Epigenetics

March 23, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | Leave a comment
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Epigenetics is a fascinating field. I first heard about it through geneticist Bruce Lipton. At the time it was not an accepted branch of biology.

We’re all born with a fixed set of DNA that comes roughly half from our mothers genome and half from our fathers. If you and one of your parents get a DNA test, you’ll know which of them gave you what. Each of our siblings also has a similar proportion, but each has a different mix.

Essentially, our genes are sequences of chemical combinations that are a blueprint to create specific proteins used as the building blocks of our body. However, the genes also have a protein cover that other chemicals open and close in various ways. When sections are exposed, a protein recipe is revealed for replication. When sections 17-19 are exposed, it produces a different protein than when just 17-18 are out.

This distinction is key for understanding epigenetics, the study of external control of DNA expression. It also means our genes are not determinism. Rather, DNA is a blueprint for replicating proteins, but it doesn’t control their expression. It is not our destiny.
Identical twins with matching DNA can have different life and health outcomes. What you do with what you have is more important than what you have.

Bruce talked about the influence of the mothers environment during pregnancy. Is she stressed and in danger? Or is she relaxed and listening to classical music? For the baby to survive in the world to come, it will respond to the levels of stress by developing more muscles or more forebrain. Ayurveda also talks of the importance of nutrition during pregnancy.

In the TED talk below by epigeneticist Moshe Szyf, he speaks of how early life experiences can program gene expression too. In other words, the process continues after birth. Food availability, threats, care, social status, and more can program our response. If food is uncertain, we’re programmed to binge or store it as fat. Yet this adaptation may not serve us well when food is very available. Our programs becomes a maladaption that affects our quality of life and may also affect gene expression.

Scientists tested if they could deprogram the automatic adaption response. In the example case, could they break cocaine addiction? In animal research, they could break the pattern with a single treatment.

While DNA is an old blueprint, gene expression is flexible and adaptive. Gradually, we’re learning how to correct programmed behaviours that are not in our best interest. It’s fascinating to consider.

On YouTube
David

Temperament

April 20, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Online services, Psychology | 12 Comments
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Understanding who and how you are and what you have to offer is a big part of finding a fulfilling life and a place in society. Yet we often discover such things by happenstance or difficult experience. Most of what we’re given is generic rules and training that rarely suits us.

Often, we don’t entirely recognize our own abilities and temperament because they’re innate and we assume our experience is similar to others. Yet how we’re distinct points to what we have to offer.

This is where aptitude and related testing can shine a light for us. But testing without temperament can put you on the wrong track. I spent some decades taking pokes at a desired and recommended career goal before I finally realized it required a specific temperament I didn’t have.

The psychologist Carl Jung observed 3 personality polarities in the 1920’s, then his daughter added the 4th. The Myers-Briggs mother-daughter team extrapolated that into the Myers-Briggs test (MBTI). Various versions of mixed quality have shown up over the years and on-line.

Jung went on to develop the Jungian Archetypes from his research, a more symbolic approach to the memes underlying traits.

MBTI is essentially our preferences in how we see the world and make decisions. Some polarities can be quite strong and others less so, though we tend to moderate with age. The results also tend to evolve over time. While not seen as entirely reliable, many find them quite insightful.

MyersBriggsTypes(click the image to see a larger version)
It’s worth noting that the personality types are not evenly distributed in the population.

The full MBTI test is a 6 hour affair where you not only get to know your own type but your contrast with others of each of the opposite polarities. You can also get tested personally by certified testers.

Over the years, I’ve taken the full test and tried a few free on-line tests. One’s I found insightful:

Humanmetrics has a Jungian version.

Keirsey developed a variant based more on behavior and shifted the emphasis a bit. That has a test here.

And recently, I ran into another variant “16 Personalities” that adds a 5th polarity: Assertive/Turbulent.

(I didn’t have any trouble with any of these sites abusing my contact info)

After testing, I’ve also found these profiles useful.

