Happy holidays! When the temperatures begin to drop and we turn back our clocks, the holiday season is right around the corner. For many people, that means it’s time for cooking, baking, decorating, caroling and gift-buying. Hopefully, it also means spending valuable time with family and friends, making new memories and getting a little year-end downtime.
For some, the holidays can also bring a time of stress and unhealthy behaviors. Many times, we feel pressured between end-of-year deadlines at work, children’s holiday activities, and a self-imposed need to be the “perfect” entertainer and gift shopper. Those factors lead to too little time spent taking care of ourselves, and consequently, our health or safety may pay the price.
Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians want you and your family to enjoy this holiday season, free of illness, injury and needless worry. Here’s our guide for your healthy and safe holiday season.
Get Your Flu Shot!
It’s not just the holiday season – it is also flu season. “If you have not gotten a flu shot yet, do it now,” says Dr. Craig Dearden, a doctor of internal medicine. “We typically begin to see an increase in flu cases in December, so now is the time to get it done. The last thing you want is to be in bed with the flu for a week or more over the holidays.”
Remember, everyone age 6 months and older should have a flu shot once a year.
Wash Your Hands Often
The winter months are also the time of year when the common cold and upper respiratory infections are more prevalent. One of the best defenses against the cold and other illness is to wash your hands frequently. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following instructions for proper handwashing:
- “Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.”
Handwashing is always preferable, but it’s also a good idea to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer that has at least a 60 percent alcohol content nearby. This is a good fallback you when you can’t use soap and water right away.
Think safety first when it comes to holiday decorating. If you’re putting up a live Christmas tree, always keep the water basin full. If the tree dries out, it becomes a fire hazard. When you put up lights, inspect them each year to make sure the wires are not cut or frayed. If the lights are damaged in any way, throw them away – they are a fire and electrocution hazard.
If installing outdoor lights, exercise extreme caution. Falling off a ladder is one of the most common household injuries. If your light installation involves a ladder, it’s best to hire an insured professional to hang them for you. The National Safety Council reports that accidental falls are the top cause of non-fatal injuries – some 8.6 million in 2017.
Don’t forget about food safety, either. The last thing anyone wants is food poisoning, so be careful about leaving food out for too long and be sure to store leftovers properly. For more on food safety, check out our November article on the subject.
Food and More Food
Between family holiday meals, lots of leftovers, holiday parties and the thoughtful co-worker who brings a plate of holiday cookies to the office, food is seemingly everywhere this time of year. What’s more, a lot of it tends to be high in fat, sugar, salt or all three. Proceed carefully!
“In general, it’s more important to watch how much you eat as opposed to worrying too much about what you’re eating,” says Dr. Lynne Tilkin, a primary care physician. “It is perfectly fine to indulge in some pecan pie or have a piece of your mother’s fudge – the key is to watch the quantity. Decide in advance what you are going to ‘splurge’ on and what you can do without. This will help prevent impulsively eating every goodie that comes your way.”
The main thing is to have a general idea of how many calories you typically consume in a day and to try not to deviate too far from that amount, at least not frequently. That will help keep unwanted pounds away. Whatever you do, do not make the mistake of skipping meals with the idea that you are banking calories for later. This can actually have the opposite effect and cause weight gain; you’ll likely be so hungry when you finally eat that you’ll overdo it and eat far more than you should.
If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, there are some simple things you can do to ensure the holiday season doesn’t mean an unhealthy intake of sugar or salt. If you’re doing the cooking, it’s easier to know the foods you’re serving aren’t loaded with ingredients that are bad for you.
On the other hand, if you’ll be dining at someone else’s home, it’s best to let them know of any dietary restrictions before you come (and if you’re a host, it’s always a good idea to ask your guests this question beforehand). You can also always bring your own side or desert to a holiday gathering – you’ll help out the host, while ensuring you’ve got something to eat.
Watch the Alcohol
Large holiday meals and holiday parties can also mean being around a lot of alcohol. If you drink alcohol, it is important to indulge only in moderation. For women, that means one drink a day; for men one or two.
Too much alcohol consumption can be unhealthy for several reasons: alcohol contains a high number of calories and contributes to weight gain without providing any of the energy or nutrients food provides. Too much alcohol at one time can cause nausea, dehydration and headaches.
The most dangerous aspect of excessive alcohol consumption is that it impairs the drinker’s judgement. Far too often, that results in someone getting behind the wheel under the influence.
Sadly, drunk driving deaths increase around the holidays. The National Institutes of Health reports that two to three times as many people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents over Christmas and New Year’s, compared to the rest of the year. Additionally, 40 percent of traffic fatalities over Christmas and New Year’s involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 28 percent for the rest of December.
If you’ve been drinking, don’t drive.
Exercise for Your Heart and Mind
Of course, just as limiting excessive calorie intake is necessary to prevent unwanted weight gain, so is the other half of the weight equation – burning calories through exercise. While it is tempting to put off exercise over the holidays, it is important to keep your routine up, for multiple reasons.
“At least 30 minutes of exercise five to seven days a week is one of the best things we can do for our cardiovascular health, so it is important to get that exercise in year-round” says Dr. Jason Ledbetter, an internal medicine doctor. “In fact, it’s probably even more important during the holidays because it helps us burn off those extra calories we’ve consumed and also helps to alleviate the added stress the holidays can sometimes bring.”
Slow Down and Enjoy the Holidays
With the hectic nature of the holidays and the added pressure we put on ourselves this time of the year, it is easy to lose sight of what the holiday season is supposed to be about. Hopefully, it means time with those you are closest to and an opportunity to slow down and enjoy life.
Remember, make time for yourself – get plenty of rest, spend time on things you enjoy and don’t sweat the small stuff! Be intentional about making your health and well-being a priority – it will make your holiday season happier and merrier for you and your family.