Bill Kochevar, 56, fed himself a pretzel and then took a drink of water. You may have heard about it. It made the news. As a result of an accident that occurred more than eight years ago, Kochevar has been unable to move any part of his body below his shoulders – until recently. As outlined in a video produced by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and through an experimental project the University has worked to perfect for more than a decade, Kochevar has gained some use of his hands and arms once again.
By implanting two electrode arrays in his brain as well as electrodes in the precise muscles that control his arm and hand movements, these muscles were once again able to decode his thoughts. He can now will his arms and hands to move.
This medical success may not answer the age-old question of whether the mind rules the body or vice versa; but it certainly illustrates the power and importance of the brain in dealing with illness and restoring wellbeing.
No consideration of the concept of brainpower can be complete without considering the concept of mindfulness; that achieving a state of active mindfulness can be a healing activity. In its simplest form, it merely refers to the practice of active, open attention on the present; living in the moment. It also an acknowledgement that what happens in the brain influences the body. When we get sick, it’s very common for our mind to jump to the worst-case scenario. When you’re mindful, the idea is that you observe thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. When we give in to negative thoughts, they in turn can bring on stress and there is a clear association between stress and illness. At least two notable studies – one out of Harvard and the other by UCLA – show the regular practice of being mindful can lead to positive changes within the nervous system.
As pointed out by Jane E. Brody in a recent series of articles in the New York Times, seeing the glass as half full should not be viewed as just a quaint slogan. In practice, it can actually improve health and extend life. Studies show an indisputable link between a positive outlook and health benefits like lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better weight control and healthier blood sugar levels. Cultivating positive emotions can boost the immune system and counter depression. Even when faced with an incurable illness, positive feelings and thoughts can greatly improve one’s quality of life.
Brody gives the example of Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, a Dallas-based author who was a practicing intern 27 years ago when she learned she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Once in treatment, she suffered eight relapses of her cancer. Dr. Harpham was able to maintain her sense of happiness and hope by surrounding herself with people who would lift her spirits. She also kept a daily gratitude journal. She made it a point to do something good for someone else whenever possible. She also made sure her viewing habits included watching funny, uplifting movies. She now credits her positive outlook as a great part of why her cancer has been in remission for 12 years.
This is not to say that even an upbeat individual such as Dr. Harpham is immune to negative feelings. Worry, sadness and anger all have their place in any normal life, Brody reminds us. But chronically viewing the glass as half-empty is detrimental both mentally and physically and can be a major inhibitor to the human ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable stresses.
Just like thoughtful, controlled deep breathing, there are many things we can do to promote and help restore good health that don’t require a doctor’s prescription.
Therapeutic massage is one example that comes to mind. It is said that Bob Hope – who lived to be 100 and continued to play golf well into his 90s – got a massage every day for the last 63 years of his life. While the benefits of professional, therapeutic massage remain somewhat hard to measure, studies clearly show that massage reduces inflammation in muscles. And inflammation can be hazardous to your health. How it works to reduce pain is also not clear. A recent joint study by Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis found that, for some, massage provided lasting relief for chronic lower back pain.
About 1 in 10 people are said to experience back pain in America, and for many, it degenerates into a chronic condition. For the study, 104 people with persistent back pain were referred by their doctors to licensed massage therapists. They went to 10 sessions over a 12 week period. At the end of the study, more than 50 percent reported clinically meaningful improvement.
While the use of massage therapy for relief of chronic pain is not new, it’s not generally covered by health insurance. Unless you can find another study such as this one where participants received their sessions free of charge, many people who might benefit by such treatment but can’t easily afford it may need to weigh the costs with the potential benefits.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.