Montserrat seminar: Health Enhancing Behaviors

Professor: John Axelson, psychology department

Description: A continuation of the seminar, “Mind, Body and Health,” in the Living Well sequence of The Natural World cluster, this spring ’09 semester course examined  how lifestyle can enhance health.

Themes: Nutrition basics; learning about the process of change through the integration of exercise into students’ daily lives, with help from coaches Eric Bailey and Jeff Oliver of Holy Cross; study of the Buddhist meditation practice of “mindfulness” and stress reduction; and exploration of the effect of lifestyle on the development and treatment of depression

Sample texts: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., Changing for Good, by James O. Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo DiClemente, Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power, by Kelly Lambert

Guest speakers: UMass Medical School nutritionist Victoria Andersen, and James Carmody, director of research for the medical school’s Stress Reduction Program

Class topic the day HCM visited: Talk by James Carmody on the effect of mind-body processes on well-being and disease progression, and the steps involved in the practice of mindfulness meditation

Requirements: Class participation, quizzes, portfolio/notebook entries, term paper, two examinations and a presentation

Professor quote: “Since this is a Montserrat seminar, I have worked with the same students for the entire year,” says Professor Axelson. “Mentoring takes time. It has been rewarding to see the students grow and mature during their first year in college.”

Professor bio: Joining the College faculty in 1982, Axelson received his Ph.D. from Tulane University in 1980; his specialties include neuroendocrinology, hormones and behavior, neuroanatomy, and health and medicine.

Student quote: “Discussing the mind-body connection has changed my outlook not only on maintaining health and wellness, but also on the capabilities of the body,” says Rachel Salemme ’12 of Chicago. “It seems that activities in the mind can alter brain chemistry in ways that can incur both very positive and very negative physical responses, but that positive thought processes can keep the body healthy and can make the body more capable of feats it may not otherwise be able to do.”

By Pam Reponen