Each aroma your nose encounters sends your brain scurrying into action. Good smells may prompt a mental escape to a familiar location or pleasant memory with the accompanying calming feelings. But bad odors could send you spinning on your heels for a different kind of retreat.

These powerful reactions are the result of hard-won experiences by humans throughout the years. A sharp sense of smell was an evolutionary advantage. And it’s still coded into future generations’, shaping their interactions with the wider world.

Thanks to the abundance and advancements of modern life, survival might not depend on sniffing out rotten or harmful substances. But you can use your nose to aid your attempts to feel relaxed and refreshed during your busy days.

The Benefits of Aromatherapy: Why You Should Surround Yourself with Pleasant Aromas

Good smells are such a powerful draw that the global scented candle industry accounts for well over $300 million (USD) a year. It’s a much bigger number when you add in the fragrances, scented bath products, and other aromatic items people buy every day.

The money signals one thing: people are looking to improve the aromas around them. And this practice is nothing new. Ancient traditions around the world have used scent to better their lives for centuries.

That’s because the concept of using aromas to induce feelings is straightforward. And the benefits of aromatherapy are easily explained and experienced. They include:

  • Promoting calm feelings
  • Providing a sense of well-being
  • Prompting soothing feelings of escape and peace
  • Creating an uplifting environment
  • Helping establish a sense of harmony between mind and body
  • Sparking an energized feeling (for some specific scents)
  • Promoting a grounded feeling

Learning what certain smells can do for you is the first step. But now it might help to understand the science of aromatherapy.

Simplifying the Science of Aromatherapy

Scents signal portions of your central nervous system that deal with emotions, memories, and more instinctual actions. So exploring the science of aromatherapy starts with the interface between your nose and brain—the olfactory nerve.

Your nasal cavity is full of olfactory receptors that gather information from what you inhale. That information is sent up to the olfactory bulb—housed in your forebrain—for processing.

Important parts of your brain connect directly to the olfactory bulb, but for the purposes of aromatherapy, the hippocampus and amygdala are the most interesting. That’s because these two areas are tied to memories and emotions, respectively.

That’s only the physiology side of the science of aromatherapy. Other research has focused on how these neural connections manifest in links between aroma, memory, and emotions. Studies have consistently yielded data supporting the ability of aromas to trigger memories and an array of feelings—calm, energy, and well-being.

Many aromatic compounds studied chemically, as well. There are plenty to pick from, because fragrant plants contain hundreds of different chemical compounds. Some of the most notable include: Limonene (from lemon), linalool (found in lavender), the sesquiterpenes/terpenes in pine, and peppermint’s menthol.

Your Guide to Finding the Scents for You

Everybody has their favorite smells. They’re the ones that bring a smile to your face or summon a happy memory. Seeking out those scents that promote feelings of calm or serenity in you is made easier by aromatic aids powered frequently by essential oils (potent distillations of plant material).

Selecting the right scent for your personal aromatherapy experience is complicated by the sheer number of available options. Don’t fret. Modern approaches and ancient traditions can help guide your choices.

Scents that promote feelings of calm or well-being include:

  • Lavender
  • Vanilla
  • Jasmine
  • Ylang ylang
  • Rose
  • Chamomile
  • Geranium
  • Bergamot
  • Basil

If you’re looking to feel energized, there are scents are associated with those feelings, too. Look to citrus (lemon and sweet orange especially), peppermint, rosemary, cinnamon, thyme, and eucalyptus scents for prompting feelings of liveliness.

Also, earthy, woodsy, and some spicy scents are often seen as helping to provide a sense of groundedness.

Ancient Eastern traditions have incorporated aromatherapy for hundreds of years. But it relies on slightly different categorizations—yin, yang, and neutral scents.

Florals, citrus, and cooling aromas like peppermint are yin scents that can be associated with calm. Yang scents are spicy, warm, and energizing. They include rosemary, thyme, and ginger. Orange and sage are considered neutral, while woody smells can vary in their categorizations.

Start Your Own Exploration of the Benefits of Aromatherapy

Everyone has slightly different associations with smells, though. That means you may need to explore different scents and their impact on your feelings. Variety packs of essential oils are a popular starting place.

You can also mix different scents to create interesting blends. These combinations can create aromatherapy experiences. Try some common combinations:

  • rosemary, lavender, orange, and peppermint
  • eucalyptus, peppermint, basil, tea tree, and rosemary
  • lemongrass, orange, cedarwood, lavender, and frankincense
  • lemon, eucalyptus, and lemongrass
  • lavender, eucalyptus, and frankincense

Whether blended or alone, essentials oils are super concentrated with aromatic compounds. You only need to crack open the lid and take a whiff to experience the calming (or energizing) feelings that may follow. You can also add a couple of drops of a favorite scent or blend to a diffuser. And enhancing your bath with tea tree or geranium is another good option.

Whatever approach you choose, use scent to escape your day and focus on providing yourself with a sense of well-being. Experiencing the benefits and science of aromatherapy can help you facilitate soothing feelings of escape and peace. That makes aromatherapy the perfect addition to your self-care routine.

Sometime between 1 pm and 2 pm each day, students, stay-at-home parents, and corporate employees all fight the same battle: staving off mid-afternoon, post-lunch drowsiness. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know it can do a number on afternoon productivity. For most people, the solution is simple: load up on caffeine or an energy drink and power through. It gets the trick done, but is there a better way to cope with afternoon drowsiness?

As it turns out, there is! Recent studies suggest that instead of ignoring those heavy eyelids, you should succumb to them. Or, in other words, take a nap.

Some countries and cultures have an afternoon nap built into their daily schedule. But for most of us, napping is a rare treat—something to be enjoyed on the weekends or vacations. After all, the nine to five schedule doesn’t really leave time for a nap. As research continues to reveal the health benefits of napping, however, this might begin to change. (In fact some companies have already begun experimenting with company-sanctioned napping in the office!)

So whether you’re a nap enthusiast, skeptic, or simply curious, here’s why an afternoon nap might be just what you need.

The Science of Sleep

Sleep is one of life’s basic routines. It’s something everyone does (hopefully) every day. You’ve probably heard that the average adult needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night—and that’s true. But why? What’s so crucial about sleep?

It’s a question scientists have researched for decades and they’re still uncovering new information each year. Here’s what is known: Many of the benefits of sleep have to do with the brain, more specifically, with memory and brain plasticity (also called neuroplasticity).

Plasticity refers to your brain’s ability to interpret and respond to stimuli. Basically, when you’re well-rested, your brain can interpret inputs faster. In practice, this might mean reacting to visual information more quickly or simply digesting written information the first time you read it. You know the sluggishness that often follows a poor night of sleep? That is, in part, the result of reduced brain plasticity.

The role sleep plays in memory consolidation is still being explored. Throughout the day, you store countless details, facts, and other information in your brain. It’s not until you sleep, however, that this information is solidified into long-term memories. For decades, researchers believed that memory consolidation occurred during rapid eye movement (or REM) sleep—the final of the four stages. New research suggests this might not be the case.

Because sleep plays such a big role in memory formation and retention, much of the research surrounding napping also deals with memory. But more on that in the next section!

Napping and Memory Retention

If memory consolidation only occurred during REM sleep, naps probably wouldn’t do much for your ability to remember. It takes about an hour and a half of sleep to reach the REM stage—that’s longer than most naps. And though scientists are still exploring the exact relationship between sleep and memory, one thing is clear: a quick nap can do wonders for your memory.

Does this mean taking a nap will help you remember the name of that one kid who sat next to you in first grade? No. But let’s look at the areas of memory napping can help.

Most people are familiar with the concepts of short-term and long-term memory, but that’s only one way to categorize your brain’s storage capacity. Human memory is actually divided into a number of other categories. Item memory, for instance, refers to your ability to recall individual items from a list. Associative memory, on the other hand, refers to your ability to remember things that are paired or linked. Examples include: This face goes with that name; that car is always parked in front of this house—stuff like that.

In studies focused on item memory, napping has no effect on participants’ recall. When individuals take a 90-minute nap, however, their associative memory has been shown to improve.

