Green roofs improve the urban environment – so why don’t all buildings have them?

Green roofs improve the urban environment – so why don’t all buildings have them?

USEPA/Flickr.

Michael Hardman, University of Salford and Nick Davies, University of Salford

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17% each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox.
Michael Hardman, Author provided

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.


Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.The Conversation

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Diseases through the decades – here’s what to look out for in your 40s, 60s, 80s and beyond

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You’re another year older but that doesn’t have to mean poorer health.
Lorene Farrugia
Stephanie Harrison, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Azmeraw T. Amare, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Jyoti Khadka, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Maria Carolina Inacio, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Sarah Bray, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute, and Tiffany Gill, University of Adelaide

Many diseases develop and become more likely as we age. Here are some of the most common conditions, and how you can reduce your risk of getting them as you clock over into a new decade.

In your 40s

Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk of developing arthritis, coronary heart disease, and other common and related conditions, including back pain, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and many cancers. But almost one-third of Australians in their 40s are obese and one in five already have arthritis.




Read more:
Arthritis isn’t just a condition affecting older people, it likely starts much earlier


From the age of 45 (or 35 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders), heart health checks are recommended to assess risk factors and initiate a plan to improve the health of your heart. This may include changing your diet, reducing your alcohol intake, increasing your physical activity, and improving your well-being.

Checks to identify your risk of type 2 diabetes are also recommended every three years from age 40 (or from age 18 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders).

If you don’t already have symptoms of arthritis or if they’re mild, this decade is your chance to reduce your risk of the disease progressing. Focus on the manageable factors, like shedding excess weight, but also on improving muscle strength. This may also help to prevent or delay sarcopenia, which is the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with ageing, and back pain.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will set you up for decades of better health.
Sue Zeng

Most people will begin to experience age-related vision decline in their 40s, with difficulty seeing up close and trouble adjusting to lighting and glare. A baseline eye check is recommended at age 40.

In your 50s

In your 50s, major eye diseases become more common. Among Australians aged 55 and above, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetes-related eye diseases and glaucoma account for more than 80% of vision loss.

A series of health screenings are recommended when people turn 50. These preventive measures can help with the early detection of serious conditions and optimising your treatment choices and prognosis. Comprehensive eye assessments are recommended every one to two years to ensure warning signs are detected and vision can be saved.

National cancer screening programs for Australians aged 50 to 74, are available every two years for bowel and breast cancer.




Read more:
Women should be told about their breast density when they have a mammogram


To screen for bowel cancer, older Australians are sent a test in the post they can do at home. If the test is positive, the person is then usually sent for a colonoscopy, a procedure in which a camera and light look for abnormalities of the bowel.

In 2016, 8% of people screened had a positive test result. Of those who underwent a colonoscopy, 1 in 26 were diagnosed with confirmed or suspected bowel cancer and one in nine were diagnosed with adenomas. These are potential precursors to bowel cancer which can be removed to reduce your future risk.

To check for breast cancer, women are encouraged to participate in the national mammogram screening program. More than half (59%) of all breast cancers detected through the program are small (less than or equal to 15mm) and are easier to treat (and have better survival rates) than more advanced cancers.

In your 60s

Coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a disease of the lungs that makes breathing difficult), and lung cancer carry the biggest disease burden for people in their 60s.

If you’re a smoker, quitting is the best way to improve both your lung and heart health. Using evidence-based methods to quit with advice from a health professional or support service will greatly improve your chances of success.

Quitting smoking is the best way to improve your health.
Ian Schneider

The build-up of plaques in artery walls by fats, cholesterol and other substances (atherosclerosis) can happen from a younger age. But the hardening of these plaques and narrowing of arteries, which greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, is most likely to occur from age 65 and above.

Exercise protects against atherosclerosis and research consistently shows any physical activity is better than nothing when it comes to heart health. If you’re not currently active, gradually build up to the recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most, preferably all, days.




Read more:
Too much salt and sugar and not enough exercise – why Australians’ health is lagging


Other potentially modifiable risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, a high-fat diet, alcohol consumption, and smoking.

Your 60s is also a common decade for surgeries, including joint replacements and cataract surgery. Joint replacements are typically very successful, but are not an appropriate solution for everyone and are not without risks. After a joint replacement, you’ll benefit from physiotherapy, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.

