WHAT TO EAT BEFORE BEDTIME (excerpted from Greatist , February 2015)

Health professionals may debate the benefits of dairy or the best time to exercise but there’s one thing they all agree on: Sleep is really freaking important. Getting a good night’s sleep is tied to a slew of health benefits, like clarity of thoughts, quicker reflexes, and an improved mood. So, not getting enough shut-eye can have some real consequences, like an out-of-whack appetite (leading to weight gain), growth issues, even a slumping immune system.

And believe it or not, what you eat before bed (and when you eat it) can have a serious impact on your sleep quality. Below are some recommendations for sleep superstars.

Tryptophan is magic. This amino acid is found in all types of food including turkey, eggs, milk and some cheeses. Research shows that foods with tryptophan produces serotonin, which helps promote sleep. Eating foods like turkey, soy beans, and pumpkin seeds, which contain decent amounts of tryptophan could help you fall and stay asleep. This recommendation arises from past research, which has shown that a tryptophan deficiency leads to a serotonin deficiency, and serotonin is one of the hormones that influences our circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Adding some whole grains with turkey, egg or low-fat dairy may be the perfect combination for a pre-sleep snack. The carbohydrate-containing foods help the tryptophan-rich foods get absorbed by the brain.

Consider cherries. These guys are one of the few natural sources o melatonin, a hormone your body produces that’s often recommended as a sleep aid. One study found that a tart cherry juice-blend helped older adults struggling with insomnia.

Munch on magnesium. Foods high in magnesium, like dark leafy greens and avocado may be just what you need to ease into dreamland. In one study of older adults with insomnia, magnesium had a positive effect on the quality of their sleep, like the length of time they slept and their ease in waking up (among other factors).

EXERCISE BENEFITS MENTAL HEALTH (from IDEA Fitness Journal January 2015)

Scientific understanding of mental health disorders is increasing—and exercise is emerging as a potent healing tool. Science Says: Exercise Benefits Mental Health

Experts offer multiple reasons why exercise positively impacts mental health; most agree it’s likely a combination of indirect and direct factors. Better circulation and reduced inflammation, boosts in psychological outlook, exposure to positive environmental factors, and perceptual and behavioral shifts are all “side effects” of exercise that enhance mental health.

According to research studies, exercise may improve mental health in the following ways:

By enhancing physiological health. “Physical activity benefits overall brain health by reducing peripheral risk factors for poor mental health—such as inflammation, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease—and by increasing blood flow and associated delivery of nutrients and energy,” says Angela Clow, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Westminster.

By raising tolerance for emotional stress. Since exercise is stressful, regular exercise increases a person’s resilience toward other forms of physical and emotional stress. Having more physical and emotional strength—from consistent fitness training—seems to help people adapt better when tough situations occur.

By boosting self-efficacy. People who master a new skill such as exercise improve self-efficacy, which subsequently leads to higher self-esteem. High self-efficacy predicts well-being, while low self-esteem is associated with mental illness.

By fostering social contact. Social interactions improve mood. Exercise frequently occurs together with others or with friend and family encouragement. This support boosts mood.

By diverting negative thinking. People with depression or anxiety often get stuck in negative thought cycles. Exercise, especially when mindful, may be a diversion from self-rumination, focusing thoughts away from negative inner concerns toward engagement with the present and with pleasurable experiences.

The Neurochemistry of Exercise – Some of the most interesting research on exercise involves neurobiology—how physical activity directly affects brain chemistry and how it may even alter the brain’s structure and function.

Physical activity can cause changes in the neurochemicals that affect mood. Antidepressant and antianxiety medications target these neurochemicals to normalize levels. Research shows that aerobic exercise can also increase their levels. Simon Young, PhD, former editor in chief of the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, noted, “The effect of exercise on serotonin suggests that the exercise itself, not the rewards that stem from exercise, may be important.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT (from IDEA Fitness Journal, January 2015)

Hear this! A recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital shows that consumption of two or more servings of fish per week is associated with a lower risk of hearing loss in women. Published online, September 10, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition(doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.114.091819), this prospective study examined over time the independent associations between consumption of total and specific types of fish, long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and self-reported hearing loss in women.

Although a decline in hearing is often considered an inevitable aspect of aging, the identification of several potentially modifiable risk factors has provided new insight into possibilities for prevention or delay of acquired hearing loss. Data came from the Nurses’ Health Study II, a prospective cohort study. In the study, 65,215 women were followed from 1991 to 2009. After 1,038,093 person-years of follow-up, 11,606 cases of incident hearing loss were reported. In comparison with women who rarely consumed fish, women who consumed two or more servings of fish per week had a 20% lower risk of hearing loss. When specific fish types were examined individually, higher consumption was inversely associated with risk for each type. Consumption of any type of fish (tuna, dark fish, light fish, or shellfish) tended to be associated with lower risk. These findings suggest that diet may be important in the prevention of acquired hearing loss.