Give Yourself the Gift of Holiday Health

This is the time to start!

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Holidays traditionally involve guests, typically family and friends. Germs shouldn't be among them. With concerns about swine flu and the economy, this holiday season could prove very taxing both physically and mentally to a lot of people. Despite these worries, there are still parties to attend, feasts to prepare and share, parties to attend and merriment to be made. While bustling stores and shopping centers as well as holiday parties can bring us into increased contact with sources of physical illness and mental stress, you can take steps to safeguard your overall well-being so the 2009 end-of-the-year holidays can still be, to borrow a few song lyrics, the most wonderful time of the year--not the most unhealthiest.

To improve the likelihood that you'll enter 2010 health and sane, here are some reminders and tips to keep in mind.

Sleep. Even if your holiday to-do list rivals Santa's annual compilation of good girls and boys in length, don't try to cram more in to your already busy days by sleeping less. Missing even an hour or two of sleep a night can take its toll not just on your immune system but also on your ability to handle stress. Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night will help your body fight off germs and your mind take on those sources of emotional and mental tension.

Not only is sleep important for your physical and mental well-being, it's also essential for the physical and mental health of children. A child who curtails or skips naps or stays up too late at holiday gatherings is a child who's more susceptible not just to being cranky and irritable but also to getting sick.

Maintain a healthful diet. A lot of us indulge--and overindulge--during the holidays because foods we so heavily associate with comfort and love and "specialness" are routinely available during this time. However, if you let yourself splurge not just on Thanksgiving Day but on every day and at almost every meal through New Year's Day, you can easily pack on five to 10 pounds.

Those holiday pounds, however, are not an inevitable part of the holidays. If you're heading out to a party, considering eating a light, healthful meal so you won't gorge yourself on less-than-healthful party fare. For example, you could eat a large apple or half a peanut butter sandwich and drink a large glass of water; in fact, making sure you're well-hydrated before a party can help you avoid high-calorie drinks. While at the get-together, scope out the buffet table before you grab a plate so you know all the choices you have. Opt for very small portions of higher-calorie dishes, aim for more veggies than meats and bypass the mundane (brown-and-serve dinner rolls are not that special), saving those calories instead for those favorite only-during-the-holidays treats.

Exercise. Just as you shouldn't cut back on sleep to have more time during the holidays for all the things you need to do, don't be tempted to cut back--or cut out completely--your exercise regimen. Not only will regular exercise help you keep off those holiday pounds, but exercise benefits both physical and mental health. Whether your back aches from hunching over a table addressing Christmas cards or you're stressed because the inconsiderate jerk in line in front of you took the last four copies of the must-have video game your child wants, exercise is a great release.

Since the holidays are a time to focus on loved ones, think about making exercise a family event. Schedule brisk walks each day with your partner or your kids, hit the court together for a game of basketball or head out en groupe for a rousing snowball fight.

Drink plenty of water. Water is essential for good health, and staying hydrated during the winter is especially important. In chillier climes, that cold, dry air Jack Frost brings to nip at your nose also can dry out mucus membranes, which then breaks down the body's natural defense mechanism against infection. Keep a cup or bottle of water handy at all times, even when you're out shopping.

If you're traveling by air during the holidays, keeping your system flush with fluids can be difficult thanks to safety restrictions. Therefore, to safeguard your health when you're flying the friendly skies, ask the flight attendant for water when it's time for in-flight refreshments and think about skipping the complimentary salty snack. Since many of us are reluctant to leave the boarding area for almost any reason as we wait for our flight, save yourself the dehydration and a few bucks by bringing along an empty water bottle with you to the airport. Once you're through security, you can fill it up at the nearest water fountain, foregoing the exorbitant bottles sold at airport kiosks.

Wash your hands frequently. Every flu season, health experts extol the virtues of washing hands frequently to avoid getting sick. Well, germs don't take a vacation during the holidays, so you shouldn't take a break from good hygiene either.

To avoid getting sick, wash your hands often with warm water and soap or with a hand sanitizer product. Such measures are particularly important before you eat or touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the location of the mucous membranes. Because disease-causing germs can live on many surfaces for up to 48 hours, wash your hands after handling common shared items, such as the telephone, TV remote control, door handles, light switches and even serving utensils. Good hand-washing habits are especially important for small children, who tend to put things in their mouths, touch a lot of objects and touch other people.

Since a sink and a bar of soap aren't always convenient, make it a habit to carry a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. These little bottles also make great stocking stuffers.

Drink responsibly. Drinking excessively is dangerous for a number of reasons. Not only is alcohol full of "empty" calories, but it also causes people to lose their inhibitions, leading them to say or do things that have serious consequences, such as getting behind the wheel of an auto while intoxicated.

If you choose to imbibe during the holidays, make sure you drink no more than one or two alcoholic beverages a day.

Be on guard at the buffet table. Astounding amounts of fat and sugar aren't the only things lurking at the buffet table. Germs are too.

If you're hosting a holiday get-together, replace finger foods with dishes attendees dole out for themselves with serving utensils. Consider replacing the buffet with a seated meal you serve from the kitchen to reduce the amount of germ-sharing that can happen at a party.

If you're a guest, keep your fingers out of the food. Don't graze at the buffet table; serve yourself portions on a plate using the provided utensils, not your own. And don't double dip.

Keep your distance. Being close to family and friends is, for many people, what the holidays are all about. However, there is such a thing as getting too close, especially when it comes to illness. Since cold and flu germs are spread through water droplets from mucous membranes in the nose and mouth, try to keep three to six feet away from fellow shoppers and merry-makers. This distance is especially important if you find yourself near someone who appear to be sick, for it can help you lower your risk of getting sick. But if Grandma insists on giving you a hug, you won't be overly rude if you turn your face to avoid close face-to-face contact. It's a healthy precaution for the both of you.

Stay home if you're sick. No one wants to miss out on the fun and festivities the holidays often bring. But if you're sick and don't stay home, you're not doing yourself or your loved ones any favors by sharing your presence and your germs with them.

Definitely send your regrets to the host if your symptoms include a sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever or body aches. If you get sick while you're spending the holidays at the home of family or friends some distance from home, ask for a private room, if possible.

Know your priorities and stick to them. Whether it's giving that unforgettable gift, having the decorated house the whole neighborhood envies or baking an elaborate assortment of cookies, many people, especially women, put too much pressure on themselves to make holiday celebrations perfect for their family. Decide what holiday traditions and tasks are most important to you and your family and focus your energies on them--and let the other things go. Trying to make every detail and every moment of the holiday season special will wipe you out mentally and physically, and that exhaustion can have serious repercussions on your overall health in the new year.

Focus on what really matters to you and your family, be open to the unexpected--and leave perfection to the air-brushed, Photoshop-manipulated images in magazines.

Make time for you. While being with family and friends is an important part of the holiday season for many people, don't overlook your own need for personal unity. Set aside a little time each day to take stock of your physical and mental states, and bring them back into harmony with a little solitude and quiet. Even a mere 15 minutes a day of "me time" can do wonders to help you maintain your sense of balance during this hectic time.

After all, in this season of giving, the gift of good physical and mental health is one of the best gifts of all.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 23, 2010
Last Updated:
February 16, 2011