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Jan 7

New Year’s Goals Year’s Goals

How many of you have set goals for the new year? While some don’t bother to set goals because they know they won’t make it to the finish line, most of us in one way or another still have hopeful aspirations for the year ahead. More often than not, you’ll find that a great deal of the resolutions we make are largely related to health and external issues (better diet, more organized at work). And while any effort we make to better ourselves is beneficial, there is still one factor that we tend to overlook when attempting to improve our way of life; the heart and mind factor. If we don’t change what’s inside, we likely won’t change the outside.
Medically speaking, the healthier your mind and spirit, the healthier you are overall. We tend to take better care of ourselves when we are “in a good place” mentally and spiritually. Think about it. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling depressed you don’t even want to change out of your pajamas; you eat comfort foods and sleep as much as possible (or can’t sleep at all). On the flip side, when you are happy and in a positive frame of mind, you take the time to look nice, you eat better foods, you get out and do something with yourself.
Smiling, laughing and feeling thankful doesn’t just make you a better person to be around — it makes you a healthier one too. Scientists at the University of California have discovered that laughter relaxes tense muscles, reduces production of stress-causing hormones, lowers blood pressure, and helps increase oxygen absorption in the blood. Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center found laughing can actually reduce the risk of heart attack by curbing unwanted stress, which can destroy the protective lining of blood vessels. A good giggle also burns calories since it’s possible to move 400 muscles of the body when laughing.
Feeling the stress? Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University and an authority on stress, puts it like this: “In fight-or-flight, your body turns off all the long-term building and repair projects,” he says. “Constant high levels of cortisol take your body’s eye off the ball. Memory and accuracy are both impaired. Patrols for invaders aren’t sent out, you tire more easily, you can become depressed and reproduction gets downgraded.” Exposed to chronic stress for years, high blood levels of glucose and fatty acids increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A recent study at University College London found that stress raised cholesterol levels, another factor that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, it actually IS a big deal when you feel low and disconnected. It’s changing your body, but not for the better.
Sometimes it’s a real challenge to pull yourself out of those low places and get going again. Depression, pessimism and apathy are all associated with low levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. “Serotonin plays a role in regulating pain-perception and could be the reason why 45 percent of patients with depression suffer aches and pains,” says Dr. Jane Flemming. The obvious question is how to raise those levels? Before turning to antidepressants, try the following first:
Prayer: People who pray frequently are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, according to a study by psychologists from Sheffield Hallam University. The study looked into what aspects of religious observance are particularly likely to influence mental well-being. They found that personal prayer was much more likely to have a positive effect than going to church for social reasons. And although people who saw religion as being present in every aspect of their lives were less likely to be mentally ill than others, only those who also prayed frequently had noticeably higher self-esteem. God is good and good for you!
Exposure to light: Light does have an effect on a person’s mood. The amount and wavelength of light affects the different functions of the brain, including the regulation of a person’s thoughts and feelings. With this knowledge comes a realization that simple adjustments in lighting in homes and offices can make a lot of difference to the way a person thinks and feels. Studies reveal that adequate lighting is associated with feelings of elation among the test subjects, while dark lighting induces feelings of depression. So, brighten up your environment and “get some light”.
Diet: What you eat and drink can drastically change how you feel both physically and mentally.
• First, don’t skip meals. Food is fuel for the body. When you go too long without eating, your blood sugar sinks and mood swings ensue.
• Carbohydrates have long been demonized, but your body needs good carbs to produce serotonin—a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect. Only complex carbs—high in fiber and packed with whole grains—have a positive effect on mood. Simple carbs (think candy, cake, cookies, and other sugary choices) bring you down. Look for complex carbs to add to your pantry.
• Omega-3s—found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines—improve both memory and mood. Research suggests that low omega-3 levels are associated with depression, pessimism, and impulsivity.
• Getting too little iron can spell depression, fatigue, and inattention, research suggests. Iron-rich foods include red meat, egg yolks, dried fruit, beans, liver, and artichokes. Scientists have also found that insufficient thiamine can cause introversion, inactivity, fatigue, decreased self-confidence, and a poorer mood. Thiamine abounds in cereal grains, pork, yeast, cauliflower, and eggs.
• Greasy choices—particularly those high in saturated fat—are linked to both depression and dementia. Steer clear of high fat food choices.
Exercise: Studies abound that prove how quickly exercise can boost your mental state and energy levels. Exercise releases feel good brain chemicals and reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. It also gives you a boost of self confidence and can help to take your mind off of your worries for a while.
Others: Get out and volunteer to help a neighbor, or an organization. Give of yourself. Start that hobby you’ve always been interested in but never had the courage to start. Find a good church and make friends (with people and God). Open up your mind to a world of possibilities. Get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Learn to play an instrument.
At the end of the day, a happy you can mean a healthier you. Add a new resolution to your list… Do what it takes to lift your mind and spirit; all the rest should follow suit!
Helpful links
7 Ways that exercise can boost your mood
Foods affect your mood
Music and mood

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