Health Tips for the Holidays: Strategies to Stay Fit and Jolly

December 14, 2023

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Armando Philip S. Paez, MD Armando Philip S. Paez, MD View Profile
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Are you letting your body get run down with all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and late-night parties? Overindulging in food and drinks with alcohol and caffeine? These holiday celebrations can really put a stress on your immune system, right at the time when respiratory illnesses are at their worst. 

You owe it to yourself to stay healthy so that you can enjoy every minute of the festive season with friends and family.

Consider following these simple health tips for the holidays to help increase your chances of enjoying a sickness-free holiday season and starting the New Year 2024 on a healthy note.

Staying Healthy During the Holidays

An ounce of prevention is the best defense to staying healthy during the holidays, and it begins with making sure you are protected from COVID, flu, RSV, and other respiratory viruses circulating this season, notes Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health.

“It goes without saying that you should be vaccinated for flu and COVID-19 and be up-to-date on your boosters. Don’t go out or attend gatherings if you are sick. Take COVID-19 tests if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms. During the holidays there are more family gatherings and parties to attend, shopping, and traveling, especially by airplane, putting you in contact with more people and increasing your chances of getting sick. So, take necessary precautions, like wearing a mask, especially if the COVID-19 community levels are high where you live,” says Dr. Paez.

“Frequent handwashing can also help prevent the spread of respiratory infections. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and consider carrying a hand sanitizer with you. Open windows for ventilation. Practice proper cough etiquette. And, because there is more sickness at this time of year, refrain from sharing utensils or drinking cups,” he adds.

Get Plenty of Rest

Another golden rule for a healthy holiday season – get plenty of rest.

“Sleep is essential for our health and well-being and getting a good night’s rest is important to help strengthen your immune system to fight infections, reduce stress, improve our mood, and to stay energized,” said Dr. Karin Johnson, director of the Baystate Health Regional Sleep Program. “Most adults function best with 7-8 hours of regular sleep, but holidays can be a time to catch up on lost sleep.”

Stay Active

Make time to exercise or be physically active, even though it's cold outside.

Even a 10-minute walk twice a day or one 20-minute walk per day can help you reach the goal of 150 minutes of physical activity per week, noted Patrick Schilling BS CEP, CCRP, manager of Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Wellness at Baystate Health.

“We know physical activity feels good, improves sleep and lowers stress, and taking care of your body may help you feel rejuvenated and will give you the extra energy you need during this busy time. Don’t forget that children should also be reminded to stay active for at least an hour per day for optimal health If you just can’t make it to the gym as regularly as you have in the past, you can try to keep moving in other ways. Don’t try to find that parking spot close to the mall entrance, instead opt for one far away so that you will have to walk more. And take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator,” he said.

Beware of Winter Health Dangers

With a holiday to-do list longer than Santa’s list, it can be easy to be distracted from common winter weather safety concerns. Bundle up, and learn the symptoms of hypothermia to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors. Be careful while shoveling – slipping on ice and snow is one danger, but heart attacks from shoveling wet, heavy snow are also common. Finally, think about winterizing your home and car, and preparing in case of power outage. Get our expert advice on how to prepare for these winter health dangers.

Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

Eat healthy and don’t skip meals, that's the advice from the CDC on staying healthy during the holidays. "Eat fruits and vegetables which pack nutrients and help lower the risk for certain diseases. Limit your portion sizes and foods high in fat, salt, and sugar," the CDC says.

It's easy to overeat when a holiday meal is the focus of events - consider trying mindful eating habits to really savor your food and avoid overindulging. You don't have to count every calorie you eat in order to be healthy - enjoy the holiday goodies in moderation and focus on the joy of sharing a meal with family and friends.

The holidays are a time for celebration, often accompanied by alcohol or drinks with caffeine. Avoid holiday heart syndrome - a serious heart arrhythmia thought to be caused by excessive alcohol consumption - by drinking in moderation, and limiting your caffeine intake.

Holiday Stress

What about the stress of the holidays – all the shopping, the cooking, all the demands placed upon you, and your efforts to create the perfect holiday for others?

“It’s not unusual to feel increased stress over the holidays - between the loss of loved ones, economic pressures, the busyness of the holiday season, and feelings of social isolation. Don’t forget to take care of yourself emotionally as well as physically,” said Dr. Stuart Anfang, vice chair of Psychiatry at Baystate Health.

“Take relaxation breaks when needed, eat and drink in moderation, get plenty of sunlight, which helps avoid seasonal depression, avoid social isolation, and understand that you are not alone in feeling stressed. Volunteering and giving to others less fortunate is a great way to get perspective and feel better about your own situation and stressors,” he added.

If you have serious symptoms of depression or any thoughts to hurt yourself, seek out professional help because no one should suffer in silence, noted Dr. Anfang. Call or text the 988 emergency hotline number to be connected with trained counselors who can provide guidance and resources in a mental health crisis.

Happy Healthy Holidays

Take care of yourself and your family for a happy, healthy holiday season. As we close in on the new year, consider making health resolutions to keep you and your family healthy and safe.

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