Happy, Healthy Holidays.
Another holiday season is upon us, with all of the attendant temptations that cause many of us to fall off the wagon when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. The holidays are traditionally associated with rich food, the stores are stocked with irresistible goodies, and no visit to family and friends is complete without a glass of wine.
The good news is that staying physically healthy during the season needn't mean denying yourself these pleasures. Sensible eating is key. Take the edge off of your appetite ahead of a large celebratory meal--for example have some whole grain cereal and fruit to fill you up a bit. When you sit down for your main meal, use a smaller plate, as this will help you limit portion sizes. Savor small helpings of a range of foods--this way, you'll still get to indulge, as well as receive valuable nutrients and vitamins. Don't forget to plan in exercise too: Using your body in an active way will boost your digestion and burn calories.
It's vital that you're careful about how much alcohol you consume during the holiday season. The quantity of alcohol you may have tolerated with few effects when younger results in a higher blood alcohol level when you're older. An older adult's central nervous system also becomes more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, heightening its effect on your cognition, balance and coordination, and putting you at risk of falls. In addition, many older adults take medications that interact badly with alcohol. Current guidelines recommend no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for older adults, so make a point of sticking to this, and have something to eat with it.
Emotional wellbeing is also important at this time of the year. As the year comes to an end and signs of celebration abound, you may find yourself getting sad thinking of people and places associated with past holiday seasons. Be proactive--try to reinvent the holidays for yourself. Do things you enjoy, reach out to others. Get outside, and socialize with other people (this is especially important if you live alone). Going to church, a senior center, or community activities can help. Seriously consider volunteering in your community--helping others can help you, providing connection and a sense of purpose. If you can't get out yourself, say yes when others want to visit, and let your senior center or faith organization know that you'd welcome visitors.
Health conditions, financial worries, memories of loved ones who have died: All these negatives can often loom large during the holiday season, when it seems as if everyone else is having fun. Accept your feelings--there's nothing wrong with not feeling especially festive, and many people get the blues during the holiday season. But try to temper your sadness by focusing on the present, thinking positively, and seeking out company. This approach can help you enjoy the spirit of the holiday season.
By Rosanne M. Leipzig, MD, PhD