’Tis the season for spreading good cheer, spending time with family and friends, and reveling in holiday festivities. But health pitfalls lurk among these December joys: increased stress, heavy foods, and nasty weather makes getting to the gym a hassle. Here, experts offer tips on overcoming common cold-weather foes and staying well during the holidays.
Gary Epler, MD, author of Food: You're the Boss (Epler Health, 2012)
- Understand carbohydrates. Consuming excess carbohydrates releases the stress hormone cortisol, which slows digestion, promoting belly fat. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as processed foods, sugary baked goods and drinks, white bread, and white rice. Instead eat more complex carbohydrates: green and yellow vegetables like steamed broccoli, spinach, green beans, and bell peppers of all colors.
- Slash sodium. During December it’s particularly important to monitor sodium intake because many holiday foods—especially gravy and other sauces—contain a lot of salt. Excess sodium can cause hypertension, which can weaken arterial blood vessel walls, increasing heart disease and stroke risk. Limit sodium levels to less than 2,000 mg per day.
- Get some shut-eye. Especially when the days are shorter, sleep is vital because it’s when your body repairs damaged tissues. It also reduces lethargy and sluggishness, allowing you to enjoy the holiday. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night; make your bedroom as dark as possible and shut off electronics 30 minutes before sleep to encourage deeper rest.
Ashley Borden, fitness and lifestyle consultant, Los Angeles, California
- Plan your workout. Cold weather can zap workout motivation. Plan daily workout routines on your calendar, and leave hand-written reminders by your desk or kitchen to ensure you stick to your schedule. Invest in exercise DVDs featuring Pilates or kickboxing routines for when the weather is especially crummy.
- Bundle up. Layer clothing while exercising outdoors. Avoid cotton; instead, opt for breathable and waterproof fabrics, which wick moisture away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. Wear a light hat and use gloves, as heat is quickly lost through your head and hands. Opt for tights and high socks, too.
- Get good oils. Eat nuts to boost omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce joint inflammation, increase brain development and function, improve digestion, and relieve anxiety. Cook with high-quality organic oils, such as walnut or flaxseed. Drizzle 1 tablespoon over baked potatoes, oatmeal, or soup, and consume at least two hours before working out.
Ayurvedic health practitioner
Ivy Ingram, MA, yoga instructor, Austin, Texas
- Keep moving.Stay active during colder months to prevent the stagnation of prana—an Ayurvedic term referring to your body’s vital energy. Physical movement boosts blood circulation and increases body heat, which keeps prana flowing throughout your body. Power walk or take regular yoga classes several times per week.
- Quiet your mind.Combat holiday stress by meditating. Finding serenity curbs stress and promotes well-being. In Ayurveda, the body, mind, and heart are deeply connected. Finding inner peace supports your body to maintain health. If you’re new to meditating, start with five to ten minutes per day.
- Warm your insides.Winter’s cold, dry air may provoke “vata” symptoms, which include dry skin, brittle nails, and stiff joints. Limit raw foods, which can be difficult to digest; opt for warming foods like roasted root vegetables, soup, and spices like cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Avoid very hot showers, which can aggravate dry skin; massage organic sesame oil onto skin before bathing to soothe the nervous system.