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Tim Burke: How to make your brain AND your body happy

Somewhere between that third helping of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and that prime rib with potatoes and gravy from New Year’s Eve, the average American will gain anywhere from as little as one pound to as much as five pounds over the holidays.

That might be less than you expected, and you might think “no big deal, I will drop that after the holidays.” Some people do, but many don’t, and those extra pounds can accumulate annually. Before you know it, that one extra pound becomes five or 10 in a few short years. That extra weight gain eventually can lead to health issues, including joint and muscle pain, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Annually, you vow to lose that extra weight and you make a New Year’s resolution to diet and get back to the gym. You are not alone. Losing weight and exercising rank No. 1 and 2 in the top 10 list of the most common New Year’s resolutions.

Dieting is an effective way to lose weight, but for me, dieting is way too much work. It takes planning, careful shopping, and adherence to a strict eating schedule faithfully followed over an extended period of time. Because 3,500 calories equal about one pound of fat, it’s estimated that you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose one pound. So, in general, if you cut about 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, you’d lose about one to two pounds a week.

The average American female takes in about 2,000 calories per day and the average male takes in 2,500 calories. Of course, that will vary according to age and activity level, but in general, you would need to cut your daily calories by at least 25% to lose weight.

I like eating so dieting is a painful option for me. I needed to find an alternative way to lose weight. I would rather exercise than diet, and by increasing the number of calories you burn off per day through physical activity, you can lose weight. Physical activity means that you have to get your heart rate up to an optimum level for your age and you must maintain that for a specified period of time, generally at least 30 minutes a day. That means we have to get off the couch and get to the gym, but our minds fight us on this.

According to Dr. Ivonne Draughon of Serenity Health, there are two things your brain REALLY likes. One is to keep you safe and other is to make you feel good. Sitting on the couch eating junk food is safe and your brain likes it, but exercise, which produces an elevated heart rate and muscular exertion from heavy lifting, is perceived by your brain, subconsciously, as being placed in a physiological state of danger.

Exercise produces a response in the brain not that far removed from the state it enters if you were to get into a fight or run from a bear. So, we want to keep our brain happy and we give into the pull of the sofa instead of the pull to go exercise. But it turns out that when you start exercising, your craving for processed junk foods begins to disappear.

Recent scientific research shows that exercise actually breaks the vicious cycle in which your brain craves the junk food you were eating. When you finish a workout, you have, in essence, outrun the bear! In that victory, your brain gets a flood of those feel-good hormones that it craves in junk food. So instead of eating cookies, you’re left feeling satisfied, no longer needing that “hit” of pleasure from processed snacks.

Finding the willpower to go work out takes not giving into that basic instinct of being safe and hanging out on the couch, and instead committing to get to the gym. Here in Pahrump, we have several commercial gyms, health clubs, and fitness choices. You can work out on your own schedule at two of the local health clubs, which have equipment available 24 hours, seven days a week.

You can make an appointment with a personal trainer that will help you stay motivated and on track. They also offer classes that are age-appropriate and diverse. Another option is to join a fitness center that has several classes throughout the day that focus on mobility, calorie-burning, and overall strengthening of our muscle groups. We have a place like that here too!

I am not going to feel guilty having that extra helping over the holidays because I know I can do a little extra working out and keep the weight off. Making a commitment to exercise will benefit anyone, regardless of their age, weight, or health. Only you can decide what type of exercise program works for you and make that commitment. You just have to go and do it!

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Nye County resident.

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