How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays: The Ultimate Guide for Seniors
No matter how enjoyable the holidays are, there’s no denying that they aren’t great for your health. Between the indulgent food, increased alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and inclement weather, you’re probably inclined to give up on your diet and other healthy habits until January rolls around.
But don’t stop fighting the good fight just yet! Seniors can stay healthy during the holidays and enjoy the occasional treat without significant setbacks. If you’re worried about staying healthy during the holidays this year, follow these 20 tips to maintain or start your good habits in between all the indulgences.
Water helps you feel full faster, cushions your joints, hydrates your skin and offers tons of benefits for your body. While it’s easy to let this simple habit fall by the wayside during the busy holidays, try to make a point to carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. If plain water isn’t motivating enough for you, decaf teas are also a great choice during the cold winter months.
Watch your alcohol intake.
In addition to the strain it puts on your liver, alcohol can be quite high in calories, and a night of drinking can quickly rack up even more calories than you eat. Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks per occasion and watch out for other beverages while you’re at it. Soda, juice and other drinks are also high in sugar and calories and can quickly undo some of your other healthy dietary choices.
Eat rich foods in moderation.
It’s not just about the type of foods you eat, but also how much you eat of them. Consuming large portions of even the healthiest foods can quickly rack up the calories, fats and carbs. You don’t have to completely deny yourself during the holidays, but do keep your portion sizes reasonable and try to avoid getting extra helpings when you’re not even hungry. Consider cooking smaller portions so you don’t have tempting leftovers sitting in the fridge for weeks on end.
Offer healthy snacks and sides.
If your loved ones have potluck-style holiday dinners, volunteer to bring a healthy dish or side to help lighten the caloric load. If you’re in charge of meal planning, plan for healthy, low-calorie meals around the big holiday indulgence—for example, you might serve a salad for lunch the day of the big dinner. And it’s always a good idea to keep nutritious, low-calorie snacks on hand in case the munchies strike in between meals.
Stick to your special diet.
Many seniors have dietary restrictions of some kind or another, whether it’s low sodium or no carb or something else entirely. Try to stick to your diet as much as possible during the holidays, with only the occasional departure. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to forgo all your favorite dishes. Many classic holiday recipes come in various versions to fit almost every type of dietary restriction imaginable.
The holidays are a busy season, and even if you have the time to exercise, you might not feel like moving after a night of indulgence. However, it’s important to keep working out during the holidays in order to burn calories and to boost your sluggish circulation during the winter months. Try to move every day, even it’s just some stretches or a session on the stationary bike. And don’t forget that many other holiday activities—such as walking through shops and cooking for hours on end—also burn calories.
Stay on a schedule.
Between traveling, time off and the holidays themselves, most people’s schedules get completely changed up during the winter. But sticking to your schedule as much as possible will help you feel centered both physically and mentally during this chaotic time. Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time–even during your days off–and try to exercise at the same time every day, too. Eating at the same time each day can also help you feel grounded and avoid confusion, even if you’re in a new environment.
Take your medication regularly.
Staying on a schedule will also help you remember to take your medications on time. If you have trouble remembering, you can set reminders on your calendar or phone, or ask your relatives to do it for you. Try to connect taking your pills to a daily activity, such as eating or brushing your teeth, to help maintain the habit. If you’re flying, bring all your medications with you in your carry-on and pack extra doses in case you get delayed.
Shop for gifts wisely.
While the holidays are a time of financial indulgence for many people, it’s all too easy to rack up expenses on your credit card without really thinking about it until it’s too late. Before you buy a single present, set an overall budget and then break it down by person—and stick to the numbers you decide on. Focus on experiences rather than objects. For many people, time spent together is more memorable and appreciated than the latest expensive gadget.
Choose comfortable shoes.
Your feet have a lot to contend with during the holidays. Not only do you walk and stand a lot as you shop and cook, but you also have to deal with inclement weather that increases your risk of slipping and falling. Seek out comfortable boots with moisture-resistant exteriors and thick soles that will provide plenty of support. For holiday parties, consider ditching the high heels and instead opt for comfortable dress shoes or ballet flats.