The treatment for cataracts is to surgically remove the cloudy lens. Cataract surgery is the most common elective surgery worldwide, with very low complication rates, and provides immediate restoration of lost vision.

In your 70s

Many of the conditions mentioned above are still common in this decade. It’s also a good time to consider your risk of falls. Four in ten people in their 70s will have a fall and it can lead to a cascade of fractures, hospitalisations, disability and injury.

Osteoporosis is one cause of falls. It occurs most commonly in post-menopausal women but almost one-quarter of people with osteoporosis are men. Osteoporosis is often known as a silent disease because there are usually no symptoms until a fracture occurs. Exercise and diet, including calcium and vitamin D, are important for bone health.

Exercise and diet can improve bone health.
Geneva, Switzerland

Older people are also vulnerable to mental health conditions because of a combination of reduced cognitive function, limitations in physical health, social isolation, loneliness, reduced independence, frailty, reduced mobility, disability, and living conditions.

In your 80s and beyond

Dementia is the second most common chronic condition for Australians in their 80s, after coronary heart disease – and it’s the most common for people aged 95 and above.

Many people think dementia is a normal part of the ageing process, but around one-third of cases of dementia could be prevented by reducing risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity at mid-life.




Read more:
Why people with dementia don’t all behave the same


Early diagnosis is important to effectively plan and initiate appropriate treatment options which help people live well with dementia. But dementia remains underdiagnosed.

Around 70% of Australians aged 85 and above have five or more chronic diseases and take multiple medications to manage these conditions. Effective medication management is critical for people living with multiple conditions because medications for one condition may exacerbate the symptoms of a different coexisting condition.The Conversation

Stephanie Harrison, Research fellow, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Azmeraw T. Amare, Postdoc researcher, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Jyoti Khadka, Research Fellow, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Maria Carolina Inacio, Director, Registry of Older South Australians, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Sarah Bray, Registry of Older South Australians (ROSA) – Project Manager & Consumer Engagement Officer, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute, and Tiffany Gill, Senior Research Fellow, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to reduce your risks of dementia

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If you engage in cognitively stimulating activities in midlife, such as reading and playing games, you can reduce dementia risk by about 26 per cent, according to research.
(Unsplash/Rawpixel), CC BY-SA

Nicole Anderson, University of Toronto

Many people do not want to think about dementia, especially if their lives have not yet been touched by it. But a total of 9.9 million people worldwide are diagnosed with dementia each year. That is one person every 3.2 seconds.

This number is growing: around 50 million people live with dementia today, and this number will rise to over 130 million worldwide by 2030.

You do not have to wait until you are 65 to take action. In the absence of treatment, we must think of ways to protect our brain health earlier. This month is Alzheimer’s Awareness month — what better time to learn how to reduce your risk of dementia, whatever your age?

In my work at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, I address cognitive, health and lifestyle factors in aging. I investigate how we can maintain our brain health, while reducing the risk of dementia as we age. Currently, I’m recruiting for two clinical trials that explore the benefits of different types of cognitive training and lifestyle interventions to prevent dementia.

There are three dementia risk factors that you can’t do anything about: age, sex and genetics. But a growing body of evidence is discovering early-life, mid-life and late-life contributors to dementia risk that we can do something about — either for our own or our children’s future brain health.




Read more:
Is that ‘midlife crisis’ really Alzheimer’s disease?


Before going any further, let’s clear up some common confusion between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dementia is a term to describe the declines in cognitive abilities like memory, attention, language and problem-solving that are severe enough to affect a person’s everyday functioning. Dementia can be caused by a large range of diseases, but the most common is Alzheimer’s.

Risk factors in early life

Children born at a low birth weight for their gestational age are roughly twice as likely to experience cognitive dysfunction in later life.

Many studies have also identified a link between childhood socioeconomic position or educational attainment and dementia risk. For example, low socioeconomic status in early childhood is related to late life memory decline, and one meta-analysis identified a seven per cent reduction in dementia risk for every additional year of education.

A diet high in unrefined grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil and fish has been linked to lower dementia rates.
(Unsplash/Ja ma), CC BY

Poorer nutritional opportunities that often accompany low socioeconomic position can result in cardiovascular and metabolic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes that are additional risk factors for dementia.

