At the 2016 Global Wellness Summit in Tyrol, Austria, this week, neuroscientist and longevity expert Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D., presented new research about the beauty of science, citing the potent salubrious effects of music and nature on the brain. I spoke with her afterwards about what kind of wellness trends we’ll see in the near and distant future.
1. A consciousness shift away from “sick care” toward “well care.” As she put it, “We have a stanch medical/pharmacological establishment, and everything else has been considered fringy. However, evidence is piling up that holistic products and therapies work. We now have proof how high tech ingredients affect the skin, and how massage and touch affects the nervous system and musculature.” She anticipates holistic healers working in concert with medical doctors as a matter of course, because patients will demand it. “Expect a different kind of care than you’d get at a traditional M.D.’s office,” she said. “Instead of having to go to a dermatologist and a cardiologist, you’ll see one person who focus on the whole body.”
2. A focus on sleep to prevent aging-related illnesses. “I’ve just published an paper about the link between sleep deprivation and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” she said. “What we found is that losing sleep is not just a problem in that it doesn’t feel good to be tired the next day, but that chronic deprivation is linked to dementia, inflammation, and other threats later in life. Unless we have seven or eight hours a high quality sleep, devastating age-related brain-health related diseases aren’t going away.”
3. Relaxation as a health care essential. “I’ve also done a lot of research on the neuroscience of relaxation, and how beneficial it is on the mind-body. There’s a trend toward wellness architecture and design, how you can use music, color, light and even scents inside the home, the workplace, schools and hospitals to trigger a relaxation response on a subliminal level. We can actually measure the positive health benefits,” she said.
4. A focus on indoor air pollution. “I’ve worked with Dyson on a purifier for indoor air pollution, such as cooking gases, paints, molds and mildews in shower steam. According to the World Health Organization, indoor pollution is killing more people than outdoor pollution, mainly in rural China where a large family lives in a small unit with wood and coal burning stoves. When you see incidents of people getting Alzheimer’s at forty, I suspect it might be due to poor air quality in their homes.”
5. A big uptick in age-related brain disease. Aguirre considers progressive, degenerative brain diseases as the biggest future health threat we face. “The numbers will be huge. The population of people over sixty-five in the next ten or twenty years is exploding, and we have to work fast to find solutions. We haven’t solved anything yet, no major breakthroughs about how to stem the rise in Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s.” Our unhealthy lifestyles and diet will only make the future epidemic worst.
6. More attention to the mind-body connection. “I say ‘mind-body’ like it’s one word. We used to think there was no connection between the brain and body. But thanks to the latest discovers in neuroscience, we know that’s not true,” she said. “The lymphatic system in the body is connected to the brain. Our immunity is flowing through both. The blood brain barrier is a leaky membrane, and as we age, it gets leakier. If you have a virus in your body, it can pass through the barrier and lead dementia.” Which brings up her last point:
7. Brain health won’t be taken for granted. “I speak at a lot of conventions, like this one, about these issues, and people say, ‘What can we do?’ There’s a lot we can do, starting with using everything in our arsenal, from getting quality sleep, having a relaxation practice, eating well, exercising, and using color and light to boost good brain hormones. A healthy body can’t help but lead to a healthy mind.”