Napping can even increase your ability to learn and encode new information. In one study, participants were given an associative memory task in the morning and evaluated on their recall. After that morning session, half of the participants took an afternoon nap, half did not. When the participants regrouped in the evening, they were all given another associative memory task and evaluated on their recall. Those who hadn’t napped performed worse than they had that morning—that is, they remembered fewer pairings. Those who had napped—you guessed it—performed better than they did in the morning.

How to Nap Properly: How Long is Too Long?

Like most good things, napping requires moderation. Snooze for too long and you might miss out on some of the health benefits of napping—and negatively impact your nightly slumber.

A good nap should be refreshing, and, as it turns out, short. While there’s no agreed upon “ideal” nap length, most experts suggest keeping naps under an hour and a half—the length of time it takes to reach REM sleep. Some even suggest napping for just ten to twenty minutes. If you’ve ever taken a much needed afternoon nap only to wake up feeling groggy and, frankly, worse than you did before the nap, there’s a good chance you slept too long.

In addition to giving you that groggy feeling, long naps can throw off your sleep schedule, especially if you’re napping later in the afternoon. To get the most from your naps, try to catch those afternoon zzz’s before 3 pm. And always set an alarm. A 20-minute nap may not seem like much, but it might be just what you need to shake off afternoon drowsiness and boost productivity for the rest of the day.

Coffee Naps Aren’t an Oxymoron

Most people drink coffee to help them wake up or stay awake, so you might not think to drink coffee before you nap. Here’s the thing: it takes about 20 minutes for your body to feel the effects of caffeine. And that’s the perfect amount of time to catch a quick nap.

At least that’s the logic followed by proponents of the “coffee nap.” It might seem counterintuitive, but drinking a cup of joe and then immediately settling down for a quick nap can help you wake up feeling more refreshed than if you’d just napped or just had coffee.

The benefits of coffee naps are hard to quantify—after all, it’s hard to measure how “tired” or “refreshed” someone feels. It’s all subjective. That being said, studies have shown that consuming 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine (about two cups of regular black coffee) and then napping for twenty minutes may help you feel more refreshed upon waking.

Taking Napping to the Extreme: Segmented Sleep

If you’re regularly napping for three or more hours, your sleep cycle might begin to shift from a monophasic sleep pattern—that is, one big chunk of sleep—to a biphasic or even polyphasic sleep pattern. And, depending on your schedule, this might not be such a bad thing.

A biphasic sleep pattern means you’re sleeping in two chunks or shifts, usually for about four hours each. Some scientists believe this is a more natural sleep cycle for humans, as it aligns with the sleep patterns of many other mammals.

With biphasic sleep, the idea is to go to bed when the sun goes down, sleep for four hours, wake up for a few hours of meditation, prayer, reading, etc., and then settle back down for four more hours of sleep. Some people swear by this approach, but unfortunately most of the world is built around monophasic sleep. So biphasic sleep is not the most practical schedule to follow.

Harness the Health Benefits of Napping

Traditional work schedules can make napping difficult, but as more people become aware of the scientific benefits of napping, sneaking some shut-eye on the job is becoming a more mainstream practice. And who knows, maybe this article was the push you needed to finally incorporate an afternoon nap into your daily schedule.

Even if it’s just a 20-minute catnap, an afternoon snooze could change your relationship to work and your daily grind! So why not give it a shot? The health benefits of napping are right there—all you have to do is fall asleep.

Nothing can ruin your day like a restless night. You go to bed exhausted, hoping for some sweet rest and recuperation, only to toss and turn for hours. And then you wake up, somehow even more exhausted. It’s an awful feeling.

After one of those nights, you might notice that your vision, hearing, and other senses feel a little, well, off. So what gives? Why does a poor night’s sleep affect your senses?

Sleep is an incredibly complex part of life, though it may not appear that way. Scientists are still trying to reveal a more complete picture of sleep’s vital role for the human body and brain. But there’s already a wealth of research on the subject out there. And some of that research explores the connection between sleep and the senses.

As it turns out, this connection between sleep and the senses is a two-way street—or maybe even a multi-road intersection. Poor sleep can reduce the acuity of the five senses, but the five senses can also be responsible for a bad night’s sleep. And, conversely, you can sleep better using your senses with just a little bit of planning.

The Physiology of Sleep

It’s only in the last 70 years or so that scientists have come to realize that sleep is not a passive activity—at least not on a neurological level. While you sleep, your brain is actively engaged in various activities that help your brain and body function properly.

There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Sleep is further broken down into stages. During stages one through three, known as quiet sleep, you experience NREM sleep. It’s only in the fourth stage, sometimes called active sleep, that REM sleep starts.

The exact nature of each stage of sleep and the brain’s activities during each is still up for debate. But here’s what is known: sleep plays a critical role in solidifying and compiling memories. Without sleep, you’ll likely find it more difficult to remember things. Originally, memory compilation was thought to occur during REM sleep. Recent studies, however, indicate that NREM sleep might be more critical in maintaining healthy memory function.

Lack of sleep can also affect brain plasticity—or the brain’s ability to process new information and input. This is where sleep, or lack thereof, can start to impact your senses. Your senses are simply stimuli picked up by various receptors and interpreted by your brain. If your brain plasticity decreases, it responds more slowly to that sensory input. And the interpretation side of sensation slows.

Sleep and the Senses: What Happens When You Get Too Little Sleep?

As you just read, the less you sleep, the more your brain plasticity decreases, which can affect your senses. But what does that look like in practice? How exactly are the senses affected?

Let’s start with vision. Everyone knows that driving drowsy is dangerous. But, as it turns out, falling asleep at the wheel isn’t the only danger. In a study conducted on long-haul truckers, researchers tried to measure the effects of sleep deprivation on vision.

After 27 hours without sleep, participants responded to a series of visual stimuli. The results were about as expected: In their sleep-deprived state, the participants reacted more slowly to visual cues and they missed more cues than when they were well rested. This had nothing to do with eye function, however. The researchers conducting the study realized that participants’ vision impairment was all due to issues on the cognitive side. That is, participants weren’t seeing any worse; their brains were just interpreting more slowly and less fully.

When your brain’s ability to interpret input slows, it doesn’t just affect vision—it extends to all of the senses. In a sleep-deprived state, you might notice you react to auditory stimuli (or sounds) more slowly. And the mental fog that accompanies sleeplessness may begin to encroach on day to day tasks.

Keep Your Senses Sharp With a Good Night’s Sleep

At this point, you’ve hopefully picked up on one main fact: poor sleep can have a negative effect on the acuity of your senses. But let’s move past the negative and focus on action and self-improvement. This raises a new question: how can the connection between sleep and the senses be used to improve your senses?

Well, if you’re basing your answer on the past few sections of this article, the answer is pretty clear: to keep your senses sharp, be sure to sleep enough. This, of course, is easier said than done.

Fortunately, when it comes to sleep, you can use your senses to your advantage. With a few intentional practices, you can leverage sight, sound, smell, and touch to sleep more soundly. But more on that later!

Are Your Senses Working While You Sleep?

Even while you’re asleep, your ears are hard at work. That’s why loud noises will jolt you awake. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense. If your body and senses completely shut off during sleep, you would be incredibly vulnerable. There would be no protection from predators.

Instead, your ears are constantly scanning for potential threats. And, even while you sleep, your brain is actively interpreting auditory stimuli, deciding what is relevant and what is not. (Which is why you might wake up to your baby’s cries, but not your air conditioning unit chugging away.)

Your ears aren’t the only sense organs at work while you sleep. If someone turns on the lights, there’s a good chance you’ll wake up—that’s because your eyes are still taking in visual information, even while your eyelids are closed. The same is true of your sense of touch and even smell.

So what does this mean for you and your sleep?