Have fun with it.
David

A Flourishing Life

June 7, 2015 at 11:29 am | Posted in Health, Psychology | 2 Comments
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As the CHIP program is a Complete Health Improvement Program, the last classes have covered emotional health and changing your environment to better support your improved health. The same principles of eating nutritiously and getting enough exercise come up over and over again. Good sleep habits and exposure to natural environments also help life balance and health.

Class 16 covered stress relief, including the Relaxation Response. This is a technique that was developed in the 1970’s after early research on Transcendental Meditation at Harvard. In a broader technique context, it would be classed as a body-awareness technique. This can be very handy for simple relaxation. It’s also used in classical meditation as a way to handle strong purification events. However, it’s not recommended as a long term practice because too much tends to dull the mind. A good first step, but I’d suggest graduating to an effortless meditation practice to get the best long term benefits.

In the last class, we explored the results of research on happiness. They outlined 5 domains, each of which bring us progressively deeper and more sustained happiness.

1 – Positive emotions – favouring the positive can be developed as a habit. But the positive always ends.
2 – Engagement – having something in our life we enjoy where we get focused and immersed.
3 – Achievement – paying attention to what we have accomplished brings greater satisfaction.
4 – Relationships – bring deeper connection to our lives. We become like those around us, so choose our social relationships well.
5 – Meaning – the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves brings the most lasting contribution to our happiness.

To this list I would add self-knowledge. Not just superficial details but a deeper sense of our larger Self within. This connects us to a deep well of inner happiness. Like the above, an effortless meditation can be a key way to connect to our deeper values. This also has the advantage of supporting all of the prior domains, like bringing that greater-then-self meaning, more positive emotions, and so forth.

I’ve made good progress with the recommendations of the program. My doctor has been impressed and I’ve avoided the need for the medications he expected to have to prescribe. There is still more to come, but the approach to make lifestyle changes rather than temporary fixes like diets is clearly superior.

To your health!
David

Forgiveness

June 2, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Health, Psychology | 3 Comments
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An entire lesson in CHIP is on forgiveness. Very simply because if we carry old resentment and anger, it will not only interfere with emotional health, it can directly effect our physical health and well-being too.

For example, if we’re carrying chronic anger, we’re much more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease. As well, with the fire burning, the body releases fat for energy. If that’s not used because it’s not actually expressed, it floats around in the bloodstream as cholesterol. Through the mechanisms discussed prior, this can lead to a host of diseases.

As another example, if we have old unresolved fears, they may thwart our ability to get healthy or to keep weight off. They used the example of a woman who felt unsafe when she was slim and attractive.

The lesson itself was given by Dr. Dick Tibbits, the author of Forgive to Live. I notice his book is available in a couple of styles – as a secular and a more Christian version. But the approach itself is based on science and is used in his hospital.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning or accepting or forgetting what happened. They describe “forgive and forget” as a myth. Forgiveness means letting go of the charge and our investment in it, not forgetting.

This is not just about people. You may need to let go of old unhappiness about past (or present) circumstances too.

They explained that anger is not stored. What is stored is memories and associations. When we bring the memory up again, it triggers the ideas and emotions we’ve associated with it. Thus the primary approach Dr. Tibbits noted was reframing. Shifting our frame of reference for the memory. Seeing it another way. That shifts the associations too and thus how we remember those past hurts. Seen differently, we can release the charge.

Myself, I found culturing gratitude very useful for raising the emotional tone. Not making a mood of it, just thinking of different things in your life you are grateful for here and there in the day. Humor is also benefical. This helps shift our attention off dwelling on past struggles and opens the door to release as forgiveness.

As may be obvious here, self-reflection is a valuable tool. Part of this process is becoming conscious of our inner dynamics. We don’t have choice if we’re in unconscious reactivity. But with a little self-reflection, we can become conscious between stimulus and our reactive response. And then we can choose.

It also helps to recognize we’re doing this to ourselves – that’s the part we want to heal. Waiting for someone else to say sorry is just giving them the power over you. Forgiveness is taking back your power. That’s one of the surprising revelations about this process. As they noted, you can’t take a poison pill and hope the other person dies.

