This is the neuroscience behind resetting your health objectives after Easter

Easter is a time of year when many of us take a few days off and spend important time with family and friends, but with a relaxed schedule, it's also a time when we tend to overeat and Drink. For many people, the Easter break is the final blow to an already faltering New Year's resolution, and when the seasonal fun ends and it's time to get back to work, our motivation can stay grounded.

"The struggle is real," says Dr. Jennifer Heisz, author of Move The Body, Heal The Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression, Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity and Sleep. The renowned neuroscience and exercise expert learned a lot about upping her own fitness game as she embarked on a journey that took her from sedentary scholar to die-hard triathlete. “The brain is partly to blame. Our lack of motivation to exercise is a relic of our evolutionary past, when we had to expend a lot of energy hunting and gathering our food. Back then, saving energy was essential for survival, so the brain evolved to view any voluntary movement as an extravagant expense, and that makes us lazy.”

Worry less about willpower

Of course, the commercialization of sweets at Easter means we use way more energy than we actually need, but that doesn't stop our bodies from storing those excess calories for later. "We also often overlook the fact that sport requires a lot of willpower," says Dr. heating “Save the time and energy it takes to exercise by using a calendar to plan your workouts in advance. Provide as much detail as possible: What activity will you do? when will you do it From where? And with whom? It saves you the willpower you need to overcome the brain's biological inertia so you can get off the couch and move.”

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Smash those sedentary Easter breaks

Whether you're enjoying the Easter holidays from the comfort of your couch or returning to work and sitting in the office for hours, there's one thing that threatens to slow down our progress and that's the time we spend without moving. "Sitting is the new smoking," says Heisz. “When we sit for a long time, our body goes into hibernation mode; lower our metabolism and increase our blood pressure, blood sugar and weight. High blood pressure damages the heart and its vessels. This reduces blood flow to the brain, which not only makes it harder for us to think clearly and concentrate, but also increases our risk of dementia.

"The solution? Take a two-minute break from movement every 30 minutes. Move in whatever way feels right for you. You can do jumping jacks, push-ups, or burpees at home if you need to. And if you need to start with something gentler, try it with a walk or stretching at your own pace.”

dr Heisz, who is also director of the NeuroFit Lab at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, says we shouldn't let the fear of challenging workouts keep us from starting to exercise. "Just 2 to 5 minutes of exercise is enough to counteract the harmful effects of sitting and replenish the brain with the vital nutrients it needs to think, focus and thrive."

Get out of your comfort zone and reap the rewards

One excuse we often tell ourselves to avoid exercise is that we're too tired or stressed to exercise. The truth is, when we exercise more, we get fitter and more energetic. We also reap mental rewards from our physical investments. "Hard workouts that push us out of our comfort zone not only help us get physically stronger but also make us more resilient to life's challenges, and that's exactly what happened to me while training for the Ironman," says Heisz. "The training made me a more resilient person and less responsive to everyday stressors."

Here's how it works: Intense exercise induces a dynamic stress response known as allostasis. Allostasis helps the body adapt and grow and is exactly what we need to get fitter, stronger and healthier. "The amazing thing is that we only have one stress response for all stressors, including physical stressors from exercise and also psychological stressors from our everyday lives," says Dr. heating "Just as you can increase your muscle strength by gradually lifting heavier weights, you can expand your exercise and life stress tolerance by gradually adding intensity and duration to your workouts."

Blue Easter egg with bunny ears and a smiley facePhoto by Eric Heininger on Unsplash

Depression can't compete with a fitter you

"Our research shows how quickly mental health can deteriorate under chronic mental stress, but it also shows how effective exercise is at protecting us from stress-related depression," Heisz shares. "As little as six weeks of chronic stress led to depression in people who had never been diagnosed before. But exercise buffered against these stress effects. Although HIIT and moderate-intensity exercise were equally effective, those who did moderate-intensity cycling for 30 minutes three times a week ended up being less stressed and less inflamed.”

Research shows that aerobic exercise can relieve depression, and this is where duration matters most. Increasing your exercise by just 10 minutes will result in a stronger antidepressant effect. Resistance exercises like yoga, tai chi, and strength training can also help relieve depression, but intensity is key here. If you increase the intensity of your resistance training by just 10 percent, you will achieve a more potent antidepressant effect. So stress is no excuse for not exercising.

Focus on both the short and long-term goals to keep your training on track

A big reason many people are less motivated to exercise after Easter is that they haven't seen the results of their New Year's resolution, but that's just a matter of changing your perspective on what constitutes progress. "Most people start a new exercise program and want results NOW!" says Dr. heating "Usually the desired results are physical, like weight loss or muscle gain, but these physical changes can take months to materialize and can be very discouraging. The solution? We have to transform things. Instead of focusing on the physical benefits, which can take months, first try to focus on the mental benefits that can be felt immediately after each workout. “You will feel better, more focused and less anxious after each workout. How's that for instant gratification!?

Try to focus less on the goal and more on the overall experience. "When we focus on the experience we're having during training, the whole process becomes more intrinsically motivating," says Dr. heating “Your exercise experience doesn't have to be overly positive to have a positive effect. Try to pay attention to your heart rate and muscle contractions. When you focus on the workout experience, it becomes fluid...an enjoyable, effortless experience that makes you want to see it through to the end.

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