Last week I discussed How to Recover From the Holidays. As I prepared for the article I came across some fascinating information regarding health and longevity.
The New Year is just around the corner and if you’re like most folks, staying healthy is the last thing on your mind. Rightfully so.
The holidays are a time of celebration with family and friends punctuated by tasty meals, gift giving, tradition and laughter. Yet, for some, the holidays aren’t so fun. They can be a dark and dangerous time for themselves or a painful reminder of the loss of a loved one. In fact, Christmas and New Years are the deadliest days of the year in terms of natural deaths when you exclude drug and alcohol related mortality [1, 2].
A few years back, Dr. David Phillips examined 57 million death certificates issued between 1979 and 2004 and made an interesting finding: Not only do more people die in the winter months, but Christmas and New Year's Day make up the deadliest days of all. Phillips plotted the millions of deaths from natural causes (excluding drugs and alcohol) according to the day of year on which they occurred, and this is what he ended up with:
I want you to imagine the following scenario:
It’s Christmas Eve and you excuse yourself from the dinner table after your second slice of pie. Your family, with bellies stuffed, is still deep in conversation. A headache, like you’ve never had before, suddenly hits you square in the forehead. The pain that courses through your skull is so excruciating it feels like your head is in a vise. You’ll go retire to the couch, you think, until it’s time to exchange gifts. As you begin to stand, half the room goes dark and the other half starts to spin. Your family’s laughter has faded into a distant buzz and you forget where you were going. You reach your feet, push your chair in and your knees buckle. You stumble backwards. Your last vision before a quiet, dark nothingness overtakes you is the blur of the Christmas tree lights from the next room as you fall to the floor.
Your journey to consciousness is slow. The darkness slowly recedes in one eye and light begins to creep in. You hear the methodical beeping of a heart monitor interrupted by murmuring, distant voices. You’re able to make out the sterile colors of what looks to be a hospital room. You try to move your body but only your right half complies. As you scan the room with your working eye, you see a woman in a chair next to you with her head in her hands, her body convulsing with silent sobs.
You find out much later that this year Santa brought you a stroke for Christmas. You’re lucky to be alive. Your family acted quickly at the dinner table but you’re in for a long, painful recovery process. You’ll be spending New Years in the hospital this year.
Stories like this are all too common. Could your stroke have been avoided if you only had one slice of pie or skipped it all together after Christmas dinner?
But knowing that the holidays are the deadliest time of the year is a great remember to focus on staying healthy during a time when negligence and destruction on a wholesale level has become part of our culture.
If you can make it through Thanksgiving until New Years with your health as a priority, then keeping it up through the remainder of the year really is no sweat.
Once again, I'd like to remind you that you can enjoy the holidays as they were meant to be AND stay committed to your health at the same time.
Here are seven easy ways to do it.
#1 Take One Day At A Time
So you’ve got health as a priority this holiday season. Good for you. But Grandma’s homemade fudge was too tough to pass up this year and you went a little overboard.
Don’t beat yourself up!
It’s too easy to throw the good health habits you’ve worked so hard for out. Don’t use one little slip up as an excuse to trash it all. Take the loss, move on and get right back on track tomorrow. As Grandma would say, don’t through the baby out with the bath water!
Consistency is key when it comes to your health so focus on it one day at a time. Your health is a series of small decisions over a long period of time that have a tremendous cumulative effect on your life and your ability to enjoy it. One small, poor health decision every once in a while won’t kill you. It’s when you add these poor choices up over months or years that they turn deadly.
A quick tip: Incorporate foods into your diet that help keep your brain sharp to keep making great decisions to stay healthy.
#2 Learn To Say No
If you’re a people-pleaser, like many of us are, saying no can be hard. This is especially true during the holidays when it’s easy to feel pulled in a million different directions. The result is a tremendous amount of stress. When we’re stressed, it’s just too easy to put staying healthy on the bottom of our priority list. Especially if we haven’t created great health habits for ourselves.
Remember, your health is your responsibility.
No one is more invested in your health than you are. So don’t worry about saying no to people if it will put your commitment to your health in jeopardy. Those that truly care about you will understand. For those who don’t respect your decisions to make your health a priority during the holiday season, just remember that you can’t possibly make room in your life for everyone.
