By Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P. Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Many of us don’t think of the holidays as a time to be concerned about our health. Rather, it’s a time to eat, drink, and be merry. There’s always next year. But why put off plans to get healthy or improve your health? It’s never too early or too late to make healthy lifestyle changes.
Although NIH research has shown the average holiday weight gain often isn’t as much as most people think—it’s less than a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day—even a pound a year can begin to add up over time, making it harder each year to lose the extra weight. And overweight and obesity increase the chances of developing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Nearly 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of youth in the United States struggle with obesity, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthy Tips for a Healthy New Year
So how can you be healthy and avoid weight gain during the most tempting time of year? Try these tips to help you stay on track and lead you and your family into a healthy new year.
Do some pre-party planning. Don’t go to a party hungry. Have a quick, healthy snack before you leave—an apple, banana, or fat-free yogurt—so you are less likely to overeat or make unhealthy food choices later on. If you’re concerned about not having healthy food options available, offer to bring a healthy dish to share.
Go for the good stuff. Choose salads, cut-up vegetables and fruit, and lean protein, such as fish, chicken, or turkey breast without the skin. Try to avoid salad dressings, gravies, sour cream, and other toppings that add extra sugar and unhealthy fat. Select water, seltzer, or unsweetened tea when available. If you really want an alcoholic beverage, limit yourself to one. And if you want to enjoy the holiday treats, sample just one cookie or a small sliver of pie.
Sit less, move more. To avoid weight gain, try to make physical activity part of your holiday routine. To burn off a slice of chocolate cheesecake, which is about 479 calories for 1/12 of a 9-inch cake, a 154-pound man would have to walk for 1 hour at an intense, or vigorous, pace to burn 460 calories. Think about how you can work more physical activity into your holidays. For example:
• Walk around the mall a couple of times before you begin shopping.
• If you’re running errands and it’s safe to do so, park farther from where you’re going and walk the rest of the way.
• Have all your family members turn off the TVs, computers, and phones and take a walk together, play hide-and-seek, or toss a football around. More than 2 hours of TV-watching a day has been linked to overweight and obesity. Less screen time for children and adults may help keep extra pounds at bay, especially if that time gets replaced with physical activity.
Get a handle on stress. When the holiday pressure is on, stress can build and may lead to overeating. Physical activity can help relieve stress. Even if you’re pressed for time, squeezing three brisk 10-minute walks into your busy day may make a difference.
Don’t scrimp on sleep. Don’t sacrifice sleep to try to get more done. Some studies show that a lack of sleep may increase the risk of weight gain. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to maintain health, and children need more.
Getting Past the Holiday Roadblocks
Sticking with healthy habits can be a challenge, made even harder during the holidays. Don’t give up, and don’t give in. If you couldn’t resist that second cup of eggnog, try to eat less the next day or work in more physical activity. Ask family members and friends for support—they also may want to benefit from your healthy holiday goals. With some planning and support, you can have a happy and healthy holiday and new year.
For tools and information to help you improve your health, visit the NIDDK website. You also can find healthy tips on our Facebook page and in my weekly Healthy Moments radio broadcast. Learn more and listen to recorded episodes by searching “Healthy Moments” on the NIDDK home page. To follow me on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/NIDDKgov.