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Physical actions that improve psychological health

6 arunbharatula 23 May 2017 04:33AM

Physical health impacts well-being. However, existing preventative health guidelines are inaccessible to the public because they are highly technical and require specific medical equipment. These notes are not medical advice nor meant to treat any illness. This is a compilation of findings I have come across at one time or another in relation to physical things that relate back to psychological health. I have not systematically reviewed the literature on any of these topics, nor am I an expert nor even familiar with any of them. I am extremely uncertain about the whole thing. But, I figure better to write this up and look stupid than keep it inside and act stupid. The hyperlinks point to the best evidence I could find on the matter. I write to solicit feedback, corrections and advice.


Microwaves are safe, but cockroaches and even ants are dangerous, and finally: happiness is dietary. If you want the well-being boosts associated with fruit (careful about fruit juice sugar though!), coffee’s aroma [text] [science news], vanilla yoghurt [news], Sufficient B vitamins and choline (alt), binge drinking or drinking in general, however, I don’t have any easy answers for you. Don’t worry about the smart drugs, nootropics are probably a misnomer. On the other hand, probiotics can treat depression


“There is growing evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is related to greater happiness, life satisfaction, and positive mood as well. This evidence cannot be entirely explained by demographic or health variables including socio-economic status, exercise, smoking, and body mass index, suggesting a causal link.[50] Further studies have found that fruit and vegetable consumption predicted improvements in positive mood the next day, not vice versa. On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier, and more energetic than normal, and they also felt more positive the next day.”

- Wikipedia


If your diet is out of control: Mental contrasting is useful for diabetes self-management, dieting etc. Tangent: During a seminar I attended in Geneva, The World Health Organisation chief dietary authority said that suggesting dietary patterns (e.g. the Mediterranean diet) rather than individual nutrient intake (protein, creatine, carbs) is preferable. But I have yet to identify substantiating evidence. The broad consensus among lay skeptical scrutineers of the field of nutrition is that most truths, even those broadly accepted ones, are still unclear. However, I have yet to analyse the literature myself.


Exercise and sport are good for subject well-being, quality of life, depression, anxiety, stress and more. Plus, they are fun. You may not enjoy pleasant, wellbeing related activities. Do those activities anyway. I seldom enjoy correcting my posture. I tend to slouch and I have been specifically advised by specialised physiotherapist to correct for that. But, slouching typically doesn’t cause pain - posture correction is pseudoscience! So is many interventions related to posture correction, like standing desks. On the other hand, I love to get massages - but their benefits are short lived - so get them regularly!


I particularly enjoy them after resistance training or 1 minute workouts (high intensity interval training). Be careful about stretching, passive stretching can cause injury, unlike active stretching: 'Passive stretching is when you use an outside force other than your own muscle to move a joint or limb beyond its active range of motion, to put your body into a position that you couldn’t do by yourself (such as when you lean into a wall, or have a partner push you into a deeper stretch). Unfortunately, this is the most common form of stretching used.'


However, if you aim to bodybuild, protein supplementation is pseudoscientific broscience. And ‘form’, well, there’s broscience - like squat with your knees outwards but probably lots of credible safety related information one ought to head. For weight loss, if you want a real cheat sheet - weight loss aspirants can get it for a couple of hundred dollar SNP sequencing kit. But, I would be cautious about gene sequence driven health prescription, some services running that business rely on weak evidence. There are other ‘fad’ fitness ideas that are not grounded in science. For instance: 20 second of foam rolling (just as effective as 60 seconds) enhance flexibility (...for no longer than 10 minutes, unless it is done regularly - than it improves long term flexibility) but it is unclear whether they improve athletic performance or post-performance recovery.


Stretching for runners, but no other kinds of sports prevents injuries and increase range of motion [wikipedia]. Shoe inserts don’t work reliably either [Wikipedia]. Martial arts therapy is a thing. Physical exercise is good for you. Tai chi, qigong, and meditation (other than mindfulness) such as transcendental meditation are ineffective in treating depression and anxiety. If you are injured, try rehabilitation exercises. Exercise or performance enhancing drugs are both cognitive enhancers. Exercise for chronic lower back pain is a good idea.


Environment: Avoid outdoor air pollution near residences due to dementia/other-health risks. And, avoid chimney smoke fireplaces.


Anecdotally, hygiene improves self-esteem and well-being. Wipe with wet wipes if you wipe hard enough to cause blood to form, cover the toilet seat with toilet paper or don’t - it doesn’t matter safety wise unless the contaminant is <~1hr old, shower with soap, remove eye mucus, remove earwax (but not the way you think, likely), brush twice a day - with the correct technique, replacing your toothbrush every few months and softly. 'Don't rinse with water straight after toothbrushing'. Floss once a day (with a different piece of floss each flossing session) but do not brush immediately after drinking acidic substances. The effectiveness of Tooth Mousse is questionable. Visit the dentist for a check-up every now and then - I’d say about every year at least (does anyone know how to format this sentence consistent with the rest of the text - it doesn't appear to be a font size or type issue).


Consider sleeping with a face mask and earplugs for better sleep,  blow your nose, clean under your nails and trim them. Eye examinations should be conducted every 2-4 years for those under 40, and up to every 6 months for those 65+. There are health concerns around memory foam pillows/mattresses so latex pillows may be preferable for those who prefer a sturdier option than traditional pillows/mattresses Anecdotally, setting alarms to remind you to do things is a simple way to manage your time not just for waking up. Light therapy is also helpful in treating delayed sleep phase disorder (being a night owl!). Oh, and don’t bother loading the dishwasher with pre washed dishes (as long as you clean the filter regularly).


