When the temperatures begin to fall and the days grow shorter, the holiday season must be close at hand. 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 and getting a little year-end downtime.
For many of us though, the holidays can also mean 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 on ourselves, and consequently, our health may pay the price.
So, how do you keep the health Grinch away this holiday season? Read on…
Winter & Holiday Safety
The first and most important way to stay healthy is to stay safe. One of the great things about living in North Texas is the mild winter weather we typically experience. Every now and then, however, we get walloped with a round of winter weather that leaves the ground covered in ice and snow.
“If the roads are iced over, listen to warnings from local emergency response officials. If they say don’t drive on the roads, don’t try to drive on them,” says Dr. Bradley Putty, a trauma surgeon. “Contrary to what some say, there is no safe way to drive on ice – if you try it, you’re likely to have a wreck and be injured, or worse. And if roads aren’t safe to drive on, that means the sidewalk outside your front door isn’t safe to walk on. If you slip and fall, you can easily injure yourself and end up in the emergency room.”
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 can become a fire hazard. When you put up lights in your home, inspect your lights each year to make sure the wires are not broken or frayed. If the lights are damaged in any way, throw them away; they are a fire and electrocution hazard.
For outdoor lights, exercise extreme caution. “Falling off a ladder is an all-too common household injury,” says Dr. Mark Presley, an orthopedic surgeon. “If your light installation involves a ladder, it’s best to hire a professional to hang them for you.” The National Safety Council reports that in 2013 alone, more than 175,000 people suffered a ladder fall injury that required a hospital visit.
Holiday safety precautions extend to the family cook, also. If you’re serving a turkey, there are a lot of great ways to prepare it – brine it, roast it, smoke it – whatever you do, just don’t deep-fry it. Every Thanksgiving, there are numerous reports of fires caused by people deep-frying turkeys at their home. In some cases, this method of turkey-cooking has caused explosions and severe, life-threatening burns. “The advice on turkey-frying is the same as with fireworks – don’t try it at home and leave it to the professionals,” says Dr. Jesse Smith, a facial plastic surgeon.
Play Good Defense
The holiday season falls right in the middle of another season, one that won’t ever be known as the most wonderful time of the year – flu season. “If you have not gotten a flu shot yet, now is the time to do it,” says Dr. Melissa McFadden, a primary care physician. “Flu cases usually begin to increase in December, so it’s important you be protected. The last thing anyone wants for the holidays is to be in bed with the flu for a week or longer.”
December is also the time of year when the common cold is especially prevalent, and people are more prone to respiratory infections. Check out this month’s article on these illnesses and the best ways to decrease your risk, including proper hand-washing.
Caution: Calories Ahead
The holiday season presents a lot of opportunities to eat good food – and if we’re not mindful, to eat way too much of it. That doesn’t mean you have to skip the cornbread stuffing and gravy, or even the pecan pie – just watch how much of it you consume.
“A lot of food that is traditionally served for the holidays is not terrible for you,” explains Dr. John Staniland, a primary care physician. “Even if it is somewhat richer than we might normally eat, indulging once in a while is perfectly fine. The key is to watch the quantity. We tend to heap a lot of food on our plates at holiday meals and then go back for seconds when we’re done,” he says. “It’s the sheer quantity of food consumed that can cause weight gain, so try to limit yourself to one piece of pie and don’t drown your food with gravy.”
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 adversely affect your health. If you’ll be dining at a relative’s or friend’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.
Alcohol in Moderation
If you find yourself attending a lot of holiday parties, you may also find yourself around a lot of free alcohol. Sometimes people will tend to overindulge to the point of intoxication this time of year. This is unhealthy for a few different 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, someone has too much to drink but convinces himself, “I’m fine to drive home.” This can be a fatal mistake for the driver or for someone else.
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.
“There’s no question that the holidays can be a stressful time of year for a lot of people,” says Dr. Amber Lesley, an internal medicine physician. “Too many folks put unnecessary pressure on themselves to be the perfect host or hostess or buy the perfect gifts. Combined with year-end pressures at work, it can be too much to deal with – so you have to ease up and give yourself a break!”
Dr. Karen Grant, a primary care physician, suggests carving out time just for yourself. This is important year-round, but especially around the holidays. “Read a book, go to a movie or go for a walk,” she suggests. “Whatever you do, make sure you are finding time to recharge and escape stress in a healthy and relaxing way.”
As busy as we can get at this time of year, it’s easy to put time for exercise on the back burner. Don’t do that, says Dr. Curtis Evans, an internal medicine physician. “It is important to keep up physical activity year-round and especially important around the holiday season, when we might be consuming a few more calories than usual,” he explains. “Exercise also helps with any stress you may be experiencing – make time for yourself and it will pay off for you.”
“Getting in 30 minutes of exercise five to seven days a week is one of the most important things you can do for your cardiovascular health,” advises Dr. Norman Davenport, an internal medicine physician. “It doesn’t have to be anything exotic or involved – just go for a brisk walk and you’ll have gotten your exercise in.”
Slow Down and Enjoy Life!
With all the 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 a little bit and enjoy yourself. By making your health and well-being part of your holiday planning, you’ll be happier and feel better.