Sleep Better Using Your Senses

When it comes to sleep, most people focus on the moments leading up to it. And while there is a lot you can do before you fall asleep, you can also take advantage of the fact that your senses are still operating while you sleep to promote sound, restful nights of sleep. Here’s how you can sleep better using your senses:

  • Sight: When it’s time to sleep, your body begins to release the hormone melatonin. But how does it know when to do this? It’s part light cues and part circadian rhythm—which is just a fancy way of saying your body’s internal clock. As the sun goes down and the world gets darker, the body naturally begins to release melatonin.
    Here’s the problem: the sun isn’t the only source of light in your life. And there’s a good chance you don’t turn the lights down until you’re settling in for the night. You may have better luck falling and staying asleep if you dim the lights in the hour leading up to your bedtime. Try to avoid any bright lights. And yes, that includes your TV and phone screen.
  • Sound: Obviously, a quiet environment is the most conducive for sleep. You may not realize, however, all of the noises present in your life. Whether it’s the sound of traffic from outside or your AC unit in the window, the noises that fade into the background while you’re awake can interrupt your sleep. To counteract this, consider soundproofing your room or turning the AC off at night.
  • Smell: Many people find that certain smells, such as the scent of lavender, help relax them. By exposing yourself to these smells, you can help yourself unwind before bed. Stress is a big culprit for restlessness, so the more you can relax before bed, the better you’ll sleep.
    There is some evidence that suggests these scents cannot only help you fall asleep, but also stay asleep. If you use a diffuser, consider leaving it on all night.
  • Touch: For many people, especially those who regularly toss and turn with anxiety, weighted blankets provide a big benefit. The physical sensation of weight on your body can have a calming effect, helping you both fall and stay asleep.
  • Taste: Chamomile tea has been used to help support healthy sleep for years—and with good reason. Studies have shown that chamomile contains the flavonoid apogen, which can have mild sedative effects. This can help you feel relaxed and, in turn, help you fall asleep.

None of these suggestions are a fix-all solution. Some may work for you, others may not. The point is not to make huge lifestyle changes. Instead, simply try being more mindful of your senses and the way they affect your sleep. And as you do that, intentionally try a few of these practices out. Hopefully your sleep will thank you!

Waking Your Senses Up in the Morning

You’ve woken from a good night’s sleep—now what? In the morning, you’ll likely want to shake off the drowsiness and start your day. Once again, your senses (especially sight) can help! Rather than keeping the curtains drawn and avoiding the sunlight, try to introduce some more light into your mornings. This will help suppress the release of melatonin, waking you up faster.

Additionally, you don’t want to overload any of your senses immediately. Take it easy at first, being mindful of your senses and surroundings. Smell your coffee, and allow the scent to seep in. Savor the flavors of your breakfast. Slowing down a little bit in the morning can help you gear up for a productive day.

If you’ve ever seen a master chef taste food, there’s a good chance you were a little mystified. Can they really taste all of that in a single bite? It’s like they’re pulling a rabbit from a hat. Not even the subtlest flavors elude their palates. Experienced chefs can taste each flavor with an acuteness that allows them to create subtle, delicious combinations.

Most people tend to write this off as natural talent. And some of it certainly is. But, as it turns out, everyone—and that means you—can train their palate to be more sensitive and perceptive. Like most things in life, it just takes a little practice.

Here’s the good news: expanding and improving your palate is a straightforward, rewarding process. And you can start your journey towards a more flavorful life today!

Why Bother? The Benefits of Expanding Your Palate (And Improving it, Too)

To improve your palate, it helps to be adventurous (more on that concept to come). But expanding your palate doesn’t have to be an intensive, laborious process—you can put as much or as little into it as you like. Still, you might have one question upfront: why bother at all? Most people like food, and are perfectly happy sticking to their established culinary routines. They cook and eat the same select foods, taste the same flavors, and, at the end of the day, enjoy themselves.

So if it’s not broken, why fix it, right?

Listen to any chef talk about food for two minutes and you’ll have your answer. They’ve worked to improve and expand their tasting experiences and abilities. And to the trained palate, a meal becomes more than just a meal—there’s a connection to the food that wasn’t there before. That connection can open the door to a world of deliberate, mindful, and, yes, healthy eating.

Sold? Good. Let’s get into some palate development tips.

Improving Your Palate Starts With the Basics: The Five Building Blocks of Flavor

As you expand and train your palate, you are, in a sense, learning a new skill. And as with any new skill, it’s best to start with the basics. (Walk before you run, right?)

Your body can detect five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Before exploring the ways these tastes interact to create complex, satisfying flavors, you should be able to identify each on its own. The first four are pretty straightforward, but umami can be tricky to pin down. The term umami comes from the Japanese word for “savory” and is used to describe the savory flavor found in meat, mushrooms, and broth.

Think of your sense of taste like a muscle: the more you try to pick out individual tastes, the better at it you’ll become. So next time you drink a cup of coffee, slow down a bit. Let it sit on your tongue. What do you taste? Obviously, it’s going to taste bitter. But what else can you detect? There might be a slight sourness, too.

Do the same when you eat fruit. The predominant taste may be sweet, but you’ll likely notice other flavors, too. Is it slightly sour? Bitter? As you practice picking these basic flavors out, you’ll start to get a sense for the way they combine and complement one another.

Follow Your Nose—Or At Least Use It

Most people associate taste directly with the tongue. It is, after all, where your taste buds are located. That being said, your taste buds are actually pretty limited in their sensory capabilities—they can detect the five basic tastes, but not much else.

Your nose, on the other hand, can detect somewhere between 10,000 and 1 trillion unique scents. As you eat, your senses of taste and smell combine to create a single experience of “flavor.”

And when it comes to improving your palate, your nose is just as important as your mouth. Before eating (or drinking), give yourself time to sit with the aromas. What elements of the dish can you pick out using just your sense of smell? By identifying these smells, you’re priming the pump so when you do finally eat the food, your attention to smell will help enhance your experience of the food’s flavor. 

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Improving Your Palate With Exploration

One of the easiest—and most crucial—ways to improve your palate is simply expanding the variety of foods you eat. If you’re a creature of habit at the grocery store and in the kitchen, it might be time to break the cycle.

This doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a pound of lutefisk the first chance you get. Start small. If you typically stick to “safe” greens like iceberg and romaine lettuce, pick up some beet greens, kale, and chard. And just like that, you’ve transformed the flavor profile of tonight’s salad.

Another great way to explore new flavors is by diving into the cooking traditions of countries and cultures that are different from yours. The world is full of diverse, delicious flavors—there’s no reason you need to stick to the ones you are comfortable with. As you dip your toes into various global cuisines, it’s OK to start by eating at restaurants. When you find new dishes and flavors you love, you can then try replicating (and tweaking!) them in your kitchen.

You might be surprised by the familiar ingredients that go into unfamiliar dishes. Something as simple as a potato—which is typically prepared with salt and other basic seasonings in the U.S.—can be transformed into a vessel for myriad herbs and spices in, say, aloo gobi, a popular dish in Indian cuisine. So go out and buy a new cookbook or subscribe to a new food blog—there’s a world of flavors out there waiting!

Remember: you don’t have to like everything. Part of exploration is discovering the flavors and foods you don’t enjoy.

Hit the Reset Button With Palate Cleansers

Flavors linger in the mouth—some more than others. (Think onions, garlic, and other pungent foods.) It’s a fact that’s ruined many a first kiss, and, as it turns out, your ability to detect subtle flavors. Residual tastes in the mouth can mix with new flavors, masking or altering the true flavor of whatever food you happen to be eating next.

Fortunately, there’s a quick solution to this problem: palate cleansers. These neutral-tasting foods help clear residual morsels off of the tongue and “reset” your palate. It’s the reason sushi comes with pickled ginger and why some swanky restaurants bring you sorbet between courses.

But let’s be honest, most people don’t have pickled ginger or sorbet on hand. Don’t worry, because you can use something as simple as a plain cracker, white bread, or a glass of water to cleanse your palate.

Keep Your Mouth Healthy

At this point, everyone is well aware of the health risks associated with cigarettes. But health risks aside, smoking cigarettes can also impact your ability to taste food.

According to one study, the relationship between smoking and reduced taste sensitivity is linear: the more you smoke, the less acute your sense of taste will become. The good news is that the damage to your taste receptors isn’t permanent. Within two months of quitting, most smokers see their sense of taste return to normal.

