For many of us, the holiday season really is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s an opportunity to spend time with family, give thanks, watch football, exchange gifts, enjoy holiday parties and marvel at the magical effect Christmas has on children.
All of this activity can be a lot of fun – it can also be exhausting and stressful. Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians want you and your family to have a special and memorable holiday season, and that starts with looking out for your health and safety first. Here’s our seven keys to staying safe and healthy this holiday season:
Get Your Flu Shot
If you haven’t already had your flu shot, do it now! Flu season started in October and flu cases begin to spike in December.
“The last thing you want in the middle of the holiday season is to be down for a week or two with the flu,” says Dr. James Parker, an internal medicine physician. “Everyone six months and older should receive an annual flu vaccine, which are available at most Privia Medical Group primary care offices, as well as most pharmacies.”
Wash Your Hands Often
Just as flu season picks up around the holidays, so does the likelihood of an upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold. “The best safeguard against colds and other illnesses is frequent and proper hand-washing,” advises Dr. Parker. “When we touch anything that others have touched, such as money, a handrail on a staircase or a credit card machine at a retail checkout, we’re putting ourselves at risk of a cold.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following instructions for proper hand-washing:
- “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.”
Hand-washing is always preferable, but it’s 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.
Holiday decorating should be fun, not dangerous. Here are a few important holiday safety tips:
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 putting up Christmas lights, take a few safety precautions. First, check your lights carefully to see that the wires are not frayed or damaged and that the bulbs are not broken. If lights are damaged in any way, they are a fire and electrocution hazard – throw them away. Follow instructions on how many strands you can safely connect and take care not to create a circuit overload.
One of the most common household injuries involves ladders. If you’re hanging outside lights and it involves a ladder, it is best to hire an insured professional to do the job. Falling off a ladder is one of the more common household injuries and can be quite dangerous. “Breaking your leg or suffering a head injury isn’t a risk worth taking,” says Dr. Robert Reddix, Jr., an orthopedic surgeon. “We’ve seen too many of these types of injuries from ladder falls.”
Safety extends to meal preparation, as well. If you prefer your holiday turkey to be fried, order it from a restaurant, ready to serve. Every year, there are reports of home fires as a result of a turkey-frying project gone awry. In some cases, this method of turkey preparation has caused explosions and severe, life-threatening burns. “Our advice on deep-frying a turkey at home: don’t,” says Dr. Uzoma Ben Gbulie, a plastic surgeon.
Enjoy the Food - Just Not Too Much of It
Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of the holiday season is the great meals we get to enjoy. While Thanksgiving dinners and other holiday foods may tend to be on the rich side, much of the traditional holiday food is not terrible for you, in and of itself.
“The problem with holiday dining is that we tend to simply eat too much fat, sugar and salt,” explains Dr. Errol Bryce, an internal medicine physician. “Having some turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy and a reasonably-sized slice of pumpkin pie isn’t going to cause devastating weight gain. The problem tends to be that we simply eat too much of all this good food. We load an excessive amount of food on our plates and maybe go back for seconds, also.”
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 healthy to eat.
Easy on the bubbly
For people who drink alcohol, moderate consumption is an important part of staying healthy. That means no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. It’s especially important to remain mindful of this around the holidays, when people can have a tendency to over-indulge.
Just as eating too much will result in an unhealthy calorie intake, so will drinking too much – all alcoholic drinks contain calories that can lead to weight gain and they provide none of the nutrients that food contains.
The dangers of drinking too much alcohol go far beyond the calories. “Drinking in excess can lead to intoxication and will leave you dehydrated and possibly nauseous for several hours after you stop drinking,” says Dr. Joseph Milne, an orthopedic surgeon. “The most dangerous part of drinking to intoxication is that your judgement and motor skills become impaired. You might lose your balance and fall, suffering a broken bone or head injury.”
And of course, drinking too much and then getting behind the wheel can lead to a lethal outcome. 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, ever.
It’s important for our overall health that we get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, five to seven days a week. That’s true year-round and it’s important to keep up an exercise routine around the holidays, when it’s especially needed to burn those extra calories.
“Given how hectic the holiday season can be, some may be tempted to put their exercise routine on hold – promise yourself you won’t do that,” advises Dr. Lindsay Breedlove Tate, an obstetrician and gynecologist. “You need to stay with your exercise routine to burn calories and also help clear your head from your endless holiday to-do list.”
If your holiday plans include travel, pack your walking or running shoes and make time to get in some exercise when you’re on the road.
Find Your Stress Reliever
While the holiday season is supposed to be joyful and fun, the reality for many people is that it can be stressful. Between the decorating, cooking, baking, shopping, travel and entertaining, some try to cram too much into a few short weeks.
“If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, that’s a key sign you need to ease up on yourself,” says Dr. John Briscoe, an internal medicine physician. “Make time for yourself and do something that relieves your stress – read a book, watch a movie or go for a walk. Remind yourself that everything does not have to be ‘perfect’ – you, your family and friends will enjoy the holidays the most when you’re relaxed, rested and at ease.”
Having a happy and joyous holiday season starts with putting your health and safety first. By taking time to ensure you’re protecting your health, minimizing stress and getting rest, you’ll better enjoy this special time of year and your family and friends will enjoy their time with you. So slow down, give thanks for what you have and take care of yourself!
From all of us at Privia Medical Group North Texas, we wish you Happy Holidays and a healthy and safe New Year!