A survival guide for the holidays

Christmas and New Year’s are both just weeks away and the holiday season, as wonderful as it can be, can wreak havoc on routines and schedules. Add shopping, cooking, entertaining, school programs, traveling, and houseguests to an already packed schedule, and it’s no surprise that many people have a hard time sticking to healthy habits this time of year. Cortez family physician Dr. Jill Schenk offers some common sense ideas about how to maintain optimal health during the holidays and throughout the winter months.

“One issue this time of year is that you have a lot of people in the same house,” says Schenk. “People fly in from out of town, and with everyone under the same roof, the whole family can end up sick.” To reduce the odds of passing around winter colds and the flu this holiday season, Schenk advises frequent, thorough hand washing. This simple step is your best defense against illness.

“Also, it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. When a whole family gathers together, this might include babies, older people, or pregnant woman. They’re all at high risk for complications if they get the flu,” says Schenk. “You protect not just yourself but also your family members when you get the flu vaccine.”

Speaking of family, the holidays often bring with them unrealistic expectations for tidings of great joy amongst fellow family members. When relatives get together and everything doesn’t unfold like it does on a made-for-television Christmas special, tension and stress can become an issue. “I have no pill to offer for coping with difficult family members,” says Schenk. “Try to deal with stress in positive ways like getting plenty of exercise. If someone is driving you nuts, got out for a walk.”

Increasing exercise over the holidays can also help circumvent holiday weight gain. “People get out of their routine in terms of diet and exercise and they’re shocked by how much they gain over the holidays. I always see an uptick in office visits during January with people asking about weight loss,” says Schenk.

Here are some tips that can help you avoid having that conversation with your doctor.

Plan ahead. If you’re going to a family dinner or evening party eat lightly throughout the day. But don’t go hungry all day or you’ll arrive at your evening event ravenous and eat too much too quickly. About a half-hour before the party, drink a small glass of tomato juice or have a piece of fruit to curb your appetite.

Be picky. Faced with a beautiful buffet table, really think about what you will put on your plate. When it comes time for desert, ask for a sliver rather than a full piece of pie or cake.

Just say no. The workplace can be a landmine of goodies during the holiday season. When everyone starts showing up with homemade cookies and candy practice self-control. You’ll be glad you did when January rolls around and you don’t have an extra roll around your middle.

Pick up the pace. Exercise a little longer than you typically do each day, or add a couple of exercise days to your usual routine. If you normally go for a 45-minute walk every morning, add an extra 15 minutes. That may not seem like much, but over the course of a week it can make a difference.

Holiday parties and family gatherings may also present more opportunities to drink alcohol. “’Tis the season to be jolly, but moderation is the key,” says Schenk. “And have a designated driver,” she adds, noting that winter road conditions make driving hazardous enough without adding spirits to the mix. “Alcohol is also loaded with empty calories, so go easy,” says Schenk. “Avoid eggnog, for example. One cup has 350 calories.”

Two other winter health-related issues Schenk says are worth paying attention to are managing dry skin and avoiding falls. “Because of wet and icy conditions, people are at a higher risk for slips, falls, and fractures,” says Schenk. “Wear shoes with good traction and slow down,” she advises. This is especially important for the frail, elderly, or anyone with osteoporosis.

Do you find yourself clawing at your skin during the cold winter months? “I see higher rates of problems related to overly dry skin, such as eczema, this time of year,” says Schenk. “Using a quality moisturizer like Aveeno or Aquaphor and avoiding long, hot showers can help.” Schenk also suggests that people with dry or sensitive skin not use soaps or skin care products with that contain color or scent. “Even fabric softener sheets can cause problems for some people,” she says.

The holidays and cold months ahead will give way to spring before you know it. In the meantime, enjoy the festivities and keep Dr. Schenk’s advice in mind to stay as healthy as possible over the winter.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colo. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal healthcare provider.