10 Tips to Stay Healthy and Resilient During the Holidays
The holiday season brings challenges to staying healthy, from psychological stress to increased sugar consumption and the start of the cold and flu season.
This article provides science-based tips for staying healthy and resilient during this season of indulgence, including getting early morning sunlight, sauna bathing, and avoiding late-night eating.
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The holiday season is one of the most joyful times of the year—and it brings with it the challenge of staying healthy and well-resourced. Cold and flu season starts, our exercise routines get disrupted by the weather, and we’re indulging in foods and drinks we usually consume in moderation. Here’s a list of easy-to-implement, science-based tips to help you keep your health while you celebrate and into the new year.
Get early morning light. An estimated 5% of the population is impacted by seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is caused in most people by the later dawn, which pushes our light cues later and disrupts our circadian rhythm. Getting bright light first thing in the morning sets your body clock in motion, which is great for your overall health and has been shown to have antidepressant effects in people with SAD.
Stay social. Research repeatedly shows that social connections are important for resilience to stress, motivation, self-esteem, immunity, and even longevity. There are all kinds of ways to be social and get health benefits: join a book club, attend community activities, play a sport or join a group fitness program, cook holiday meals with friends and family, or do therapy—the possibilities are endless.
Pan-fry your way to health. Try to eat raw, pan-fried, or boiled foods instead of deep-fried or stewed. A large study found that these cooking techniques were associated with a variety of healthier biomarkers. These researchers believe that cooking methods that don’t rely on added fat heated at high temperatures or for long periods of time are the healthiest.
Go easy on the sugar. Excess sugar consumption is linked to a variety of health issues. If you’re reaching for cake, do it at the end of a meal, including vegetables and protein. One study found that peaks in glucose were up to 50% lower when eating carbs after vegetables and protein than when eating them first or even all at the same time. Another easy way to regulate blood sugar levels is by taking a walk after dinner, which can also regulate blood pressure, reduce bloating, improve sleep, and lower stress.
Consider a “dry” holiday. The average person doubles their drinking during Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Your brain isn’t a fan. One study found that even one drink per day was associated with reduced global brain volume and two years of brain aging (for an average 50-year-old). Fortunately, “mocktails” have been replaced by much more sophisticated alcohol-free options for beer, wine, and cocktails.
Relax a little. The holidays increase stress for 38% of people, according to an American Psychological Association survey. Stress can lead to elevated levels of cortisol and fewer lymphocytes to fight off infection, compromising immune function. If you get stressed during the holidays, find time for exercise, meditation, being in nature, and connecting with friends.
Sweat it out. Sauna bathing is a science-backed way to improve your health. The temperature change sets in motion a biological response called hormesis, which, in low and repeat doses, offers protection from future stressors. The benefits of this heat exposure include improved respiratory function, cognitive and cardiovascular health, markers of inflammation, lipid profiles, and increased overall longevity with frequent use.
Fast intermittently. Consider offsetting your indulgences with a “diet” that’s on-trend and backed by years of solid scientific research: intermittent fasting. Just limit your eating to a certain window of time each day, usually to 10 hours, eight hours, or six hours—and skip snacks and meals the rest of the time. Research suggests that fasting may improve glucose regulation, increase stress resistance, and suppress inflammation, among other benefits.
Avoid late-night meals. Late-night snacking: so satisfying, but not so great for your health and waistline. One study found that just one late-night meal significantly decreased levels of leptin, a hormone that promotes satiety when compared to those who ate earlier. Eating late also leads to burning fewer calories the following day and lower core body temperatures, suggesting decreased thermogenesis, as well as changes to gene expression profiles in favor of fat storage.
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