Smoking, of course, isn’t the only thing that can affect the sensitivity of your taste buds. You should also try to avoid excessively hot, salty, or sugary foods—all of which can dull your sense of taste.

Make Time for Food

Most of these tips and suggestions have built towards a common theme: slow down and really enjoy your food. Savor the moment. If you’re constantly eating on the go, working as you eat lunch, or watching TV during dinner, your attention is split. And good food deserves your full attention.

There’s a name for this practice: mindful eating. You’ve maybe heard of mindfulness in the context of meditation or mental health treatments. But you can also apply the practice to food!

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present. What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are you experiencing? Acknowledge and accept each one. So what does this look like during a meal?

There are few steps you can take during each meal to make eating a more deliberate, mindful activity:

  • Express gratitude: First, take time to consider the labor, ingredients, and expertise that went into growing and preparing your meal. (This applies to home-cooked and restaurant meals.) A lot went into it—be sure to express your appreciation, even if it’s just internally.
  • Limit portion sizes: When delicious food is on the table, willpower crumbles. It’s tempting to dive right in and eat as much as you can as fast as you can. But ultimately, this takes away from the experience. Start with smaller portions and chew your food slowly and deliberately. You’ll be shocked at the way the flavors open up when you take your time. When you slow down, your body has more time to register how hungry or full you are, and you’ll likely need to eat less to feel satisfied.
  • Don’t come to the table hungry: OK, so this bullet point might be a little misleading. Obviously you should come to the table with an appetite—you want to be able to eat, after all. But you should try to avoid coming into a meal absolutely famished. If you’re ravenously hungry, it’ll be tough to slow down and appreciate the food. Try to find the balance of hungry but not too

What the Destination for Improving Your Palate Looks Like

Picture this: you set out to improve your palate a few months ago and have been gradually enjoying new foods, flavors, and experiences. What’s next? At what point is your palate fully “developed”?

That’s a trick question. Improving and expanding your palate is a never-ending process. As you develop, expand, and improve your palate, you’ll find there’s always more to try. It’s one of the joys of the process, but it can also be a bit imposing. So remember: take this journey on your own terms.

You might not become a master chef, and maybe you’ll always hate Brussels sprouts. At the end of the day, though, all that matters is that you’ve developed a new, exciting relationship to food and flavor.

Think back to the last time you experienced silence. Was it in the woods? Maybe it was on a flight with your noise-cancelling headphones on. Regardless of the setting, one fact is almost certain: it wasn’t truly silent.

Whether it’s the hum of a refrigerator, the chirping of birds, or the faintest ruffling of leaves, there’s always some sound to break the silence. Noise is virtually impossible to escape. It’s just a fact of life.

Sound is so constant that most people don’t think too much about it. Some noises are more pleasant than others, but beyond that it’s all just, well, noise. But sound isn’t just a question of pleasant and unpleasant—it’s also a question of healthy and unhealthy.

Now before you run off to make your life as quiet as possible, let’s get one thing straight: not all noise is bad. Understanding the links between sound and health will help you keep the negative noise in your life to a minimum, while enjoying all the benefits of music and other positive sounds.

So put those ear plugs back in the drawer (for now) and keep reading!

The Physiology of Hearing

Any discussion of sound and noise should start with hearing. And to talk about hearing, you have to talk about ears.

The ear is divided into three portions: outer, middle, and inner. Each plays a vital part in transforming sounds from your environment into electrical impulses that your brain can interpret. A sound’s journey starts in the outer ear, which includes the visible portions of the ear on the head (aka the auricle or pinna), as well as the outer ear canal.

The auricle works like a funnel. It captures sound waves from your environment and brings them into the ear canal. Once they’re in the canal, the waves are amplified as they are channeled to the eardrum. And that takes us to the middle ear.

The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, is a layer of connective tissue and skin that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. When sound waves hit the eardrum, it begins to vibrate. Those vibrations cause a series of tiny bones, collectively called ossicles, to move. As these bones move, they amplify the sound waves.

A sound wave’s journey ends in the inner ear. That’s where the waves are channeled into the cochlea, a fluid-filled, spiral-shaped organ. The sound waves set the cochlear fluid into motion, which in turn moves thousands of nerve endings. These nerves convert the vibrations of the sound wave into electrical impulses that are then relayed to, and interpreted by, the brain.

If this seems like a complicated process, that’s because it is! And there’s a lot that can go wrong—especially when loud noises are involved. But, as it turns out, the negative effects of certain noises extend far beyond the physiological process of hearing.

Noise Pollution: The Woes of City Living

If you live anywhere near a city, you’re probably familiar with the concept of light pollution. Noise pollution, on the other hand, is talked about far less. But its effects are just as widespread—and the health risks it poses are far greater.

So what is noise pollution? In short, it’s the long-term presence of dangerously loud noises (usually in urban areas).

The definition above requires some unpacking. For starters, what qualifies as a dangerously loud noise? Sound intensity, or volume, is measured in decibels. The hum of a refrigerator, for instance, clocks in at roughly 40 decibels. An air conditioning unit, 55 decibels. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (commonly called OSHA) requires employers to implement hearing-protection programs if a workplace is louder than 85 decibels.

But you don’t have to operate a jackhammer for a living to be regularly exposed to sounds over that 85 decibel threshold. In certain cities in India, traffic sounds alone exceed 85 decibels. And in the recovery wings of some US hospitals, the ambient volume can reach over 90 decibels. (Not exactly a peaceful healing environment.)

Toxic Noise: The Mental and Physical Effects of Noise

If there’s one takeaway from the previous section, it’s this: life is noisy. Cities are noisy. And the world is only growing louder. So what? Aside from possibly damaging your hearing—a serious health risk on its own—long-term exposure to noise pollution can impact your health in a number of ways.

And the adverse health effects of noise can start at just 50 decibels. If you’re frequently exposed to sounds above that threshold, your blood pressure might start to creep up. Take the volume up a few notches and you may be at higher risk for heart disease.

Those are just the physical effects of noise pollution—let’s take a look at the mental effects.

One of the most obvious effects of noise pollution is decreased sleep time and quality. It’s pretty straightforward: the noisier it is, the worse you’re going to sleep. Poor sleep has physical ramifications (you’ll feel tired), but it can also heighten your feelings of anxiety and increase your irritability.

Noise pollution can also make it difficult to focus—both in the office and at school—and increases anxiety. This can, in turn, increase your sensitivity to noise—creating a spiraling feedback loop.

Reclaiming Noise: Soundscapes and Other Sonic Experiments

Now you know that noise pollution often refers to the endless cacophony of traffic, construction, and general loudness present in most urban areas. But what if those sounds (or others in your neighborhood) were replaced by soothing ones? If blaring horns increase your anxiety, could, say, a birdsong lessen it?

Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on speculation. Various public officials, musicians, and sound engineers have followed that exact train of thought and implemented helpful soundscapes into public spaces.

A soundscape is basically an intentionally selected soundtrack played within a space. The soundtrack could be made up of anything. You can choose classical music, the sound of a bubbling stream, or, in the case of one California city, birdsong. In Lancaster, California, the mayor approved the installation of speakers along a portion of the main road. These speakers constantly played a mix of music and birdsong. Within a year, crime was down by 15 percent.

In London, a similar speaker system, which played only classical music, was deployed at a subway station with high rates of crime. The results were similar: crime rates fell.

How Music Affects Your Health

After all this talk about the negative effects of noise, one question is probably on your mind: what about music? But don’t worry, you can file music under “good noise.”

People love to tout the benefits of listening to classical music: it’s good for your brain, it’s good for your baby, it’s good for your dog, and so on. All of these may be true, but let’s take a look at why.

Music engages multiple areas of the brain, including some not associated with hearing and auditory processing. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, researchers have been able to see music’s effect on the brain in real time. As individuals listen to music, it stimulates activity in the areas of the brain associated with memory, movement, and emotion.

