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Transcript: Health Engagement and the Brain with Dr Un

A frequently asked question is, “Why is it so hard to make healthy choices? Why is it so hard to stop smoking? Why is it so hard to start and sustain physical activity?”

Part of the reason for that is that the brain is involved, and you need a healthy brain to make healthy choices. There are two parts of the brain that mediates making choices. The frontal lobe of the brain which is involved in taking in information, processing that information and making judgment and executing on it. And then the limbic area of the brain, the part that we’re not so aware of, that is very automatic, that deals with basic human drives such as hunger and also the part that wants immediate gratification and rewards.

In order to get a good health intervention you need to impact both areas of the brain. Now both areas of the brain are impacted by things like chronic illnesses, behavioral health illnesses like depression and anxiety, but the limbic area may be impacted more by stress, behavioral health issues, such as depression and anxiety. We need to provide dual intervention. You need to provide interventions that impact the frontal lobe, such as health coaching, information, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing. The limbic area isn’t so susceptible to those types of interventions. What the limbic area responds to are things like stress reduction, mindfulness, or even brain exercises, medications.

So we need to have both approaches because if you don’t deal with both you’re basically like putting out the fire on the lawn and ignoring the fire on the house.

One of the areas where we can take both interventions that affect both the frontal and limbic area of the brain is through EAP and work-life interventions. Employee Assistance Programs, EAPs, allow access to behavioral health counseling, allows brief interventions decreases stress and enhance resilience. Work-Life programs, such as legal/financial programs, child care, elder care programs create work-life balances, and in so doing reduces this overall stress in the person and that area of the brain, the limbic area of the brain, can be impacted by that.

And the EAP and work-life program also create a health home, because it’s a household benefit, and it also creates a healthy workplace. And in so doing, creating a healthy environment, reduces overall stress, addressing the limbic area of the brain, and also while providing healthcare coaching to provide information addressing the front area part of the brain, to get a healthy brain, to make healthy choices.

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