And low education reduces the opportunities to engage in a lifetime of intellectually stimulating occupations and leisure activities throughout life that build richer, more resilient neural networks.

Work and play hard in middle age

There is substantial evidence that people who engage in paid work that is more socially or cognitively complex have better cognitive functioning in late life and lower dementia risk. Likewise, engagement in cognitively stimulating activities in midlife, such as reading and playing games, can reduce dementia risk by about 26 per cent.

We all know that exercise is good for our physical health, and engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity in midlife can also reduce dementia risk.

Aerobic activity not only helps us to maintain a healthy weight and keep our blood pressure down, it also promotes the growth of new neurons, particularly in the hippocampus, the area of the brain most responsible for forming new memories.

(Unsplash/Bruce Mars)

Stay social and eat well in later years

While the influences of socioeconomic position and engagement in cognitive and physical activity remain important dementia risk factors in late life, loneliness and a lack of social support emerge as late life dementia risk factors.

Seniors who are at genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease are less likely to experience cognitive decline if they live with others, are less lonely and feel that they have social support.




Read more:
Will you be old and ‘unbefriended?’


You have heard that you are what you eat, right? It turns out that what we eat is important as a dementia risk factor too. Eating unrefined grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil and fish, with low meat consumption — that is, a Mediterranean-style diet — has been linked to lower dementia rates.

Along with my Baycrest colleagues, we have put together a Brain Health Food Guide based on the available evidence.

What about Ronald Reagan?

Whenever I present this type of information, someone invariably says: “But my mother did all of these things and she still got dementia” or “What about Ronald Reagan?”

Playing games is proven to slow cognitive decline.
(Unsplash/Vlad Sargu), CC BY

My father earned a bachelor’s degree, was the global creative director of a major advertising firm, had a rich social network throughout adulthood and enjoyed 60 years of marriage. He passed away with Alzheimer’s disease. My experience with my dad further motivates my research.

Leading an engaged, healthy lifestyle is thought to increase “cognitive reserve” leading to greater brain resiliency such that people can maintain cognitive functioning in later life, despite the potential accumulation of Alzheimer’s pathology.

Thus, although all of these factors may not stop Alzheimer’s disease, they can allow people to live longer in good cognitive health. In my mind, that alone is worth a resolution to lead a healthier, more engaged lifestyle.The Conversation

Nicole Anderson, Associate Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Study shows dementia care program delays nursing home admissions, cuts Medicare costs

Woman in nursing home

Sima Dimitric/Flickr

 

News Release
December 2018 | UCLA – Study shows dementia care program delays nursing home admissions, cuts Medicare costs

 

New research shows that a comprehensive, coordinated care program for people with dementia and their caregivers significantly decreased the likelihood that the individuals would enter a nursing home. The study also shows that the program saved Medicare money and was cost-neutral after accounting for program costs.

The research, conducted at the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program, was designed to evaluate the costs of administering the program, as well as the health care services used by program participants, including hospitalizations, emergency room visits, hospital readmissions and long-term nursing home placement.

“The findings of this study show that a health care system-based comprehensive dementia care program can keep persons with dementia in their homes and in the community without any additional cost to Medicare,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. David Reuben, Archstone Professor of Medicine and chief of the UCLA Division of Geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The study was published Dec. 21 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The research focused on the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program. In the program, people with dementia and their caregivers meet with a nurse practitioner specializing in dementia care for a 90-minute in-person assessment and then receive a personalized dementia care plan that addresses the medical, mental health and social needs of both people. The nurse practitioners work collaboratively with the patient’s primary care provider and specialist physicians to implement the care plan, including adjustments as needs change over time. A total of 1,083 Medicare beneficiaries with dementia were enrolled in the program and were followed for three years. The study compared them to a similar group of patients living in the same ZIP codes who did not participate in the program.

“The most striking finding was that patients enrolled in the program reduced their risk of entering a nursing home by about 40 percent,” said lead author Dr. Lee Jennings, assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Jennings began the project while on faculty at the Geffen School and finished it after arriving at Oklahoma.

