The Holiday Season can be a very difficult time to maintain a diet, fitness plan, or sanity. It’s fraught with traveling, spending, gorging, and laying on the couch watching Christmas movies and football games. Not to mention the cold weather does nothing to motivate the average person.
It’s an uphill battle as soon as the temperature dips, and it only gets worse as Christmas nears. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and the usual New Years party is like a two-month long gauntlet. Sometimes it’s just enough to survive without gaining five pounds, getting sick, or falling completely off the exercise wagon.
Below are four important Holiday health ideas to keep you exercising, eating healthy, stress-free, and healthy. If ever in doubt, go for a stroll or say no to the extra helping of stuffing.
• The Halloween warm-up
Halloween can be a lot of fun. Dressing up and trick-or-treating with your children or friends. Decorating your house and watching scary movies. Each Halloween is a celebration of death, but one shouldn’t forget about life.
It’s in early October that the first signs of winter appear. The sun shines less, the temperature drops, and our diets tend toward sweets. It makes for a nasty beginning to a long end of the year. Our bodies, solar powered and designed for activity, are doomed by shadow and unnatural sugar.
But we can avoid winter let-down by going on the offensive. Every Halloween we go trick-or-treating we may walk three or four miles or more, stopping at doors behind scary masks and makeup. No one is giving candy out on October first, but what’s stopping you from getting a head start?
Long before Halloween, dress in your warmest clothes and take a daily walk to see the early decorations. Watch them change as each holiday comes and goes (pumpkins turn to turkeys that turn to reindeer and lights), and watch as your body melts instead of balloons through the winter. Staying active is one of the most important steps we can take to stay healthy throughout the Holidays. Just take it one step at a time, one walk a day.
By beginning early enough, before the snow falls, you can gradually acclimate yourself to the conditions as they change. This is like getting into the bathtub one inch at a time, instead of jumping in all of a sudden and shocking your body. Don’t wait until January to begin an outdoor exercise program. By then winter will be too much for an unused body to handle.
• The Thanksgiving Meal-plan
Thanksgiving usually ushers in the first big meal of the Holidays. My family eats in the early afternoon while Dallas or Detroit plays football on TV. The meals are always large, with turkey, yams, stuffing, and pie. It’s too easy, and too much fun, to pack in the food until the stuffing is all out of the turkey and inside of our stomachs.
But one meal doesn’t make a difference on our overall health. It’s the many meals before and after the big meal that really pack on the pounds. It’s the obsessing over Thanksgiving that opens the door to eating more than we need prior to November 26.
The best way to avoid packing on the pounds in anticipation to the biggest meal of the year is to begin a healthy diet the moment Halloween is over, if not before. Once the last trick-or-treater leaves your house, get rid of the rest of the candy and commit to the produce and health food aisle at your local grocery story.
A pre-Thanksgiving Calorie Restriction plan can work wonders for our body and mind during the Holidays, and can help us lose weight even if we eat the house on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition (CRON) is backed by a lot of science. Restricting calories releases hormones that help us feel good on a daily basis, and also lengthen lifespan. But the Holidays are no time of year to jump head first into CRON. There’s no need to go crazy and restrict calories by twenty or thirty percent. Calculate your daily caloric needs, and reduce your caloric intake by five or ten percent. If your body needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain its current weight, eat just 1,800-1,900. This will help clear some extra space for the upcoming onslaught of fattening, sugary Thanksgiving and Christmas food, while keeping you in the Holiday spirits.
• The Traveling Blues
Getting to grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve, when it seems like every other person in the country is on the same road you’re on, and the snow is thicker than rock, can be a very harrowing experience. It’s just as bad as the stress involved in planning dinner for a large family, shopping for last-minute gifts, and gritting your teeth every time you step on the scale.
Stress and traveling go hand in hand, but where traveling can be a positive family experience, stress during the Holidays does nothing but help pack on pounds and blow up blood pressure.
A great traveling pick-me-up is simply slowing down on the road. The faster we drive, the faster we want to get to where we’re going. And the more pressure we put on ourselves to get there, the more stressed we’ll get.
You can slow down two ways. You can take the time to enjoy the trip, which may not be so much fun if you’re the one driving; or you can plan ahead for what may slow you down on the open road, at the airport, or at home before you even leave your front door. Make sure you have everything packed, that your tickets are in order, that you have an up-to-date road map, and that you leave early enough to get to your destination on time, in spite of plain delays or traffic jams and icy, stormy weather.
Knowing what to expect and planning for the unexpected can do more to ease a stressful Holiday Season than anything else.
• The Sickly Chills
Early winter is the worst time of year to get sick. It’s also the easiest time of the year to contract a cold or the flu because of all the extra human contact. The last thing you’d want to do is bring your germs to the family Christmas, or have someone else and their children share more than an apple or pumpkin pie with you.
By exercising (whether it’s walking your Halloween route, or doing yoga and weights indoors to avoid the cold) and eating healthy with Calorie restriction or another healthy diet (eating apples, bananas, and carrots instead of Snickers and Milky Ways), you can boost your immune system so you won’t get sick, or will get sick less and for shorter amounts of time.
Staying healthy through the Holidays is very important to enjoy the Holidays. If you’re sick all the time, what fun can you possibly have?
The bottom line, despite the cold weather and extra food, stay active and eat less and healthier. Here are four bonus tips to staying healthy through the Holidays.
• Exercise by raking leaves or shoveling snow. There are many cold weather activities to keep you in shape, like skiing, sledding, or building snowmen. Snow is hard to move through, so no matter what you do in it you’ll burn calories and have fun.
• Stress can hamper us in many ways. Stress leads to overeating, causes us to get sick, and keeps us feeling down and unable to exercise. Fight stress by planning ahead, getting enough sleep, and sharing the Christmas Spirit: even in the middle of October by giving and helping others. We’re often most stressed out when we’re being most selfish.
• When traveling long distances, take the time to stretch when you stop for gas, Get on your feet once in a while. Give your body a little boost and you will find yourself more alert and less tired. You may even come to enjoy the scenery.
• Proper and healthy diet isn’t just about not eating junk. It’s also about eating enough nutrients our bodies need for proper cell function. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (Vitamin A, B, C, and E, calcium and iron, and green tea, just to name a few) are vital for healthy cells, and adding these in fruits, vegetables, and supplements can keep us functioning at optimum performance even when those around us aren’t.
Always remember that your environment has much to do with how you feel. Take advantage of things around you to make yourself healthier. When eating Christmas dinner, put food on your plate that is healthy, instead of going straight for the pie. If you can’t afford a Bowflex, take a trip outside to rake leaves. If you have to travel across the country in a car packed with kids, leave a day early. You have a lot of control over your health, even if you don’t have control over the season.