Sedentary Lifestyles and the Brain


We all know that regular physical exercise is important for our health, but most of the time, the importance of this isn’t taken very seriously – in many cases we simply don’t have the motivation to be physically active (not counting the desire to lose weight or gain muscle, as these are well known and have been extensively covered). However, here I present another reason to stay physically healthy: it’s good for your brain.

A study done in Finland confirmed that aerobic activity stimulates the birth of new neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus of adults which, consequently, increases the volume of the brain. Unfortunately the flipside is also true – being out of shape in your middle aged years can lead to shrinking of the brain as you get older.

A study done at Boston University arrived at the same results as the Finnish study. The American study lasted for two decades, with 1,583 participants, each around 40 years old. At the start of the experiment, the participants ran on a treadmill that measured each of their physical capabilities. Two decades later, these participants returned to carry out the same test, but were also given an MRI test. The physical capability of each person in the study was measured using their heartbeat – that is, how long it took each participant to reach the target heart rate. In this test, the scientists measured the maximum rate of oxygen metabolization by the body in a minute (abbreviated VO2); the lower the VO2, the less physically fit the person.

The results showed that people who were more out of shape in the 90s will now, two decades later, have measurably decreased brain volume. The following correlation was observed: for every 8 ml/kg/min VO2 less measured while on the treadmill, the brain ages and shrinks ONE EXTRA YEAR

Therefore, thanks to these studies, we have evidence that physical activity is important for cognitive functions throughout our lives. Even though these days find us running about faster and faster (but not physically running – that’s far less common), we need to take a small amount of time to care for our brain – and to care for our body at the same time.

Paula Monteiro
+55 21 99742-7750


Looking to the Past


In today’s culture, with technology constantly evolving, and where every day is more rushed than the last, looking towards tomorrow is considered normal and essential. The flipside to this is that looking back to the past is considered a waste of time, or a maladaptive behavior.

But the truth is that there is a difference between wanting to live in the past, which, by the way, is very unhealthy, and just taking a look at it. Remembering the past can be an effective way to deal with tough times in the present.

First, we need to realize that without the past, there would be no present or future. For example, imagine a person who finally graduated from college and obtained their degree. Getting a diploma is an exciting moment for any student, but, the diploma wouldn’t have the same meaning if it wasn’t a result of many late nights studying for tests, exhausting work, and stress, would it? The moment is special because of the events of the past. When things are going well, or when something good happens, we can look back and see how past events we perceived as negative actually were beneficial in shaping the present. Also, remembering our past achievements can remind us that bad times in the present will pass, just as bad times in the past have come and gone.

Nostalgia also reinforces our social ties and helps to regulate our mood. We remember all the people from our past: our father, mother, teachers, friends, and co-workers; who, for better or for worse, all played a part in helping us become who we are today. Research shows that in difficult times, nostalgic people deal with their problems by finding the support of others and not being afraid to release their emotions. Furthermore, in events that are out of our control, nostalgic people are more capable of both seeing the good side of the situation, and learning from the experience

Visiting the past can teach us many things and give us the motivation we need to face today’s problems; contrary to what many people think. Making a trip in time can be a productive experience, as long as you don’t forget to come back and live in the present.

Paula Monteiro
+55 21 99742-7750


Tempted to cheat? Stop and reconsider

I’m not here to judge anybody. We all know that cheating isn’t the best decision in the world. My previous post inspired me to focus on an issue that I see repeatedly in my clients: Cheating and why you’re not only fooling your partner, but also yourself.

In my last post, I talked about passion within an official relationship; specifically that it diminishes over time, that this decrease in passion is totally natural, and the many factors that can cause this to happen. I also mentioned that it’s precisely when passion starts to decline that the risk of cheating goes up. However, the cheating parties in a relationship aren’t always truly aware of what is going on, and don’t realize that their desire for passion is blinding them.

