Christmas 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 me, 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.
12 Healthy Tips to Help You Get Through the Christmas Holidays
1. Manage weight gain: Avoid seconds when it comes to dessert
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 could 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, stay connected and combat isolation
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 it
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 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.
5. Do not remain seated
By now, everyone has heard the saying, “sitting is the new smoking.” This new phrase even applies on Christmas when you may be tempted to sit on the couch all day long. There is nothing wrong with relaxing for part of the day but getting up and moving every once and while will benefit your overall well-being.
Try going for a walk with family members or suggest a friendly Christmas day snowball fight. This will not only be fun but your health will thank you for it after consuming Christmas candy and roast potatoes!
6. Less alcohol, more water
It is all too easy to drink more alcohol over the Christmas holidays, so it is essential to keep it under control. Make sure you drink plenty of water during any late-night Christmas parties, which can help the kidneys detoxify blood more effectively and keep dehydration at bay.
Consuming a big starchy meal before you drink can slow the rate of alcohol absorption in the body, so be sure to carb up before a big night out. Get to know your own limits and stick to them and be sure to rotate every alcoholic beverage with a big glass of water. Your head will thank you in the morning.
7. Avoid overeating
We are all guilty of indulging during the holiday season, and many of us regret it afterward. This Christmas and New Years try to eat slowly as this is the best way to connect the full feeling your stomach is telling your brain. Also, go easy on appetizers and desserts as this is where you can find the majority of extra calories.
Try filling half your plate with veggies, and be sure to drink plenty of water, which can help with digestion. Food excesses can lead to digestive troubles, including gastroesophageal reflux and indigestion, so anything you can do to minimize your overindulgence will help with any discomforts of overeating.
8. Don’t sacrifice sleep
Many people tend to lose sleep over the holiday season even though they are not setting the alarm and waking up early for work. Having too many late nights in a row can disturb your normal sleep routine and interfere with your health.
Stresses that come with Christmas can be a challenge and may end up leading to poor sleep, so it is important to keep to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. The trick around Christmas is to enjoy yourself and try to stay on top of your sleep patterns so you don’t “crash and burn” from fatigue.
9. Don’t be a glutton
Many traditional holiday dishes are rich in taste and calories and are highly addictive. One thing to keep in mind this holiday season is not to be a glutton. Try to use common sense when it comes to eating even though everything is extra delicious this time of year. Keep your portion sizes under control, don’t go back for seconds, and try to limit the amount of alcohol. By taking small steps towards not overindulging, you can avoid being a glutton this holiday season.
10. Watch out for food poisoning
Family Christmas buffets and work potlucks can be tempting, but they can also be dangerous. Keep track of what foods have been left out of the fridge for many hours during the day as any meat dish or mayonnaise foods may start to turn. Nobody wants food poisoning, but it is especially bad when it is over the holidays.
11. Prevent Infections
During the winter months, it is vitally important to stay vigilant about spreading the cold or flu virus. Simple handshakes, kisses, and hugs are a great way to spread infections, so it is important to keep your immune system boosted to help prevent any illnesses you may come into close contact with. Always remember to wash your hands often and keep them away from touching your face as much as possible. If you are the one feeling under the weather, stay in bed. It’s better to miss a party than to infect all your relatives!
12. Mind your mental well-being
Many people overlook their mental health during the holidays and then suffer the consequences at the beginning of the new year. Be sure to take time for yourself and don’t suppress feelings with alcohol. If you are not one to suffer from negative mental well-being, consider doing something for someone else. Not everyone enjoys the holidays, so a little bit of kindness may go a long way in their life.
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 it!