10 Ways to Stay Healthy This Holiday Season
Beat colds, stress, burnout, overeating and more
Here are 10 ways to open a release valve for stress, hold onto your good health habits and greet the New Year with strength and energy.
1. Make fitness dates with yourself. Research suggests life stress is one of the main reasons regular exercisers fall off the fitness wagon. Don't let holiday demands be your excuse to skip working out. You may need to cut back, but that doesn't mean cutting exercise out. Decide in advance what you can do each day of the week and put fitness appointments with yourself on your calendar. Set the alarm if you need to be reminded to take a walk or practice your favorite yoga poses. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)
2. Take a time out. Americans typically leave four of their average 15 vacation days unused, concluded a 2015 Expedia study of "vacation deprivation." You don't have to take two weeks off to enjoy the restorative power of a vacation. Just add a day or two of time off during the holiday season. Dutch researchers found that even short vacations of four to five days yielded short-term health and well-being benefits. Keep in mind that the more detached you are from working during those days off, the greater the health payoff. Use your "time out" to really unplug.
3. Get medical help pronto if you need it. More people die of heart attacks around Christmas and New Year’s than any other time of the year. University of California at San Diego researchers concluded that an important cause of these deaths is a failure to get medical attention when it's called for. People simply don't want to interrupt the festivities with a trip to the ER. But remember that a delay when you or a family member has chest pain, shortness of breath and any other signs of a heart attack can be truly deadly.
Related: 6 Heart Attack Symptoms Women Ignore
4. Experience nature. Take a break from the to get outdoors and look at the trees, the snowscape or the sunset. Within minutes of being in a natural environment, heart rate slows and muscle tension eases, according to research. Give yourself 20 minutes, and your blood pressure and levels of the so-called “stress hormone” cortisol are likely to decrease, too, based on a Japanese study of “forest bathing” (immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest). Chronically high cortisol levels are linked to digestive trouble, sleep problems, heart disease, anxiety and depression. (Photo: Dignity 100/Shutterstock)
5. Take notes when you're feeling blue. There are many reasons people get depressed during the holidays, but unmet expectations are high on the list. Don't let the blues escalate. "Putting that anxiety into words can be beneficial, especially around the holidays when there's also pressure to be nice and upbeat," says James W. Pennebaker, PhD, Regents Centennial professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
If something is bothering you, write about it for 10 to 20 minutes. Let go and explore. "How might it be related to other issues in your life now or in the past? What do you think is going on in your own mind as well as in the minds of others?” says Pennebaker, author of “Expressive Writing: Words that Heal.” "Write continuously," he advises. "Don't worry about spelling."
6. Hydrate when you drink. Among other things, drinking alcohol makes you urinate more — so much more that you become dehydrated, which can cause you to feel thirsty, dizzy and lightheaded. To feel your best, skip the alcohol altogether. But if you want to indulge, alternate each drink with two non-alcoholic beverages, advises Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness.” (Photo: 5PH/Shutterstock)
7. Rehearse saying "No thank you" to food. Be choosy. Just because a full plate is before you doesn't mean you have to eat everything on it and toss and turn all night feeling bloated, gassy and uncomfortable. "Eliminate the non-essentials and choose only those foods you feel are most important to the tradition of the holiday meal," says Somer. A little practice saying no in advance, she says, will help you refuse food offers, coaxing and coercions with grace.
8. Catch a catnap. Sleep experts often advise maintaining your regular sleep schedule over the holidays to stay healthy. It's good advice, but hard to live with. Napping may not make up for missed sleep, but the National Sleep Foundation says a quick nap of 20 to 30 minutes can help improve mood, alertness and performance. Don't nap too late in the day or you risk upsetting your body clock. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)
9. Be careful whom you hug. Never make contact with a person who is coughing or sneezing. That's it, bottom line. Since you don't always know who may be infected, avoid physical greeting rituals (kisses, handshakes) if you can, and wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds if you can’t. When you can’t get to a sink, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. If someone in the house is sick, disinfect the place as best you can.
10. Eat for energy. There's no single vitamin, herb, food or energy drink that will propel you through the holidays. "Our bodies need 40-plus nutrients every day, plus all the hundreds of phytochemicals in real food," says Somer. So focus instead on eating a variety of good-for-you foods and snacks, and make sure you’re getting enough protein. Don't skip meals, either, thinking that you’re “banking” calories for a splurge at dinner. Instead, eat a light and healthful breakfast and lunch. (Photo: abc7/Shutterstock)