The holidays are a special time of year to celebrate life, reflect on all the things we are thankful for, spend time with loved ones, and re-focus on what’s important. It is also a time to appreciate and protect the sacred gift of our health. So implement these four healthy holiday habits to stay on track.
If better health is the gift you want to give yourself this holiday season, try these four tips to add more movement to your day, healthy foods to your plate, and have better health this winter.
Healthy Holiday Eating Habits
The key principles of balance and moderation are fundamental to healthy eating, and it is important to practice both during the holidays when temptations are everywhere.
The benefits of eating well include:
- Support for your muscles and bones
- Boosting your immunity
- Helping your digestive system function
- Weight management.
Choosing to eat healthily doesn’t mean all your indulgent holiday favorite foods are on the naughty list. Instead, include these tips into your holiday eating plan to stay on track:
- Offer to bring a low-fat main dish, a side dish of vegetables or salad, or a modified dessert so you know you’ll have something healthy to eat.
- Start with fruits and vegetables to take the edge off your appetite.
- Choose small portions of the dishes you really love and can’t get any other time of year
- Eat slowly and take small bites. Savor the bites you are indulging in. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full.
- If you have a sweet treat, cut back on other carbs (like potatoes and bread) during the meal.
- If you do have an alcoholic drink, have it with food. Otherwise stay hydrated with plenty of water or choose unsweetened coffee or tea, or other sugar-free beverages.
You can’t always control what is being served at get-togethers, but you can make intelligent decisions about what foods and how much ends up on your plate. If you decide to indulge, make sure to incorporate physical activity into your day to balance out the extra calories.
Staying active can have many benefits during the holiday season, but it can be hard to follow through. It gets darker earlier, the weather isn’t as nice, and our schedules fill up more quickly than usual.
So look for opportunities to work physical activities into your holiday season routine:
- Go for a stroll together after a family meal.
- Take two laps around the mall or shopping center before you go into a store to shop.
- Take the stairs at every opportunity.
- Have a dance party to your favorite holiday music.
- Incorporate light resistance exercises (Lunges, jumping jacks, squats, planks, counter push-ups) while cooking or watching tv.
- Park and walk a neighborhood to look at Christmas lights.
- Try a seasonal activity such as ice skating or winter hiking.
- You can also make a new annual tradition and participate in a holiday-themed run or walk for charity.
CDC guidance recommends 150-minutes of exercise per week. Break up your physical activity into smaller 10-minute chunks throughout the day, so it’s easier to schedule. Still, even just a few minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity can achieve health benefits, reduce your stress and anxiety, and lead to better sleep.
Make Sleep a Priority
According to the CDC, more than a third of Americans are sleep deprived, and the holidays can disrupt your sleep patterns even more. In addition, the extra activities and social gatherings and eating later, and indulging in foods high in fat, sugar, or caffeine can keep you awake later. So focusing on your sleep hygiene during the holidays is even more critical than usual.
Here are some tips for getting better sleep:
- Do your best to stick to regular bed and wake-up times.
- Avoid caffeine and other late-night stimulants.
- Follow the stay active tips to burn extra energy and improve your sleep quality.
- Avoid carbs, sugar, high fat, and spicy foods before bed and replace them with sleep-friendly foods, such as serving popcorn, whole-grain crackers with cheese, your favorite fruits, nuts, hummus with veggies, or fruit with cheese.
- Whether you are at home or traveling, keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
- Use sleep masks, earplugs, a white noise machine or fan, or music for better sleep.
- Take a nap if you feel sleepy, but try to keep it short (20-30 minutes).
You should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night to guard against mindless eating, boost your immune system, and leave you feeling rested.
The change of seasons really can bring on “winter blues.” The colder temps, combined with fewer hours of daylight and increased stress around work, family, finances, and more, can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and lethargy. These cold, dark days coincide with cold and flu season. Germs are more active during the winter and more easily spread between people when they spend most of their time inside, in close contact. Take these precautions to stay well over the holidays:
- Soak up as much sunlight as possible. Go outside between noon and 2 pm.
- Increase your folic acid intake, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and decrease your sugar intake.
- Use a humidifier or saline nasal spray to reduce sinus dryness.
- Talk to your doctor if you think you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression.
- Get your Influenza (flu) or COVID-19 vaccine. Both illnesses can result in serious health complications like pneumonia, bacterial infections, hospitalization, or death— flu activity peaks between December and February.
Remember, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs, especially during the winter months. Evidence shows handwashing can help prevent 1 in 5 respiratory illnesses like the cold or flu.
Don’t Wait on the New Year
Many of us enter this time of year with the mindset that it’s a free pass to indulge a little too much. We make plans to refocus our health goals on January 1. But the reality is it’s difficult to regain the fitness ground we’ve lost or drop the weight we’ve added. If you commit to following the four healthy holiday habits of using balance and moderation for healthy eating, making time to stay active, committing to sleep, and prioritizing staying well this winter, you’ll set yourself up to maintain your health goals through the holidays and beyond.