Also, remember that “letting go” is not a concept. We can’t think our way through this. This is a release of energy, usually experienced subjectively as emotion. We’re letting go of the charge, the emotion. Then the idea of it, the memory, becomes more neutral.

Our life is defined by the choices we make, not the cards we’re dealt. We always have the choice to forgive. We can point to those born into poverty who became happy and successful. And those born into wealth who self-destruct. It is just a long series of small steps that take us down our chosen path.

The class also explored various details, like handling anger and the stages of personal change.

Now we’re getting to the last couple of weeks of classes.
David

Some CHIP Science

April 13, 2015 at 11:57 am | Posted in Health, Psychology, Science | 9 Comments
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As I discussed prior, CHIP is one of the best researched lifestyle upgrade programs available. They lean on a lot of other research. Let’s see if I can explain the basics of the value proposition for health.

Essentially, the bodies immune system produces inflammation at an injury point while the healing is underway. But lifestyle factors like smoking, high fat or sugar in the diet, inactivity, excess alcohol, salt, obesity, poor sleep, and stress can all lead to chronic low-level inflammation. Similarly, the same lifestyle factors create more “oxidative stress”, an imbalance between damaging free radicals and the antioxidents that manage them. If free radicals get the upper hand, all sorts of problems can arise, including higher cancer risk.

We most notice inflammation in the joints when we have discomfort and pain. But one of the primary sites where chronic low-level inflammation develops is in blood vessels. Over time, this damages the vessel walls protection. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol influenced by free radicals becomes sticky and adheres at these points, causing narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis. That impedes the circulatory system and the distribution of oxygen and nutrients required by all areas.

The trick is – where that is occurring more is what leads to a chronic ailment in that area. The best known is of course coronary artery or heart disease. But in the brain, it’s senility or stroke. High blood pressure. Kidney disease. Hearing loss. And macular degeneration in the eyes.

The main point – “most chronic diseases have a common cause in chronic low-level inflammation linked to oxidative stress.” This is backed up by a lot of research.

For example, several long term studies, like the Adventist study and the China study, have demonstrated that every step closer to being a straight vegetarian you are, the lower your rate of chronic disease: by a 4 and 5 to one ratio to meat eaters. Meat eaters, for example, have a 5 times higher likelihood of developing high cholesterol (somewhat obviously). This means a 5 times higher likelihood of a lower quality of life. Spread that over multiple issues and you get the message.

CHIP feels these chronic diseases can be moderated and potentially corrected with diet, sufficient activity, emotional health and stress management. They hope to wean you off any related medications for symptoms.

I’ve been surprised how thorough they’re being. They want to really drive the points home. It’s completely your choice how far you want to take it on the diet and exercise scale. But they want you to understand the choices you’re making and their benefits.

And we’re not just talking a longer life but one of higher quality too.
David

The CHIP Program

April 13, 2015 at 11:39 am | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | 9 Comments
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I’ve been blessed with a robust constitution from a “successful” gene pool. But this has meant it was easy to be lazy about taking care of myself. Although I’ve been “reasonable”, my lifestyle choices have slowly caught up with me. I’ve gradually become more sedentary with a little too much fill the bucket eating.

I’ve tried several diets that made a lot of difference. Loved the Reboot program, for example, but didn’t make the long term changes to keep it off. Once I finished the juice fast, things gradually went back to the old habits. And because basic lifestyle patterns were not changing, things just slowly got worse. It finally started to catch up with me.

The basic problem is, our modern western “healthy” diet is very simply not. The major diseases of western countries are diseases of abundance and excess, ironically. But because it’s common, we see it as normal.

The western medical system is allopathic, designed to treat things like infections and broken bones. But MD’s are not typically well-trained in lifestyle and nutrition, nor are they set up to guide a patient through such changes. When people come to them with chronic issues related to lifestyle, they can offer some advice to loose weight or relax, then pills to treat the symptoms. But none of this addresses the cause. As a result, in most cases the patient does nothing or doesn’t find anything effective long term and fails. The chronic conditions get worse, the prescriptions climb, and people keep returning to their doctor for help. Yet they do little to help themselves, often because they don’t know how.