Perhaps this increased brain activity is what led to the popular notion that classical music makes you smarter. It’s hard to quantify the effect of music on intelligence, though. But here’s what we do know:

  • Listening to music can cause the body to release dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters that help regulate mood
  • Music can help reduce anxiety
  • Listening to classical music and jazz can help alleviate down feelings
  • Music can help you feel energized

These health benefits and others have led to the development of music therapy.

Music Therapy Connects Sound and Health

Music affects health in a number of ways, leading health professionals in a number of fields to put the positive effects of music to good use. These practices, used in fields as varied as physical therapy to psychological counseling, are referred to as music therapy.

In short, music therapy refers to the use of music (both listening and playing) by a licensed professional to achieve certain outcomes in a clinical setting. It’s a wide field and, as more discoveries are made, it’s only growing wider.

You might be familiar with music therapy as a form of mental-health treatment, as it often appears in mainstream media and pop culture. And it’s true: music can help individuals manage anxiety, mood, and more. However, you’re likely less familiar with music therapy as a form of physical therapy.

One surprising use case for music therapy is helping stroke patients. If an individual recovering from a stroke has lost their ability to speak, they may be able to sing. As they practice singing, the patients can work to regain some of the motor and cognitive functions required for speech.

A similar approach can be used to help patients with Parkinson’s Disease. In these cases, the rhythmic qualities of music can help some patients with movement.

Making the Most of Sound and Health in Your Life

It’s impossible—or at least incredibly impractical—for most people to avoid noise pollution altogether. So, what’s the next best thing?

Be mindful of the noise in your life.

If you live just off of a busy intersection, you may want to invest in some ear plugs. They could be the difference between a good night’s sleep and hours of tossing and turning. If you work in a noisy environment, definitely protect your hearing. Also try to take time for meditation and other quiet activities to balance out your noise exposure.

But don’t be afraid to throw some headphones on from time to time and listen to old favorites, new tunes, or even some birdsong mixed with classical music. All at a safe volume, of course!

You’re often advised to “stop and smell the roses.” That’s because experiencing and appreciating your surroundings’ sensory inputs—rosy scents, burning sunsets, and soothing sounds—is peaceful and grounding. This mindful approach to life is enhanced by habits that help keep your senses sharp. In other words: learning how to take care of your senses helps your search for serenity.

The sections below will walk you through tips for caring for your senses, one by one. You may learn your healthy habits already form a foundation of care for your five senses that you didn’t realize existed.


The top layer of the dermis and bottom part of your epidermis house sensitive touch receptors. That’s why caring for your skin is essential to supporting your sense of touch. Try to incorporate these five skin-savvy lifestyle habits:

  1. Secure Sun Protection: You can choose sunscreen, long-sleeve shirts, a floppy hat, or a combination of all three. Use whatever works best for you to protect your skin from the searing rays of the sun.
  2. Eat Healthy to Achieve Skin Nutrition: Diet impacts your health from head to toe, inside and out. Opt for healthy, plant-focused meals and snacks to provide the nutritional skincare you need.
  3. Avoid Burn and Injury: You probably don’t need more of a reason than the pain you could experience. But avoiding injury will help maintain your sense of touch.
  4. Stay Active: Moving your body helps so many aspects of your health. And skin is certainly one. A heart-pounding workout does wonders to help your circulation, which is great for your organs—including the skin.
  5. Achieve Healthy Hydration: Drinking plenty of water is essential to maintaining your overall health, as well as supporting healthy skin. So keep sipping throughout the day—your skin will thank you.


A lot goes into building the perfect palate—including understanding the connection between taste and smell. But maintaining the foundation of an optimal, healthy sense of taste starts with just three lifestyle tips:

  1. Dish Up Variety: Trying new cuisines, seeking exotic flavors, and packing your diet with a variety of foods keeps your sense of taste sharp. Making your food pop with a variety of spices can also help you avoid over-salting or excessive sweetening your diet. With interesting, diverse flavors, you won’t hamper your palate with too much salt or sugar.
  2. Watch Your Mouth: Taste is on the tip of your tongue—and all throughout your mouth, too. Maintain solid dental hygiene (yes, that includes flossing) and check in to see what your tongue might be telling you about your health. Going to see your dentist a couple times a year is also helpful.
  3. Don’t Smoke: You know smoking is horrible for your overall health, and it especially wreaks havoc on your sense of taste. Smoke a tasty brisket, but avoid smoking cigarettes.


Your sense of smell is pretty resilient, but healthy habits can also help protect it and the connection it has to taste. Your sense of smell is also helped by maintaining a varied diet and practicing adventurous eating. Smoking is about the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to optimize your sense of smell—especially how it mixes with taste to help you fully experience flavors.


It’s time to open your eyes to five of the best lifestyle additions that will help you care for your sense of sight. And it will come as no surprise that they all revolve around keeping your eyeballs as safe and stress-free as possible.

Take a look:

  1. Eat Eye-Supporting Foods: Large, well-conducted studies have drawn a bright line between certain nutrients and supporting eye health. Your healthy, plant-forward diet will help you acquire many of the most important eye-supporting nutrients.
  2. Shade Up: Sunglasses are really cool. They’re also a fashion statement with an eye-health function. Your eyes, like your skin, need protection from the sun. The best way is to slap on some awesome shades.
  3. Consider Your Screen Time: Some sights strain your eyes more than others. The screens that dominate modern life just happen to be super stressful for our eyes. So limit screen time, or think about some glasses that help block some of the harsh blue light shining from your phone or computer.
  4. Make Friends with Your Eye Doctor: You don’t have to invite him or her over for dinner, but they are very helpful for maintaining your sense of sight. Make sure to keep your yearly optometrist appoints.
  5. Shield Your Eyes from Harm: Everything from fingers to metal fragments can hurt your eyes—and, thus, your vision. When you’re playing sports or working with potentially dangerous materials (like wood chips, screws, or chemicals), wear the proper eye protection. Donning some safety glasses or goggles might make all the difference for the health of your eyes.


You can only beat your eardrums so much before your hearing is impacted. Instead of testing your auditory equipment, stick to a couple of obvious, but helpful, healthy hearing habits.

First, keep the volume down. Avoiding exposure to loud noises is probably the best way to help maintain good hearing. That means you may need to seek the quite comfort of hushed hobbies.

And, if you can’t avoid it, try the second habit: cover your ears. You can still rock out at a concert, work with loud machinery, or enjoy other cacophonous activities as long as you protect your eardrums.

Taste: it’s what makes eating so enjoyable. For all the pleasure taste brings, the mechanisms behind it are underappreciated. Food goes in the mouth, tastes good (or bad), and then it’s swallowed. The apparent simplicity makes taste a process most people take for granted.

Ask any passerby how taste works, and they’ll likely rattle off the basics: taste buds on the tongue pick up sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami flavors. And together these five components create, well, the flavor of food.

All of that is perfectly true, but there’s more to food than meets the tongue.

Think of a wine enthusiast sticking their nose into the glass before taking that first sip. Or a picky eater plugging their nose to make unpleasant foods go down easier. As any sommelier or chef can probably tell you, there’s a connection between taste and smell.

But how—and why—are taste and smell related? They’re simple questions with complicated answers. Fortunately for you, what follows digs into those questions and more. So read on to learn all about the taste-smell connection!

Taste vs. Flavor: An Important Distinction

In most situations, people use taste and flavor interchangeably. “This pasta had a nice taste” or “That pizza has great flavor.” For all intents and purposes, the phrases mean roughly the same thing. Parsing out the complex relationship between taste and smell, however, requires more exact language.

So let’s take a look at terminology. Throughout what follows, taste and flavor will refer to two distinct subjects.

  • Taste refers to the sense—the chemical process in which taste receptors respond to the molecules in food.
  • Flavor, on the other hand, is more abstract. It refers to what might casually be called taste, but is in fact a blend of taste, smell, texture, and more.

In short, taste will be used to describe an individual, isolated sense. Flavor, on the other hand, will describe the overall effect of food on a number of the senses.

What is Taste?

Each sense is a complex subject on its own, never mind putting two together. To avoid biting off more than you can chew, let’s start simple: how does the body translate the food in your mouth into the sensation of taste? Or, to put it a little more simply, how do you taste food?

