Health

Start now to yourself the gift of better health this holiday season

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The holidays can be as stressful as they are fun. This month is filled with special occasions, eating temptations and obligations that take focus and time away from staying healthy. Psychologically, this time of year plays with our heads and with pending new year’s resolutions just around the corner it gives us an excuse to admit defeat and start fresh on Jan. 1.

This year, try something different. Start to implement strategies now that are life changing rather than celebrating an artificial date to begin new behaviours. Break the pattern that has been firmly embedded in your brain and the vicious circle of starting, giving up and restarting every January.

Take note of what you say and how you speak to yourself, as the brain is far more influential in your outcome then you may give it credit for. You see, the brain changes your physiology when you speak positively or negatively to yourself. In fact, the way you speak to yourself is the direction you will most likely go. When you speak positively to yourself your brain ignites the hormones that increase happiness, clarity, motivation and will power. When you speak negatively to yourself your bodies respond with the opposite reaction. A unique feature of the human brain is that it can do only what it thinks it can do. The minute you tell yourself you can’t do something you are training your brain to live up to your diminished expectations. Low expectations mean low results.

Understanding how the brain influences your outcomes, you can see why so many new year’s resolutions have failed to come to fruition. In most cases you have set yourselves up for failure before you even begin.

This holiday season, change your mindset and look at how you can be healthy and happy rather than restricting yourself from what you enjoy. Add positive actions rather than take away negative behaviours. Resolutions are often a process of giving up something you enjoy as a form of punishment. Resolving to stop drinking high sugar beverages such as pop or alcohol is a common resolution. Instead, turn your attention to what you will add to your life; I will drink more water and green tea. In this way the brain is not setting you up for deprivation instead it is being set up for a positive addition.

When you repeatedly avoid foods you love and show incredible self restraint, you set the mind and body up for an attitude of scarcity versus abundance. Research shows that chronic dieters are susceptible to overeating, especially when there is plenty of tempting food. In denying yourself pleasure, you set the brain up for pain. The pain response in the body is manifested in such a way that you become fatigued and defeated. Which in turns cranks up the hormonal system to go into survival mode, ultimately decreasing your metabolism and increasing your fat storage.

Whether real or imagined, when you deprive yourself, the body goes into stress response. The stress cycle causes a change in all systems of your physiology. The brain tells the body to elevate heart rate and blood pressure causing anxiety. Anxiety in turn results in poor sleep, which exaggerates the issue. With lack of sleep it is harder to be optimistic, leading to more negative thoughts which lead to great stress and failure. In one experiment, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81 per cent of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31 per cent of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

As well, all of this leads to poor food choices. It isn’t a lack of will power on your part but rather a biochemical response in the body to need quick and immediate glucose, as in sugar, to combat the stress. Have you ever noticed the types of foods you crave when you are anxious or tired? It is brain chemistry that is leading you to these decisions.

To overcome the potential negative effects of the holiday with gift giving, party hopping, dessert eating, over indulging and not sleeping, think about how your brain is responding to these behaviours. This year be a little selfish and prioritize your health to keep your brain in a positive place with these helpful tips.

1.     Workout regularly, even if it is for less time then usual. A 20-minute workout will change you brain chemistry while burning calories.

2.     Get outside. Fresh air will change your mindset and decreases the sense of anxiety.

3.     Get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, preferably get to bed before midnight.

4.     Listen to pleasing and inspiring music, it calms the mind.

5.     Add healthy habits to your life rather then restricting your behaviour.

6.     Plan ahead and write down what you want rather then what you don’t want.

7.     Meditate, it has been shown to change your brain chemistry and give you feeling of calm and contentment in as little as five minutes.

8.     Read an uplifting book with a positive outcome.

9.     Surround yourself with positive people.

10.  Do things that bring you joy.

Happy Healthy Holidays!

Helen Vanderburg, co-owner of Heavens Elevated Fitness Yoga and Spin Studio, Fitness Expert and Celebrity Trainer, Author of Fusion Workouts, 2015 Canadian Fitness Presenter of the Year. Motivational and Corporate Health and Wellness Speaker. Find her online at heavensfitness.com and helenvanderburg.com. Follow her on Facebook/ helenvanderburg, Instagram: @helenvanderburg