When gathered around the Thanksgiving table this month, try being a good listener. It will help keep you out of conversational trouble—and you might actually learn something!
New research shows that being a good listener can do your aging friends and family a lot of good.
In fact, it can actually improve their brain health.
Researchers at New York University used data from one of the longest community-based studies in the U.S., the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). (Although the FHS was originally begun to research heart health, it has provided numerous opportunities to look at brain health as well.)
The NYU study included 2,171 FHS participants with an average age of 63 years.1
The participants told researchers about how often they had supportive social interactions, including people who listened and gave advice, affection, and emotional support.
After looking at the participants’ brain scans and neuropsychological assessments, the researchers found better cognitive function in the people who felt they had someone available to listen to them all or most of the time.
And this cognitive resilience was apparent even in people with smaller brain sizes or physical brain changes associated with aging or diseases like Alzheimer’s.
This provides strong scientific evidence and measurable biological reasons why people need good listeners—and should be better listeners themselves—to improve brain health as they age.
But of course, those of us who practice mind-body approaches have known that for centuries…
The ancient healing method of listening
When I was first writing my textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I found that listening and talking to patients is a common theme in all traditional and natural approaches to healing.
Even though it doesn’t require any special tools or technology, listening to the patient is, of course, key to a diagnosis. And it can be a highly therapeutic part of a patient’s treatment.
For instance, many homeopathic medicine doctors initially listen to a patient for about two hours. This helps the doctor completely characterize all of the patient’s physical and emotional states, signs, and symptoms. Then the doctor can formulate a personalized prescription for each patient, and carefully observe the results.
In 1995, when the first edition of my textbook was published, I was an adjunct professor of medicine, and of physical medicine and rehabilitation, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. I was quickly called upon to present an overview of my book to a physician group at Penn.
I was initially concerned about how to relate the simple, noninvasive approach of listening and “talk therapy” in my book to doctors steeped in modern, high-tech medical technology. But the audience had many psychiatry, psychology, and social work practitioners, so they had no problem with the concept.
Of course, many family practitioners and general physicians also recognize the importance of listening. (Their medical literature contains scientific studies on the therapeutic benefits of talking and listening after all.) But sadly, these doctors have fewer opportunities and time to put this research into practice.
In the foreword to that first edition of my textbook, former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote about the importance of listening and talking to the patient. He was concerned this was becoming a lost art, with more and more restrictions on the amount of time that doctors are allowed to spend with their patients. That was 26 years ago, and it’s only become worse since then.
But the importance of being a good listener hasn’t changed. I think the lyrics in the 1960s anthem “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield got it right: “It’s time we stop; hey what’s that sound? Everybody look, what’s going down?”
So, the next time someone wants to talk to you, stop, look, and listen to that sound. It will do both of you good. And during your next healthcare visit, make sure to have your practitioner’s full attention. Don’t be afraid to speak up and take your time. (For guidance, I provide a comprehensive guide to getting the most out of your doctor’s visit in the May 2017 issue of Insiders’ Cures.)
For additional, non-conventional ways to help keep your brain sharp as you age, check out my Complete Alzheimer’s Fighting Protocol. To learn more, click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code EOV3XB01.
The No. 1 way to stop spreading viral infections (EASY!)
Every year, as the traditional cold and flu season approaches, I tell everyone who will listen about the importance of handwashing. (Yes, even long before the COVID pandemic hit!)
But you should never use toxic “antibacterial” cleansers and hand sanitizers. And you shouldn’t try to kill every germ in sight with nasty disinfectant sprays, either. These “habits” put yourself and your normal probiotics at risk while also poisoning the environment.
Instead, you really just need to remove microbes, like pathogenic bacteria and viruses, from your hands. And plain old soap and water will do the job.
Your hands pick up microbes from contaminated surfaces and can then transfer them to your face, eyes, nose, and mouth—where they can enter your body and cause colds, flu, and other viral infections. So, the idea is to physically “wash away” these germs and, literally, get them off your hands.
But the basic physics of handwashing has rarely been studied, despite all the “science-based, expert” recommendations promulgated to the public—especially during the past two years.
Researchers affiliated with the American Institute of Physics set out to change that. In a new study, they simulated handwashing and estimated the amount of time needed to remove bacteria and viruses from the hands.1
They created a mathematical model in two dimensions for one wavy surface moving past another, with a thin film of fluid flowing between the two. (In non-physics terms, two hands and water from a faucet.)
Since microbes can hide in depressions in the rough surfaces of hands, the researchers reasoned that both water flow and movement of the hands must be strong enough to flush these microbes up and out (and down the drain).
Ultimately, the researchers’ model supports the widespread recommendation to wash your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. You can use soap and water, or just plain water, to help lubricate the process—but it’s still about physically removing the microbes. The detergent action of soap “greases the skids” to help the germs slide away, but the soap isn’t actually needed to kill those germs. That’s why non-toxic, environmentally friendly soaps work just as well for handwashing as the harsh, “antibacterial” kinds.
(I’m reminded of a middle-school science fair experiment my daughter did more than 20 years ago. She tested for microbes on unwashed hands, hands washed with water and plain soap, hands washed with water alone, and hands washed with antibacterial soap. She found that washing with water alone removed microbes about as well as washing with plain soap and water. And even though antibacterial soap also left fewer microbes behind, my daughter demonstrated they were far more “scary looking.”)
So, now you know the basic physics behind my handwashing recommendations. When more people wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, they spread fewer microbes to surfaces where other people’s hands can pick them up. And fewer infected people means less risk of contagion for everyone—from any viral infection.
So if we really want to stop the spread of common colds, seasonal flus, and even the coronavirus—we need to practice basic hygiene by washing our hands, vigorously, for 20 seconds. (As backed by physics.)
That’s one science-backed recommendation that has always made sense…and still does.
1“Association of Social Support With Brain Volume and Cognition.” JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(8):e2121122.