Taste, also known as gustation, occurs when saliva breaks down and dissolves the food in your mouth enough for the molecules in said food to bind to taste receptors. Your taste receptors are located on the tongue, throat, and roof of the mouth. (Fun fact: Taste receptors are even found in the stomach and intestines, too!)

There are five types of taste receptors, each corresponding to one of the five basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. Contrary to popular belief, specific tastes aren’t restricted to certain parts of the tongue—all five types of taste receptors can be found throughout the mouth.

When a molecule—let’s say a sour one—bonds to the corresponding taste receptor (a sour taste bud), the electrical charge of the receptor cell changes. This electrical impulse is then relayed to a neuron, which sends the information to the brain. And, lo and behold, your mouth puckers up, your eyes squint, and you experience a sour taste.

It seems strange that there are only five distinct tastes. Why five? And, more specifically, why those five? As it turns out, this might be a question for evolutionary biologists.

The Evolving Role of Taste

In the early days of human evolution, taste was a matter of survival. The sense people often take for granted helped early hominids distinguish between nutritious and toxic foods.

And though humans have come a long way since then, many of those evolutionary impulses linger. Have you ever had a craving for a salty bag of kettle-cooked potato chips? What about something sweet? This may be because, on some level, your body still associates those tastes with nutrient-rich foods.

But these days, the five basic tastes are less about survival and more about enjoyment. Most people like to eat—and most people have certain preferences about what they eat. And those preferences, though they might be influenced by evolutionary factors, are based largely on flavor. And this is where smell comes in.

A Brief Overview of Smell

Remember how taste receptors can only register five distinct tastes? Well, the nose knows no such bounds. Scientists haven’t agreed on the exact number of scents humans can distinguish, but the number lies somewhere between 10,000 and 1 trillion. Either way, it’s a whole lot more than five.

But it’s not entirely clear how the body detects so many distinct scents, as there are only a few hundred types of olfactory receptors. (The brain really is miraculous.) These receptors, located in the back of the nose, are actually neurons that go directly to the brain. As molecules float into the nose, they bind to olfactory receptors that send the information to the brain via the olfactory nerve.

That’s enough about the mechanics of smell to provide background for the discussion of the connection between taste and smell. But there is another important distinction to make.

There are actually two types of smell: orthonasal olfaction and retronasal olfaction. Don’t be intimidated by the scientific terms. It’s just a fancy way of distinguishing where the smell entered the nose: orthonasal for the front (through the nostrils), retronasal for the back (through the mouth).

People often forget that the nose and mouth are linked. If you’ve ever laughed while drinking water, one of two things probably happened. You either coughed, sputtered, and spewed water out through your mouth. Or you laughed until the water came out your nose. In retronasal olfaction, molecules take the same route as the water in the aforementioned scenario: into the mouth and then up into the nasal cavity. There, they latch onto olfactory receptors.

This will come into play as you learn more about the connection between taste and smell.

When Taste and Smell Mix: All About Flavor

There’s a good chance you’ve heard that your sense of smell is responsible for a majority of a food’s perceived flavor. People love to throw around statistics, some shockingly high: this person might tell you 75 percent of taste is actually smell; another person claims it’s 90 percent. So which one is correct?

It’s complicated. And, unfortunately, a good way to measure the ratio exactly has yet to be discovered. Here’s what is known.

Smell can impact your perception of flavor in one of two ways: as a constitutive part of that flavor, or as a modulatory force. In the former case, a smell is part of the flavor itself. And in the latter, a smell alters or adjusts your perception of a taste.

One theory suggests that orthonasal olfaction (or smelling through the nostrils) acts as a modulatory force. It primes the pump, so to speak, telling your brain what to expect from your food, thus altering the food’s perceived flavor.

Think again of wine enthusiasts. Why do wine tasters stick their noses deep into each glass before taking the first sip? The practice is, in part, used to identify any imperfections in the wine. But it is also thought to enhance the flavor of wine. As you inhale the aromas of the wine and imagine their sources, you begin to anticipate the flavor. Only then, once the flavor palate of your imagination has been suitably stimulated, do you take a sip.

This process isn’t limited to wine. Pungent cheeses, sautéed onions and garlic, or a steak on the grill can all have the same effect on your nose.

OK—back to wine tasting. Once the wine is in your mouth, your other sense of smell, retronasal olfaction, kicks in. Molecules from the wine float up from your mouth and into the nasal cavity. But, of course, smell isn’t the only sense engaged at that moment. As those molecules are floating up, other compounds stay in the mouth, where they bind to taste receptors.

All of this sensory input is processed by the brain simultaneously. The information from your taste buds and your olfactory receptors blends into one indistinguishable experience. Because these two sensory experiences are so intertwined, retronasal olfaction is considered a key component of flavor.

A Look at the Numbers—Or Lack Thereof—About the Connection Between Taste and Smell

Experiencing a flavor is a difficult sensation to describe. But why? For starters, it’s rooted in experience. To understand the exact flavor you’re tasting, someone would have to eat the same food.

This is partly why it’s so difficult to assign proportions of flavor to smell and taste. Scientists understand both senses from a physiological standpoint. But flavor is, at its heart, a phenomenological (that is, based on direct experience) issue. The blending of both senses creates an experience that is hard to quantify.

If you came looking for numbers, this conclusion might be disappointing. Here’s the good news: you don’t need numbers quantifying the exact connection between taste and smell to enjoy a great meal. If it smells great, tastes great, and has great flavor, who cares what percentage of the work your nose is doing? Just dig in and enjoy some delicious, healthy food with a better understanding of how taste and smell are related.

Exercise changes your body in many ways, some of which you can see in the mirror. The number on the scale may shift a bit and your clothes may start to fit better with each mile (or kilometer) you walk, jog, or swim. These scale and non-scale victories might be how you measure the success of your exercise routine, but have you ever considered the cellular benefits of exercise?

Your cells are the starting point for all the changes that regular exercise can bring. And there are many cellular benefits of exercise that can lead to full-body transformations. Cardiovascular and strength training exercises affect cells throughout your body. From your heart and brain to the white blood cells of your immune system, your cellular health is optimized when you exercise.

Cardio: It’s Not Just for Your Heart

Classic cardiovascular exercises send blood pumping and elevate your heart rate. You might add cardio to your training to build your stamina and endurance. But you’ll be doing more than that. Cardio can be a cellular health exercise, too.

Several cell types respond to cardiovascular exercise (cardiac cells included). Cellular health is supported by the quick, heart-pounding movements of cardio. Check out how cells all over your body respond to this fast-paced form of exercise:

Cardiac Cells

Let’s start with the cells closest to the action of cardio exercise. Cardiac make up your heart tissue. Your heart is essentially a super muscle, with an impressive compression force that pushes blood out to your entire body.

The muscle cells in your heart are highly specialized, and they don’t regenerate nearly as often as the other cells in your body (only about one percent of heart cells renew themselves every year). But there is a way to support cardiac cells and optimize their regeneration—exercise, cardio to be exact.

A 2018 study of mice helped scientists draw a link between cardio exercise and heart cell growth. Mice are frequently used as model organisms for human biology research. Mouse biology is very close to human biology and their genes work in many of the same ways human genes do.

Researchers found that mice with access to a treadmill in their enclosures chose to run approximately five kilometers every day. Their heart health was monitored and the scientists administering the experiment used DNA markers to track the growth of cardiac cells.

The results were spectacular, and favorable for the mice that had access to a treadmill. Mice who exercised made more than four times the number of new cardiac cells than their non-exercising counterparts.

This study helped cement the cellular benefits of exercise for your heart cells. So, if you have access to a treadmill (or a pair of running shoes and the open road) try putting in a few miles (or kilometers) the next time you want to focus on cellular health exercise.

Brain Cells

Anecdotally, many people believe you can train your brain like any other muscle in your body. It’s not a completely accurate statement since there are no muscle fibers in your brain. But if the goal of brain training is to strengthen the connections between neurons and build new neural networks, then exercise can definitely help whip your brain cells into shape.

