Staying healthy during the holiday season

We are in the middle of the holidays.  It is a busy stressful time of the year.  Additional commitments, holiday parties with high fat foods, sweets and little time left for exercise, it may seem impossible to stay on a healthy plan.  But with a little knowledge you can tackle this time of year, and breeze through this with less stress, no weight gain and maintaining your fitness.

The American Heart Association has tips on handling stress, healthy eating and maintaining your fitness during the holidays read below:

Manage Holiday Stress Without Hurting Your Heart

You’ve made a list and checked it twice — but what about your heart health during the holidays?

Good eating habits can vanish from your list easily during the seasonal festivities, especially with additional stress in the mix. “You may have chronic stressors in your life that are exacerbated by the holidays,” said Richard Stein, professor of medicine and cardiology at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City and a spokesman for the American Heart Association. “If so, that’s a good couple of months of added stress.”

Party perils

Special holiday events often serve up extra helpings of high-fat foods, and too many sugary or salty treats can be a concern for those with high blood pressure or hypertension. And secondhand smoke is a concern for everyone.

Stress can be an uninvited guest. There’s the little stuff (your ex shows up at the party) and the big stuff (living day-to-day with loss of employment). You can feel the impact on what you eat and what you do — or don’t do.

“Clearly stress has an effect on behavior and eating and exercise patterns, and it can keep you from sticking to your usual regimen,” he said. “We’re less careful about heart-health behavior and less likely to comply with meds.”

And well, let’s face it: “If you’re bloated and inebriated you’re not going to be quite as enthusiastic about exercising,” Stein said. Those who struggle with depression often feel it more acutely during the holidays. “People who are subject to depression are more likely to have depressor episodes during the holidays, and that can definitely cause heart-healthy patterns to get worse,” he said.

It’s the holidays. What’s the big deal?

No one is saying you should turn down Grandma’s fudge, but diving into the whole pan could mess with more than just your sweet tooth. “The greatest danger is after a month of ‘taking off,’ only a reasonable number will stay off,” Stein said. “It’s clear that the longer you stay away from exercise and a heart-healthy diet, the harder it is to go back.” And saving it all for a clean sweep in January could be setting yourself up for failure. “We think we’ll wake up on New Year’s Day with a new set of resolutions, but the failure rate is pretty great,” he said.

Better to have a plan going into the holiday season, Stein suggests, and then go back to your usual heart-healthy routine (if you have one) once it’s over. For example, you could make an agreement with yourself, “for these three weeks I’m only going to exercise two times a week,” he said. “I’ll have a reasonably healthy breakfast and lunch and limit my aberrant eating. And I’ll leave my meds out on the dresser so I won’t leave the house without having taken them.”

In other words, you can give yourself more freedom without losing control. “Then it’s easier to say on Jan. 3, ‘now I’m going to go back to my usual pattern,’” Stein said.

So how do you stay active and reasonably healthy in the hustle and bustle of the season? By integrating healthy behaviors into your daily activities. For example, get off the bus several blocks early and walk to work or school. If dinner is going to be a feast, opt for a light lunch, then take a vigorous walk. And pick up the pace on family activities. When the kids are home from school (if the weather isn’t too frightful) it’s a great time to squeeze in more long walks and trips to the park. And if you’re the party host, “challenge yourself to make your menu as delicious and intriguing and heart-healthy as you can imagine,” Stein said. Your guests will probably thank you!

After the party’s over

Your poinsettia’s pooped and the eggnog’s gone, but don’t let holiday remorse make you throw in the towel — or take on too much too soon.

“You’ll do better not to plan to do everything — overhaul your diet, exercise 30 minutes a day, make an appointment to get your blood pressure checked — because the likelihood of succeeding is almost zero,” Stein said. Instead, lay out realistic steps for January, February and March. Instead of joining a gym, you might want to start a vigorous walking program first. It’s free, and it’s a great way to fit in more physical activity.

And what’s the best gift you can give yourself? Peace — and control.

When the invitations pile up, “if you can’t say no, it is cardiovascularly, cognitively and socially NOT fun during the holidays,” he said. “Hold your own schedule and don’t overbook yourself.”

 

Carrie Quimby lays out an eating plan for the holidays on Brattleboro Memorial Hospital’s website under our Health Columns titled-Eat, Drink and Be Merry without Adding Those Holiday Pounds.

All of the staff here at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!