12 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season

Whether it’s the 12 Days of Christmas, eight days and nights of Hanukkah, seven days of Kwanzaa or times of other year-end holidays you’re celebrating, staying healthy is key to enjoying all that this time of year has to offer.

The healthcare experts at Baptist Health South Florida offer the following advice and recommendations:

1. Stick to a healthy diet. “People often see holiday celebrations as synonymous with over-indulging, which can mean taking a break from normal healthy routines,” said Manuel Torres, M.D., a Baptist Health Primary Care physician, whose focus includes preventive medicine and promoting healthy lifestyles. The consequences, he said, can be illness or even a trip to the emergency room.

2. Exercise. ‘Tis the season many Americans gain weight – anywhere between 1 and 5 pounds on average – say experts. The extra celebrations that often revolve around food mean extra physical activity may be needed to avoid weight gain during the holidays. Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care, recommends working in extra physical activity during holiday errands by parking far away from store entrances, taking the stairs instead of elevators and escalators and maintaining your exercise routine. “Don’t let your guard down for the whole holiday season or you can really pack on the pounds,” she said.

3. Limit alcohol. Festive, alcohol-centered images are often front-and-center on holiday messages this time of year. Consuming too much alcohol can lead to dehydration, added calories and impaired behavior control. And if you’re driving, the consequences of drinking can be deadly. Nearly 2,000 people in the United States were killed in car accidents during the last two weeks of December of 2013, and drunk driving was a factor in nearly 30 percent of the fatalities, according to federal data. Know your limits and stick to them.

4. Be careful around the house. While putting up holiday decorations helps lift our holiday spirits, activities like reaching for heights from a ladder and handling candles can be dangerous. “There are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season. Adding safety to your checklist can keep a holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy,” said Robert Adler, former acting Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Keep Christmas trees watered well, don’t leave candles unattended, and use caution whenever you are on a ladder.”

5. Minimize stress. For many of us, the holiday season is packed with celebrations, traveling and entertaining. While these activities are pleasurable, they can also cause emotional and physical stress. According to a recent study, people with high levels of stress can be five times more likely to die of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular causes. The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Melissa Franco, D.O., a Baptist Health Medical Group physician with Baptist Health Primary Care in Pinecrest, says stress is often the cause of physical problems that many patients complain about. “When a cascade of stressful things add up and cause high blood pressure, for example, we ask the patient to assess when the symptoms started and how stress can be alleviated,” she said.

6. Wash your hands. Giving festive greetings, traveling to visit relatives and shopping in crowded stores means interacting with a lot of people — and the spread of germs. Infection control experts consistently say frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading the flu and other illnesses, especially during flu season which generally peaks in January.

“It’s important now more than ever for adults and children to practice proper hygiene,” said Barbara Russell, R.N., director of Infection Prevention and Control Services for Baptist Hospital. “The most common way that the flu and enteroviruses are spread is by people coughing into their hands and then shaking hands, or by leaving germs on hard surfaces where someone else can get them on their hands.”

7. Practice safe food handling. About 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from food-borne illnesses, with 128,000 requiring hospitalization, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To reduce chances of food-borne illnesses as a result of contamination, follow the food safety tips offered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

8. Get vaccinated. And if the holiday season takes you on vacation or to visit family or friends abroad, find out if there are any vaccines recommended to protect yourself against illnesses common to those areas. The CDC regularly publishes its Yellow Book, and online resources help travelers know what vaccines they should get, and when they should get them, prior to any international trip.

9. Get enough rest. Sleep often takes a backseat during the holiday rush. But slashing a few hours off your regular sleep schedule to make it to that store sale or last-minute holiday gathering can actually work against you. For the most part, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to avoid health issues, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

10. Take time for yourself. One of the best gifts can give to yourself is self-care. Being sick or stressed out also affect others around you and can reduce enjoyment for all.

“Taking time for yourself, even if it’s 30 to 60 minutes a day for a brisk walk or other exercise to clear the mind helps ease stress levels,” Dr. Franco said.

11. Be thankful. Take time to acknowledge all of the people and reasons in your life for which to be thankful. Show gratitude toward others. Studies show people who are more grateful and optimistic have less health concerns, sleep better and have stronger immune systems.

12. Enjoy the holidays. This time of year is often associated with spending time with friends and family. Social connections can increase the production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. What’s more, taking part in holiday traditions and rituals, such as celebrating with family or attending religious services, leaves us feeling content and increases well-being, according to research published in the International Journal of Social Psychology.

Infographic by Irina de Souza


Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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