I have always been a creature of habit. I believe that developing a daily routine can help us feel more in control of our lives, and also increase efficiency and productivity. Research has demonstrated that a routine can aid our mental health. It can help us to cope with change, to form healthy habits, and to reduce our stress levels. As it turns out, it can also have a dramatic influence on our physical health.
Routine and Obesity
A new study from the University of Virginia finds that the pleasure center of the brain and the brain's biological clock are linked, and that high-calorie foods (which bring pleasure) disrupt normal feeding schedules, resulting in overconsumption.
In 1980, 15% of U.S. adults were obese. Today, about 40% of adults are obese. Another 33% are overweight. Coinciding with this increase in weight are ever-rising rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and health complications caused by obesity, such as hypertension. Even Alzheimer's disease may be partly attributable to obesity and physical inactivity. "The diet in the U.S. and other nations has changed dramatically in the last 50 years or so, with highly processed foods readily and cheaply available at any time of the day or night," Ali Güler, a professor of biology at the University of Virginia, said. "Many of these foods are high in sugars, carbohydrates and calories, which makes for an unhealthy diet when consumed regularly over many years."
In a study published in the journal Current Biology, Güler and his colleagues demonstrate that the pleasure center of the brain that produces the chemical dopamine, and the brain's separate biological clock that regulates daily physiological rhythms, are linked, and that high-calorie foods (which bring pleasure) disrupt normal feeding schedules, resulting in overconsumption. "We've shown that dopamine signaling in the brain governs circadian biology and leads to consumption of energy-dense foods between meals and during odd hours," Güler said.
In our modern world, the calories of a full meal may now be packed into a small volume, such as a brownie or a super-size soda. It is very easy for people to over-consume calories and gain excessive weight, often resulting in obesity and a lifetime of related health problems. Half of the diseases that affect humans are worsened by obesity. And this results in the need for more medical care and higher health care costs for individuals, and society.
The human body, through thousands of years of evolution, is hard-wired to consume as much food as possible as long as it's available. Humans evolved as "hunter-gatherers" and had brief periods of plenty, such as after a kill, and then potentially lengthy periods of famine. Humans also were potential prey to large animals and so actively sought food during the day, and sheltered and rested at night. We evolved under pressures we no longer have. It is natural for our bodies to want to consume as much as possible, to store fat, because the body doesn't know when the next meal is coming. But, food is now abundant, and our next meal is as close as the kitchen, or the nearest fast-food drive-through, or right here on our desk. Often, these foods are high in fats, sugars, and therefore calories, and that's why they taste good. It's easy to over-consume, and, over time, this takes a toll on our health.
Prior to the advent of our technological society, people started the day at dawn, worked all day, often doing manual labor, and then went to sleep with the setting of the sun. Human activity, therefore, was synchronized to day and night. Today, we are working, playing, staying connected (and eating) day and night. This has a dramatic effect of our biological clock and circadian rhythm, which were evolved to operate on a sleep-wake cycle timed to daytime activity, moderate eating and nighttime rest. Our current culture impacts our eating patterns and affects how the body utilizes energy. It alters metabolism which leads to obesity, which causes disease.
When we eat is just as important as how much we eat. Calories consumed between meals or at odd hours become stored as fat, and that is the recipe for poor health.