There were no differences between the two study groups in hospitalizations, emergency room visits or hospital readmissions. However, cost was another important element of the study. Participants in the program saved Medicare $601 per patient, per quarter, for a total of $2,404 a year. However, after program costs were factored in, the program was cost-neutral and might result in savings in other settings, such as at other health care systems. That was good news to the study’s authors.

“We found the study to be very exciting,” Jennings said, “because it showed that an intensive intervention can delay nursing home entry without adding costs. The intervention isn’t going to reverse dementia, but it allows us to provide high-quality care to help patients cope with the progression of this disease and stay in their homes for longer.”

Jennings added that individuals with dementia typically have not received good-quality care. “Part of the reason,” she said, “is that the care takes a significant amount of time, which primary care physicians don’t have in abundance. In addition, pharmacologic treatments for dementia are limited, which makes community resources all the more important for both patients and caregivers. However, community programs tend to be underutilized.”

The intervention featured in the study addresses those issues directly. The assessment looks not only at what the patient and caregiver need, but also at their strengths, such as financial security, family assistance and proximity to community resources. It is designed to be interdisciplinary and to address the needs of both patients and caregivers.

“This study aligns with similar studies of collaborative care models for other chronic diseases, such as heart failure,” Jennings said. “It underscores that we need to be thinking differently about how we provide care to persons with chronic illnesses, like dementia. This study shows the benefit of a collaborative care model, where nurse practitioners and physicians work together to provide comprehensive dementia care.”

A neuroscientist’s tips for a new year tuneup for your brain

man with fireworks
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

Pop metaphorical ‘brain bubbles’ by grounding your brain in the here and now.
Sofiaworld/Shutterstock.com

Kelly Lambert, University of Richmond

Unlike the effervescent bubbles that stream to the top of champagne flutes on New Year’s Eve, what I call brain bubbles are far from celebratory. These bubbles are metaphorical rather than physical, and they distort the stream of reality processed by our brains. Like a real estate bubble that reflects an inflated perception of home values, a brain bubble twists your perception of the world around you. And when either of these bubbles bursts, the results can be devastating.

Problems arise when distorted information results in flawed decisions that negatively affect our lives. As a neuroscientist who’s worked closely with laboratory rats for over three decades, I’ve gleaned from them a few good strategies people can use to burst brain bubbles and enhance well-being in the year ahead. Rat brains are small but have the same general areas and neurochemicals we have, so these rodents are valuable laboratory models for human behavior.

Plugging in can mean you’re untethered from reality.
Christian Fregnan/Unsplash, CC BY

Getting back down to Earth

Psychoactive drug use, aspects of privilege and poverty, psychiatric illness and, in some cases, religious and political beliefs can all create brain bubbles. Even daily excursions to the virtual world of apps, social media and cybergames sever our connections to concrete aspects of the real world and let distorting brain bubbles develop.

This is especially problematic for children’s brains that are still developing. An ongoing National Institutes of Health study suggests that two hours of screen time each day distorts language and thinking abilities in these junior digital users.

As our attention is hijacked by the closest screen while a Roomba cleans the floor and Alexa orders pizza to be delivered to the front door, what’s left for our brains to do? Sure, we likely face cognitive challenges at work each day, but human brains are built for sophisticated and complex activity – even though we’re often lulled into mindlessly scrolling through a virtual feed. In fact, a brain area often associated with reward and pleasure, the nucleus accumbens, is smaller in people who spend more time checking Facebook posts on their smartphones.

Obviously, some of these distortion-generating circumstances are out of our control. But a heightened awareness of our authentic world can move us toward a more reality-based, well-grounded brain – free of those brain bubbles.

The rats that my students and I train in our studies to physically work for coveted treats (Froot Loops cereal is a favorite) develop healthier emotional responses than the animals we call “trust-fund rats” because they’re merely given their sweet rewards. The harder-working rats have healthier stress hormone levels and engage in more sophisticated search strategies when they encounter a surprise challenge – such as when we move their expected Froot Loop rewards. They’re more persistent as they spend time trying to solve the problem, rather than quickly giving up and walking away.

