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Good night: While daytime stress makes us age faster, sleep ensures that we become a little younger and healthier again overnight.
Professor Moser, you are head of the Human Research Institute for Health Technology and Prevention Research. What exactly are your studies about?
We are researching methods that allow us to quantify health and not just treat illness with medication. Stress-related illnesses and exhaustion have become more widespread in recent years. Time stress is a particularly important component: everything should be made faster, more efficient and cheaper. At the same time, it is a human need to complete work in peace, to make decisions carefully and to reflect on what one has achieved. If this time is not granted, it is the basis for burn-out – burn-out due to work that is perceived as meaningless and a life without prospects.
Is this the same for everyone? Presumably everyone needs this rhythm of work and reflection, of activity and relaxation?
Rhythm is a primordial phenomenon of life. Today, we are discovering that humans have a fascinating body of time made up of biological rhythms. This is just as scientifically observable in chronobiology as the physical body in anatomy or histology. Our time organism encompasses practically all physiological functions: the hormonal system, body temperature, the immune system and, of course, nerve activity during sleep and waking. The different rhythms interact like the tendons and muscles of our physical body.
What are these inner rhythms good for?
Like agonists and antagonists, they work together meaningfully and against each other. This can be made visible by means of the so-called ‘ChronoCardiogram,’ a method by which we visualise the flexibility of the heart’s rhythm over 24 hours. This creates a rich picture of the rhythms of the body. Essentially, these are: the rhythm of breathing, blood pressure and peripheral blood circulation, but of course also the daily rhythm.
What can be seen from these rhythms?
The rapid rhythms of breathing go hand in hand with regeneration processes, the blood pressure rhythm comes to the fore with concentrated tension, and emotions are accompanied by circulatory rhythms. The respective rhythms are activated when a corresponding mental movement is present. These time images of the human organism have proven to be excellent for advising people in stressful situations and helping them to put their time organism in order and to have more time for themselves.
This sounds like a sophisticated system in which all the wheels work perfectly together. But what happens if your body clock gets out of sync?
The human time organism plays a very important role in health and well-being. Disorders of the temporal organism occur long before organic damage and their early detection makes it possible to counteract and take preventive action at the onset of illnesses. Simply put, observing the time organism helps to build and strengthen health even before disease breaks out.
Does this mean that the evaluation of biological rhythms can help prevent disease?
We have already been able to demonstrate this with scientific support. The cutting-edge medicine of the future, prevention, will be dedicated to the study of biological rhythms. The fact that the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to the discipline of chronobiology in 2017 is an indication that people are already thinking in this direction.
And if the rhythmic balance is lost, can it be restored, for example with the help of therapies?
We have carried out numerous health promotion projects, including artistic therapies such as speech formation and healing eurythmy. This enabled us to reduce by 30 percent the number of accidents for thousands of construction workers on almost 100 construction sites in Austria, even one year after the ‘therapy’. In hospitals, stress was significantly reduced, the morning heart rate of employees was lowered and vagus activity, which protects against inflammation (silent inflammation), was increased. Simpler interventions are the rhythmic organisation of the day of work and leisure with short breaks every two hours, including during work, regular meals, and regular and adequate sleep.
Prof Dr Maximilian Moser is head of the Human Research Institute for Health Technology and Prevention Research and has taught physiology at the Medical University of Graz.
Beyond targeted therapies: can we do something for our health at our own pace, as part of our normal daily lives?
In medicine, we are currently only at the beginning of research into the human time organism. But one thing we can say for sure: rhythm is obviously closely linked to life processes. And we know today that the vibration of the heartbeat in the rhythm of breathing, blood pressure and circulatory rhythms is closely related to the activity of the beings’ limbs. While the stress of the day causes us to age quickly, sleep makes us feel a little younger and healthier overnight. So it’s a good reason to go to bed calmly every night.
Detailed information on rhythms and their role in maintaining and regaining health can be found in Maximilian Moser’s book „Vom richtigen Umgang mit der Zeit“.
TEXT: Nadja Reibel