This year’s flu is touted to be particularly severe, which is all the more reason why you should consider getting the vaccination. And if you want to make sure your flu shot is maximally effective, here are a couple new findings that offer some promising advice: Researchers from Iowa State University found that people who went for a 90 minute jog or bike ride 15 minutes after getting their flu shot had nearly double the antibody response of those who didn’t exercise afterwards. Similar research from the University of Birmingham suggests that exercising beforehand can also help increase influenza antibodies. You can read more about exercise’s role in flu shot effectiveness here, and maybe try to hit the gym the same day you get your shot.

Choose your words carefully!

Published this morning, this PLOS Blogs Public Health post highlights a really important issue in healthcare and interventions. The post discusses how the very language we use to refer to a group of people can be inherently stigmatizing, even if our actions and intentions are to help those people. Most notably, instead of saying an “X person” we should be saying “a person with X”, i.e. a person with schizophrenia instead of a schizophrenic. This slight adjustment prioritizes the identity as a person, rather than further stigmatizing the condition. Even more importantly, this piece asks the question of why we should differentiate mental health from other types of health; doesn’t health encompass all aspects of the person, especially since issues of health so often pertain to multiple domains? The post includes a list of several arenas in which a language change is needed, so more than anything, here is one way that you can start making a difference now!

Reed Guest Blogs: Why Oscar winners live longer

This Guest Blog Post is from Reed Vierra, one of Dr. T’s Health Psychology students:

In this podcast, they cover three different research projects which detail the interesting phenomena of why people who win Nobel prizes, Oscars, and get inducted into the Hall of Fame tend to outlive their peers by a significant length of time. They specifically detail the correlation between longevity and social status. It’s interesting to note that income is not the main factor in the differences! It’s believed that the difference in longevity is from the reduction in stress in future years after being commemorated since they no longer face the same level of stress in trying to impress their peers and critics.

Being honest about why we diet…

New Years has just passed, which means that most likely, at least a handful of people you know have resolved to lose weight in 2013. While many people may say their weight loss efforts are aimed at improving health, this awesome op-ed piece by Abigail Saguy discusses all the reasons why health is not the primary motivation. The article discusses a recent poll of dieters, which found that more than 75% would take a pill to lose weight, even if that would shorten their lifespan. Moreover, 91% said they would NOT take a pill that would add years to their life if that pill also ensured they would remain overweight. Overall, this piece is an interesting and important discussion of the intertwined relationships among weight, health, discrimination, and dieting.