So whereas one popular New Year’s resolution involves saving up to build financial capital, we can keep our brains in peak condition for the year ahead by building up experiential capital. Real-world experiences represent the best currency for our brain circuits, providing neural security for our future decisions in the coming year. Spending time engaged in hobbies such as knitting or gardening, for example, with complex movements and rich sensory experiences, provides a valuable yield for our brains.

Looking forward to it can be just as good as the experience.
Brooke Lark/Unsplash, CC BY

Savor the anticipation

When the calendar flips to a new year, it’s common to reflect on the past and look to the future. According to the neuroscience literature, this anticipation could be one of the most pleasurable – and healthy – tasks our brains engage in all year long.

Dopamine is the poster neurotransmitter for the cognitive endeavor of anticipating. Traditionally known for its role in pleasure, this neurochemical system can be hijacked by psychoactive drugs such as cocaine that serve as potent creators of reality-distorting brain bubbles.

Rodent research provides fascinating insights here, however. Researchers use sophisticated techniques to measure dopamine activity as rats press laboratory levers that reward them with drugs. Surprisingly, this neurochemical system surges when the animal merely anticipates taking the drug as it approaches the drug lever, as well as when the drug is actually infused into the brain.

Anticipating a new start and a new year may be a scaled-down version of approaching the experimental lever for a hit of cocaine – a legal and healthy dopamine dose in this case. You can try to keep this emotional high going through the year by amping up the anticipation in your daily life: Focus more on delayed than immediate gratification. Buying and planning for experiences is more satisfying than material purchases. Mapping out a menu, shopping for ingredients and cooking a meal provides more dopamine time – and brain-engaging behaviors – than nuking a frozen meal and eating it three minutes later.

Rats in the lab suggest active minds are better able to overcome stress and surprise adversity.
Kelly Lambert, CC BY-ND

Seize the reins of your stress

Another way to enhance our well-being through the year is to gain some sense of control over the stress in our lives. Real-time and authentic interactions with the environment can help us gain a sense of control over the inevitable uncertainty and unpredictability we face each day.

I see evidence of this in the lab. When I furnish my rats’ housing with natural elements such as dirt, hollowed-out logs and rocks, they’re busier and less likely to sit around the edge of the cage than animals in boring empty cages. After building their experiential capital, these enriched rats have healthier stress and resilience hormone profiles and engage in bolder behaviors, such as diving to the bottom of swim tanks instead of staying on the top doing their best impression of a dog paddle. As I watch these animals in various tasks, they appear to be gaining control over the challenges they encounter.

Perhaps this is why retired U.S. four-star admiral William McRaven emphasized simple life strategies in his 2014 University of Texas commencement speech, declaring that “if you want to change your life and maybe the world, start off by making your bed.” Then, even if you have a terrible day, you will come home to a made bed, evidence that you had a positive impact in at least one area of your life that day.

And, considering that over 70 percent of the brain’s nerve cells are in the cerebellum, which is involved in movement coordination, any activity that gets us up and moving – whether household chores or hitting the gym – engages the brain in healthy ways.

Taking time to connect in the kitchen is one good way to ground your brain.
Amber Maxwell Boydell/Unsplash, CC BY

Starting your brain’s year off right

Lessons from the laboratory rats also provide potential explanations for some of my own personal favorite New Year’s Day traditions – including the mundane tasks of cooking a familiar southern meal, cleaning my closet and watching HGTV’s Dream House giveaway with my family while we all declare what we would do if we won the beautiful house. Move in? Sell it? Make it an Airbnb rental?

Thinking like a neuroscientist, I know that cooking and cleaning are active endeavors with clear outcomes that allow me to gain a small sense of control, decreasing stress hormones. Playfully anticipating winning a new home taps into that feel-good dopamine system as we contemplate more serious options for the new year. And, perhaps the best neurochemical hit of all is the spike in oxytocin, the neurochemical involved in positive social connections, as I spend time with loved ones.

Although it’s common to turn to pharmaceuticals to lift our emotions and improve our mental health, the emotional benefits of many New Year’s traditions remind me that basic responses can serve as what I call “behaviorceuticals” that enhance well-being. New Year’s resolutions may take the form of New Year’s Rx’s as we consider healthy lifestyle choices for the coming year: Shrink those distorting brain bubbles and build realistic connections to enrich life’s simple pleasures.The Conversation

Kelly Lambert, Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.