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Thanksgiving isn't just about food

November 24, 2014

While thoughts often turn to a calorie-laden, high-fat meal crying out for portion control, enjoying a healthy Thanksgiving also means sharing time with others and nurturing the mind and spirit as part of the holiday.

Baystate Health healthcare professionals offer the following five tips to help you appreciate your Thanksgiving.

Get Unplugged

With our hectic lifestyles, many families find it increasingly difficult to maintain the valuable routine of having a family meal.

Fortunately, the tradition of families eating a meal together is preserved on Thanksgiving. In order to make the most of this, it’s helpful for both young people and adults to strive to be truly present at the Thanksgiving table.

"Consider adopting a new tradition which may not have been relevant in previous generations: as the food is being served, 'un-serve' all of the smartphones by asking everyone to put them onto a tray and remove them from the room. This will eliminate the temptation of checking email and texting during the meal and help everyone to get the most out of the precious time of sharing a meal together and valuing the relationships and traditions of the family," said Dr. Barry Sarvet, chief of Child Psychiatry and vice chair of Psychiatry, Baystate Medical Center

Exercise in the Name of Family and Health

It’s well known that exercise has many health benefits from lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol to helping prevent heart disease to uplifting your spirits and managing depression.

"Instead of plopping down on the couch and watching football all day on Thanksgiving, why not consider continuing quality family time after leaving the dinner table and taking a nice family walk or even playing touch football outdoors," said Dr. Quinn Pack of the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.

Other outdoor sports like soccer or anything that gets you moving, such as turning up the music and dancing after your Thanksgiving feast, is good for your health.

A Time for Giving

"Faced with the over consumerism of today, especially on Thanksgiving when some children may see a parent heading out the door even earlier now to grab up all the Black Friday bargains, it’s important to remember that our national holiday is made up of two words, thanks and giving. Adults need to remember what they were hopefully taught as youngsters, that ‘it is better to give than to receive,’ and to pass that same wisdom onto their children," said Dr. Laura Koenigs, interim chair, Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Whether adult or child, scientific studies show that there are pleasure centers in the brain that are stimulated when we connect with someone in a meaningful way, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or providing food for a family in need at Thanksgiving. Other research points to the fact that we are happier when giving and not focusing on the 'me,' and that can lead to both better physical and mental health.

A Time for Being Thankful and Mending Relationships

"The 'thanks' in Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful for being together on the holiday. But, what about those loved ones and friends we might be estranged from? Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on ways to improve family relationships," said Dr. Benjamin Liptzin, chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Medical Center. 

Eliminating latent feelings of disappointment and sadness over a stressed relationship can also benefit both one’s mental and physical health.

De-Stressing Your Thanksgiving

"Sure, you want everything to be just right for Thanksgiving from a perfectly cooked Turkey to avoiding any conflict among relatives who might not always see eye-to-eye. It’s stress, holiday style. Making sure you get enough sleep leading up to the holiday can benefit your immune system and help keep you free of illness," said Dr. Karin Johnson, director, Sleep Clinic, Baystate Medical Center.

Getting a good night’s sleep can also help to relieve stress and keep you alert, productive, and focused on the true meaning of the holiday.

As a preventive cardiologist, Dr. Pack noted he would be remiss if he didn’t offer some advice facing diners at the Thanksgiving table.

"Simple choices at Thanksgiving can cut your calorie intake in half. Try filling your plate with fresh and cooked vegetables while avoiding most hors d’oeuvres, heavy gravies, and excessive dessert portion sizes. You might just be able to eliminate as much as 1,500 to 2,000 calories from your meal," he said.