There are misconceptions around complementary therapies. The Australian Government reviewed the effective of The Alexander technique, homeopathy, aromatherapy, bowen therapy, buteyko, Feldenkrais, herbalism, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, massage therapy, pilates, reflexology, rolfing shiatsu, tai chi, yoga. Only for (Alexander technique, Buteyko, massage therapy (esp. Remedial massage?), tai chi and yoga was there credible (albeit low to moderate quality) evidence that they are useful for certain health conditions.


Stressed out reading all this? Pressing on your eyelids gently to temporarily forgo a headache can work. Traumatically stressed out? Video games can treat PTSD. Animal assisted therapy, like service dogs and therapeutic animals are also wonderful.

Thank you!

[Link] 2015 modafinil user survey

9 gwern 26 September 2015 05:28PM

I am running, in collaboration with ModafinilCat, a survey of modafinil users asking about their experiences, side-effects, sourcing, efficacy, and demographics:

This is something of a followup to the LW surveys which find substantial modafinil use, and Yvain's 2014 nootropics survey. I hope the results will be useful; the legal questions should help reduce uncertainty there, and the genetics questions (assuming any responses) may be interesting too.

How does long-term use of caffeine affect productivity?

12 quartz 11 April 2012 11:09PM

I am trying to figure out whether caffeine helps productivity in the long run. Looking back 10 years from now, how much more/less productive will I have been if I were to drink coffee every day, or every second day?

Reviewing what has been written on the topic by our community so far:

  • Justin summarizes effects of caffeine: impairment of long-term memory, narrowed focus, increased short-term memory and recall, increased attentional control, increased memory retention and retrieval. From this, he tentatively concludes in favor of use for tasks that benefit from these effects. However, does this conclusion still hold for regular use? We need to take into account reduced stimulation due to increase in tolerance and potentially impairment during withdrawal.
  • In a comment on Justin's article, simplyeric writes: "There are studies (that I read years ago, and have no link to) that show that consistency is better... that consistent low-level caffeine drinkers are more alert than their non-caffeine colleagues, but less jittery than high-caffeine people (optimum seemed to be 2-3 cups per day)." This is the kind of evidence I am interested in. Does anyone recall such studies?
  • Gwern's review of nootropics lists a number of potential negative effects, including effects on memory, performance (in high doses), sleep, and mood. In justifying its use despite these effects, he states that "[his] problems tend to be more about akrasia and energy and not getting things done, so even if a stimulant comes with a little cost to long-term memory, it's still useful for [him]". Is there conclusive evidence that in the long run, caffeine increases energy and helps with akrasia?
  • Skatche's review of psychoactive drugs presents anecdotal evidence in favor: "Taken on a fairly regular daily schedule, caffeine seems to improve my attention, motivation and energy level." To what extent do such anecdotes reflect true improvement? If regular use of caffeine were to result in decreased baseline performance and if the effect of caffeine were limited to restoring baseline, this could feel similar from the inside.
Edit: Studies pointed out by siodine suggest that caffeine has few or no beneficial long-term effects:
If caffeine was consumed, the adverse effects of lowered alertness and headache were avoided, but even after 100+150 mg of caffeine their alertness was not raised above the level of alertness showed by nonconsumers of caffeine (group N) who received placebo (Figure 1, middle panel). This result is similar to that from an early study comparing responses to caffeine of coffee drinkers and abstainers (Goldstein et al, 1969), and is consistent with the claim, supported by a variety of subsequent findings, that regular caffeine consumption provides little or no net benefit for alertness or performance on tests of vigilance (James and Rogers, 2005; Sigmon et al, 2009).
The study also demonstrated robust acute effects of caffeine unconfounded by caffeine withdrawal, but no evidence for net beneficial effects of daily caffeine administration.
Overall, there is little evidence of caffeine having beneficial effects on performance or mood under conditions of long-term caffeine use vs abstinence. Although modest acute effects may occur following initial use, tolerance to these effects appears to develop in the context of habitual use of the drug.

Recent updates to gwern.net (2011)

33 gwern 26 November 2011 01:58AM

A list of things I have written or researched in 2011 which I put on my personal site.

This has been split out to http://www.gwern.net/Changelog

Simple embodied cognition hacks

46 curiousepic 23 March 2011 01:24PM

I've known that the mind can be affected by the body's actions, but I often forget this when sitting at my computer chair for long stretches, and when standing and interacting in social situations I've subconciously cultivated a passive, non-confrontational but minimally interactive posture.  But simple physical actions can act as a mild nootropic for certain situations.

Article with citations: 10 Simple Postures that Boost Performance

Article summary:

1. Take a powerful pose to feel powerful

2. Tense muscles for willpower

3. Cross arms for persistence

4. Lie down for insight

5. Nap for cognitive performance, vigour and wakefulness

6. Hand gestures for persuasion

7. Gesture to self for comprehension and memory

8. Smile for happiness

9. Mimic to empathize

10. Imitate for comprehension and prediction

Limitless, a Nootropics-Centered Movie

7 atucker 15 March 2011 01:58AM

Limitless is a movie coming out this Friday which includes nootropics as a major plot device. I think that the way they are portrayed in the movie, and the subsequent media discussion (if any) about nootropics would be of interest here, even if the movie isn't.

From what I can tell, the movie is about a guy who uses a drug to improve his mental capabilities, uses those to radically alter his life, who is then targeted because its just that genre of movie.

Just a heads up, if anyone is interested.