A family decorates a Christmas tree together

5 tips for a healthy holiday season this year

As the unprecedented year comes to a close, it’s important to be mindful of our physical and mental health
December 17, 2020

The holiday season is a time of reflection, joyous celebrations spent with our loved ones and gift-giving. However, for many, it is also a time of unhealthy eating habits, more time indoors and holiday-related stress.

That’s why it is so important to continue to be mindful of our physical and mental health, especially during this extraordinarily difficult year. David Vaughan, MD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Primary Care & Population Health at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine, recommends five tips for maintaining your health during this holiday season.

Maintain a healthy diet

It’s easy for us to fall into unhealthy eating patterns during this celebration-filled season. Fortunately, there are ways to combat temptations. When cooking or baking traditional holiday recipes, try making healthy substitutions for ingredients. For instance, use cooking spray instead of butter or margarine to prevent sticking for your baked goods or use reduced-fat or fat-free milk instead of whole milk for your eggnog recipe.

Additionally, don’t forget to eat a well-balanced diet. It’s okay to occasionally treat yourself to some gingerbread cookies or pumpkin pie, but remember to incorporate a good number of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Make a plan for yourself here. Vaughan says it is okay to enjoy mealtime, however try to limit or avoid snacking. If you do decide to snack, try healthy alternatives such as carrots and celery or hard boiled eggs.

Limit alcohol consumption

It comes as no surprise that alcohol consumption increases for some during the holiday season. It’s also the time of year when more people are at risk for alcohol-related deaths and injuries as people tend to go beyond their limits more than usual.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a person puts their decision-making abilities and driving-related skills at risk even before they show signs of intoxication.

To curb your alcohol consumption, set a limit on the number of drinks you plan on consuming during the holiday, and keep a physical tally of how many drinks you’ve had so you don’t rely on just your memory. Vaughan recommends not exceeding two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. It’s also important to never get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you have any alcohol in your system.

Keep your skin healthy

The cold weather and low humidity during the winter season can cause many problems for your skin. Given that your body’s largest organ is your skin, it’s vital to keep it functioning and as healthy as possible.

One important way to keep your skin in tip-top shape is to eat the right foods. Although it may be tempting to indulge in all the holiday sweets, healthy foods will provide your skin with the nutrients it needs. Staying hydrated, washing with warm water instead of hot and avoiding strong soap can also benefit your skin.

Reduce stress

Although the holiday season is a joyous time for many, it can be an added stressor for others. In addition to the usual culprits for holiday stress—such as financial straits, family conflict and overextension—the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may keep some people from seeing their loved ones. With the holidays looking different this year, this season may add more stress and mental health issues to your life.

One great way to combat the stress this season may bring is to make a list of what your stressors are. Once you make a list, you can come up with one or two possible solutions to each of these stressors. Other ideas Vaughan recommends include reaching out to your loved ones, making a list of things you’re thankful for, volunteering to serve others to shift your perspective and learning to say “no.”

Get enough vitamin D

The winter season is known for having shorter and colder days, even in Texas. As a result, we are less likely to get the vitamin D we need to maintain strong and healthy bones. A vitamin D deficiency can result in osteoporosis, osteomalacia or even rickets.

One of the best ways to get vitamin D during the winter is through your diet. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include fatty fish like tuna or salmon, yogurt, milk and much more. According to the Cleveland Clinic, another way to get sufficient levels of vitamin D is to spend 15 to 20 minutes in the sun three times a week. Vaughan suggests a walk in the sun not only provides your body with vitamin D, but it can also reduce stress and burn some calories. If you are exposed to the sun for more than 15 minutes, though, be sure to wear sunscreen.

— Gracie Blackwell

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