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Sharp Health News

Staying healthy and fit during the holidays

Nov. 29, 2021

Young girl on left and woman on the right sitting in a butterfly stretch

The holiday season is here. For many of us, it is the most wonderful time of the year — and one of the unhealthiest.

"The hustle and bustle of the season, on top of living through a pandemic, make it easy for healthy habits, such as nutrition and exercise, to slide off track," says Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare. "However, focusing on your health is what can help create a joyful and happy holiday season."

Focus on good nutrition
Holidays are notorious for being inevitably caloric and indulgent — especially in the pandemic era, when holiday gatherings are finally starting to look a bit more like they did in the past. This year's holidays also can sabotage our healthy eating habits, as gatherings may be even more celebratory than before.

Hays shares these tips to keep from overindulging while still enjoying your favorite seasonal foods:

Try healthy substitutes
During the festive weeks, have food swaps in your back pocket to slash unwanted calories in your favorite dishes. Try:

  • Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
  • Cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes
  • Baked, roasted or grilled apples instead of apple pie
  • Oven-roasted Brussel sprouts or sautéed green beans instead of creamy green bean casserole
  • Homemade cranberry relish instead of canned cranberry sauce

Enjoy in moderation
Indulge in your favorite holiday treats in moderation. If there is a lot to choose from on the holiday table, take small portions of your favorite dishes that are unique or exclusive for the season. Avoid everyday dishes that you can eat any time of year.

Don't skip meals
Instead of fasting all day to save up for a feast, have a well-balanced breakfast before your holiday dinner and a high-protein snack midday. Skipping meals will make you extra hungry and may lead to overeating at the holiday dinner.

Festive drinks add up
If you want to indulge in seasonal drinks, including holiday spirits and cocktails, keep in mind that many are high in calories. For example, just one glass of creamy eggnog can have 350 to 435 calories, and 20 to 30 grams of fat, so enjoy in moderation.

Keep up your physical activity
Although running holiday errands may seem like enough exercise, being intentional about staying active is important. Physical activity helps to keep stress at bay, boost energy levels, improve sleep, improve mood and counterbalance the extra calories from holiday treats.

Hays suggests these tips to stay active during the holidays, when schedules are full and we may have let our pre-pandemic fitness routines slide:

Plan ahead
Holidays can disrupt normal schedules, so plan your workouts ahead of time. Whether it is your morning walk, a yoga class or a bike ride, put your workouts on your calendar and treat them like business appointments you cannot skip.

Include the family
Invite your family to join you for a workout. Go for a walk, hike or organize a backyard football game or an indoor dance party. Exercising with your family is a great way to connect with each other and have some family fun during the holidays.

Challenge yourself
Sign up for one of the many holiday 5K or 10K walks or runs to support your local community. Many offer online and virtual options. Having an event to train for will give you motivation to work out. You can even invite your family or friends to join you in the fun and help keep you accountable.

"There are many temptations during the holidays, and it's easy to write off eating healthy and exercising," says Hays. "Yet, you can still enjoy the holiday season feeling good about your health with a little planning."

Get vaccinated
Finally, the key to good health during the holidays is getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Plan to be fully vaccinated before diving into your holiday celebrations, and follow holiday gathering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

All people age 5 and older should receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and all fully vaccinated adults should receive a vaccine booster shot once eligible. If you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households, consider additional precautions, such as avoiding crowded indoor spaces and taking a COVID-19 test before and after the festivities to further reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.

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