How to keep your physical and mental health on track during the holidays

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With the holiday season upon us, many people will be gathering with family and friends, whether it’s a work party, a friend’s get-together or a quiet night at home watching Christmas movies. Although fun, these events can interfere with your healthy lifestyle habits.

A recent study reported that nearly 45 percent of people take a break from exercising during the holidays, more than half say they feel more tired and less time for themselves, and nearly one-third report drinking too much.

My research looks at the benefits of a healthy lifestyle on physical and mental health. And many of these same healthy behaviors can help you navigate the holidays.

Eating the right way

Cakes, chocolate, spiced ham, turkey stuffing, mulled wine and other delights abound this time of year. Many of these foods are high in fat, sugar and calories. It is therefore not surprising that the holidays are associated with greater consumption of food. And one survey even included people eating around 6,000 calories on Christmas Day. That’s two to three times the daily calorie recommendation for most people.

In one survey, one-third of people reported drinking heavily during the holidays.

With this amount of food, there are many claims that holidays lead to weight gain. Although there is a persistent rumor that the average holiday weight is five to 10 kilograms (2.25 to 4.5 pounds), in reality it may be much less. A study published in 2000 reported that only about one pound, or about half a kilogram. However, since this was an average amount, there were still some people in the study who gained five pounds or more.

While indulging once or twice won’t affect your diet, if you have a holiday cycle going on, you may want to strategize how to manage your diet. First ask yourself if you need (or want) to go to all of them.

Of the events you attend, choose one or two events to indulge in. These may have the best food, or even your closest family and friends. For others, try to stay on the healthy side of things.

Before you go, make sure you eat well the day before your event so you don’t go to the event hungry. Also, make sure you get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep can make you reach for high-energy foods and eat more.

Try asking a health buddy, either a friend or host, to keep you on track. And be careful of drinking alcohol, which can affect your self-control.

Staying active

Melted snowman cookies against a blue background
Skipping a few exercise sessions won’t affect your fitness and long-term health, but it may affect your mood.

When it comes to exercise, most of us are creatures of habit. This is a good thing, because having a routine is the best way to maintain regular exercise. But the holidays are by no means routine. Gyms, pools and community centers may have reduced hours or be closed. Your coach or aerobics instructor may have taken a break.

Now, missing a few workouts won’t affect your fitness and long-term health, but it may affect your mood. Exercise is known to increase energy levels, improve mood and reduce stress. All this can be useful during hot holidays. And missing time to exercise can be like missing your morning coffee.

But the holidays also bring many opportunities to do many things – from shopping to Christmas markets to walking around your neighborhood looking at decorations.

You can also get into the holiday spirit by singing Christmas carols (or any other song). Singing can reduce anxiety, may increase your lung capacity and increase the number of infection-fighting molecules in your blood. And singing with others is known to build social bonds and release oxytocin, which can improve a person’s mood.

Although the quality of your singing does not matter for many of these benefits, the more you sing, the more you will benefit.

Managing stress

About 90 percent of adults in the United States associate the holiday season with some form of stress. Although the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by shopping, hosting events, expectations and extra financial expenses.

small red and white heart-shaped candies and large heart-shaped candies with one side broken into three pieces.
Although the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, it’s not uncommon for you to feel overwhelmed by shopping, hosting events, expectations and extra financial expenses.

This may be one reason why the number of heart attacks and heart-related deaths increases during the holiday season. In addition, it is believed that people are slow to seek treatment during the holidays, given that the emergency department is at a peak after it is over.

Depression occurs when people feel that they have no control over what is happening. Setting up a vacation plan can help. Your plan may include a spending budget, which events you will attend and which you will not say no to. If you’re hosting dinner, plan the menu ahead of time, ask others for help or get take-out.

Some strategies to manage, and prevent, stress include getting regular exercise, making sure you get enough sleep, avoiding unrealistic expectations and setting aside some quiet time to do something for yourself.

While we all want things to go smoothly, even the best laid plans can go astray. If that happens, it’s okay and go easy on yourself. If you find the holidays challenging, be sure to talk to the people around you for support.

#physical #mental #health #track #holidays

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