Staying healthy over the holidays

While most people consider the holidays the time between Thanksgiving and New Years, in my house it starts when I buy that first bag of Halloween candy. The harsh reality sets in when I pick the pumpkins from the garden instead of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. With shorter days, longer nights and cooler temps our bodies just naturally want to conserve energy. We bundle up and hunker down to watch countless hours of Hallmark favorites hoping that the closet elves won’t shrink your summer shorts like they did last year.

There is a common theory that the average person gains 20 lbs. over the holidays. It’s a myth! According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average weight gained during the holiday season is only about 1 lb. and most of that occurs in the 10 days following Christmas. Ha! Big deal. One pound, really? The problem lies in the fact that that extra baggage is not lost and, over time, will accumulate. We head into the warmer weather a bit heavier and finding it tougher to gain back our strength and stamina.

Set goals and then focus on heading into the warmer months feeling fit and healthy both mentally and physically.

As with any type of activity, check with your doctor before starting. Don’t underestimate the power of sunshine. Vitamin D has many roles in the body and is essential for optimal health and is produced in our bodies when exposed to sunlight, so get active outside when you can. Dress appropriately. Wear layers. Start with a thin synthetic layer that will wick away sweat. Avoid cotton which tends to stay damp. Add fleece or wool for warmth and top it off with waterproof outer layer. Blood tends to concentrate in the core, so protect your ears, hands and feet. Stay hydrated. Lower humidity dries the skin and mucous membranes increasing chances of getting an airborne illness. Buddy up for motivation and to help you avoid cabin fever. If the weather is extreme, download an app or log onto YouTube for free workouts online. Make it a family activity with jump ropes, trampolines, parks or game systems like Wii.

While you are being kind to your body, don’t forget to pamper your taste buds with other things besides gallons of hot chocolate. There may be a biological reason we reach for the richer, heavier foods in the winter. Comfort foods are known to raise our serotonin levels (the feel - good chemical), making you feel happy. Some researchers suspect that the cooler temps trigger some caveman like desire to fatten up and survive harsh winter conditions. Just because the farmers markets have shuttered for the season doesn’t mean you can’t find great produce and treat yourself to healthy, vitamin rich fruits. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes are loaded with vitamin C. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale along with colorful red, orange and deep yellow veggies like peppers, carrots and sweet potatoes, provide powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances found in the food we eat that may protect our bodies from free radicals, that might play a role in chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and cranberries top the list. Don’t worry if the fresh ones are not available, the frozen variety pack the same punch. To add to the benefits, fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods are typically higher in fiber and low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Remember that the benefits of eating healthy and getting physical activity, no matter what the season, are lifelong. I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself. Consider the change in seasons an opportunity to re-charge your fitness plan and head into spring feeling energized and strong.