It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Joy to the world! Peace on earth! Happy holidays! Or is it? This is one of the most stressful times of the year for many. Family time, travel, gifts to buy, meals to prepare, etc. We want this time of the year to be merry and bright for our family and friends. Feeling overwhelmed is an under-statement.
Kick off December by giving yourself the gift of a wholistic approach to survive the holiday season.
Day 4 of the 12 Days of Christmas
Tip #4: Exercise should be number one on your Christmas List:
When creating your Christmas list this holiday season be sure your regular exercise/workout routine remains at the top! Sitting on the couch watching sports, holiday parades and Christmas movies with family and friends drains your energy and deprives you of the feel-good endorphins you get when you get your blood pumping with exercise.
There are so many reasons to keep exercise at the top of your holiday list; and, strive to keep it there during this time of the year. Many of us work out to keep fit physically. This is a great reason to exercise daily. However, did you know that a daily work out regime is extremely important your mental well-being? I'll give you some excellent reasons to keep your daily work out going during the holiday season. Minimize the stress and anxiety many experience during the holidays by keeping your workout at the top of your holiday list!
Exercise leads to holiday cheer:
If you are prone to anxiety and/or depression, (and who isn't during this time of the year) exercise is an excellent natural treatment. Exercise activates the same pathways in the brain as morphine! Your daily workout increases the release of endorphins, the natural feel-good neurotransmitters. Exercise is the closest thing to a "happy pill" that you will ever find.
For those who tend to experience increased worrying during the holiday season, I've got just the prescription for you! You guessed it! Work out! It is during a work out that l-tryptophan can more effectively enter the brain and raise brain serotonin levels. This is an excellent and helpful way to calm your worries and increase your cognitive flexibility (talk about a gift!). (Amen, p. 185)
During this holiday season, while you are gathered with family and friends, you'll want your brain functioning at its very best. Therefore, nourish your brain so that it can function properly. When you exercise, it increases the blood flow to the brain; which directly impacts your mood. Those who exercise regularly attest to the fact that they have a superior sense of well-being. (Amen, p. 78)
Exercise: The Gift that Keeps on Giving (Amen, p. 108-9)
Lowers the risk of developing depression.
Improves mood, anxiety, and even cognitive health.
Increases the size of the hippocampus (brain's major memory and mood center).
Protects the hippocampus from stress-related hormones, like cortisol (causes it to shrink).
Stimulates production of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), which improves neuroplasticity (brain adaptability).
Stimulates "neurogenesis" (generation of new neurons).
Improves cognitive flexibility.
Improves the ability of the heart to pump blood throughout the body and brain; increasing oxygen and delivery of nutrients.
Enhances insulin's ability to lower high blood sugar levels (reduction in risk of diabetes).
Improves quality of sleep.
Four Types of Exercise Great for the Brain: (Amen, p. 110)
Mindful exercise: yoga, Pilates, tai chi. All of these help anxiety and depression. These forms of exercise also increase focus and energy. Boosts brain health.
Burst Training: involves 30 to 60 second bursts of intensity followed by a few minutes of lower-intensity exertion. Short burst training raises endorphins. This leaves you feeling more energized.
Coordination activities: dancing, table tennis, pickle ball. These activities require coordination and boost activity in the cerebellum. This part of the brain controls physical and thought coordination.
Strength Training: This form of exercise decreases anxiety and increases energy and mood. Aim to strength train two 30-45 minute sessions a week.
When starting a new exercise program consult with your health care practitioner and consider starting with a trainer.
1. Amen, Daniel G. “Getting Unstuck.” Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Piatus, London, 2016, p. 185.
2. Amen, Daniel G. “Enhancing Positive Thought Patterns.” Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Piatus, London, 2016, p. 78.
3. Amen, Daniel G. “B Is for Blood Flow.” End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience Is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or... Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictio, TYNDALE MOMENTUM, S.l., 2022, p. 108-110.