During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to put healthy habits on the list of things to do in the new year. Did you know that you can make brain-healthy choices and still enjoy this special time of year? Here are five ways to take care of your most powerful organ that takes no holidays and works tirelessly for you all year round: your brain.
1.Practice Daily Gratitude
The holidays are the perfect time to start a daily gratitude practice! Did you know that people that practice gratitude tend to be happier, healthier, more content, and less depressed? Scientific studies show that practicing gratitude improves your sleep, protects you from illness, motivates you to exercise, improves relationships, boosts your happiness, and decreases anxiety and depression. So how can you practice gratitude? Try these simple and effective tips:
- Start a Gratitude Journal. Every morning and every evening, write down 3-5 things you are grateful for. Keep this journal by your bedside to remind you to do it.
- Give a compliment to someone. Find something nice to say about someone else, even if you don’t particularly like that person. Finding something ‘good’ about someone else changes the way you feel about yourself.
- Love yourself. Write down one thing you like about yourself every day. What do you appreciate about yourself? What are some of your best qualities?
- Rethink a bad situation. The next time something bad or negative happens, write down or say out loud 3-5 good things that happened out of that one negative event.
- Stop gossiping! When people around you begin to gossip or talk bad about another person, walk away. This simple act boosts feel-good hormones.
Aaah sleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule can be very difficult around the holidays. Most of us know that poor sleep can lead to feelings of irritability and fatigue, but many are unaware of the extent to which poor quality or inadequate sleep can wreak havoc on our lives. What’s more, in the last few years the science is showing that poor sleep can be an independent cause and contributor to developing Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia!
Tips for getting a good night’s sleep during the holidays include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, practicing a pre-bed ritual, minimizing alcohol, and avoiding overeating. Enjoy your holidays more by getting plenty of shut-eye!
Getting more exercise is always a popular New Year’s Resolution; but why wait? Movement is one of the best ways to get and stay healthy, helping build muscle, burn fat, support bone health and reduce your risk of many chronic diseases. Even better, the benefits of exercise aren’t just for your body. Exercise has been shown to alleviate stress, reduce depression and increase cognitive health.
You don’t have to spend hours in a gym to reap the benefits, any amount counts. Try taking a walk, riding a bike, or better yet, sign-up for a Brain Boot Camp class! Brain Boot Camp is a revolutionary, research-based fitness program to exercise the brain. It combines mental and physical training in a fun, 45-minute class. Classes are led by Alison Connors, Certified Brain Health Trainer for Kemper Cognitive Wellness. Each session includes a warm-up & cool-down, balance, strength, and coordinative training. In-person and online classes are available! Visit KemperWellness.com/BrainBootCamp to learn more!
4.Eat a Brain Healthy Diet
We all know how easy it can be to overindulge during the holidays. Did you know that your food choices have a profound impact on your mood, body, and cognitive health? As difficult as it can be, it is possible to eat a brain-healthy diet during the holidays while still allowing yourself to indulge every once in a while! Here are some tips:
- Bring your own brain-healthy dish to a holiday get-together. That way you know there will be at least one dish you can eat without feeling guilty!
- Make substitutions in your favorite holiday dishes to make them more brain healthy. Consider swapping mashed avocado for butter, applesauce for sugar, or almond flour for regular flour.
- Eat foods you enjoy while being mindful of your portions and your level of fullness. Avoid eating out of boredom or because there is food in front of you. Allow yourself to occasionally indulge, but try not to let it derail all of your efforts and get right back on track after.
- Try to limit sugary & alcoholic beverages and make sure to stay hydrated with lots of filtered water. If you need a change from plain water, try sparkling water with citrus slices. Drinking water keeps brain cells active and balances chemical processes, helping to regulate stress and anxiety.
It’s no surprise that the holidays can become quite stressful. When you are feeling overwhelmed, certain changes happen to your body. You may tense up, your breath may become more shallow, and you may find it hard to concentrate. This response can also drive up stress levels, making it even harder to implement healthy changes. Take a few minutes to focus on deep breathing. Practice breathing in deeply and slowly so that your stomach extends as you inhale. Try breathing techniques such as Box Breathing, 4-7-8, or simply take some deep belly breaths. This can help redirect negative thoughts, relieve stress, and chase away those holiday blues! Here is a great Box Breathing video to get you started.
If you follow these five guidelines, you will be well on your way to a brain healthy holiday season! Wishing you and your family a very happy and healthy holiday season and 2022!
-Amanda Radca, The Kemper Company