Plan for rest time.
Don’t plan days full of back-to-back activities. For instance, if you’re traveling one day, don’t plan to go shopping the next day. Leave plenty of time for you to rest and try not to book full days if you can help it. Not only will this give you time at home to wrap gifts and other necessary tasks, but it will also keep you from running down so quickly. If you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to get sick–and no one wants to be ill over the holidays!
Boost your circulation.
Between the inclement weather, indulgent diets and reduced exercise, the holidays can really slow down your circulation and make you feel cold all the time. Some of the other tips on here–such as staying hydrated and exercising regularly–will improve your circulation, but there are also some other strategies you can take, such as wearing compression stockings and staying warm (which dilates your blood vessels to help blood flow more easily).
Catch up on your vaccines.
Your chances of getting ill increase significantly during the holidays. Not only is it flu season, but the cold weather and traveling also exposes you to new germs and makes it harder to recover. That’s why it’s more important than ever to support your immune system by staying current with your vaccines. If you’re worried about it, there’s actually a special formulation of the flu vaccine made specifically for people age 65 and older to trigger a better immune response.
Wash your hands regularly.
Vaccines aren’t enough to keep the germs at bay. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after any holiday cooking, as well as before and after eating at a party (doubly so if they serve finger foods!). Wash your hands regularly while you’re out shopping or navigating other public spaces, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes unless your hands are completely clean. It’s also a good idea to keep some alcohol-based sanitizer in your purse or bag in case you can’t wash your hands.
Wipe away germs.
If you’re traveling on a plane, train or bus, it’s an excellent idea to sanitize your seat with alcohol wipes as soon as you sit down. Also wipe down any lights, vents or anything that someone else might have touched. You can also keep some disinfectant wipes in your house to quickly clean up after any sick guests with minimal mess.
Get enough sleep.
Even if you get your vaccines and wash your hands religiously, you’ll still susceptible to getting sick if you run yourself down and don’t sleep enough. Sleep helps your body heal and fight infection, and also boosts your immune system to help fight off germs before you fall ill. While the ideal amount of sleep varies by individual, many adults need seven to nine hours of shuteye per day. If you find it difficult to sleep that long in one go, midday naps are also a great option.
Holiday decorations contribute to the festive spirit, but they also pose multiple hazards–especially for seniors. Electrical cords can trip you up, Christmas trees can fall over, ornaments can break and cause a laceration and holiday lights can short out and catch things on fire. As you decorate for the holidays, keep an eye out for these potential hazards to stop accidents before they start.
Ask for help.
Whether it’s decorating the house or baking a big meal for 20 people, the holidays often call for major investments of time and energy. Even if you’re always the one to decorate or cook on your own, consider starting a new tradition by asking some of your trusted loved ones for help. After all, they’ll never learn the right way to do things if you don’t train them—and they definitely don’t want you to overwork yourself into exhaustion.
Get a massage.
It’s no secret that the holidays are stressful, so why not relax with a professional massage? Not only will the massage improve your mental and emotional health, but it will also boost your physical health. Kneading the muscles physically pushes along blood, lymph and other fluids, improving circulation, reducing swelling and encouraging nutrients to circulate more quickly.
Don’t let the holiday derail you.
When you overindulge at a party or skip a couple of days of exercising to shop, it can be tempting to feel like you’ve failed. But rather than throwing in the towel for the rest of the year, try to see it as a temporary lapse instead of punishing yourself mentally. Focus on the many other times you’ve stuck to your diet as opposed to the one cheat day and remind yourself that any workout is better than no workout. Then, start your healthy habits again and get back into your routine.
Above all, focus on what you can do during the holidays as opposed to what you can’t. Rather than fretting that you can’t exercise like usual because you’re traveling, celebrate the fact that you went for a walk around the airport. Instead of fretting about the rich dinner you ate last night, focus on making a salad today.
If you take this approach and celebrate the holidays in moderation with these 20 tips, you’ll feel better inside and out and be far less likely to undo all the progress you’ve made during the rest of the year. In fact, you might do so well at maintaining your healthy habits that you don’t even feel the need to make New Year’s Resolutions!
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC
Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.