Neurons, like muscle cells, can change as you exercise. Increased blood flow to the brain during exercise creates an oxygen-rich environment that your neurons thrive in. Extra oxygen and the release of neurotransmitters during exercise foster the growth of brain cells and the development of new neural pathways. You need these new neuronal connections to keep your brain “flexible” and to support your ability to learn new skills and make memories.

So, in a way, cardio exercises actually work out your brain, too. Movements that ramp up your heart rate are simultaneously stimulating your brain cells to grow and create new connections. Brain cells respond to heart-pumping exercise much like your large muscle groups respond to strength training—they grow!

Immune Cells

If you’re looking to mobilize the cells of your immune system, try to crank out a sweat session a couple times per week. Your white blood cells (WBCs) respond to exercise by increasing their circulation in the bloodstream. More WBCs in circulation means your immune system is primed and ready to take on germs that dare make an appearance.

The effects of exercise on immunity are well documented. You temporarily initiate your body’s immune response when you exercise. This allows your body to keep joint aches and soreness to a minimum after you work out.

With regular exercise you’ll experience a slight uptick in the number of WBCs that enter your bloodstream and stay in circulation. As a result, people who exercise regularly have been shown to experience fewer seasonal bugs and colds.

This phenomenon occurs only when regular, moderate exercise is performed. Consistent days of high-intensity exercise can trigger the opposite response from immune cells. “Overtraining syndrome” is the decline in immune performance that some ultra-marathoners and triathletes experience during training. Long periods of high-intensity exercises can put your body in a constant state of stress, actually hampering your immunity.

To hit the sweet spot of immune cell support, exercise moderately and consistently. A good way to identify what moderate exercise means for you is to gauge your breathing effort during your workouts. Try to aim for 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (you can calculate your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 beats per minute). That’ll keep you in the zone for cellular health and help you stay out of range of potentially damaging exercise intensity.

Telomeres (All Cells)

Cardiovascular movement influences the health of cells more generally, too. That’s the case when it comes to the telomeres that cap the ends of each cells’ chromosomes.

Chromosomes store all the DNA cells need to replicate (make copies of themselves). These chromosomes are used over and over again for multiple replication cycles. Telomeres are repeating segments of DNA that reside at the ends of each chromosome. These telomeres act as buffers to protect the chromosome from incorrect DNA replication.

Over time, telomeres start to shrink as more copies of each chromosome are made. Shortened telomeres lead to cellular aging and eventual death. So, it’s important to preserve the length of telomeres for as long as possible.

That’s where cardiovascular exercise comes into play. Regular cardio can slow the shortening of telomeres and moderate cellular aging. This is because cardiovascular exercise can affect the level of telomere-preserving enzymes in the cell.

The enzyme that protects telomeres from shortening is called telomerase. Exercise has been shown to elevate the amount of telomerase present in cells. And more available telomerase means telomeres are safeguarded from premature shortening.

Telomeres are at the center of the study of aging. While their role in general health and old age is not clear, one thing is certain. Exercise is great for keeping telomere caps from shrinking too soon and can positively affect the health of each of your cells.

More Cellular Health Exercises—Strength Training

Jogging through the neighborhood or riding a stationary bike exercise your cardiovascular system. But another method of exercise involves slower, more concentrated movements. It’s called strength training. Your heart rate won’t climb as high with strength training, but this form of exercise provides many benefits to your muscle cells.

Muscle Cells

Strength training in a gym setting often focuses on entire muscle groups, but the real effect of resistance exercises on muscles can be found at the cellular level. The cellular benefits of exercise for muscle cells begin rather uniquely. Injury to muscle cells during strength training is the launching point for these cellular benefits.

The cells that make up your larger muscle groups are injured (ever so slightly) when you strength train. Resistance exercises—like planks, push-ups, and squats—all create microscopic injuries to individual muscle cells. To repair themselves, muscle cells need to recruit the help of neighboring satellite cells.

Muscle fibers are surrounded by cells waiting to be called up to active duty when muscles are injured. These satellite cells fuse with injured muscle fibers and donate their organelles to help strengthen the muscle cell. Organelles from satellite cells—like mitochondria and nuclei—are valuable additions to muscle fibers. These organelles allow muscle cells to produce more energy and force during contraction.

Without exercise to trigger these micro-injuries, your muscles would never grow and strengthen in this way. Strength training is an important component of any exercise routine because it plays such a critical role in the health and growth of muscle cells.

Reap the Cellular Benefits of Exercise

Noticeable changes in your body and overall health are the reward of exercising regularly. And below the surface of it all, your cells thrive when you exercise. Think of the trillions of cells that make up your body when you are prepping for your next workout.

Shifting the focus of your workouts to the cellular level can help you appreciate how important your efforts are to even the smallest components of your body. Keep up the cardio and add in strength training so every cell in your body can experience the cellular benefits of exercise.

A lot of the information you find on weight management carries the same scientific heft as the blank pages you’d waste printing it out. The Internet wasn’t where weight myths started, though—not by a long shot. But weight-related misconceptions flourish in the fertile ground of today’s online ecosystem.

Physical and lifestyle realities make modern-day weight-management efforts hard enough. Add in the mountain of weight misinformation burying people’s best efforts, and you have a Herculean task.

But you can manage your weight to live a healthy, happy life. It starts with knowing fact from fiction. Clearing up six of the most pervasive weight myths is a good start. Read on to see which weight-related misconceptions you can toss aside to lighten the load of advice for staying healthy.

The Scale Says It All—Body Weight is Key to Your Health

It’s correct to connect higher-than-normal body weight with a broad range of undesirable health impacts. This is especially true when the added heft comes from accumulated body fat.

And body composition is certainly an element to consider when stepping on the scale. You’ve heard that muscle weights more than fat, which is true. Same goes for bone and water, too. So, that number on the scale doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.

Weight alone is a consideration, but your body composition is an important factor in evaluating what that scale number means for your health. Instead of buying this weight myth, put context around the measurements you’re doing. Also know that your body weight is only one piece of a big, complex health puzzle.

BMI is an Essential, Accurate Measurement

Body Mass Index (BMI) is somewhat useful in evaluating where you fall on the spectrum of healthy, overweight, and obese. But calling it a standard-bearing measurement, without realizing BMI’s shortcomings, spins this statement into a popular weight-related misconception. And one that can create unnecessary negative pressure on many people.

The simplicity of BMI—putting your height and weight into an equation that reveals your number—makes it a one-size-fits-all approach. Unfortunately, weight is an issue that’s highly personalized and incredibly variable. Here are two ways BMI’s oversimplification make its elevated importance a weight myth:

  1. Body composition isn’t considered. How much fat you have compared to muscle, bone, and water is—as you read about with the last weight-related misconception—essential context when discussing weight.
  2. The approach sidelines important demographic information like sex, race, ethnicity, and age.

Waist measurements (especially when related to height) are better, more accurate indicators of health risks related to body weight. It’s time you move on from relying solely on BMI—an outdated and inaccurate measurement—to make health decisions.

High Body Weight Signals Inactivity and Lack of Athletic Ability

This weight-related misconception is a common and painful bias that springs from bad information. Since many looking to lose weight turn to exercise, there’s a harmful conflation of physical activity and body weight.

As weight myths go, this one is particularly hurtful for those stereotyped by the way their bodies look. Just because someone looks to be carrying around a few extra pounds doesn’t mean they’re lazy or lack athletic ability.

How do you fight this weight-related misconception? Remember the most important statement: Bodies of all shapes and sizes can be—and frequently are—healthy.

Exercise Saves You from Bad Dietary Decisions

You may have read about the distance you need to run to burn off a big meal. They’re shocking numbers that underline why diet and exercise are talked about in combination.

Your bad dietary decisions will follow you to the gym—and likely long after. You can burn the calories you take in if you have the time to do it. However, this idea is best considered a weight myth because it’s not possible for almost anyone to balance out a bad diet with enormous amounts of exercise.

The truth is a successful weight-management plan needs to include a healthy diet AND consistent body movement.

Skinny Always Means Healthy and Being Thin is Ideal

Thin is always in when it comes fashion or pop culture. But a skinny body signaling ideal health is a major weight myth.

