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A Healthy Spirit

Simple strategies to take back your health this year

By Taylor Shillam

In 2020, you likely learned a lot about your ability to adapt, cope and remain strong through challenge and uncertainty. Now that the new year has arrived, you can apply that valuable knowledge to achieving a healthier spirit in 2021.

This year, it’s time to make your New Year’s goals count. As staying healthy and building your immune system remain critical, it’s time to redefine wellness and rediscover the best strategies to find yourself healthier, happier and more energized for the new year ahead.

Your initial goals and plan of attack don’t have to be big. In fact, small, attainable goals are often the best way to achieve big-picture results.

Big, broad terms like wellness, balance and mind-body connection are common, but what do they really mean? How can these concepts be reached in a way that is sustainable, and can the process really be enjoyable—even life-changing?

Start by learning what tools are available to you, and how you can best put them into practice in your day-to-day life. If anything is true about the path to cultivating a healthier spirit, it’s that there are many ways to do so, and the best time to start is now.

Here, we take a look at healthy living at its fullest, including strategies to boost your health, both mentally and physically.

This year, aim to train your brain and strengthen your mental well-being just as much as your physical fitness. The familiar adage “use it or lose it” is just as applicable to your cognitive health, and regularly exercising your brain can boost its ability to think quickly and retain memory.

Simple ways to give your brain its daily workout include games like Sudoku or word hunts, working on a jigsaw puzzle, or using an app designed to train your brain like Lumosity, Peak, Cognifit Brain Fitness and Personal Zen.

Experts even praise small, quick daily exercises like completing a task using your non-dominant hand or taking a different route on your drive home, for their ability to contribute to major mental benefits.

Strengthen your brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to grow and create new connections, by learning a new skill. A highlight of this task is in its endless possibilities; you can choose anything you want to learn. Whether it’s learning to cook healthier recipes, or simply just learning to cook, the stimulation and sense of achievement from honing a new craft and putting it into practice can be so satisfying.

Skills like cooking, learning to paint, playing an instrument or learning a language have the added benefits of calming nerves, revitalizing your focus and providing a healthy outlet during periods of stress.

Stress can affect the entire body, triggering an automatic hormonal response. In short periods, elevated stress levels can be healthy, inspiring growth, action and change—but repeated, uncontrolled stress will take its toll.

Daily mindfulness practices, like meditation and journaling, can fight the inflammatory effects of stress and help you regain a sense of calmness and control.

Use a journal to pull anxious thoughts and long to-do lists out of your mind and put them on paper. The act of writing out a thought or experience can help you reorganize and process the associated feelings in a different way. You’ll have the added benefit of having the journal to look back on in the future, to recall past experiences and see how far you’ve come.

Along with your mindfulness practices, don’t forget to keep a healthy physical release in your routine. This month, reconnect with physical fitness as a mode of both releasing and receiving energy.

The famed post-workout endorphins, euphoric hormones released within the body after exercise, are nothing to underestimate. Studies have shown that endorphins are involved in the body’s natural reward circuits to maximize pleasure and help us continue to function through periods of injury or stress. In short: Movement is key to feeling good.

Effects of endorphin release include mood boosts, stress and anxiety relief, a sense of increased confidence and appetite regulation—all part of a long list of exercise benefits that go beyond outward appearance.

An important key to falling in love with exercise is simply finding your match: an activity you’re motivated to show up to on a regular basis. From spin classes and Crossfit, to hikes and long walks, to barre and yoga, there are endless settings available to you, and the process will be well worth it when you arrive at your perfect fit.

This year, open yourself up to the possibility of loving exercise, and treat yourself to a step outside your comfort zone. Try that boutique class you’ve been curious about; invest in that new yoga mat or set of weights; or enlist a friend as your accountability partner. Your body will thank you.

Stay motivated by tracking your progress. Whether it’s checking off weekly workouts, counting your miles, leveling up your weight in strength training, or working your way toward a new yoga pose, a wonderful thing about the world of fitness is that you can always set a new goal and keep moving forward—just don’t forget to celebrate those milestones along the way.

At a time when many of us are more than ready for a new year, a fresh start and a revitalized spirit, take this January as a challenge to redefine what health means to you.

Boosting your brain, enjoying physical activity and trying something new are just a few ways to get started. Whatever you choose, proudly take it as an investment in yourself and in a better New Year.

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