As the weather turns cooler and the days shorten, you know the holiday season is not too far away. The roughly six-week period that runs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is one of celebration, complete with family, friends, food and fellowship.
To truly enjoy this special time of year and get the most out of it, it is important to stay healthy and safe. Nothing puts a damper on the holidays like an unexpected illness or injury. And for the 2020 holiday season, we are all going to have to take extra precautions to stay healthy – that’s because the COVID-19 pandemic is still here and remains a serious threat to people’s health.
Even with COVID-19, everyone can still enjoy the holiday season and make new, lasting memories. It may just have to look a little different this year.
The Holidays & COVID-19
COVID-19 cases are surging again in Texas and across the United States. As long as COVID-19 is with us – and it will continue to be, until there is an effective vaccine that is widely distributed – we must continue to take precautions:
- Wear a face covering when in public and make sure it covers your mouth and nose.
- Avoid crowded settings.
- Maintain a safe (6-foot) distance from those not in your household
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. When washing with soap and water is not possible, use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face; this is one of the primary ways germs enter our bodies.
- Get your flu shot. The last thing you want to risk is getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
So what does the holiday season look like amidst a global pandemic?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides suggestions to make the holidays as safe as possible this year. One of the greatest risks for spreading COVID-19 is a gathering of family and friends. The huge spike in cases that was seen after Memorial Day and Independence Day points to traditional holiday gatherings as being a main cause of COVID-19 spread. With that in mind, here are some of the most important considerations as you plan for the holidays:
- Focus on holiday gatherings with people in your immediate household and consider avoiding gatherings with people outside your household.
- If gathering with people from outside your household, hold your event outdoors.
- Keep the size of the gathering as small as possible.
- The shorter the duration of the gathering, the less risk.
- Try to avoid travel, if possible. Travel exposes you to more people, increasing your risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- The greater distance you or someone else travels, the greater the risk of introducing COVID-19 to the gathering.
- Avoid potluck, buffet-style meals. Limit the number of people coming in contact with food prep areas.
- If anyone is feeling sick, tell them to stay home.
“It is necessary to take extra precautions this year because of COVID-19 and that probably means modifying some of your family’s holiday traditions,” says Dr. Vasanth Namireddy, a primary care physician. “That might be frustrating, but the risk of someone catching this dangerous disease is simply not worth it.”
Deck the Halls, Safely
Just because we’re stuck with a pandemic for a while doesn’t mean you can’t still get into the holiday spirit! For many people, that means decorating their homes, inside and out – just be sure to do it safely.
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 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 you are putting lights on the outside of your house, it is 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.
Watch the Calories
The holiday season is replete with opportunities to indulge in food – from large holiday meals to cookies, fudge and other treats that seem to magically appear this time of year. Holiday food tends to be loaded with ingredients you want to consume only in moderation, such as fat, sugar and salt.
But do not despair. You can enjoy the treats and special meals – just be careful not to overindulge. “Splurging a little around the holidays is fine and people shouldn’t feel driven to deny themselves a piece of pie or dressing and gravy,” says Dr. Norma Escamilla, a family practitioner. “For many of us, it’s not so much what we eat; it’s how much of it that causes the problems.”
Try to keep an eye on your meal portions. Remember that the average-sized dinner plate holds far more food than what is recommended we consume in a single meal. Try serving yourself in smaller portions.
Contrary to common belief, the average person does not gain five or more pounds over the holidays. On average, holiday weight gain is more like one pound. However, studies have shown that the one pound does not come off; it stays with us throughout our lives. That leads to a cumulative lifetime weight gain that is significant and unhealthy.
So, try to not deviate too greatly from your normal caloric intake to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Dealing with Leftovers
Large holiday meals inevitably lead to plenty of leftovers, so it is a good idea to keep in mind how to safely handle leftover food. Food that is improperly stored and not refrigerated soon enough can grow bacteria, resulting in food poisoning.
It is not necessary for food to cool completely before placing it in the fridge; it is more important to get it in quickly. However, for large portions – especially a big piece of meat, such as a turkey – it is helpful to cut it into smaller portions, which helps the food cool down more quickly.
The other important aspect of leftover safety is remembering how long the food will remain good. Even if you put your leftovers in the refrigerator right away, they won’t last forever. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refrigerated Thanksgiving leftovers are good for 3-4 days. That means the Monday after Thanksgiving is the last day you should eat any leftovers, unless they’ve been in the freezer. For a comprehensive list of how long leftover food lasts, check out this chart from the USDA.
Easy on the Bubbly
Some people tend to drink more alcohol around the holidays. While traditional office holiday parties should not be taking place this year due to COVID-19, keep in mind alcohol is best consumed only in moderation, no matter where it is being consumed. For women, that means one drink a day; for men one or two.
Excess alcohol consumption can be unhealthy for several reasons: alcohol contains a high number of calories and contributes to weight gain. 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, Waist & Mind
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 may be tempting to put off exercise over the holidays due to being busy or stressed, it is important to maintain your routine.
“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. Wilder Diaz-Calderon, an internal medicine physician. “In fact, it’s probably even more important during the holidays because it helps us burn off those extra calories and may alleviate the added stress holidays can sometimes bring.”
Check back next month for an article about how to cope with stress, depression and anxiety – mental health challenges that can be more pronounced around the holidays.
Slow Down & Enjoy the Season
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. That’s important every year, but especially so in 2020!
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.
From all of us at Privia Medical Group North Texas, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and Joyous Holiday Season!
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