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Eight Ways to Make Your Holidays Healthier, Safer & Happier

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  The holiday season is upon us and it is time to celebrate with family and friends.  Hopefully, the holidays will provide you the opportunity to slow down at the end of a long year and enjoy the season. 

The health care providers of Privia Medical Group North Texas want you and your family to have the happiest of holidays this year.  Here are eight ways to make sure your holiday season is healthy, safe and joyous. 

Protect Yourself and Your Family, Part 1

The last thing you want is for a holiday celebration to be ruined by illness.  The good news is that you can protect yourself and your family from two of the biggest threats to your health right now:  COVID-19 and the flu. 

COVID-19 is still with us.  Thankfully, cases are declining once again, but there is still community spread of the disease.  COVID-19 still sends people to the hospital and tragically, in some cases, continues to lead to loss of life.  In almost all instances, people who are hospitalized or die from COVID-19 have not been vaccinated. 

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and free.  They dramatically reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 and in the unlikely event someone does get it after being vaccinated, symptoms are likely to be mild.  The Texas Department of Health Services recently released a report that found during the period of September 4 – October 1, 2021, unvaccinated people were 13 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than vaccinated people and 20 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. 

Last winter, COVID-19 cases surged, in part due to people spending more time indoors.  That does not have to be the case this year – we can now all protect ourselves by getting vaccinated. 

If you have already been vaccinated, good work! You’ve taken one of the best steps to protect your health.  If you are 18 years of age or older and it has been six months since you became fully vaccinated, you are now eligible for a booster dose. 

If you have young children, there is more good news on COVID-19.  The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have now approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11.  The vaccine for this age group is one-third the dose of the vaccine that has been available for adults and children 12 and older.  Just like the adult vaccine, it is administered in two shots, 21 days apart. 

COVID-19 isn’t the only illness you should get vaccinated for.  The seasonal flu remains a serious health risk and the holidays fall right in the middle of flu season, which runs from October – April.  Flu vaccines are available in most pharmacies.  Everyone ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine.  For more information on the flu, see our September article

Protect Yourself and Your Family, Part 2

Many of the things we learned to do over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic help protect us year-round and especially during the winter months, when upper-respiratory illnesses like the common cold tend to be more prevalent.  Give yourself and your family additional protection with a few simple steps:

  • Wash Your Hands Frequently: Wash your hands with soap and water by scrubbing them for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Use hand sanitizer as a backup: We tend to pick up germs when we touch things with our hands – and then make ourselves sick when we touch our faces.  When you can’t wash your hands, pull out some hand sanitizer and use it to kill the germs – anything with alcohol content of 60% or more will do the trick. 
  • Wear a mask when you’re in a crowd: If you’re in a crowded grocery store or shopping mall, keep wearing a face mask – not only does it protect you from COVID-19, it will also help protect you from any number of other airborne illnesses, like the flu and common cold. 

Decorate Safely

Just like you don’t want an illness to mar your holiday season, you also want to avoid preventable injuries.  When you’re decking your halls this year, keep in mind a few precautions:

  • 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.  Be sure to keep your tree away from fireplaces and other heat sources. 
  • 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.  
  • If you have young children at home, be sure to keep breakable ornaments and small ornaments that could pose a choking hazard out of reach on higher branches.

Practice Food Safety

If you’re cooking a turkey, make sure it’s completely done before carving and serving.  Poultry must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a good meat thermometer to check the bird in multiple places: the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  For minimum safe food temperatures for other types of meat, see this helpful chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

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 quickly 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 food will remain OK to eat.  Even if you put your leftovers in the refrigerator right away, they won’t last forever. According to the USDA, 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 you put them in the freezer.  For a comprehensive list of how long leftover food lasts, check out this additional chart from the USDA. 

Watch the Calories

Holiday food tends to taste really good, enticing us to eat larger portions than we normally would.  What’s more, many holiday foods are rich and heavy in calories.  Nonetheless, it’s quite possible to enjoy plenty of good food during the holiday season – with a little bit of planning and discipline, you can eat well without blowing your calorie budget. 

Try to avoid putting too much food on your plate at a time.  Eat slowly – when you’re done, give yourself a few minutes before going back for the second helping of mashed potatoes or additional slice of pie.  You may decide you’re full and skip it altogether. 

When you’re doing the cooking, there are a lot of steps you can take to make your food healthier.  Try reducing the amount of salt a recipe calls for – you probably won’t miss it.  Use olive oil in place of butter.  Try to serve healthy dishes alongside holiday classics – if you have a healthy salad and some green beans as a side, you’ll balance out your intake of potatoes and stuffing. 

Alcohol in Moderation

Holiday dinners and parties often include alcohol.  If you drink, do so in moderation – it’s easy to have one too many at a fun dinner party or social event.  Moderate drinking is considered a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one for women. 

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, this 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. 

Burn off that Pecan Pie

With the opportunity to eat turkey and all the fixings, along with pies, cakes and other goodies, it’s as important as ever that we keep up our exercise routine during the holiday season.  Unfortunately, some of us let exercise slide at this time of the year because we get busy celebrating, decorating, shopping or traveling.    

Regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy – it helps keep your heart strong and the pounds off.  So, make time for yourself and get in your exercise.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate – a 30-minute brisk walk, at least five days a week will help you stay fit. 

De-stress Yourself

Finally, while the holiday season is ideally a time of celebration and relaxation, the reality for many people is that it can be stressful.  Some people are prone to putting too much on themselves – trying to be the perfect holiday host, prepare the perfect meal, find the perfect gifts or decorate the perfect tree. The reality is, your family and friends won’t notice and won’t care if things aren’t exactly “perfect” – they’d rather spend time with you when you’re relaxed and able to enjoy yourself.

Try not to overload yourself with chores and errands.  Make time to relax and de-stress – get in that exercise, read a book, watch a movie or do whatever helps you be at peace and enjoy the holidays. 

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!

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