Let’s go one step at a time:

The majority of people who cheat don’t really love the person they’re having an affair with. I wrote about the mystery a new person can bring in my last post, and also about how the rush that comes with forbidden “love” releases neurotransmitters (dopamine). And also, I wrote about how we idealize people we either don’t (or can’t) have, or don’t know completely. Indeed, all these things fit. What I often see, is that people aren’t passionate for the actual person they’re having an affair with, rather they are passionate about the idealized version of that person that lives in their head. Every new person awakens strong feelings within us that make us feel like they’re the love of our life. In time, some people jump from one affair to another once they realize it wasn’t what they were searching for, only to find themselves in another affair that releases new strong sensations, at least until those get old… and the cycle continues on and on.

Beyond idealization, there is also a strong chance that the other person is feeding your “ego”: if they also idealize you, all the extra attention makes you feel special. The majority of people who are in an extramarital relationship feel special (after all, why have an affair with someone who makes you feel worse about yourself?), and they feel like they’re receiving more attention.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that the majority of people who are in an extramarital relationship aren’t in love with another person, but with how the other person makes them feel. Many times it’s a question of validation and self-esteem. Therefore, before you give in to temptation, or if you already are in an extramarital relationship, consider individual or couples therapy to try and repair your marriage.

Paula Monteiro
+55 21 99742-7750

Love, Passion and Romance


Love, Passion, and Romance

I’ve already written about how relationships and the people in them change with time, and how the small things start to seem less and less important. However, I would like to dive deeper into this topic, and explore the differences between love, passion, and romance.

When we fall in love with someone, it’s common to hear it described as “love at first sight.” It’s far more likely to have been passion at first sight; something that, with luck, can develop into love.

The ecstasy of falling in love is a feeling that we believe will last forever with the right person. However, this just isn’t true. This ecstasy doesn’t come from feelings of love, but from strong passion, the kind that comes in huge waves and can knock someone down. As amazing as the wave feels though, it will inevitably diminish. It won’t break and suddenly disappear, but it won’t stay strong forever.

Now you’re asking me: But why? Why does romance always have to diminish with time? REQUITED romance always diminishes with time, because the thrill and passion comes from the uncertainty of whether or not the romance will last, and from the relative mystery still surrounding your potential partner. Curiously, the simplest way to keep a romance eternally strong is with unrequited love, be it an idol/celebrity, or the person right next to you.

“If only the strength of the love that people feel when it’s reciprocated could be as intense and obsessive as the love that we feel when it’s not, then marriages would be truly made in heaven” – Ben Elton

Unfortunately, once we really get to know our partner, and know our love is reciprocated, the ecstasy begins to leave. We stop seeing our partner as someone to idolize or as the embodiment of perfection, and instead just see… a person. When the “hunt” ceases, and the relationship stabilizes, everything changes, even our hormones. The “wave” of dopamine falls, and opens space for oxytocin. Yes, the love hormone. The love becomes a reality instead of an idealization. Burning passion becomes a safe and comfortable place (when the relationship is healthy, of course)… but unfortunately not everyone is able to see this change as something positive, and for obvious reasons: Not only because the ecstasy of a new love is a feeling people don’t want to lose, but also because the media constantly depicts love as passion.

Let’s go back a little in time: In romanticism, how was “love” depicted? The woman was a distant, idealized object. Think of Romeo and Juliet; their relationship was adolescent love, with many barriers and no chance to truly live as a couple. Without a doubt, the story would be much different if they had married and the story had followed their marriage for ten more years.

And in today’s films and TV series? What kind of “love” do we see? Generally, it starts with a chance encounter between two people, they get to know each other, and then the films end on what? On marriage: the conclusion of this period of ecstasy, of mysteries and surprises, of insecurity, and of idealization. This leaves room for confusion about what love actually is. Instead, it instills a belief that ecstasy will endure forever, and that this ecstasy (the famous butterflies in the stomach) is a major sign of love.

So, how does this unrealistic depiction of love impact real relationships? When the ecstasy of passion dies down and true love is established and solidified, many people mistakenly believe that this means the relationship is dying, or that their partner is losing interest. It’s in this moment that the danger of cheating appears. A new person always brings more excitement (again, temporary) than an established partner, simply because they bring a new air of mystery, and create an environment of forbidden love (adultery).

In future posts, I will talk about how to bring the surprise factor back to a relationship. But even doing this isn’t a cure for the idealization of love, it’s only a guide on how to shake up the daily “routine”. The only cure is to learn how to see that romance and passion can be marvelous but ephemeral, while, with the right person, true love is just as incredible, and long lasting.

