How To Keep Healthy Over The Holidays

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Family enjoying Christmas

It’s that time of year again—the silly season! Time to let your hair down, socialise with friends and family and enjoy a few late nights and the summer holidays.

But there’s always that nagging thought of what impact the holiday period can have on health, both physical and mental.

We discuss health over the holidays and list 5 awesome tips to help ensure your January doesn’t have any regrets

The holiday season and health

Did you know that the top two New Year’s Resolutions for 2023 were 1, do more physical activity or exercise, and 2, lose weight / eat healthier?

2023 was no exception, these two resolutions consistently top the lists.

They show just how aware people are of their health at this time of year and the good intentions they have. Whether they stick to their resolutions is another thing.

Nonetheless, there are a few things to be aware of to maximise the good times and minimise the risks to your health these holidays.

Overeating
This means eating past the point of ‘full’. Overeating is very easy to do when surrounded by temptations during the holidays.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day are two days where overeating is of course common, but many people have work parties and other social events at this time of year that are full of high-calorie food.

Excessive alcohol
Another big issue over the silly season is excessive alcohol consumption. Binge drinking, which involves drinking heavily on one occasion, can cause serious health problems as well as increase the risk of violence and injury.

Alcohol related problems increase over the holidays. This is the busiest time of year for paramedics, hospital staff and police when it comes to responding to incidents and assaults relating to alcohol intoxication.

Sun damage
With time off and many of us heading to the beach, it’s all too easy to find yourself sunburnt and putting your skin at risk.

Doctors recommend a skin check every six to twelve months, and that’s regardless of your complexion and lifestyle.

With some of the harshest UV rays in the world, the Aussie sun can wreak havoc on your skin.

Mental health
Christmas, New Year and the holidays are always positioned as happy and joyful, but that’s not always the case for everyone.

There are many pressures that can have an impact on mental health at this time of year:

  • Family tensions can rise when people come together
  • Isolation and loneliness is a problem for some
  • Financial strains with the increase in spending

These stressors can be exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption too.

Tips to help you combine happiness with health over the silly season

1. Don’t drink too much

This may seem obvious and a cliche tip, but excessive drinking can potentially ruin what’s supposed to be a happy time.

There’s no need to spend your time off with a sore head and drained bank balance. Opt for moderation and if you have to drink, select those that are lower in alcohol content – these are often slightly cheaper too.

If your friends or certain family members expect or even push you to drink in excess, set a few expectations before the event. Doing so (sometimes strategically) can really pay dividends in helping reduce your alcohol intake.

2. Veggies before unhealthy options

With a big meal spread out on the table, it can be hard to make healthy choices.

Make sure to include healthy options as well as the not-so-healthy ones. For example, at a family gathering, load up your plate with healthy choices first.

Eating healthier options before unhealthy food means you fill up on those and are less likely to indulge on high-calorie sugary foods.

You’ll also feel much better knowing that you included healthy options in your meals.

3. Make sun protection part of your routine

A morning coffee, breakfast, shower, brushing your teeth… Add another step to your routine, sun protection.

Australia has some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world and combine that with our harsh sun and love of the outdoors, and you can see why sun protection is so important.

Apply sunscreen, wear a hat, long sleeves and sunglasses when you go outside.

When it comes to sunscreen, make sure to choose SPF50+ (the highest available in Australia) and broad spectrum.

Broad spectrum sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays which are the ones that reach the earth’s surface with UVB rays causing a risk of skin cancer.

4. Take care of your mental health

The holiday period can be a real strain on mental health. Extra kilos and a lighter bank account in January are also very common causes of stress and risks to mental health.

Here are a few things to reduce those risks.

Set realistic expectations: The holidays can bring both joy and stress, so think about what you’ve got planned and make sure you’re mentally prepared. Set achievable goals and strategies to maximise the joy and minimise the stress.

A good idea is to minimise alcohol during events that may cause you more stress over the holidays.

Prioritise self-care: Give yourself time for activities that you like, whether it’s reading a book, taking a walk, a trip to the beach, a nice meal or a few days away. Self-care is crucial for maintaining mental wellbeing.

Another idea is taking up a hobby or project over the holidays. These can offer a feeling of accomplishment as well as improving skills. Ideas include; art, DIY at home, cooking, gardening, taking up a new sport or even repairing something.

Stay connected: While holidays can be busy, make an effort to stay connected with the people you care about. Social support is essential and sharing your thoughts and feelings can provide comfort during this time to both you and others.

If you can’t visit all of them in person, make an effort to video call them which is much more special than a text message.

Establish boundaries: It’s ok to say no to commitments that may overwhelm you. Set boundaries to protect your time and energy over the holidays to ensure you do a lot of what you want to do, as long as it’s healthy of course.

Coming back to work in January feeling refreshed and recuperated can be hard.

Reflect and plan for the new year: Take some time to reflect on the past year, acknowledging achievements and areas for growth. Did you hit some goals that you (hopefully) had planned?

Set realistic and positive goals for 2024 and make some efforts to see them through.

5. Stay active

Staying active can be pretty easy if you like summer and travelling, but it can also be tough for some of us.

Days spent in front of a screen can be tempting, and even something some people plan for over their break.

No matter your holiday plans, ensure there’s time for physical exercise.

FYI: It generally takes 13,000–16,000 steps, depending on terrain, to burn 500 calories.

Here’s what 500 calories looks like:

  • Black coffee (no sugar): 2 calories
  • 1 cup of broccoli: 31 calories
  • Coca-cola 600ml bottle: 258 calories
  • Large fries: 312 calories
  • Classic Meat Pie: 431 calories
  • McDonald’s Big Mac: 563 calories
  • Average 14 inch pizza: 2,269 calories
  • Average calorie intake per adult on Christmas Day: 5,373 calories

Sources: Healthier Weight, WebMD, Healthline, Fatsecret Australia, Calories.info

Friends having a drink at Christmas

Combining happiness with health this silly season

For many of us, it’s not hard to predict the events over the holiday period that will likely be a little unhealthy, stressful or even dangerous.

It’s also just as easy to set a few expectations and put some strategies in place to minimise risks and avoid starting the new year worse or more tired than at the end of December.

Some top offenders are:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Overeating
  • Sun exposure and skin damage
  • Mental health stressors

Make a few efforts to ensure your holidays are healthy this silly season.

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