Simple Tips For Staying Healthy Over The Holidays

Whether it's a Halloween hayride or that first hint of snow, these memorable events signify the holidays are in tow. Holidays can light up our days with festivity and cheer — a weaving of joy and comradery amongst family and friends. 

And yet, for many, those fall and winter months also come with some challenges — a whirlwind of factors that can put a damper on their health habits (via Forbes). After all, keeping up with the relentless momentum of holiday cheer can impact sleep habits, diet, and even stress levels, too.

But planning ahead (and being mindful of your needs) can ease the holiday stress that can impact your well-being (via Mayo Clinic). This includes scheduling in healthy habits such as regular exercise, fruit- and veggie-rich snacks, and allowing yourself a break when needed — meaning you don't need to attend every gathering. It's okay to say "no" if you need some time to unwind. Here are some other tips for staying healthy over the holidays.

Keep moving

It may seem more challenging to fit in exercise when the days are shorter and your schedule is full (via Advent Health). But you can incorporate exercise into your holiday routine in so many ways. It need not to be limited to spending hours at the gym. In fact, there are several ways to combine holiday-related activity with exercise. 

Powerwalk your way through holiday shopping as you move from store to store. You can rely on your smart watch or use your smartphone to track your progress. Immerse yourself in house cleaning to keep your pad guest-ready, then unpack those holiday keepsakes for decorating. Even short bursts of mild activity can add up to benefit your fitness (via Your Weight Matters). Furthermore, you may opt for family-fun activities that keep your heart pumping (via Advent Health). Encourage your family to participate in a fun and festive Turkey Trot or a Jingle Jog. You can also schedule winter activities like ice skating or sledding, or enjoy walks with your friends.

Don't obsess over food & drink (focus on fun, family, and friends)

It's tempting to ogle all sorts of holiday goodies, most of which you'll only find during this time of the year. And to that we say: Go ahead and have a bite — don't allow guilt to keep you from enjoying the party. 

Remember that it's okay to allow that inner child to partake in a little food pleasure (via Western New York Neurology Associates). Studies show that the average holiday weight gain is but a mere 0.08 pounds (or about 0.37 kilograms), according to a 2017 review in the journal Obesity. They key to maintaining your health is to enjoy things in moderation. Plus, you'll have a chance to shed that "unwanted baggage" after the festive season passes, so that those excess pounds won't accumulate over the years.

The holidays are a time for social interaction (via Western New York Neurology Associates), so just enjoy good food and drink while catching up with family and friends. And, if you can manage to eat more fruit and veggies by bringing plant-based dishes to the holiday table, then do so.

Get enough sleep

The holidays can zap your energy, so get plenty of sleep. You'll need at least 7 hours of rest to stay focused and lively (via Sleep Foundation). That's because a lot of repair and care takes place while you are asleep (via Forbes). And the quality of your sleep is just as important for your body's restorative processes (via American Psychological Association). When you get enough quality sleep, it can lift your mood, elevate your creativity, and boost your immunity (via Valley Sleep Center).

Additionally, don't get in the habit of staying up late. Lack of sleep promotes a rise in the hormones cortisol and ghrelin, driving up stress and triggering cravings for (often nutrient-devoid) carb-rich foods and sweets, according to a 2015 review in Sleep Science. Furthermore, sleep deprivation can impact your gut health when you make poor food choices (via Forbes). The effects of being over-tired also impair your decision making, reaction time, memory, and ability to properly communicate (via Valley Sleep Center). What's more, research has shown that the effects of chronic sleeplessness can increase one's risk for diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Don't skip meals

Skipping meals to save calories for a holiday party may actually backfire on you, according to registered dietitian Amanda Hindoian (via Intermountain Healthcare). Depriving yourself can make you ravenous by the time you arrive at the party — and may make you much more likely to overindulge in (typically more fattening) holiday foods.

To avoid overeating at a holiday gathering, you can practice mindful eating instead. By having this "tool" in your belt, you can exercise control without deprivation (via Harvard Health Publishing). Start by reflecting on how you feel. You can determine how hungry you really are, if you are simply bored, or if stress is driving your impulse to eat. Then, you can decide how much you'll eat. Start with small portions (and choose smaller plates when possible). 

Before taking that first bite, take a pause and be grateful for the experience — family, food, and friends. Then, chew slowly to experience all the flavors and textures in your food. Note: putting down your utensil between each bite and swallow may help you to slow down.

Drink plenty of water

You won't notice yourself sweating during those cold winter months. (That is, unless you've been doing a HIIT class or a high-impact cardio routine.) And it's far easier to recognize your thirst on a sweltering hot day (via Parkview Health). But don't let your guard down when it comes to hydration. 

Perspiration combined with extra clothing and drier air can make it easy to get dehydrated — more than you may realize. Furthermore, when you spend much of your time with the heating units in your car, home, and office, the dry air can make you perspire — and you'll need to replenish all that water you lost (via Hydr8).

