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Protecting your health around the holidays

By Kate Rockwood


The holidays are a special time of year—family gatherings over your favorite foods, cheery music on the radio, a cold snap in the air that makes you want to hunker down and get cozy. But the holidays can also pose some challenges to your health like a seemingly endless supply of junk food and busy schedules that make it hard to find time for exercise, or even sleep. 


This year, the coronavirus adds some unique challenges to staying healthy around the holidays. It will mean taking extra precautions to be safe during family gatherings or while traveling. But with some planning, there are steps you can take to protect your health this holiday season.

Eat right

Pecan pie, buttery mashed potatoes, and creamy eggnog are all seasonal treats that are hard to resist. But all those salty, sugary, fatty foods can leave us feeling bloated and cranky. And while a study found that most people only gain a pound or two during the holiday season, that can add up over the years. Being overweight can put you at higher risk for a whole host of health issues like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and sleep apnea. 


If you already have to watch your cholesterol or blood sugar, holidays foods don’t do you any favors. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy seasonal treats, but keep these tips in mind to help you eat better around the holidays.

Keep the treats out of your house. 

Whenever possible, try and stick to your normal eating habits at home during the holidays. Just because chocolate, fancy drinks, and cookies are being handed to you left and right, doesn’t mean you have to keep it in your house. It’s harder to avoid tempting treats when they’re constantly staring back at you from your own kitchen.

Socialize away from food. 

Instead of talking to Uncle Fred over the appetizer table at your family holiday gathering, move the conversation to a room without food so you’ll be less likely to mindlessly munch on snacks.

Fill your plate with the lighter stuff. 

At dinnertime, fill your plate with lean meats (skinless turkey and chicken), salad, and veggies to leave less room for higher calorie, higher fat foods like sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, and puddles of gravy.

Wait 15 minutes. 

It can take up to 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full. Eat slowly so you don’t wind up overeating.

Get enough exercise

Exercise is kind of amazing. It has so many benefits—it can help you sleep better, maintain a healthy weight, boost your mood, and lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Getting enough activity during the holidays, though, can be tough. Not only is there a lot competing for your time, but in many places, the weather doesn’t exactly make it easy to do anything outdoors.


Still, it’s a good goal to try and get 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, heavy yard work, tennis, dancing, bike riding) a week. That works out to a little over 20 minutes a day. But you don’t have to do all 20 minutes at once. If you can fit in a 10-minute walk around lunch time and one after dinner, that’s all you need. In bad or cold weather, you might have to get creative. Luckily, there are countless free online workout videos on sites like YouTube.

Get enough sleep

We all know how it feels when we don’t get a good night’s sleep. The extra stress around the holidays and disruption to our usual routines can make that even tougher. Getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep is important for our health, including the fact that sleep helps us fight off infections, especially important now. 


To get better sleep, try these tips:

  • Go to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

  • Get enough sunlight exposure during the day. 

  • Don’t take a nap after 3 p.m.

  • Limit caffeine late in the day.

  • Avoid large meals close to bedtime.

  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed. The blue light they emit can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime. 

  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool.

Stay safe during COVID-19

Life with the coronavirus has made some of the usual joyous parts of the holidays—gatherings with friends and family or travel—riskier. To stay safe this year, follow these tips recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): 

  • If you live somewhere where the weather is milder, host your gathering outdoors rather than in. If your gathering is indoors, keep a few windows cracked open to let in more ventilation.

  • Keep your holiday gatherings to as few people as possible.

  • When not eating or drinking, people should wear cloth masks wirth at least two layers of fabric. 

  • Keep at least six feet of distance between you and anyone you don’t live with.

  • During a gathering, frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

If you must travel during the holidays, wash your hands regularly and carry hand sanitizer. Wear a mask in public and, whenever possible, stay socially distanced from other people. Whether you’re staying at a hotel or a family member’s house, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down commonly touched surfaces and air out the room you’re staying in by opening some windows.

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