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Festive activities, family parties, packed schedules: the joy of the holidays can also cause stress when it throws off our routines. It can be more challenging than normal to focus on nutritious foods, exercise and other components of a healthy lifestyle.
First, give yourself some grace. Guilt over an extra dessert or a missed workout is unnecessary and unhelpful. Criticizing yourself or your family for imperfection might lead to even more tension and anxiety.
That said, taking care of your health can help you cope better with life’s ups and downs. Plus, poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity can increase your risk of other health problems in the long run, from obesity to heart disease to certain cancers.
You might have to be creative to ease stress and incorporate movement this fall and winter. Here are some strategies to try this holiday season.
Focus on the Positives
Instead of dwelling on what will happen if you eat poorly and stay sedentary, consider the perks of eating better and getting moving.
If you eat a healthy diet, you’ll live longer and reduce your risk for chronic health conditions — or manage the ones you already have. The perks of exercise begin nearly immediately after a workout and include reduced anxiety and depression and better sleep.
Don’t Deny Yourself Family Favorites
Many traditional holiday foods wouldn’t necessarily appear on a list of the healthiest dishes. They’re often high in calories, saturated fat or added sugars.
That’s OK — you can still enjoy them. Choose one or two of your favorites and eat them in small portions. Balance them out with vegetables or other nutrient-rich ingredients.
You can also try modifying recipes — for instance, grilling or baking your proteins instead of frying them or swapping out heavy cream for lighter versions. Or, try an entirely new dish from our recipe database. You just might find a new holiday favorite.
Sneak in Extra Vegetables
Good nutrition isn’t just about what you don’t eat — it’s just as important to add in more nourishing nutrients. After all, fewer than 1 in 10 children and adults eat enough vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Eating more plants can ensure you get enough essential vitamins and minerals. Try slicing raw veggies and keeping them bagged in the fridge as snacks — they’re far easier to grab when they’re already bite-sized. Add beans or peas to soups and salads.
Turn Your Plate Into a Party
Another simple, festive trick to up your fruit and veggie intake? Eat as much of the rainbow as you can. Yellow and orange citrus fruits, bright-red tomatoes, purple eggplants and berries, and dark, leafy greens each contain different vitamins and minerals.
At each meal, see if you can introduce one more hue to your main or side dish. Fresh herbs add a dash of green to brothy soups; orange and red peppers can brighten up a dull egg dish; berries can provide a pop of blue and purple to yogurt.
Fill Up on Fruits
Some call them nature’s candy — for good reason. Fruits make excellent desserts, and they’re also a key part of a healthy diet, filled with disease-fighting nutrients. Plus, they’re lower in fat and added sugars than other sweet options.
Cut melon, papaya and mango and top with fruit-flavored yogurt for a tropical treat. Sample a more exotic variety, like pomegranate or star fruit. And when it comes to pies, pumpkin beats pecan — it’s still sweet, but it has about one-third of the sugar and calories.
Start the Day Right
Skipping breakfast will likely only make you hungrier later in the day and more prone to overeating unhealthy foods. Plus, your morning meal represents a prime opportunity to boost your diet with produce. Only 10% of foods typically consumed at breakfast are fruits or vegetables, according to the CDC.
Upgrade your day early with a veggie-rich omelet: swap out one egg or half the cheese and stir in spinach, onions and mushrooms. Slice bananas or strawberries into cereal. Or, try a special holiday-themed bowl — stir dried cranberries or cooked, canned pumpkin and pie spices like nutmeg and cinnamon into oatmeal.
At Night, Sleep Tight
Finishing the evening with a good night’s rest can also go a long way in keeping you on track. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to eat mindlessly and crave high-fat, high-sugar foods.
Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and try to be consistent about when you go to bed and get up each day. Keep your bedroom quiet, relaxing, dark — and free of screens, which disrupt your slumber.
In addition, try not to eat a large, heavy meal too close to bedtime. Creating an evening routine can help you wind down.
Take a Walk
Walking is always a good way to fit more activity into your day. Start your mornings by walking around the block or up and down the stairs. If you have holiday errands, park farther away from your destination to get in a few more steps.
When you’re doing sedentary activities — whether working, writing holiday cards or watching seasonal movies — take periodic breaks for a stroll in your neighborhood. Try to make your motion add up to 150 minutes per week: at least 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes five days a week.
Try the Jingle Bell Rock
Is the weather outside too frightful? Get creative with indoor activities. Turn on your favorite holiday tunes and dance around the house — it’s a surefire way to get the whole family moving.
Some gyms or fitness instructors offer holiday exercise challenges, such as doing a certain number of squats or push-ups each day. You can also search YouTube for options or start your own. You can award prizes to your family or recruit faraway friends as a way to stay connected.
Make Time for Number One
Clearing space in your day for activities you enjoy isn’t selfish or a luxury — it’s a critical way of managing stress and mental health. Whether it’s a nap, a hot bath, an engaging book or relaxing music, carving out a few minutes for you will restore your energy so you can handle the next challenge.
Or, simply unwind and take a few deep breaths. Remember that your emotions are valid and real, but even strong ones will fade.
Create New Holiday Memories
Many of our normal holiday activities will look different this year. Plan new activities focused on connection, movement and fun — and not just around sitting and eating.
Sign up for a turkey trot or holiday dash race, either in real life or virtually. Walk-and-talk dates with your family and friends, ice skating or taking a bike ride past holiday lights (when the weather’s safe) can add a festive mood to your day, boosting your health and well-being. There’s no time like the present to start a new tradition.
Help for Your Whole Health
Whether it’s a primary care physician or a healthy recipe, you can count on us to be here for you through every season of life. To learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle that is best for you, call the Member Experience Center at Call855-747-7476, and we’ll connect you to a primary care physician.