Staying fit and maintaining a healthy weight are beneficial to your health—as you’ve read so many times. But fretting over clothing sizes and wanting a thin image reflected in the mirror aren’t as important. Actually, a skinny silhouette can hide a bevy of issues, including the accumulation of harmful visceral fat.

This is one of the most damaging weight-related misconceptions. That’s because the unreal, unhealthy expectations set by “thin is ideal” images are—despite body-positive progress—still too prevalent.

Some body types don’t allow for anyone to meet these false ideals—no matter how hard a person tries. And the quest to look skinny is frequently very harmful for the physical and mental health of children and adults alike.

Instead, focus on what feels right for your body and your health goals. Eat healthy. Move your body. Sleep plenty. And always keep in mind that bodies are healthy and attractive in different sizes and shapes that may not match pop culture’s obsession with skinny.

Eating Fat Makes You Gain Fat Tissue

If you understand anything about how digestion breaks down dietary nutrients, you know this is an easily debunked weight myth.

Your digestive system does too much work, and your food goes through too much transformation, for the dietary fat you eat to turn straight into fat tissue. Sure, your body can store energy that was originally fat in adipose tissue (a fancy term for fat). But there’s no guarantee fat in means fat stored.

Skipping fried foods or fat-rich, nutrient-poor dishes are good ideas. But it’s worse to avoid eating fat at all—especially beneficial, plant-based options. Loading up on a balanced diet with plenty of plants is more effective for health and weight management.

Don’t Let Weight Myths Determine Your Health Journey

There’s always new, attention-grabbing content waiting when you want to read about weight. That doesn’t mean you have to buy into the weight-related misconceptions out there.

The basics of foundational health—a balanced diet, active living, minimal stress, solid hydration, and good sleep—are typically also beneficial for managing your weight. Everything else that offers a one-size-fits-all solution should raise a red flag about the advice or information possibly pushing a weight myth.

Avoid tripping yourself up with weight-related misconceptions by focusing on the basics and remembering that all bodies can be healthy, happy bodies.

Growing older is a natural phase of life. It follows then that as you age, your cells age, too. And in fact, cellular aging is a simple fact of biology, but one that needn’t be shrouded in mystery.

Cellular aging mechanisms are in place from the day you are born. As cells divide, multiply, and perform their designated functions, they age. And as they age, your body has in place remarkable ways to take care of aging cells and replenish them with new ones.

So, what causes cell aging anyway? Here are some of the most common triggers of cell aging:

  • DNA damage
  • Oxidative stress (from internal and external sources)
  • Decline in autophagy

It’s important to remember that your aging body and older cells aren’t something to shy away from. You aren’t only getting older; your body is signaling to the world what a wonderful life you have lived.

And as for your cells—aging is just another period in their much more microscopic lifecycle. Show your older cells some deference and learn more about their unique aging process.

Cellular Aging—Definitions and Mechanisms

In scientific literature, aging is referred to as senescence. Cellular senescence, specifically, is the process of cellular aging. A senescent cell is generally larger than its non-senescent counterparts. Senescent cells no longer divide in an effort to protect themselves and the tissue surrounding them from inaccurate or harmful replication errors. The process by which a replicating cell transforms into a non-dividing senescent cell takes about six weeks to complete.

DNA replication is at the heart of cellular senescence. In order to maintain healthy, functional tissues and organs, the cells involved need to replicate without error. Your body has natural triggers in place to manage when older cells become senescent and no longer replicate. Aging triggers come from within the senescent cell and the environment around them.

You already read about the three common causes of cell aging, now it’s time to dive deeper into each one.

DNA Damage

New cells don’t need to worry too much about damage to their DNA. The chromosomes that store all your unique genetic information are capped with sections of repeating genetic code that signifies the end of a chromosome. These chromosome caps are called telomeres and they help maintain reliabil and accuracy during DNA replication.

But with each cycle of replication—every time a cell divides, and as the cell ages—a small percentage of the genetic code is lost, and the telomere caps shorten. As the cell ages and telomeres shorten, the cell is more likely to experience damage to its DNA or incorrect replication.

To preserve the integrity of your genetic code the telomeres at the ends of each chromosome signal when it’s time for the cell to stop replicating. Without the telomere caps, gene transcription and cell division would continue indefinitely—leading to a potentially dangerous accumulation of poorly made cells. Your cells rely on telomeres to know when it’s time to retire.

Oxidative Stress

This is another event that triggers cell aging. And oxidative stress can also halt cell replication. Reactive oxygen species in the cell’s environment are fodder for DNA replication mishaps. They can lead to mutations in cell’s genetic code that may affect the function and health of the cell over time.

When reactive oxygen species are detected in the cell’s environment, replication stops in order to preserve the integrity of the cell’s DNA. Aging cells that stop replicating in the presence of reactive oxygen species are protecting your body from incorrect cell proliferation and mistakes in gene transcription.

Decline in Autophagy

Kudos to you if you can recall the definition of this scientific term. Autophagy literally means “self-eat.” And this simple phrase perfectly describes how autophagy is used by cells. As cells age, their organelles (cell parts) and cellular equipment begin to fail. Waste can build up, and it needs to be cleared away. Autophagy is the cell’s way of destroying used and broken parts through a process of self-digestion.

Specialized organelles inside your cells collect damaged cellular material and break it down. These organelles are called lysosomes. They are full of digestive enzymes that eliminate the junk that can build up in your cells.

A cell’s ability to perform autophagy dwindles with age, creating a struggle to clean house when broken-down organelles and waste pile up. This can lead to an accumulation of proteins within the aging cell and may trigger problems with DNA replication down the line.

When a cell can no longer manage the buildup of waste within its cell membrane, it stops dividing and triggers senescence.

Apoptosis vs Cellular Senescence

If you research cell aging long enough, you’ll likely come across a phenomenon called apoptosis. This cellular process is easily confused with senescence, so let’s clear the air on the circumstances that lead to each.

Like you’ve read above, cellular senescence is the end of cell division for the aging cell. A senescent cell continues to perform its original function, but it no longer replicates—to avoid mistakes in genetic transcription. Aging cells aren’t dead cells, but they are less productive and efficient than younger, replicating cells.

Apoptosis is essentially programmed cell death. Sometimes during DNA replication, a cell can stray far from its prescribed course. Uncontrollable replication can lead to abnormal cell growth, a potentially harmful buildup of poorly manufactured cell copies. To stop this overgrowth dead in its tracks, cells have a special self-destruct protocol they can follow.

Older cells are more likely to apoptose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all senescent cells are headed for immediate self-destruction. When apoptosis is triggered, the cell releases proteins that neatly pack up all the inner workings of the cell and cause it to lyse (pop). Apoptosis isn’t messy, and cells undergoing apoptosis don’t harm their neighboring healthy cells.

In summary, cellular senescence stops cell division and apoptosis occurs when an aging cell can’t stop dividing. Hopefully this interlude clears up some of the confusion surrounding the topic of cell aging.

Healthy Living and Cellular Aging

Aging cells are a fact of life. As your cells age, your body replaces them with young, high-performing cells to take over when older cells retire. No matter the stage of your life or your cell’s lifecycle, you can promote cellular and whole-body wellness with healthy living.

Cellular senescence is unavoidable, but you can protect healthy cells from entering retirement too early. Some activities can shorten telomeres and trigger premature cell aging. Do your best to avoid these:

These habits have been shown to elevate oxidative stress from reactive oxygen species—especially tanning and sunburn. And as you know, reactive oxygen species are one of the triggers of cellular senescence.

One way to protect your cells and support them as they age is by maintaining good cellular health habits. You know how much healthy habits help you feel your best. There are lifestyle and diet choices that can optimize cellular your health, too. Take a minute to review four key habits and learn how to keep your cells healthy.

And remember, aging bodies and aging cells are natural. This latter period of life is meant to be enjoyed. So celebrate aging bodies and aging cells with gratitude and respect for all they’ve accomplished. Pay respect to your body as you and your cells age by avoiding the triggers of cellular aging and supporting healthy cells with a diet rich in antioxidants and other cell-supporting habits.