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How to revel in renewal for a New Year

When it comes to New Year resolutions, Cheryl Monaco knows exactly what hers will be for 2014. Simple, it’s the same one she’s made for the past five years.

“Eat better. Live better,” the Berlin native says matter-of-factly. “Now if only I can resolve to have better will power, maybe that’s what I should really shoot for.”

As we reach that annual celebration of the holidays with an eye on a fresh new start in the new year, Monaco and millions of the others just like her will soon think of their own personal resolutions of making better, healthier choices for their body, mind and soul.

“I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions since I was a kid,” said Gary Schneider, a self-described “proud senior” living in Durham. “Making them’s the easy part, keeping them is the hard part.”

To help stay on track with your annual New Year’s resolution, and not store it away with holiday decorations in early January, registered dietician-nutritionist Betsy Crisafulli has two words: think small.

“Small changes will add up in the long run,” she said. “So many people start the new year with big ideas that just aren’t realistic when done all at one time. Choose one or two things to focus on, and things that are measurable.”

Betsy Crisafulli Nutrition, of Southington, provides individual nutrition counseling for clients looking to manage their weight or any nutrition-related concerns due to chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

In order to stick to any resolution, Crisafulli suggests developing a clearly defined plan, and then work towards meeting your small initial goal before setting another.

“Changing a lot of things at one time can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of failure when you aren’t able to do everything,” she said. “By making goals realistic and measurable, you’re more likely to succeed. “

Hurrying through her holiday shopping list, Brenda Dillon, of New Britain, said she would just like time to relax and catch her breath in 2014.

“Can I make a resolution to slow down the world, even for maybe an hour?” said the mother of three, all under the age of six.

Relax. Take a deep breath. “Live. Laugh. Love” is the motto of the Vital Life Center, located on West Main Street in Plainville, a comprehensive wellness center, offering yoga, meditation, massage, nutrition, and spiritual, wellness and life coaching.

“Anyone can meditate,” said Jayaprabha Mare DiBenigno, owner and director of the center. “One of the common misconceptions is thinking you don’t have the kind of personality that can meditate or relax. A lot of people think meditation means making their mind stop, which is not the case, and in fact, would be impossible to maintain and not what we’re after. One doesn’t need to make their mind stop. We pull attention away from thinking, but thinking will still occur.”

Wearing multiple hats at the center as a meditation teacher, yoga instructor and spiritual life coach. DiBenigno champions the benefits of meditation, claiming it vastly improves relationships with ourselves and the world around us.

“Meditation definitely benefits our mind, body and soul. It increases our creativity, empathy and compassion for ourselves and others,” she said. “There are many, many studies on the benefits of meditation now because of the use of MRI technology, where they’re now seeing exactly how meditation works in the brain and its positive effects.

One recent study has even compared the significant pain relieving effects of meditation to that of morphine.

“Meditation is shown to reduce physical pain by increasing our threshold to pain, as well as the ability to reduce and eradicate our emotional pain,” DiBenigno added. “When we meditate, we learn how to activate our parasympathetic nervous system—which is the opposite mode of our stress response—it immediately relives and eradicates stress, improves digestion and boosts the immune system, increasing our physical health.”

Other contributing physical and emotional benefits discovered through meditation, according to DiBenigno, include an increased ability to focus, improved memory, anxiety reduction, positive emotional stabilization, and helping curb the decline in cognitive functioning associated with aging.

“It opens us up into deeper insight which can transform us in the way we relate,” she said. “It helps us to look at and shift our perspective in a positive way that can change some of the patterns of mind that causes us to suffer.”

As an avid yoga enthusiast for over a decade, Karen Tedesco, of New Britain, firmly believes in the power of meditation, but doesn’t plan to make any resolutions this year.

“I never do because they mean nothing to me by February,” she said. “I would like to know how to resolve to stay away from snacking, especially during the holidays when it’s just too easy and accessible. Too hard to ignore.”

For a deliciously festive alternative to holiday cookies and high caloric, fattening treats, Crisafulli suggests serving a veggie plate with red and green items like broccoli and radishes, or red and green peppers, to dip into a white yogurt-based dip.

“Include protein at meals and snacks to promote most lasting fullness,” Crisafulli advises, offering additional sensible snacking options, such as reduced fat cheese with whole grain crackers a side of fruit and a serving size of nuts.

“By eating meals and small snacks with protein every three to five hours, you can keep hunger at bay and be less tempted to splurge on holiday goodies,” she said, noting the high fiber benefits of plant proteins, such as those found in beans and nuts. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends having a serving of nuts most days of the week. Although nuts are high in fat, it’s a healthy fat. However, if not limited to one serving size, even healthy fats contain calories which can add up quickly.

Whether it’s the holidays or any day of the calendar year, our daily diet, according to Crisafulli, should always include: two to four servings of fruit per day, three to five servings of vegetables, three servings of lower fat dairy products, and at least three servings daily of whole grains.

“Make sure these items make it onto your grocery list, and have a backup plan for when you don’t have fresh produce,” said Crisafulli. “Maybe keep raisins or fruit canned in juice (not syrup) in your cabinet to pack when you run out of bananas for the week … make half your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner—they’re low calorie, filling, and nutritious.”

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