Paula Monteiro, Psychologist
paulamonteirocounseling @
(21) 99742-7750

Infidelity: When To Forgive


I am not writing this to say what’s right or wrong, or to tell you what your limits should be. If you can’t forgive or accept any infidelity at all and would prefer to just end the relationship, then this post isn’t for you. I am writing for those who want to know if it’s ever worthwhile to give a cheater another, (or multiple) second chances

The most destructive part of infidelity is not the sexual act itself, but rather the loss of trust that it causes. Often, it’s impossible for a couple to move past this breach of trust, and the relationship ends. Love alone isn’t enough to maintain a strong relationship; trust is necessary as well. Trust is the glue of the relationship.

Relationships involve many promises: perhaps one of the most important is the promise that you’re only with your partner, and no-one else (excluding open relationships). When this promise is broken, all trust vansihes. Without trust, intimacy and communication suffer. Hostility takes the place of tenderness, the relationship slowly becomes toxic, and a break-up is likely. However, if both parties desire it, the relationship CAN be revived and rejuvenated, though at this point therapy is absolutely necessary to accomplish this. Therapy helps by working out the problems with communication, broken trust, grief, and the anger caused by betrayal.

To reconstruct a broken relationship, all cards need to be on the table. After all, infidelity is couple problem, not an individual problem. The truth needs to be spoken, by both parties. The cheater should not attempt to hide what they did, should explain their motive (i.e. what is the relationship lacking?) and assume the blame. In the same way, the one who was betrayed should explain what they need from their partner in order for trust to be regained. However, trust is not regained easily, nor should it be. The betrayed partner was manipulated and repeatedly lied to. Trust is no longer a guarantee, and needs to be won little by little; it’s a slow process that requires lots of hard work and dedication.

But is all this effort ever really necessary in the first place? The chances of a couple staying together after infidelity are surprisingly reasonable, as long as both parties desire it, and put forth the required effort. But what about partners who have cheated multiple times, or of betrayals that were discovered but never admitted? The point I’m trying to make is that many times, while in therapy, the ‘victim’ is completely blind to the reality of what is going on. Love truly is blind. What is the victim’s responsibility in a situation such as this one? One of the most difficult things to do is examine the whole situation and determine what portion of the blame needs to be placed on us. What about partners who have never shown signs of infidelity before? Or situations where we are blind to everyting until the last moment? What do these situations say about us? What makes us go to therapy to “fix ourselves”, to accept a monogamic relationship that is repeatedly disrespected? What is it that stops us from looking for a way out fo these relationships and starting over? Is it the fear of being alone? Is it what’s “best” for the family? Is it the fear of an uncertain future? These are important questions that need to be answered before giving another chance to anyone who has repeatedly shown signs of betrayal. The ability to forgive, while commendable, is not always the best solution.

Paula Monteiro
+55 21 99742-7750


Stressed? Pick up a pen and paper


With everyday life becoming more rushed, and the workplace becoming more demanding, it’s becoming more and more common to suffer from stress. Writing about a stressful event, or about your dreams for the future, can help to fight this growing menace.

Here are two techniques for alleviating stress with the help of pen and paper:

Write about something good that happened to you that day: Our brain is programmed to remember negative occurrences, so it’s necessary to do something to help remind our brain of the good things. With this technique, we can stop our brains from forgetting and giving less importance to positivity. Once per day, write down three good things that happened to you, and explain why they were important. This will help your brain see the positive as equal to the negative, and you will start to see good things far more easily. Studies show that people who do this have increased general satisfaction, and fewer symptoms of depression.

Unload your thoughts onto paper: If your thoughts accumulate, snowball, and wind up leaving you anxious (especially when you’re trying to sleep), jot down all of your thoughts and plans. Writing all of your thoughts on paper helps to take some of the weight off of you, at least temporarily, until you’re ready to come back to your issues and are better able to deal with them.

Writing acts as an escape valve, and helps to regulate your mood. Try these techniques, and you’ll see results.

Paula Monteiro
+55 21 99742-7750