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Be your best s(elf) this December with the help of physical activity

Ah, December in Canada. With its arrival comes sweater weather, first snow falls and the holiday season. While this time of year is meant to be fun and relaxing, it can also be demanding and overwhelming. This can make it challenging for you to be your best s(elf). (See what we did there?)

Get in motion to combat the commotion

Luckily, there’s a tried-and-true method for keeping all that holiday season hecticness at bay – physical activity! Moving your body a bit every day can serve as a much-needed escape from daily stresses, whether it’s meeting fast-approaching work or school deadlines, picking out gifts for loved ones or preparing for family gatherings.

According to Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults 18-64, engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week can make us less tense. As well, doing heart-pumping activity energizes the body while also calming it down by reducing stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – and making the body produce feel-good endorphins.

Not only does being active throughout the holidays lower stress, but it also offers many other benefits:

man sleepingQuality Zzz

December means shorter days and longer nights, and as holiday stress builds, so does cortisol, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Moving more can help reduce levels of this hormone for a more restful night’s sleep. For instance, aerobic activities like swimming or jogging increase oxygen levels, in turn decreasing our cortisol levels. You can also further lower cortisol levels through mindfulness activities like tai chi or yoga, which combine deep breathing with movement to help calm the nervous system.

A dash of mood boosters

Research shows that the “holiday blues” (a.k.a. seasonal affective disorder or SAD) are a very real phenomenon, affecting between 2 and 3% of all Canadians in their lifetime. A type of depression triggered by the change in seasons, SAD can intensify during the holidays. Thanks to reduced levels of stress hormones and increased feel-good chemicals, people who make moderate physical activity a priority each day feel an instant burst of happiness. Even short (five- to 10-minute) bouts of daily physical activity can have immediate positive impacts on your mood. For further mental health benefits, especially for those with SAD, get active outdoors and in the sun.

woman home officeKeeps you focused

With deadlines and obligations starting to pile up and become overwhelming, it can be hard to focus. But aerobic activity can positively affect your ability to pay attention. After just 30 minutes of it, your brain works harder to resist distractions, improving your ability to focus.

Maintain that holiday zen

Stress can literally take your breath away, resulting in rapid, shallow and erratic breathing. But daily movement can help you develop better breathing habits over time. Getting active can make the muscles involved in breathing, stronger, and deeper breathing means more energy. With your energy levels boosted, you’re ready to tackle whatever task the holiday season throws your way!

family having fun in snow Family bonding

For many, the holidays can be a time filled with a lot of gatherings, so why not make family time, active time? Spending time being active is a great way to bond, naturally boosting moods while decreasing sedentary time. In fact, research suggests that the many benefits of physical activity are significantly enhanced when we get moving with family and friends. This means the time you spend getting active with others will give you an extra dash of happiness and joy.

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