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Health Over the Holidays

November 20, 2023 | 1 comment

Health Over the Holidays

The AFT provides staff with monthly health and wellness tips, and now they are sharing them with the Share My Lesson community too! November's issue offers suggestions for healthy holiday side dish alternatives, guidance for overcoming regret, advice for making decisions, and the power of movement.


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Movement is Medicine

There are big benefits to mentally connecting with your body’s movement. Muscle movements begin in the brain. If you visualize an exercise with specific muscle movement, as you do it, you can train your brain to send stronger signals. It’s like a form of meditation to focus on the muscle that you are using to become
more in tune with your body. On the other side of the pendulum, exercise can strengthen your brain and benefit emotional and mental health too.

Mind over muscle.

As you are working out, picture your muscles contracting as you move through an exercise. For example, if you are doing tricep extensions, imagine the tricep muscle contracting and lengthening as you lift the weight up and lower it behind you.

Muscle to regulate mind.

Regular exercise, especially cardio, has a powerful way of strength-training the brain. It stimulates a protein which acts like fertilizer on the neurons in our brain. This powerful protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) helps your body grow new neurons in the brain to improve ability to learn new skills and information. BDNF also regenerates old and worn out neurons that contribute to loss of memory, mood disorders, and inability to focus.

Movement is medicine and can be the first step treatment for stress, fatigue or feeling unfocused.

Don’t try to rush progress. Remember - a step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.
Kara Goucher

Holiday Alternative Dishes

Thanksgiving dinner traditionally centers around turkey as the main dish, and high carbohydrate sides, but there are several centerpiece options and plant-based trimmings to consider for your holiday feast.

Try some of these hearty, autumn themed ideas:

  • Butternut Squash - Puree into a soup or stuff with wild rice.
  • Sweet potatoes - Roasted with honey and cinnamon.
  • Carrots - Sautéed with a little butter and fresh dill.
  • Parsnips - Roast with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper.
  • Cauliflower - Roast with olive oil and parmesan cheese.
  • Brussels Sprouts - Roast and consider combining with carrots and parsnips for a colorful side.
  • Beets - Roasted beet salad.

Rescue from Regret

It can be difficult to make decisions when filled with regret. Regret arises when we believe that a different path might have led to a better outcome. Whether related to love and relationships, work or any choices, the more something matters to us, the greater the fear of making the “wrong” decision. The emotion of regret can be most painful when we blame ourselves, rather than circumstances.

Regret = Rumination + Self-blame.

Intense emotions like regret can be confusing. Letting go of self-blame and replacing it with self-compassion actually leads to taking more personal responsibility after a negative event. A dose of compassion is helpful to move through regret to self-improvement.

Even when we face serious consequences as a result of our actions, we need to release our regret, and turn towards coping and embracing our life as it is.

Try this Exercise

Write about your biggest regret and imagine that you are talking to yourself about this regret from a compassionate and understanding perspective, as you would a good friend.

Recipe of the Month

wild-rice stuffed butternut squash

Wild-Rice Stuffed Butternut Squash

2 medium butternut squash
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
4 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly
ground black pepper
1 onion chopped
½ cup wild rice
½ tsp curry powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
3 tbsp dried cherries
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup loosely packed fresh
parsley leaves, chopped
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut each squash in half lengthwise, scoop and discard seeds. Whisk together vinegar, syrup and 2 tablespoons of oil and brush onto the flesh side of squash halves. Sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. Put the squash flesh side-down in the baking dish, then brush the skin side with the rest of the mixture and same amount of salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop out some of the flesh into a large bowl, leaving ¼ inch border of flesh all around. Meanwhile, add one tablespoon oil in a pan on medium-high heat and add onions until golden brown. Add the rice, curry powder, cinnamon, cayenne and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir about 1 minute, then add 2 cups water and bring to a simmer covered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed, 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat and add the chunks scooped from the squash along with any remaining maple syrup, cherries, parsley, sage and a few grinds of black pepper. Evenly stuff the squash halves with the filling, then drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes. Cut each half crosswise and sprinkle with walnuts and serve warm.

When in Doubt

When we face a significant decision and doubts arise based on valid concerns, our emotions act as powerful informants. Spend time practicing mindfulness and considering what you want most deeply. Never sacrifice your values or life vision because of fear. If feeling stuck with a decision to make, sit with your thoughts and feelings and use your values to drive your actions. Following what you value, instead of
what you fear you may regret later, will always steer you in the right direction. We all prefer certainty over uncertainty. If concerns are based on values and inner wisdom, act courageously.

Join the Health & Wellness Community

We are bringing fitness instructors, social-emotional and mental health leaders, and nutritionists together so we can collectively “workout” and de-stress our bodies and our minds. 

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The AFT was formed by teachers more than 100 years ago and is now a 1.7 million-member union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are... See More

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