We need to change our thinking and recognize we have to take responsibility for our health. Often, we take better care of our cars than our bodies. It’s estimated that 70% of doctor visits are related to lifestyle issues they’re not set up to address. The major health issues of our time are dominated by lifestyle-related ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, developed over many years of bad habits.

Why is our diet so bad? In the 50’s, researchers determined that our western diet was too high in fat. They introduced lower fat recommendations. Not only did this lead to the low-fat craze but it also lead to far more processing of foods. Taking out the fat also took out the flavour. So they compensated with things like sugar and salt, massively increasing our intake. Food research sought the “bliss point” of sweetness to be appealing, even in baby food. They also discovered that sugar and caffeine could make a food addictive. Many foods became increasingly unnatural designer foods, made to appeal to our base tendencies. The long term result – a massive increase in obesity.

When someone begins to realize how their lifestyle is affecting their health and quality of life, they may look to make changes. Most visible is gyms and diets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right resources and motivation to make the changes needed before there’s a health crisis. But often, people end up trying a long list of fad diets and programs that have more of a yo-yo effect than long term benefit.

What many need is some support and filling in some of the gaps in our self-care skills. We need a dose of preventative medicine.

In my own case, I needed lifestyle changes, but an approach that was straightforward and real. This is when I ran into the CHIP program, recommended at the end of a health article.

CHIP stands for Complete Health Improvement Program. It began some years ago as a heart-health program similar to  Healthy Heart. The second is mainly for people already with a serious health issue, often offered at hospitals and the Y. CHIP broadened the approach because the principles are true of many common chronic health issues, not just the heart. While Reboot had paid support programs, this was in-person groups working together.

CHIP is also one of the best researched programs available and arose out of a history of prior research. Large, long term studies have shown that the greater the amount of animal fats in the diet, the higher the risks of developing chronic illness. This science is well understood but not widely known. I’ll write more on this shortly.

What has really impressed me about such a mainstream program is that none of the advice I’ve objected to. I’ve studied traditional health systems like Ayurveda and the advice aligns very well with it. It is really good advice: whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods, variety, and plenty of exercise.

The principles are very straightforward but do ask for real change. And not temporary change either. This is not a diet to try but a change in lifestyle. Not a temporary fix but a long-term shift.

There is no calorie counting and no starving. You can eat lots and loose weight, if you choose the right whole foods. Without the addictive foods in your diet like sugar and caffeine, you won’t get the cravings that ruin many a diet.

But also, diets without exercise are not a solution. Your body is not designed to be a slug. We’re built to be active. Yet lots of exercise without changing what you put in your mouth isn’t a solution either. This is about improving your whole quality of life long term. When you get into the swing of exercise you like, it feels really good. And this doesn’t take long.

If you’d like a metric, under 5,000 steps a day is sedentary. That includes most of us. 10,000 steps brings you an “Active” status. Unforced, it also brings the yummy experience of stepping into “the zone”. The program comes with a pedometer. Worn throughout the day, it will easily track how you’re doing.

CHIP is 18 classes, packed with tips and research to back up the recommendations. A cookbook too. For me, I’ve lost weight, waist size, and feel quite a lot healthier than I have in awhile. And we’re only at class 4. Fun stuff like dancing isn’t exhausting now. I use the car much less. My food bill has dropped markedly. And many are telling me how great I look. While I’m still in the keener phase, I can heartily recommend the program. It’s taught all over North America.
David

Native Advertising

August 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Economoney, Humor, Internet, Media, Online services, Psychology | 1 Comment

There’s a nasty trend developing in the media. The lack of income from on-line advertising for newspapers lead to a new approach known as “native advertising”. Basically it’s advertising presented like, and mixed in with, real news stories. While these are supposedly labelled, that’s the fine print. It’s presented to look like news.

This has been much more successful so now it’s migrating into print, which is desperate to increase revenue. I’m also seeing local papers sell increasingly large sections of their front page to advertising. Sometimes, even the entire front page. How long before that formatting looks more like news?