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day does a lot for your health. It helps regulate your metabolism, provides thermal support, and supports your immunity (via Parkview Health and Hydr8). It may even help protect you from binging on holiday food. If you drink a glass of water before grabbing a plate, it will temporarily fill you up enough to reduce your appetite. And if you plan to imbibe, drinking a glass of water before and after will prevent alcohol-related dehydration and minimize its negative effects (via WebMD). It may also prevent you from drinking more alcohol than you can handle.

Don't forget your fruits and vegetables

When festive foods are aplenty and your schedule is jam-packed, you may find it easy to fill up on goodies and fast-food convenience. But that means fruits and veggies can take a back seat to starchy, sugary, and more often nutrient-deficient foods. Fortunately, it only takes a bit of preparation to make sure you integrate nutritious food into your holiday diet. 

Start by stocking your kitchen with fruits and veggies. Prepare a simple, nutrient-dense snack before attending your holiday gatherings (via Forbes). You can also fuel up with some hummus and veggies before heading out (via Half Your Plate). Keep fresh fruit like tangerines, apples, or bananas on hand as quick snacks, or toss some snap peas and cherry tomatoes into a zip-lock bag to bring with you while do your holiday shopping.

You can also add more fruits and veggies to the festivities by preparing a plant-based dish for each party. Some healthy and festive options include roasted squash soup, butternut squash and apple salad, a lightened green bean casserole, and roasted sweet potatoes (via Mayo Clinic). Ambrosia is a fruit-rich dessert option (and you can make it healthier). To make it lower in calories, swap out the sour cream for fat-free yogurt (via Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). And if you want to keep your dessert free of added sugars, consider colorful fruit kabobs, fresh fruit "pizzas," and fruit-only "nice" cream (via The Beacon).

Prepare and store foods safely

Always keep food safety in mind when preparing your meals. Keep your hands and food preparation surfaces clean to prevent cross-contamination (via CDC). Cook food to the proper temperature: Ground meats, ham, and egg dishes should cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (via Minnesota Department of Health). For fresh steaks, chops, and roasts, the guideline is 145 degrees Fahrenheit; the same goes for fish. Casseroles, stuffing, and leftovers should be heated to achieve an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Proper food storage is also important. Bacteria can grow rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of serving (via Banner Health). If the food items are hot, wait for them to cool down before you stick them in the fridge. Make sure that items are properly sealed in proper-sized containers before refrigerating or freezing. 

Lastly, don't overstuff your refrigerator. Overloading it with leftovers can offset its regulated temperature. Consider breaking up bulk items like turkey into smaller zip-lock bags to take up less space.

Don't abandon healthy habits

Food, festivities, and temptations abound once the holidays get into full gear. But that doesn't mean you have to discontinue your healthy habits (via CDC). 

Start by maintaining a regular meal schedule to keep your blood sugars stable. (And don't skip meals!) When at a dinner party or festive gathering, enjoy small portions of your favorite dishes or treats,and make sure to include fruits and veggies whenever you can. To help you stay in control, you can create healthier versions of fall- or winter-themed festive dishes (via Mayo Clinic). Remember, recipes don't have to be overly decadent to stand out with good taste.

Good lifestyle habits can keep you healthy, too. Carve out some time for self-care (via Health Coach Institute). Find calm amongst the holiday hustle through guided mediation, or start your day with positive affirmations. Be mindful and enjoy each aspect: the food, the people, and your surroundings. That includes eating slow and consciously (via CDC). Fit in exercise whenever you can. A long walk with family or friends after a holiday meal is a great way to stay social and active. Finally, be sure to get plenty of sleep. This will keep you focused and prevent mindless eating.

Manage your stress

The holidays can be overwhelming –- from cooking, cleaning, and entertaining to shopping, traveling, and attending gatherings (via Mayo Clinic). All this hustle and bustle can lead to overwhelm and distress.

To minimize stress, start by planning ahead. Setting a schedule for shopping, baking, and connecting with friends can help you stay on top of things and avoid last-minute scrambling. Consider shopping online to save yourself some time. Be realistic: You can't attend every gathering. When you can't add another social event to your already jam-packed calendar, consider meaningful connections via phone or Facetime chats instead. It's okay to leave some space in your calendar between engagements. And don't expect everyone to live up to your expectations. Chances are they are just as overwhelmed as you, so set aside any ill feelings if they can't accept your invitation.

To further ease your stress, ease up on your holiday demands and stop doing tasks you resent (via Women's Health). Perhaps your hand is cramping from writing out individual holiday cards; consider sharing holiday wishes via social media instead. If decorating becomes a chore, then keep things simple and do a little less decorating. You don't have to do by yourself, too — there's no shame in asking for help (via Mayo Clinic).

