It's common to resolve to lose weight, but any sane person dreads a diet's dulling effect on the brain.
In fact, many studies have shown that counting calories, carbs or fat grams, is truly distracting - to the point that it taxes short-term memory. But how we eat can affect our minds at more fundamental levels, too.
Here are five things you should know about feeding your brain:
1. Fuel it up
The brain, which accounts for 2 percent of our body weight, sucks down roughly 20 percent of our daily calories. A picky eater, it demands a constant supply of glucose - primarily obtained from recently eaten carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, grains etc.). Only in extreme instances of deprivation will the brain use other substances for fuel.
More recently evolved areas of the brain, such as the frontal cortex (it's like the CEO of the brain), are particularly sensitive to falling glucose levels, while brain areas regulating vital functions are more hardy, said Leigh Gibson of Roehampton University in England. "When your glucose level drops, the symptom is confused thinking, not a change in breathing pattern," he said.
Another year, another batch of resolutions: eat right, exercise more, pay bills on time etc. All good in theory, but potentially dull in practice.
In 2009, then, resolve to have better sex. According to a recent review article in the Dec. 3 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, sexually unsatisfied women who practiced the Eastern techniques of mindfulness and yoga reported improvements in levels of arousal and desire, as well as better orgasms. In addition, yoga has been found to effectively treat premature ejaculation in men.
Eastern practices have been touted as sexually beneficial for years - as the article states, the techniques have "their origin in the Kama Sutra of the fourth to sixth centuries."
Whatever you resolve to do differently in 2009, vow also to develop a strategy to make it happen. Otherwise, expect failure. So says John O'Neill, director of Addiction Services for The Menninger Clinic in Houston.
Whether it's to eat better, exercise more or stop smoking, O'Neill offers this advice: Before you commit to your New Year's resolution, take a look at what is motivating you to change.
"Do you really want to make the change? We often resolve to change something that we truly have no intention of changing," says O'Neill. "This can serve to be counterproductive and provide us a sense of failure. It is important to consider what we need to do to change and evaluate how we will do it."
He offers five tips to help you keep your resolution:
1. When we resolve to change, it needs to come with a strategy to change. Simply saying you want to do something does not fuel the change. Consider the strategy and outline the process of change that is simple and realistic.
From sneers to full-blown smiles, our facial expressions are hardwired into our genes, suggests a new study.
The researchers compared the facial expressions from more than 4,800 photographs of sighted and blind judo athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.
The analyses showed sighted and blind individuals modified their expressions of emotion in the same way in accordance with the social context. For example, in the Paralympics, the athletes competed in a series of elimination rounds so that the final round of two athletes ended in the winner taking home a gold medal while the loser got a silver medal.
The blind silver medalists who lost their final matches tended to produce "social smiles" during the medal ceremonies. Social smiles use only the mouth muscles. True smiles, known as Duchenne smiles, cause the eyes to twinkle and narrow and the cheeks to rise.
The researchers say sighted athletes who lost their final rounds also showed social smiles.
A bombardment of tropical cyclones and the earthquake that struck China in May made 2008 one of the most devastating in terms of human and financial losses, with more than 220,000 dead and $200 billion in damages, according to one of the world's top reinsurers.
Although this year saw fewer natural disasters than 2007, the acute devastation of individual events pushed 2008 to No. 3 in the rankings of most expensive disaster years on record, according to a report by Munich Re Group.
This year sits behind only 2005 ($232 billion), with its record number of Atlantic hurricanes, including the devastating Hurricane Katrina, and 1995, the year of the earthquake in Kobe, Japan. (Munich Re's figures are adjusted for inflation.)
The year with the most deaths due to natural disasters between 1991 and 2005 was 2004, the year that the tsunami struck Southeast Asia, according to United Nations statistics. The tsunami killed more than 225,000 people.