Enjoy a Thanksgiving Boost to Your Health and Wellness

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Dr. Nina Radcliff

The holidays are in full swing and in the midst of holiday demands, Thanksgiving offers special opportunities with benefits that can lift your spirit and help boost your health and wellness for the coming days. It’s built right into the holiday — from gratitude to gatherings to enjoying Thanksgiving favorite yummies to taking some personal time. 

Favorites

For starters, we all have Thanksgiving favorites and it’s important to enjoy them. Whether it’s relishing some special tastes, taking in some football, the Thanksgiving Parade, cooking, or gathering with family/friends…whatever it is, savor each as part of your self-care this Thanksgiving. Remembering selfcare is not a luxury, it’s a necessity! Meaning:

  • Take time for activities you enjoy for yourself – it can be as simple as savoring your morning coffee to taking a moment to breathe deeply and appreciate the beauty of this season
  • Prioritizing some relaxation helps to avoid burnout 

Gratitude

Cultivating a mind-set of gratitude is proving to be about much more than the manners of a “thank you.” Instead, the principles of thanksgiving give importance to a unique way of seeing the world. Evidence suggests that the depth of the emotion of gratitude is key, not only to our happiness, but also essential to overall health and well-being:  

  • It helps to combat stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, while increasing energy, productivity, and greater optimism. And, gratitude has been linked to slowing down some of the effects of neurodegeneration that often occurs with age.
  • According to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, expressing gratitude regularly (defined in their studies as the quality of being thankful and readiness to show appreciation), literally changes the molecular structure of the brain. It helps to keep our brain functioning and makes us happier – and more positive. Additional healthy benefits are linked to greater productivity and focus while maintaining an active lifestyle. 
  • Researchers have found that gratitude lights up the brain’s reward pathways. And people who show more gratitude, also had a higher-functioning hypothalamus — the brain’s center for managing stress, metabolism and sleep.
  • The Institute of HeartMath Research Center has found that positive emotions like appreciation, significantly lowered levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. 
  • Robert Emmons, Ph.D., University of California-Davis professor, and director of the university’s Emmons Lab, which creates and shares scientific data on gratitude (its causes, and its potential effects on human health and well-being), calls gratitude: “the forgotten factor in the science of well-being.”

The findings are no surprise when you consider that gratitude releases neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin which have a restorative and protective effect on the brain and nervous system. With all the science, it’s easy to understand the significant health benefits of gratitude. You can strengthen awareness of gratitude by:

  • Sharing what you are thankful for, letting people know you appreciate them verbally, keeping a “gratitude journal,” counting blessings, and/or writing letters of thanks
  • Commit to writing down in a journal at least three things you’re grateful for each day for 30 days. Make each one as specific as possible — there’s value in the details. It will help to shift the way you see your world. 

Gathering Together

One of the biggest impacts on your health are the relationships you have with loved ones — family and friends. Research shows that table/kitchen or “gathering” conversation has special qualities that make it different than when we talk on the phone, carpool, or engage in meetings. Facts are, that taking the time to dine with others is a great way to combat the ill-effects of chronic stress. Quality time together with family and friends yields a multitude of long-term physical and emotional health benefits. Studies show that healthy relationships make life more enjoyable, lessen the hard blows of challenging times/events, and provide camaraderie to lift your spirits and help you reach personal goals (sharing goes a long way to boosting willpower). Being thankful throughout the year could have tremendous benefits on your quality of life.

Leave Some Leftovers

Practicing portion control, or moderation, at every meal helps ensure we don’t eat/drink too much in one sitting. And we all know those (or, you may be one of those) – who loves the “next day” leftover meal maybe even more than the Thanksgiving day main meal. Saving food for the next day or so — allows “more” meals to enjoy (while also helping from taking in too many calories at once).

Among Thanksgiving traditions, there are crown jewels to be savored every day for better health and well-being for all ages. Fundamentally it’s rooted in a life view framed in gratitude, enjoying healthy relationships while understanding the importance of self-care and moderation. From my home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving – Enjoy!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.