This trend is not confined to small papers but is being adopted by Time, The New York Times and other supposedly reliable new sources. The separation between “church and state”, between the business and editorial side? Discarded as an outmoded concept. Are they trying to accelerate their demise?

Why is this an issue? What is news if it’s run by advertisers? Infotainment at best. It certainly doesn’t lead to an informed public, which is rather important for a democracy to function properly.

The following clip is from John Oliver, a comedy show, but they cover the situation rather well. Once again, comedy becomes the way to say things we may not otherwise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_F5GxCwizc

Look Up, Live

May 16, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Media, Online services, Psychology, Technology | Leave a comment

Look Up…   a rap on engaging with life, with people. Not so much with technology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY

Culturing Creative Genius

April 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Books, Psychology, Writing | Leave a comment

Here and there we see books and studies of the highly successful. Behaviours we can emulate to achieve success. A new book takes a little different tack. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry examines the habits of 161 creative thinkers and artists, many well-known.

In this review by Sarah Green in the Harvard Business Review, she describes The Daily Routines of Geniuses. Some of them you’ll find in most success books too. But the creative angle brings out other nuances. She quotes the book: “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

The reviewer notes “I began to notice several common elements in the lives of the healthier geniuses…” They were:
A workspace with minimal distractions
A daily walk – some long
Accountability metrics
A clear dividing line between important work and busywork
A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck
A supportive partner
Limited social lives

Not that I’m a famous genius but I can add a few points to the excellent article.

She mentions how email comes in constantly. I long ago set my email up to not check automatically but rather I check manually so I could process it in bursts, at a break.

For myself, taking a break when you’re stuck is a good idea. Then you can come back fresh. But you may need to work through ongoing resistance. I also don’t break when I’m on a roll because the best stuff can come out then. However, that can result in an odd eating schedule on occasion.

As for the partner, there does need to be life balance in there for an effective relationship. It helps if they’re flexible about the inspiration though. As for “limited social lives”, that would be a less healthy trait. A lot of creative work is done solo. I learned that a balanced life includes a social life and became more intentional about that. It’s all too easy to put a life aside if the muse is strong.

One thing she mentioned but didn’t highlight would be “catching the muse when it shows up”. I have post-it notes around the place and keep paper & pen with me to capture ideas when they show up. They tend not to create memory impressions so can be lost like waking from a dream if they’re not noted. While this isn’t directly part of a daily routine, it is an important ritual.

I also recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s distinction between Being a genius and Having a genius. While we can manage our lifestyle around genius and culture it, genius itself is not something we control. It is a gift rather than a trait. We must be prepared for when the wind rises and the light shines. Then we can capture a little of our creative genius.
David

Food and Addiction

January 24, 2014 at 11:46 am | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | 3 Comments

Although Food and Science are technically more applicable to a science blog, due to the psychological nature of our food relationships, I’ve tended to discuss the subject more over on my other blog. But in this case, I wanted to share it on both.

I’ve occasionally explored subjects like craving and food. Several articles have come up recently on the topic I thought interesting.

Firstly, in North America, research lead to an anti-fat movement in the 1960’s. We shifted to margarine and low-fat foods. Unfortunately, low fat meant low taste, so food producers replaced fat with sugar and salt and foods became increasingly processed. (we won’t go into artificial sweeteners)

After millions spent on research, they discovered the “bliss point” – the optimum level of sugar that triggered peoples pleasure centre. Sugar became the #2 ingredient in many foods.

Unfortunately, the high sugar content had several consequences. For one, people became habituated to it and expected it, even in baby food. For another, the body stores excess sugar as fat. High sugar levels lead to a much larger weight problem than the original fat content did. Further, the liver got overloaded and plugged up, leading to a lot of middle fat and a number of heath consequences.

As it turns out, the early research was faulty. Only certain types of fat are an issue. Healthy fats in a natural form are part of a balanced diet. But independent sugar research was not healthy for a food scientists career so there was a major lack of research for some years. The government food guides remain much the same.

