STAYING FIT AND HEALTHY DURING THE HOLIDAYS

With the holidays coming up, the highlight for many people during this season is gathering with family and friends and enjoying favorite holiday treats. Here are some tips that will help you enjoy your holidays to the fullest while not increasing your waistline.

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MAKING AND KEEPING NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS

Only 8 percent of individuals achieved their resolutions in 2016, according to Statistic Brain. This is likely due to most people having unrealistic expectations about the speed, ease and consequences of the resolutions they make. People attempting self-change rarely succeed the first time; most need five or six attempts, according to a paper published in American Psychologist by Janet Polivy and Peter Herman. The authors suggest false hope syndrome is the cause for failure.

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HEALTHY HOLIDAY OPTIONS

The holidays are a wonderful time to gather with family and friends to celebrate. These celebrations often consist of many delicious treats and hardy meals. You can still maintain a healthy diet with a little thought and planning in advance. Research from a recent Web-based survey found 18 percent of people feel they cannot eat healthily during the holidays because they don’t want to miss out on their favorite foods. You can still eat the foods you enjoy this season, just in moderation.

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moderate-intensity exercise a week made a difference in measured memory function If the guideline recommendation of a total of 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity seems unachievable, start with a few minutes a day and increase the amount of exercise by five or 10 minutes every week until you reach the recommended goal. If you don’t want to walk, consider other moderate-intensity exercises, such as swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, pickleball or dancing. Don’t forget household activities, such as intense gardening, raking leaves or anything that gets the heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat, count as well.


Some individuals say they just can’t get started. If you are one of them, give these options serious consideration:


•  Join a fitness center.

•  Work out with a buddy who can help get you into the routine.

•  Consider using an app or wearable tracking device like a FitBit to measure your progress.


If you still have difficulty getting started on your own, consider hiring a certified personal trainer who can provide guidance, support and accountability in both the type and pace of your exercise program plan. Whatever exercise and options you choose, commit yourself to establishing exercise as a habit and regular daily routine. Exercise is very good medicine for both physical and brain health.


Sources and Resources:

Smith, J.C., Nielson, K.A., Antuono, P., et al. Semantic memory functional MRI and cognitive function after exercise intervention in mild cognitive impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease. June 26, 2013; 37(1):197-215. doi: 10.3233/JAD130467

Researchers at the University of Maryland have found adults with mild cognitive impairment improved their brain function by adding exercise for brain fitness. Dr. Carson Smith, a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park, said, “We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency.”


Physical exercise recommendations for adults call for 150 minutes of exercise spread out over a week. Activity should cause perspiration and raise the heart rate. For this study, two groups of physically inactive adults were selected. One group was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and were therefore at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The other group had no measured cognitive impairment. Both groups engaged in moderately intense treadmill walking that was supervised by a personal trainer for 12 weeks.


Both before and after the intervention, researchers used functional MRIs to measure brain activation. Brain scans taken after the 12-week exercise intervention showed enhanced neural efficiency in several areas of the brain typically affected by Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the study’s subjects improved their cardiovascular fitness by about 10 percent, providing physical benefit.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE BENEFITS BRAIN HEALTH

Physical exercise is a trigger for thinking and memory functions through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation and to stimulate the release of growth factors, including chemicals that affect the health of brain cells. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety.


Several research studies have suggested certain regions of the brain that control thinking and memory are vulnerable to cognitive impairment. With inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle, these brain areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment. These areas include the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex. With physical inactivity, adults tend to experience some cognitive impairment realized as memory loss.


While clinician researchers are not sure which type of exercise is best, almost all of the research studies have found walking to be beneficial for memory gain. The results indicate there was measurable memory improvement with regular exercise. When study participants walked briskly for one hour twice a week, significant improvement in memory function occurred. That 120 minutes of

DR. THOMAS W. MILLER, PH.D, ABPP

Thomas W. Miller, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor emeritus and senior research scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut; retired service chief from the VA Medical Center; and tenured professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky.

more articles by Dr thomas w. miller