Top 5 Holiday Health Tips

The holidays are here as the ghostly haze of orange and black has faded away.  Now is when the real fun and the real challenge begins.  Holiday parties, family visits, treats at the office, temptations while shopping, travel, jet lag, and feasts — all of these combined with your own set of holiday expectations, family dynamics and work stresses make life this time of year a little more… interesting.

So how do you make it through Thanksgiving and beyond without losing fitness progress, gaining winter pounds and surrendering your mental health?

Here are some guidelines for staying healthy and sane this holiday season.

1. Set goals

As the old saying goes, it’s better to have a plan then no plan at all. Goal-setting is a simple and effective way to get through the holidays healthier.  At the most basic level, set do-able goals for your behavior right now.  Write them down and look at them daily.

For those who want a little more oomph, set a post-holiday health goal which requires that you be in pre-training or training mode over the holidays.  For instance, you could sign up for a 5k or half-marathon in early February or plan a ski trip or maybe even a beach getaway in the winter months. You’ll be less likely to nosh mindlessly or skip your workouts when you’re gearing up for something that requires you be in great shape.

2. Keep track

Holidays are famous for their many opportunities to mindlessly eat, drink and be merry while running yourself ragged or turning into an immobile couch potato. (Or, as is often the case, both.) By setting and tracking your goals, you will feel more empowered and be more likely to stay the course.

These days, there are so many ways to track your progress, you may be doing it already.  If so, resist the temptation to stop or slough off while the party season keeps you rocking ‘til the wee hours.  Keep it going as best you can.  Even if you’re not so happy with what you’re recording, it helps to keep the practice going and to face the facts.  That way you can make necessary adjustments.

Tracking your progress is a practice to get you to know yourself and to stay on your own path – it’s not to keep you from having fun over the holidays. A little indulgence might be just the right thing at the right time.  Find out what works for you.

3. Eat right

Beware as holiday treats await in many different locales and occasions – at the mall, in your office mate’s cubicle or when visiting Aunt Nancy.   Don’t be caught off-guard by the Cinnabon scent wafting through the mall.  Make a plan for how to deal.

Not only having healthy snacks with you, but also eating healthy will make all the difference. Practice good nutrition through eating whole foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, fish and meat in moderation. You might have a few too many pigs-in-a-blanket at the office Christmas party, so moderate with a bowl of Greek yogurt, fruits and nuts in the morning.

4. Stay active

A little goes a long way when it comes to physical activity – just stay moving.  A few tactics:

  • Promise to do something active every day no matter how small.  Staying in touch with your body will remind you that movement feels good, and it may motivate you to do a little more.
  • Multitask. Take extra laps around the mall, park far away from your destination when shopping, dance to your favorite song while getting ready to go out, and take the stairs instead of the elevator to get your blood moving and heart rate up.
  • Keep moving during “dead” time – i.e. when you’re waiting, paused, or sitting. You can do this anytime of year but it’s helpful to remember during the holidays when you’re strapped for time and may be skipping workouts.  Do a few ab crunches while watching sporting events on TV or some squats or leg lifts in the kitchen while baking cookies. While these may not be a “real” workout, it’s helpful to maintain some physical activity to remind yourself of your intentions.

5. Remember to rest and reward yourself

Shakespeare wrote that sleep “…knits up the ravel’d sleeve of care,” i.e. sleep is an active time of repair and restoration, not a dormant state.  Sleep is particularly important during the holidays when frayed nerves, rich foods and alcohol can sap your energy. Unfortunately, the same factors that make sleep important may also disrupt sleep which is another reason to moderate your indulgences and exercise when you can. And if you’re not getting enough sleep, take a nap!  There is a plethora of evidence about the benefits of this practice so if you can find the time,  sneak one in.  Just like with exercise, you’ll feel better if you do.

As the holidays can be grueling, do reward yourself.  A reward can be intrinsic to what you’ve accomplished or it can be something external that gives you joy: a trip, new clothes, tickets to a sporting event, movie, show, but it makes a difference when you do it consciously.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing — it can be a new bottle of nail polish or a lottery ticket.  It just has to feel like a treat.

Here’s to happy and healthy holidays – enjoy your merry making and time with loved ones.