A further issue that is less discussed is that sugar is addictive. Once we become habituated, the body craves it and our natural signals for “enough” or for specific nutrients are suppressed. Craving overwrites healthy eating habits. This becomes very clear if you’ve ever gone on a low carb diet or a fast. The first 3-4 days are often accompanied by craving and withdrawal symptoms. And once off a diet, most people easily re-engage their old habits again and step back into their addictions.

Don’t believe foods can be addictive? Scientists now have a scale called the “Yale Food Addiction Scale” from the Yale Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity.

Further complicating the issue is that some people use sugar and carbs as “comfort” foods to soothe stress. Rather than finding healthy release such as in meditation or exercise, we reach for the candy drawer or ice cream.

For many, changing such behaviour becomes a contest of will which increases stress and drives up the craving. Personal failure doesn’t help. Or you play denial mind games with yourself much like an alcoholic.

(and yes, I did a juice fast last month and supported some others in a forum having struggles)

Here’s a Harvard Medical School article “Why stress causes people to overeat

I also noticed mention in the tech rags that Microsoft is experimenting with a bra to monitor stress levels so you can be notified when you may eat badly. But isn’t that like a new Pavlov’s signal? Get ready to eat!

Solutions
The most immediate thing you can do is find a new outlet for stress. Maybe having a tennis ball in the drawer you can squeeze when a craving hits? Or a bit of fresh air? Change of scene? Just watch the feelings. They’re your flags for triggers.

The idea here is not to get into a fight with it or yourself but to deflect it. This is all about energy. Getting into resistance or a will battle will make it stronger and can add layers to the issue for you.

Also, this is not a long term solution – the motivators are still present. This is to get you started. And make healthy choices here – you don’t want to replace one bad behaviour with another. Shopping can also be addictive, for example.

In the talk below, they recommend introducing meditation. This introduces several benefits. For one, it is a great way to release stress. Secondly, it makes us more settled and peaceful. And thirdly, it makes us more conscious and self-aware. Another term for this is mindful. Then we can make better choices.

I talk here about types of meditation.

As you become a little more conscious, you become more aware of the process that’s taking place within you and you begin to catch your triggers. When the urge comes up, see if you’re settled enough to allow the feeling to arise and feel what it’s coming from.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks of the impulse to act. When we’re trying to change behaviour, at first we realize after the fact that we’ve done it again. We have a Doh! moment. When we’re less caught, we begin to recognize what we’re doing during the act. We begin to be a bit more conscious about it, maybe enough to make a new choice or to stop. But often then we get into internal battles over it. Finally, we can notice the impulse to act, the feeling, as it is arising. Then we have real choice – do we act or not? Do we let it go or fight?

That is also the point where we can find out what this driver is that’s arising. Instead of getting into a battle over choice, we can investigate the urge itself. What is the feeling or energy behind this urge? Big stuff like food can have layers. Early associations of food with mother, reinforced by sweets as rewards, adapted as a stress coping tool, and so forth. So similarly, we may have to resolve each layer to end it, most recent backwards.

If you can see your own dynamic, you can recognize it no longer serves and let it go. But that takes a little skill and practice. It’s usually easier to start on simpler things than chronic lifetime drivers. Food associations can be the deepest as they’re often programmed in early childhood.

But this is much more effective than deflecting (distracting ourselves) I mentioned above. We want to resolve the energy behind it to heal.

Finally, this 2 part talk by Dr. Pam Peeke: Hacked by a Cupcake. She talks about current science on the subject and solutions.

Part 1: The Science

It’s not just food addiction – it’s toxic lifestyle.
She talks about reward, food as a “science fair project”, and a lot of current research. The dopamine reward cycle and why it’s addictive. It’s not the consumption – it’s the cues. Decreased impulse control. Why the will doesn’t work.

Part 2: The Solutions

“Stress is the Achilles heel of addiction”.
Every choice changes gene expression which changes your destiny. We pass those epigenetic markers on to our children. By our lifestyle, we gift or condemn them.

Mind, Mouth & Muscle:
– eat whole foods
– move your body. Walking dampens the obesity gene.
– meditation, with initial research results.

Part 3: Q&A

Start with the mind, otherwise you fall off.
The importance of sleep. Coffee.
Enjoy!
David

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