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:: Blame Your Brain

Blame Your BrainCan't stick to your New Year's Resolutions?  Blame Your Brain

DESPITE many people's best intentions they simply won't be able to keep their New Year's resolutions - especially giving up activities that involved risky behaviour such as bingeing on alcohol, drugs, sex or food.

According to researchers, some brains are wired to seek a dopamine rush, a brain chemical that is usually released when we are engaged in risky behaviour.

Nashville’s Vanderbilt University neuropsychologist David Zald said: “That's not an excuse for failure (in keeping resolutions), but does make the burden harder for some people.”

Professor Zald reported in the Journal of Neuroscience that the brains of impulsive thrill-seekers had few so-called dopamine auto-receptors controlling the amount of the neurotransmitter.  “When dopamine is released at high levels, people experience euphoria,” Professor Zald said.

“In high novelty-seekers, who have less regulation of their dopamine (level), this may make the experiences of novelty or excitement all the more rewarding.”

Risk takersProfessor Zald and his colleagues conducted brain scans of 34 volunteers, who ranged from high to low on the “novelty-seeking” scale.  The results showed clearly that high risk-takers had fewer auto-receptors.

Jayashri Kulkarni, a biopsychiatrist with Alfred Hospital and the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre in Melbourne, said the findings made sense.   “This work fits with the general theory that dopamine is the major reward system of the brain,” he said.  “So any reduced ability to regulate it will result in greater relapse of risk-taking behaviour or re-addiction.”

Melbourne University psychiatrist Michael Berk - also with Barwon Health, The Geelong Clinic and the Orygen Research Centre - agreed. As to keeping resolutions, Professor Berk offered tips suitable for high and low novelty-seekers: “Choose goals that are realistic, that are appropriate.

“Start with small achievable goals and build to more substantial ones. And get support around you, people who might share your goals. That certainly helps.”

Controlling the brain may involve making lifestyle changes.

The 3 most common New Year's Eve Resolutions or goals are:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Get Fit
  3. Quit Smoking

Many of these resolutions involve a lifestyle change.  The reason lifestyle is so important is because how you live determines your choices and these choices decide how healthy you are and whether you're on the road to weight loss.

So what is a healthy lifestyle?

The typical components include not smoking, eating healthy foods, exercising and keeping the body at a healthy weight. Where do you fall on the healthy lifestyle continuum?

First, figure out how much time you spend doing the following:

Group 1 Group 2
  • Sitting at a desk
  • Sitting in a car
  • Sitting in front of a TV
  • Sitting in front of a computer
  • Eating out at restaurants
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating fast food or junk foods
  • Staying up late/not getting enough sleep
  • Being active in general (taking the stairs, walking instead of driving, gardening, cleaning, etc.)
  • Doing cardio exercise
  • Strength training for all muscle groups with challenging weights
  • Preparing your own meals and snacks and eating fruits, veggies and whole grains
  • Reading food labels
  • Tracking your calories
  • Sleeping

Dealing with stress in a healthy way

If you spend more time in the first group it's time to re-evaluate your priorities and decide what you really want for yourself. Living healthy means spending time and energy on your body--moving it around and paying attention to what you put into it. Staying in an unhealthy lifestyle means you can avoid expending energy, time and effort...but at what cost?

Choosing Health

What time do you wake up?As humans, we like habits and routines...so much so that we often keep doing the same things even when we know they aren't good for us. Changing bad habits takes time and effort and, for a healthy lifestyle, you may be changing a variety of things like:

  • What time you get up each morning
  • What time you go to bed each night
  • How you spend your free time
  • How you spend your money
  • How you shop, how you cook and how often you eat
  • How much TV you watch
  • What you do with your family and friends

The rewards for making these changes are endless, but it's beginning that's so difficult.

What does it take to change your lifestyle and how do you know if you're ready?

People say, 'Why bother?' But when they see that in just three months these changes can make a difference, they may change their minds," he said. "It is not really so much about risk-factor reduction or preventing something bad from happening. These changes can occur so quickly you don't have to wait years to see the benefits."

If you need any help and advice don't forget to talk to our friendly staff any time


Some information for this article is based on an article in The Daily Telegraph

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