Happy Healthy Holidays
We’re already well into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – a busy time of year that can be joyous and magical as well as exhausting and stressful, all at the same time. Here are some tips to help you embrace the upcoming weeks in a healthy, positive way.
Let’s start with nutrition and food. The holidays are a time to enjoy and celebrate with your loved ones. And, as we all know, such festivity commonly involves food in an abundance of delectable shapes and forms. Think about this: a handful of buttery cookies, a couple servings of eggnog, a slice of prime rib, or a single slice of pecan pie can contain 500 calories or more each. If you indulge in just one such extra goodie every day for a week, that’s 3,500 additional calories in your diet – equal to a pound of extra weight. Over the course of several weeks, it quickly adds up to the 10-pound holiday weight gain that my patients too commonly experience. So I encourage you to strike a balance. If you know you’re going to a party with your favorite foods in the evening, forgo the big burrito at lunch in favor of a salad. And maybe extend your walk an extra few blocks.
While little indulgences are okay, just don’t go overboard to the point where you feel guilty about what you’ve consumed. However, if you happen to overdo it a little bit, it’s okay. You’re only human and everyone is entitled to have a little bit of fun. Just try to get yourself back on track, remembering the consequences your actions might have a few weeks down the road.
What about libations? An occasional drink will not harm most people at all, especially during the holiday season. Alcohol consumption should be limited to one drink (a 5-oz glass of wine, one beer, or one shot of hard liquor) per day for women; two for men. This is provided, of course, that you do not have any underlying liver or other relevant health problems and that you’re not taking any medications that would react adversely with alcohol. Check with your physician if you are unsure.
Some people ask me, “I don’t drink regularly at all – only when I go to parties. So can I have more than one drink at the party?” Well, no. The body doesn’t work that way. You can’t “save up” your safe drink allowance and have them all at one time! That would be binge drinking and it’s definitely not safe, especially if you are not accustomed to having alcohol.
Another consideration is that you may want to have someone drive you home after the party. As we get older, cognition does tend to slow; even that one or two drinks might affect you differently. This is especially true when it is late and dark, or in inclement weather.
Baby, it’s cold outside. The weather changes ushered in by Ole’ Man Winter bring their own set of challenges. One of the big things we see here in the clinic during winter months is injuries due to falls. We tend to have a very active population – people who like to get outside and walk or participate in winter sports. Now, that is great, and I never discourage fresh air and exercise! Just take some extra precautions:
- Wear appropriate footwear for conditions.
- Bundle up in warm clothing, including hats and gloves. Layers work well to protect body heat and can be removed if you get too hot.
- Be on the alert for sneaky black ice and similar hazards.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen, even if it’s overcast. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are very powerful, especially bouncing off snow.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. The cold can fool you and you don’t feel as thirsty, but the body needs just as much water.
- Air temperatures below freezing can affect body temperature regulation. You might not feel the cold as much, especially if you are doing something enjoyable, but it is still affecting you. Be sure to take breaks and go inside to warm up as needed.
When it is just too ugly to be outside, go somewhere safer and more hospitable to get your exercise, such as a rec center or a mall. A trip around the mall, using the stairs instead of the escalator, can give you a great workout!
If you use a walker or cane to assist you in getting about, it’s certainly better to be safe than sorry. It is simply not worth risking a fall due to snowy, icy conditions outside. Stay indoors and protect your body.
Please know your own limits when it comes to snow removal. Too many people live a relatively sedentary lifestyle, spending much of their time on the couch. But when it snows, they head right out to shovel the walks. Shoveling wet, heavy snow is very hard work! If you have a bad back, heart problems or other physical challenges, use extreme caution if you must shovel. Better yet, get someone else to do it for you. If you are shoveling and experience any chest discomfort (it doesn’t have to be pain, per se), a sensation radiating down your arm, pain in your jaw, or shortness of breath, it could be your heart. Stop immediately and call 9-1-1. If you are physically fit, shoveling can be great exercise. If you think you’re up to it, go for it! Just take it nice and easy, pay attention to your body, give yourself a break when you need, and stop if you feel unwell.
Driving in inclement weather is never a great idea. If you can avoid going out during snowstorms, by all means, stay home! Now, I know the Colorado weather can be very difficult to predict. But if the forecast is indicating a big storm on the way, stock up ahead of time and be ready for it so you don’t have to go out. Keep plenty of canned or frozen foods on hand, have a supply of water, a flashlight and batteries, and be sure your prescriptions are filled. You don’t want to run out of your heart or blood pressure medication and have to venture out to the pharmacy during hazardous conditions.
I don’t have time to get sick! For the perfect storm, combine cold & flu season with the psychological stresses of the holidays and nasty weather. This triple threat renders our bodies vulnerable to illnesses great and small. As a physician, I believe that the best preventative step you can take to avoid getting sick is thorough, basic handwashing. Wash your hands frequently, especially after you’ve been out in public, after using the toilet, after caring for someone sick, after blowing your nose, and when preparing to eat. Use soap and hot water, and lather both the fronts and backs of hands for 20 seconds (about the time it takes to hum the “happy birthday” song twice through). When you’re done, dry with a paper towel and use it to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door – surfaces that can be contaminated with germs left by people who do not practice proper handwashing.
Always cough or sneeze into your elbow – not a hand (which can easily spread germs to other surfaces). And be sure to properly dispose of used tissues.
Antibacterial gels are good to carry with you for times when you are unable to wash. And, when you’re at home, disinfecting surfaces with a product like Lysol will also help.
Holiday airplane travel can be especially risky from an infectious perspective. You’re likely to be cohabitating in a small cabin with other passengers who are contagious (even many who appear to be well!) with some bug or other. So use extra caution in those circumstances. If you have a cold virus or sinus symptoms yourself and have to travel on a plane, you may want to consider taking an over-the-counter decongestant 30 minutes before boarding. This can help alleviate painful pressure in the head during the flight. (Ask your doctor first if you are taking other medications or have high blood pressure, and be sure to drink plenty of water as these drugs can be dehydrating.)
Bah, humbug. There are countless triggers for stress and depression during the holiday season. While some people experience sadness because they are lonely, others struggle under the pressure of family drama, the demands of entertaining, or overspending.
This can be an especially hard time for those who have recently lost loved ones or who feel isolated. I like to encourage people under these circumstances to reach out into their communities and do something to connect and contribute. Work at your church, volunteer at a soup kitchen, lend a hand at an elementary school, or join the rec center, play bingo, go on an outing. If you can turn your attention away from your own worries, you are likely to feel better.
For people in the second category, facing a myriad of possible stressors, I encourage taking the time for self-care. It is important to eat well and get plenty of rest and some exercise to keep the immune system strong. And, at least once a day, take a few moments to step back and quietly unhook from whatever is going on. Mindful practices like deep breathing exercises or meditation can be great stress-busters.
If you are in trouble and don’t have anyone else to turn to, please call your physician. We have resources and people who can help you, especially if you’re feeling really bad. Unfortunately, a touch of the “holiday blues” can be somewhat common. But you should naturally come out of it after a week or two; if not, there may be a more serious depression at work and there are medications which can be very effective. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help.
What about New Year’s resolutions? I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They put too much pressure on people and are hard to keep. Instead, I encourage healthy lifestyle changes that are easy for people to follow and keep throughout the entire year, instead of giving up by February!