Staying healthy this Christmas holiday season, lifestyle and diet choices

By: Mohan Garikiparithi | Exercise | Tuesday, December 29, 2015 - 09:00 AM

smiling family with gifts at homeChristmas has come and gone, but there is still time to stay fit this holiday season by making healthy choices. The holiday season can be a joyous time of year, gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and enjoying meals together. There’s something to be said for celebrating the people closest to you!

But the holidays can also stir up many other feelings that aren’t so joyous. Stress, anxiety, loneliness and fatigue can all take a toll on your health.

If you’re health-conscious like myself, you will want to make it through the holidays as stress-free and healthy as possible. And you most definitely can! Here are my top tips to see you through the jolly season in high spirits and good health.

4 healthy tips to help get you through the Christmas holidays

1. Manage weight gain: Avoid seconds when it comes to dessertmanaging weight gain

What usually follows an already supersized holiday meal? Dessert, of course! With everyone showing off their own top-secret family recipe, it’s hard not to try them all. It seems like a great idea (you don’t want to offend anyone by not sampling!), but it’s not.

Just consider the sugar. The Cleveland Clinic reports that the consumption of sugar leads to obesity, high blood pressure and inflammation. While the naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables are good for you, consuming too much added sugar can have an adverse effect on your brain.

When sugar enters the bloodstream it creates a chemical response within the brain that releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. This can make you feel an almost euphoric “high” and cause you to crave even more sugar.

Every food we eat gives off some level of dopamine response, and then returns to normal. With sugar, our dopamine levels remain unnaturally high, which also keeps the craving level up. You could find yourself binge-eating those sugar-laden desserts, overwhelming your system. The energy crash soon after is enough to cause regret.

To avoid overindulging in desserts, make a plan. Pick the one dessert you really want and stick with it, in moderation. I’m not telling you to deprive yourself, but deciding what you want and only putting that on your plate will help you stay on track.

Also, if you’re hosting a potluck or attending one, suggest guests bring healthier alternatives. Use ingredients with natural sugars instead of added ones, and make simple baking swaps to ingredients to lessen the sugar load. Even before the dessert makes it to the table, fill yourself with whole grains, protein and vegetables so that you’ll be too full to even consider more than a small portion of the sweet stuff.

2. Seniors, feel connected and combat isolationseniors

Although the holidays can create a sense of togetherness, it can also be a very lonely time for some. A study by the University of California found that 18 percent of seniors live alone and 43 percent report feelings of loneliness, depression and isolation. These are critical numbers because seniors who feel alone and isolated tend to have poorer health and higher mortality rates in comparison to those who feel connected to others.

University of Chicago psychologists who analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study reported that seniors dealing with feelings of isolation and loneliness push these feelings onto others and continue to isolate themselves further, only making the situation worse.

If you find that you are feeling more disconnected at this time of year, try to reach out to the community. Visit your local religious organization, volunteer for a cause or attend local events.

If you are unable to leave your home, take this as a time to invite others over or make regular phone calls. Even a brief conversation with a loved one is enough to have you feeling more upbeat and positive.

3. Make a budget and stick to itbudget

I’m sure the endless wish-lists from the grandchildren are already rolling in, and it would be great to get them everything they want – but sometimes you just can’t. The National Council on Aging reports that over 23 million Americans, age 60 and over, are living at or below the poverty line. As the cost of living keeps rising, living on a fixed income can become even more stressful during the holiday season.

The Mayo Clinic suggests you create a budget and stick with it. Look at what you need to spend on necessities and then see what is left. Find a dollar amount that you feel comfortable spending on each person on your list and go from there. Other alternatives are to donate to charity in your loved ones’ names, create homemade gifts or start a gift-exchange so it narrows down how many people you have to shop for. By limiting what you spend on your purchases, they can become more personal and imaginative.

4. It’s OK to say nook to say no

This is the season when the invites for parties, get-togethers and brunches may be rolling in with no end in sight. Although it would be nice to RSVP “yes” to them all, this may not be realistic.

The holidays are busy enough as it is and you shouldn’t feel guilty sending out the occasional “no.” Making yourself too available can cause feelings of stress, anxiety and even resentment, which are all emotions you don’t want to experience this time of year.

If you find your social calendar filling up quite quickly, stop for a moment to really decide what you need to attend and what social events you can miss. Better yet, look at your holiday commitments and make sure to dedicate one day just for yourself.

By allowing yourself some quality me-time you can recharge and look forward to the festivities. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, and a tired mind can weigh you down just as much as a cold or flu. The Mayo Clinic suggests you take a stroll, read a book, or even listen to some music – whatever it takes to reduce stress and bring yourself to an inner calm.

Although the holidays are meant to be fun and exciting, they often come with added stress. By creating a plan, not wearing yourself thin and staying connected, you can enjoy all that the holidays have to offer.
Remember, they’ll be over before you know it, so please enjoy!

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