A few months back, I was fascinated by a story I heard on the radio while I was driving around town. They were talking about the increase in accessibility of genetic testing and the ability to learn about our genetic risks for certain diseases. The problem with getting this kind of information is that just because you have a certain gene, it doesn’t mean that you will 100% for sure develop the condition that is associated with it.
A serious concern they discussed on the program is that there have been studies showing that mindset may affect gene expression, so finding out you have genetics for a certain condition may actually lead you to develop that condition.
They cited a recent study on mindset and exercise. In the study, the researchers told participants that they had genes that set them up to respond poorly to exercise. In subsequent testing, the subjects did do worse than before - they got tired sooner and even had decreased lung capacity. The thing is, they didn’t actually have those genes. It was all mindset that created those changes.
In another study, researchers were testing exercise and the “placebo effect” (which also translates to “mindset.”) Here’s the abstract from the study:
“In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one's mind-set, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General's recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.”
The effect that the brain’s beliefs and emotions can have on physiology isn’t exactly news. In 1988, the New York Times published an article about a man with multiple personality disorder. When he drank orange juice, most of the time he would have an allergic reaction, breaking out into hives. However, one of his personalities could drink orange juice and have no allergic reaction at all. This phenomenon was supported by clinical experience - medicating people with multiple personalities can be extremely difficult because the different personalities can react differently to a medication.
Our thoughts and emotions can change the physical structure of our brain, which in turn can change the physiology within our entire body. They say that “neurons that fire together wire together.” By firing new sets of neurons with new thought patterns, we can actually rewire our brains.
What does that mean for us? It is great news! In addition to what we are doing to physically heal our bodies, like acupuncture, supplements and a clean diet, we can harness the power of the brain to have an even greater effect. Here are a few examples of ways I reframe thoughts to my advantage:
Thought: “My back is so messed up.”
Reframe: “My body has the ability to heal this pain.”
Thought: “I need to watch my weight.”
Reframe: “I eat and move to fuel my health.”
Thought: “I am so stressed.”
Reframe: “Whoops! I did it again. What can I cut out? I got this!”
One of my latest experiences with mindset was when I decided to try intermittent fasting. I used to think that if I didn’t eat every couple of hours, I would experience a blood sugar crash and turn into a raging you-know-what. After reading research into the benefits of fasting, I decided to give it a shot. After all, another one of my beliefs is that if I think there is no way I can do something, I had better give it a try. :-)
So after a couple of days of cutting down my eating hours (for more info on this topic, stay tuned...I think I just found what I’m going to write about next…) I found that I can actually be just fine without stuffing food in my face all day long. All because I read research that told me so.
Your turn! Think about any deeply held beliefs you have that may be holding you back. Is there a way to turn them around to create new pathways in your brain? It takes commitment, but the results can be amazing. All you have to do is believe.