How to keep the holidays from ruining your health

November 29, 1997

How to keep the holidays from ruining your health

'Tis the season.

To many, December means holiday get-togethers, gift-giving and feasting with family and friends.

It too often means doing, eating and spending too much during the year's shortest days. This can mean getting tired, grouchy, depressed or even physically sick.

How can you keep the holiday season from ruining your health?

We asked several experts to share their thoughts for staying healthy, as well as happy, during the holidays. They shared advice that we may have heard before, but it's advice that's important to hear again before we get caught up in the holiday hubbub.

We thank Lisa Boice, executive director, Mental Health Association, Franklin and Fulton counties, Pa.; Dr. Allen W. Ditto, a physician in family practice in Hagerstown; Lynn F. Little, extension educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Maryland; Dr. Mathew McIntosh, director of the Wellness and Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Hagerstown Junior College; and the Rev. Leon Yoder, pastor of Broadfording Church of the Brethren Fellowship in Hagerstown.


- Kate Coleman, Staff Writer

Dec. 1: Keep expectations manageable by not trying to make the holiday "the best ever." Try to set realistic goals. Pace yourself. Make a list and prioritize the most important activities.

Dec. 2: Plan ahead. Mark your social calendar with all food-related gatherings. You will realize what you have to deal with, and you will relieve many of your food-related anxieties.

Dec. 3: Keep it simple. When organizing holiday menus, make sure they're not complex. Plan foods you know how to prepare. Consider what can be made ahead and frozen.


Dec. 4: When you are too busy, stop and breathe a short prayer of thanksgiving. You will be refreshed.

Dec. 5: Wear your seat belt. Seat belts save lives all year round, but a reminder may be important during the holidays when rushing around to run errands may cause you to forget.

Dec. 6: Shop alone so you won't be distracted from your gift list or budget. Shop when you are well-rested and well-fed. You can make expensive mistakes when you are tired.

Dec. 7: Make sure to include time for yourself and your immediate family. Call a friend you've not seen recently, take a walk, a nap or a bubble bath. Read a book.

Dec. 8: Avoid overindulging in eating and activity. This is good advice for everyone, but it can be particularly important for those with diabetes, heart conditions or high blood pressure.

Dec. 9: Reduce stress by being realistic about what you can accomplish. For each holiday commitment you make, subtract one of the ordinary duties from your life.

Dec. 10: Good nutrition is important at all times, but can be especially important when you are under stress. Eat at least two servings of good quality protein each day.

Dec. 11: Balance extra food with extra activity. If you feel you've blown it, burn those extra calories with exercise. A 15- to 20-minute daily walk can work wonders to relieve stress during the holiday season, and may ward off using food as a stress-coping mechanism.

Dec. 12: Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. In addition to the B vitamins they provide, the high potassium, fiber and water content of fruits and vegetables will help keep your sodium-potassium ratio in balance.

Dec. 13: When drinking alcoholic beverages, alternate diet sodas or seltzer with liquor-based beverages. It's wise to stand away from the bar to reduce the urge to drink away the evening.

Dec. 14: Try to make your friends and family - not food - the center of your holiday season. Engage in more conversation and less munching; circulate with a little plate.

Dec. 15: If you fear the hostess will have only fattening fare, bring a food item you'll feel safe munching on, such as a vegetable platter with a low-fat dip.

Dec. 16: It could be tough with loved ones or those you haven't seen in a long time, but avoid hugging those who have colds.

Dec. 17: Feeling angry at someone today? Forgive them and pray for their well-being. The stress level will be reduced for both of you.

Dec. 18: To avoid spreading illness to friends, co-workers or family members, stay home if you are sick.

Dec. 19: Drink plenty of fluids and limit salt. Stress tends to cause the body to retain sodium and water and lose potassium through the kidneys.

Dec. 20: Try to act Christ-like toward store employees and fellow shoppers. Cheerfulness and patience may be reflected back to you.

Dec. 21: The holiday season coincides with the cold and flu season. Wash your hands frequently and well. Avoid sharing eating utensils.

Dec. 22: Do something for someone else. It is an old remedy, but it can help. Volunteer some time to help others.

Dec. 23: Take time to get enough sleep; take time to slow down. Take time to enjoy the festive sights, sounds and smells that the season brings.

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