Trust me when I say that saying no gets easier every time you do it!
#3 the Gift of Freedom
For most, the holidays were once primarily a celebration of family, tradition and thanksgiving. That’s not to say they still aren’t are for some. It’s just that today they’ve morphed into a commercial bonanza of shopping malls, sales, wish lists and uncontrolled spending. This has resulted in adding nothing but stress to a time that should be peaceful and full of joy.
Do you remember what they got for Christmas from their aunt three years ago? Or what toy they got from Santa when they were ten years old?
Maybe. But it’s the experiences with our loved ones that you’ll really remember and that shape and bring happiness to our lives. So do yourself and those you care about by giving the gift of freedom. Tell those cousins, aunts, other extended family and friends you’re giving them the gift of freedom this year – that there’s no need to exchange gifts. Narrow your gift giving to a select few and greatly reduce your stress. Spend your holiday budget on active experiences or things that help those closest to you achieve their health goals – like high quality, healthful food.
#4 Move It
Researchers have long suggested that we come from a hunter gather background and that our modern lifestyle is a mismatch with our ancestral biology. When researchers asked what kinds of physical activity levels would have driven the evolution of our cardiovascular system and the evolution of our neurobiology and musculoskeletal system, the answer is not likely 30 minutes a day of walking on a treadmill. Studies suggest it's more like 75-plus minutes a day .
Who said you have to stuff yourself every Thanksgiving and sit on the couch for the rest of the night mindlessly watching parades or football games? Or nap all day?
There are great, healthy alternatives to these dangerous, sedentary activities.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Get outside and play with your family in the back yard. Maybe start a “Family Winter Game” tradition.
- Make a snowman. Haha, Ok, I live in Texas.
- Go for a post-meal walk or hike. Challenge yourself to go for a walk after every holiday meal.
Make these things a healthy tradition. Create active experiences. These are the things in your life you and your family will remember. Check out what I’ve written before on how to get moving.
#5 Plan Ahead
Planning to stay on track with your health is a no-brainer. But it’s important so it bears reminding you that a little planning goes a long way to prevent a total health breakdown over the holidays. Examples including planning ahead to:
- Bring some healthy dessert alternatives to Christmas dinner this year.
- Schedule time in your day to incorporate exercise.
- Make it a priority to train your brain.
Who knows, you might just get some of your stubborn relatives started on some healthy habits!
#6 Reward Yourself
I wrote about how to incorporate rewards to keep your health habits on track in my article on how to incorporate movement into your daily routine. I want to repeat it here because it really is crucial and a great tip to stay healthy over the holidays when rewards abound. It’s as easy as:
- Think of a tangible, healthy reward. Think movie, sporting event, concert, massage, spa day, fancy hair cut or buy yourself a little something – a new pair of workout shoes or clothes.
- Attach that reward to one of your healthy habits. Think: hitting the gym 6 out of 7 days a week, eating a clean diet during the weekday. You can even make this holiday specific like avoiding dessert or gluten or alcohol at Thanksgiving. Challenge yourself.
- Complete your challenge and reap your reward. I said it was easy, didn’t I?
Providing yourself some positive reinforcement for committing to staying healthy this holiday season is a great way to keep the momentum going through the New Year and beyond.
7. Create Great Health Habits
This time of year, the added stress of cooking for a crowd, cleaning for and hosting get-togethers at home, shopping, attending social engagements, and spending time with extended family can be tough to cope with. Maybe you have created habits that will help you stay healthy during this time. If so, congratulations. The holidays will be a breeze.
If you haven’t, that doesn’t mean today isn’t a great time to start building up your health. Give yourself the gift of health this year and start things off on the right foot is by completely detoxing your body.
Putting these seven easy ways to stay healthy this season will ensure you’ll be in tip-top shape to hang around for many Christmases to come! Stay tuned for many more tips and tricks on how to become the healthiest versions of yourself.
Did this information help you to understand more about surviving the Holidays?
Do you plan on improving your health at the start of the year?
Share your opinion in the comments or email me!