For many, the holidays begin with an earnest anticipation of seeing loved ones and sharing treats and meals. But as the season progresses, your rose-colored glasses can get tinged with stress, sickness or fatigue.
These days, most people realize that health and wellness is based on more than just your diet. But developing a holistic, healthy lifestyle is easier said than done. But it is possible to have a healthy holiday season! Despite what it seems, the holidays are a perfect time to implement some healthy habits and encourage your loved ones to do the same.
We wish you a happy holiday
When you think of “healthy holiday tips”, you may think you’ve got it covered. Cut back on the seasonal sweets and don’t overdo it with the alcoholic beverages. While these are great tips, there’s a lot more to it than that.
We consulted the experts to provide some simple, actionable tips to help you feel your best this holiday season.
1. Get plenty of sleep
Yes, you read that right. While it might feel counter-intuitive to sleep more when you already feel strapped for time, those extra Z’s are critical to your health. “Sufficient sleep should be a high priority during the holidays,” says RN Terry Cralle of We Get Sleep. She explains that without it, our appetites are increased and we tend to overload on sugar and fat to help power us through the day.
She adds that lack of sleep also disrupts mood and immune resilience, leaving us more vulnerable to sickness in the peak of cold and flu season. Plus, without enough sleep we are too exhausted to get the exercise our bodies and minds need. Having trouble switching off at night? She recommends keeping the room as dark as possible and using a white noise machine or earplugs.
2. Brave the outdoors
Maybe you don’t have the time (or cold tolerance) for a full-scale winter activity, but getting outside for even 20 minutes will help replenish your vitamin D levels, according to nutritional therapist Darshi Shah. She says vitamin D deficiency increases our chances of feeling melancholy, which can lead to seasonal depression.
Are your loved ones prone to gloominess in the winter? Recruit them to join you on a crisp, morning walk to appreciate the beauty of the season. “I find if I take a camera, everyone joins the party and moves outdoors with me,” Shah says.
3. Drink water before your meals
Staying hydrated is key for health and happiness on many levels, but making sure you drink water before a meal will net you some extra credit. Challenge yourself to drink a glass of water 30 minutes before eating, recommends Shane Allen, sports nutritionist for Personal Food Trainer.
“Researchers believe this time between drinking and eating helps you feel full while giving you time to shape better decisions about what you eat,” Allen explains. This will help you avoid the typical “my eyes were bigger than my stomach” scenarios at those family meals or holiday parties.
4. Warm up those muscles
The urge to hibernate during the cold months can be strong. But curling up couch-potato style is hard on your body. Joints and muscles can feel stiff in the cold and lack of activity exacerbates the problem, causing more strain and a greater risk of injury.
It’s important to keep your muscles and joints warm and relaxed during the holiday season, according to Dr. Nupur Kohli, author of Chill! How to Survive Stress. “Get a massage, visit a sauna if possible, drink hot beverages and engage in light exercises to stay fit and relaxed,” he recommends.
5. Don’t forget your teeth
Eat cheese with your red wine and make raw veggies part of every feast. Why? Because it promotes good oral health, according to Dr. Matthew Mullally of Bright Side Dental. He says people often count calories at holiday feasts but rarely consider their teeth. Streptococcus mutans, bacteria that contribute to tooth decay and allow plaque to grow, can have a heyday with that appetizer table.
“Consider serving vegetables like raw carrots which naturally clean your teeth.” Mullally also suggests including nuts in your meal for their tooth-strengthening minerals and eating cheese with your red wine to protect your enamel from staining.
6. Incorporate short bouts of exercise in your day
Exercise is probably the last word you want to hear amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays. But neglecting this aspect of your health can take a toll on your overall mood. Your health can deteriorate over the holiday season when you forget to work in some exercise, says fitness guru Carol Michaels.
Without physical activity, you’re more susceptible to stress and lethargy, which is not how you want to be feeling during this fun season. Michaels suggests sneaking in 10-minute exercise sessions and going for walks.
“Exercise first thing in the morning when you have more energy,” she adds. “It will reduce stress, which will also help you to control your food intake.”
7. Enjoy small moments of meditation
Stress gets a hold of us for the strangest reasons sometimes. While we can’t always stop the feeling, we can choose how to react. “We know meditation is good for us,” says Dr. Kathy Gruver of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet. “But not everyone has time during the holidays to stop, sit down and meditate.”
Gruver’s favorite stress-relieving practice is “mini-mediation.” No matter where you are (sitting in traffic, the checkout line or surrounded by scampering children,) simply pause and “concentrate on your breath, the rise and fall of your chest.” She adds a simple mantra to each inhale and exhale, such as “I am … at peace.” This can be done before encountering an inevitably stressful situation or even in the middle of one. And the best part is that nobody ever needs to know!
8. Make a plan (and check it twice!)
The best way to have a healthy, stress-free holiday season is to plan ahead, according to Kohli. Many of the poor health decisions we make can easily be averted with a little forethought. Before you visit your in-laws, tackle your shopping list or even clean the house, think over the coming weeks. Pinpoint the days you presume will be the most stressful and put safeguards in place.
This could be anything from popping a few healthy dinners into the freezer ahead of time, to scheduling a yoga class at the gym. “When you are prepared, it will not feel like chaos, and you can be more relaxed,” Kohli says.
Shah devotes five minutes every morning to be alone and focus on the big picture. “I want energy for an activity-filled holiday season; I want quality time being present,” she says. “After all, if you aren’t going to enjoy it, why bother?”
And a healthy New Year!
These healthy holiday tips don’t have to stop when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve! Maintain your momentum into the New Year and make it the new norm. After all, stress and laziness aren’t limited to the holiday season.
If your interest in health and wellness seems to rub off on people around you, consider widening your impact. What if you could help your whole community make healthier choices? Community health workers get paid to do just that. Learn about what it's like being a community health worker.