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Healthy Aging: New Years’ resolutions that endure

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(Pixabay photo)

For some, the new year starts on Jan. 1. But for others, including myself, the feel of September – the first days of school, the changing of the leaves, the warmth of Rosh Hashanah and the depth of Yom Kippur – truly signals the coming of the new year.

Maybe after having spent so long in school, residency and training to become a doctor, the importance of September is simply ingrained in me. I still love shopping for school supplies, though these days it is coloured markers and crayons for my grandchildren, not the notebooks and highlighters I used to buy for myself.

This is a time for reflection and, as with the start of the new year on the Gregorian calendar, resolutions, as well. But instead of the traditional new years’ resolution – which many of us make, then quickly break and return back to day-to-day life – I would like to offer some suggestions for resolutions that will withstand the test of time.

What I want to achieve is not binary. When I talk about healthy aging, it is not a simplistic process. Rather, the aim is to make better choices, to focus on the positive and to work toward living a healthier lifestyle. For example, I always encourage people to eat a healthy diet. As I discussed in one of my previous columns, the MIND diet, which has been shown to provide benefits for brain health, does not have to be followed strictly, in order to see positive results. Researchers found that there was a benefit for people who followed the diet most of the time.

So resolve to make healthier choices most of the time. Such a resolution isn’t broken if someone makes a poor choice every once in awhile. Indeed, we should all be afforded the occasional indulgence and bad choices should be seen as an opportunity to press the reset button and get back on track.

When it comes to exercise, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends engaging in physical activities at least four days per week. So find an activity that you enjoy, book a class and get your body in motion. If you don’t always get four days of exercise in, that’s OK. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy enough that living an active lifestyle won’t feel like a chore.

I recently reviewed my September schedule and added in the days and times when I will meet with a trainer and get energized. It doesn’t work out to four times per week, but it is a start and I feel positive. I know that more is better, but a body in motion, stays in motion. Getting started is a big step toward making significant lifestyle changes.

READ: HEALTHY AGING: THE NON-DIET SOLUTION TO WEIGHT LOSS

I care deeply about brain health – both mine and yours. The number of new cases of dementia is staggering and that “long goodbye,” as former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan termed it, is worrisome. We now know the impact that stress has on brain health. Interestingly, it’s the perception of stress that matters. How we interpret stress – how we reframe the negative and meet demands as challenges, rather than burdens – makes all the difference. Working to meet a goal, create an opportunity and succeed in demanding situations is positive and healthy.

That is the resolution: to identify the stresses, reframe or restructure, where possible, or delegate or dismiss, if needed. Protect your brain by choosing how to perceive that demand and go for it.

Go for the healthier choices, the better options – the challenge, not the stress. And, of course, have a Happy New Year.