As the festive season approaches, many people gather with family and friends, whether it’s a workplace party, a get-together with friends, or a quiet evening at home watching Christmas movies. Although these events are fun, they can interfere with your healthy lifestyle.
According to a recent study, almost 45 percent of people take a break from exercise during vacation, more than half say they are more tired and have less time for themselves, and about a third say they drink more.
My research looks at the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for physical and mental health. And many of these same healthy behaviors can help you navigate the holidays.
Cakes, chocolate, spiced ham, turkey stuffing, mulled wine and other delicacies abound this time of year. Most of these foods are high in fat, sugar and calories. So it’s no surprise that holidays are associated with the consumption of more food. And one survey even suggested that people eat nearly 6,000 calories on Christmas Day. That’s two or three times the daily calorie recommendation for most people.
With this amount of eating, there are many claims that the holidays lead to weight gain. Although there is a persistent rumor that the average holiday weight gain is 5 to 10 pounds (2.25 to 4.5 kg), in reality it can be much less. A study published in 2000 reported that it weighs only about a kilogram or about half a kilogram. However, since this was an average number, there were still people in the study who gained five or more pounds.
While indulging once or twice won’t derail your diet, if you have a round of holiday events, you may want to develop a strategy to manage your diet. First ask yourself, Do you need (or want) to go to all of them.
Choose one or two opportunities for the events you attend. These may have the best food, or your closest family and friends will be there. For others, try to stay on the healthier side.
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 enough sleep. Lack of sleep can make you more likely to reach for energy-dense foods and eat more.
Try to get a health buddy, whether it’s a friend or even a host, to keep you informed. Also remember the use of alcohol, which can weaken your self-discipline.
When it comes to exercise, most of us are habitual. This is a good thing because a routine is the best way to maintain regular exercise. But vacations are anything but routine. Gyms, swimming pools and community centers may have reduced hours or may be closed. Your trainer or aerobics instructor may have taken time off.
Now, missing a few workouts won’t affect your fitness and long-term health, but it can affect your mood. Exercise is known to increase energy levels, improve mood and reduce stress. All of them can be helpful during the hectic holiday season. And missing a workout can be like missing your morning coffee.
But the holidays also offer plenty of opportunities to get involved in lots of activities, from shopping to Christmas markets and strolling around the neighborhood looking at decorations.
You can also get into the Christmas mood by singing Christmas carols (or any other song). Singing can reduce anxiety, potentially increase lung capacity, and increase the amount of infection-fighting molecules in your blood. And singing with others is known to build social bonds and release oxytocin, which can improve mood.
While the quality of your singing doesn’t matter for most of these benefits, the more you sing, the more likely you’ll benefit.
Nearly 90 percent of US adults associate the holiday season with some form of stress. Although the holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, it’s not uncommon for the shopping, organizing events, expectations of others, and additional expenses to become overwhelming.
This may be one reason why heart attacks and cardiac deaths increase during the holiday season. In addition, it is believed that people delay seeking treatment during the holidays because emergency room visits increase after they end.
Stress occurs when people feel that they cannot control events. Making a vacation plan can help. Your plan could include a spending budget, which events you attend and which you say no to. If you’re hosting a dinner party, plan the menu in advance, ask for help from others, or get takeout.
Other stress management and prevention strategies include regular exercise, getting enough sleep, avoiding unrealistic expectations, and setting aside some quiet time to do something just for yourself.
While we all want things to be perfect, even the best laid plans can go awry. If this happens, it’s okay and take it easy. If you find the holidays challenging, be sure to talk to the people around you about their support.
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