Wash your hands often to help prevent the spread of germs

COVID may no longer be the first thing on our minds these days, as restrictions have lifted in most of our states (via AARP). But with cooler weather, increased interstate travel to visit family and friends, and all the anticipated parties and holiday events, there still is reason to stay cautious (via New York Times). And keep in mind that the pandemic is still ongoing: As Europe models an upward trend of cases, the WHO warns that a new infectious wave may be starting up soon.

Remember that it's cold and flu season, too (via Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology – APIC). So, it's always a good idea to wash your hands. According to the CDC, you should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. That's the length of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. Scrub with vigor and cover all surfaces, including between your fingers. It is recommended to wash your hands before, during, and after preparing foods, after taking out the garbage, prior to eating, after using the toilet, after petting animals, and after coughing, sneezing, or caring for someone ill.

Keep up with regular doctors' appointments

As the holidays draw near and your calendar fills up, be sure to keep any regularly scheduled medical screenings a priority. This includes dental visits, eye doctor appointments, and any medical screenings or follow-ups. Regular check-ups are important because they help you uncover any potential medical issues before they become a problem (via Pomona Valley Health Centers). And early detection means you are more likely to get the best treatment as soon as possible. Being consistent with your medical screenings can also help reduce your chance of getting sick and limit your risk of medical complications by managing existing conditions.

If you are leaving town for the holidays, be sure to plan ahead to take care of any health or medical concerns before you leave (via MedlinePlus). Discuss this with your healthcare provider 4 to 6 weeks before your departure. Depending on where you travel, you may also need certain vaccines or booster shots. If taking any medications, be sure you have an adequate supply of the prescription medications you need (and keep them with you in your carry-on luggage if flying). When traveling abroad, you may also consider purchasing traveler's insurance.

Stay warm and bundle up

There are practical ways to stay warm indoors during the holidays (Heart Matters). These include proper sealing doors and windows sills (to keep the cold air out), having an effective heating system, heating up the rooms where you plan to spend most of your time, and serving up warm food and drinks.

But don't forget to bundle up (when necessary) when heading outdoors. When temperatures are chilly (between 10 and 40 degrees), you should include one to two layers along with a warm, water-proof outer-shell garment (via Weather Nation). When extremely cold (from 30 degrees below zero to 0 degrees), include three or more layers along with gloves, boots, a hat, and a warm face-covering to protect your skin. And when the weather is simply cold (from 10 degrees below zero to 20 degrees), donning two to three layers plus a hat and gloves is recommended. Be sure to choose your fabrics wisely: Wool, fleece, fur, cotton, and corduroy with keep you best insulated with warmth. And if you want to dress to impress, consider cardigans, sweaters, fur-lined jackets, and scarfs.

Don't drink and drink

Drinking and driving is a dangerous combination (via Kalkhman & Rayz, LLC). And even if you manage to avoid hazards, getting caught under the influence is never good news. You may be subject to fines, have your driver's license suspended, or even face time in jail. To stay safe and have no regrets, plan your drinking wisely. Enlist a designated driver when going out drinking (or choose non-alcoholic beverages), never drink alone, and don't drink on an empty stomach. You may also consider downloading a Ride-Share app as another safe option for getting home when intoxicated. If you are the designated driver, make sure you are 100% commitment to your friends' safety — that means no alcohol, not even a sip (via NHTSA).

To enforce safety through the holidays, the United States Department of Transportation and your local law enforcement have partnered up to promote responsible, safe driving. These messages "If You Feel Different, You Drive Different — Drive High, Get a DUI" and "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" are part of a campaign running from December 18 through January 1 to educate and remind people of the dangers and consequences of driving while drunk or high.

Be safe while hanging those lights

It may be tempting to enjoy a drink or two while decking those halls and stringing those lights, but you shouldn't be on a ladder while under the influence (of alcohol or any drug). If you are even the slightest bit tired or tipsy, you are more prone to losing your balance (via American Ladder Institute). According to the CDC, thousands of people in the U.S. are injured (and more than 100 people die) each year from ladder-related falls.

To keep your holidays merry and yourself free of injury, follow the guidelines for ladder safety. First and foremost, be sure your ladder is in good condition: no screws loose nor any missing parts (via American Ladder Institute). Place it firmly on level ground without any slippery contact points. Don't be hasty or lose your focus, and always maintain three points of contact during ascent, decent, and while working on the ladder. Face the ladder and always have two hands and one foot (or two feet and one hand) in firm contact with the rungs, steps, and side rails. Be sure to wear proper, slip-resistant shoes (via Ladder Geek). Carrying any objects (including your string of lights, ornaments, and other holiday decor) that can interfere with a hand-hold can be dangerous, so have someone on the ground for support and assistance (per American Ladder Institute). And while it may sound obvious, you should not climb a ladder during high winds or a storm.