The holiday season can be a busy and stressful time of year. During the holidays, many people have less time to maintain healthy lifestyle habits. Holiday parties and celebrations with family and friends can distract from proper sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns.
However, people can still enjoy the holidays while keeping health in check. Here, we describe four tips for staying healthy during the holidays.
1. Be conscious of alcohol intake
People tend to consume more alcohol during special occasions, and the holiday season is no exception. While Canadian guidelines recommend no more than two drinks per day (10 per week) for women and three drinks per day (15 per week) for men, some recent research has shown that consuming even less than recommended amounts increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower lifespan. This study concluded that consuming beyond 37 units per week increased the risk of death by more than 30% for both men and women.
Consider ditching the drinks
The relationship between alcohol, health, and disease is confirmed in another study that discussed how even a short one-month break from alcohol can affect body weight, cholesterol level, and risk of cancer. The study looked at 94 adults who consumed more than three drinks per month; half of the participants were asked to abstain from alcohol consumption for one month. After the trial period, those who abstained from alcohol had a lower average weight, and blood cholesterol levels dropped by13.4%. Levels of two hormones involved in cancer progression also decreased.
Avoid binge drinking
However, the news is not entirely grim. Though heavy drinking increases the risk of heart disease, Norwegian researchers have shown that moderate alcohol consumption does not impair heart function. Men and women who reported heavy or binge drinking had enlarged left ventricles compared to lighter drinkers. Moderate and responsible alcohol consumption over the holidays will help maintain health and lower risk of disease. Consider alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic alternatives such as sparkling water with lime or cranberry juice with club soda. Avoid excess or binge drinking at holiday parties as a way of staying healthy over the holidays.
2. Maintain healthy eating habits
Mind your portion sizes
Food is a large part of holiday celebrations with family and friends. Though many people are busy this time of year, it is still important to maintain a healthy diet and avoid overindulging on holiday treats. Overeating has been linked to portion size and can lead to unhealthy weight gain. People tend to consume more when offered large portions of high-calorie and high-fat foods. Controlling portion size and balancing high-energy foods with healthy, nutrient dense foods such as fruits and vegetables can help prevent undue weight gain.
Limit processed foods
Limiting processed foods is also important to maintain a healthy weight. Foods that are high in fat and sugar are associated with food addiction and cravings. A Turkish study demonstrated that increased consumption of high-fat and high-sugar has led to more food-addicted people. Further, those with food addiction are more susceptible to weight gain, accumulation of abdominal fat, and abnormal eating behaviours.
Try a Mediterranean diet
To eat healthy over the holidays, consider exchanging some holiday treats with nutritious Mediterranean foods. Studies have shown numerous health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including a lower risk of lung cancer, prevention of weakness and loss of muscle mass, and lower blood pressure. The diet has also been established as a possible treatment for certain reflux disorders. The Mediterranean diet focuses on nutritious foods including fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil.
Replacing high-fat items and sweets with vegetables and low-fat dips will help prevent weight gain. Also, consider changing holiday recipes to be more nutritious and use smaller sized plates at mealtime. Substitute half of the butter in baked goods for applesauce, use milk instead of cream, serve potatoes with consider exchanging instead of sour cream.
3. Get enough sleep
Don’t stay up too late
As with eating habits, a busy holiday schedule can interfere with a proper sleep schedule. A circadian rhythm is an internal body system that accounts for behaviours over a 24-hour period. It helps manage sleep-wake cycles and has been linked to energy metabolism.
A recent study examined the health impacts of sleep patterns in 2,133 Asian patients with prediabetes—a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. The results revealed that “night owls”, or people who prefer to do activities in the evening rather than the morning, receive less sleep than those who prefer mornings. Fewer amounts of sleep in night owls have been linked to increased weight gain and risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
Poor sleep patterns have also been associated with negative cardiovascular and psychiatric health outcomes. A Duke University study in the US showed that subjects with irregular sleep patterns had a higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, stress, and depression. These patients also had higher fasting blood sugar levels, a marker for type 2 diabetes.
Spend more time relaxing
Managing stress and over-exhaustion during the holiday season could help establish a proper sleep schedule. A Japanese paper showed that linalool, a compound found in lavender plants, can produce a calming effect. Mice in the study were exposed to linalool vapour, which lowered anxiety levels without significant side effects. Placing some lavender-scented items around the home might help to manage holiday stress and promote a calming effect before sleep.
4. Exercise regularly
Physical activity is one of many factors that are essential for healthy living. Though people often have less time to exercise over the holidays, it is important to stay active this time of year. Sedentary lifestyles (those with minimal physical activity) have been linked to many diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Limited physical activity has also been shown to cause weight gain. A recent five-year study demonstrated that TV viewing is related to higher food and beverage consumption, and puts people at risk of weight gain.
Fit in time to exercise
Aerobic exercise offers a way to combat these adverse effects. In a US study, researchers showed that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness led to longer lifespans. Aerobic exercises include jogging, cycling, swimming, and more. The study divided participants based on aerobic fitness levels. Elite performers had an 80% lower mortality risk than subjects with low aerobic fitness, and there was no upper limit on the positive benefits of aerobic exercise. Aerobic physical activity can be especially important for managing weight gain over the holiday season.
Despite holiday parties and busy schedules, maintaining health is important during the holiday season. To stay healthy this time of year, people should limit holiday treats, eat healthily, and keep up exercise routines. These tips for staying healthy during the holidays will help prevent weight gain and lower risk of illness or disease. This holiday season, do take time to enjoy the festivities with family and friends but remember to also set aside some time to stay active and promote healthy habits.
Written by Braydon Black, BSc
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