Now that the holiday season is in full swing, many of us are contemplating the age old wrinkle-promoting holiday questions…. What do I buy for my family or loved ones? When am I going to fit shopping into my busy schedule? How do I avoid the goodie tray at work? How about exercise, is it ok to take a break for the entire month of December? Amidst all of this stressful mental chatter, it is easy to forget that the holidays are meant to remind us to cherish the joys in life…. Family, friends, traditions… and be grateful for the simple things.
The thing is, just because the holidays embody these sentiments and connecting with the special people in your life, it doesn’t mean we have to give up thinking about taking care of ourselves. In fact, maintaining a healthy and balanced approach to the holiday season gives you the enduring energy to lift your holiday spirit as well as those around you. Follow these simple tips to help your holidays stay focused on what really matters: Life, love, health and happiness.
Attitude of Gratitude
Just as laughter is infectious, so is stress… literally. Taking a few minutes out of your hectic holiday schedule to ponder or express your gratitude does wonders for your perspective and your health. Beyond shifting our perspective into the positive realm, choosing to be grateful instead of complaining about a situation actually boosts the immune system.
Studies show that optimistic people maintain higher numbers of white blood (CD4) cells that protect the immune system compared to pessimistic people. The power of positivity and gratefulness works in both healthy and immune-compromised people (one study was performed on AIDS patients)… further demonstrating the incredible force of perspective in maintaining and achieving health. A gratitude journal is a great way of training yourself to embrace this mindset… and also makes a thoughtful gift idea.
The Many ‘Cizes’ of Exercise
It’s excuse yourself for not squeezing in gym time with the plenitude of excuses around the holidays….and that’s ok. Don’t stress out if your routine is thrown out of balance. Stress only makes the situation worse and puts you at further risk of gaining holiday pounds because of the metabolism-slowing effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. You can still capitalize on the fat busting, anti-inflammatory and disease fighting benefits of regular exercise by embracing your new holiday routine (remember… gratitude is healthy!) and fitting exercise in where you can.
Shopping for gifts, readying the house for guests and even holiday travel all provide opportunities to raise your heart rate. Get some exercise and get into the giving spirit at the same time by giving up that great parking spot close to the mall door. Cleaning your home before and after hosting a party is another sure-fire way to fit some cardio in…. and another opportunity to train your brain to be grateful for a seemingly mundane activity. Even holiday travel is peppered with lull times that you can take advantage of. Opt for a brisk walk or stair climb instead of hopping on a moving sidewalk or escalator, and take advantage of the gym facilities if you are staying in a hotel during your holiday visit.
Avoiding the 12 Pounds of Christmas
Sugary treats and goodies are an integral part of the holiday tradition…. But they don’t have to be your only salute to the season. Be mindful of your food intake and only indulge in sweets on extra special occasions (the lunchroom holiday treats would fall out of this category). Opt to savor a bite or two and leave the rest… you’ll be surprised how satisfied you feel and be grateful to yourself for showing restraint. Lead by example and bring healthy treats or snacks to social gatherings. A little taste of a holiday-inspired spice like cinnamon or nutmeg in a healthy treat (like guilt-free chocolate chip ginger oat cookies) will conjure the same warm feelings of holiday nostalgia as a sugar-laden one.
Appetizers and main course dishes for the holiday meal also provide ample opportunity to infuse the season with a wide variety of healthy, nutrient-packed foods. Instead of making the traditional mashed potatoes, try sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil, turmeric and pepper for a low glycemic (carb friendly) and antioxidant-rich side dish. Usually associated with Indian cuisine, the addition of turmeric will peak your guests curiosity at this exotic addition and up the medicinal factor of your festive meal by adding anti-inflammatory properties (especially beneficial for anyone suffering from joint aches). Mediterranean-inspired appetizers such as baba ganoush and hummus served with pita and chopped veggies are also great low-calorie and tasty departures from the usually high-fat dips and meats and cheese platters.
Beyond your Bathroom Scale
The intent of this article is not to breed fear or anxiety about gaining a few pounds or losing your cool despite your best efforts. The important thing is to make your holiday season your own, incorporating all of the healthy and joyful aspects of the season and finding positive ways to handle the challenges and come out ahead. Of course, this advice applies all year long, but the holidays are a great time for a reminder to stay true to ourselves and treasure the simple things in life…. love, health and happiness come first, far before any material need or traditional expectation.
Gleeson M, Bishop N, Stensel D, Lindley M, Mastana S, Nimmo M. The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise: mechanisms and implications for the prevention and treatment of disease. Nature Reviews Immunology 2011; 11, 607-615.
Ironson G, Hayward H. Do Positive Psychological Factors Predict Disease Progression in HIV-1? A Review of the Evidence. Psychosomatic Medicine 2008; 70 (5): 546-554.
Lyubomirsky S. et al. Pursuing Happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology 2005; 9: 111-131.
Teitelbaum J. How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight. Total Health 2003; 25(5).
Tilak JC, Banerjee M, Mohan H, Devasagayam TP. Antioxidant availability of turmeric in relation to its medicinal and culinary uses. Phytother Res. 2004 Oct;18(10):798-804.