The 4 Pillars of Christmas Health
Christmas is upon us, and it is time to eat, drink and be merry!
Here are some tips to ensure you enjoy Christmas and don't come out the other side feeling pretty awful. These are based on expert recommendations, research and personal experience.
Being mindful of these four pillars of health may help you enjoy this time of the year without missing any of the fun and festivities!
Enjoy some treats but watch the sugar. Mince pies, Christmas cake, plum pudding as well as many other Christmas goodies are yummy seasonal favourites but are high in sugar. Too much sugar will lead to weight gain, disturbed sleep as well as possibly hyperactivity and behavioural issues in children, not great if you have lots of house guests! My recommendation would be to enjoy some treats but know when you have been satisfied, then don't eat any more.
It is also a good idea to try and mix in some green and colourful veggies with as many meals as possible. Try and cook them lightly; for example, using the steaming method is an excellent option to retain the nutrients. Over boiling reduces the nutrient quality of the vegetables and also increases the speed of absorption of carbohydrates, for example, when cooking root vegetables, which may lead to weight gain.
Christmas is the time of the year where you are allowed to slow down, do less and spend a bit more time resting. According to nap researcher Sara Mednick, a nap will not upset your sleep routine (1) and might be just what you need at the end of a busy year to help recharge.
It is an opportunity to rest the mind as well. If there are not as many emails to be checked, perhaps they can wait in favour of a good book, a magazine, listening to some cheesy Christmas music or watching a Christmas film with the family? Reading books isn't just a pleasurable and educational activity; they improve your memory, increase your empathy, and de-stress you too (3). However, it may be best to leave tense thrillers and crime dramas in favour of something a bit more relaxing.
It is important to balance rest and eating well with some exercise. One hundred and fifty minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, is recommended as a minimum each week. After a more substantial meal, why not wrap up and get out for a 15-20-minute walk? It will aid digestion, help regulate blood sugar and help you sleep better. Furthermore, regular short walks enhance your brain function, immune function, and fat metabolism. Simply walking can also extend your lifespan! One study which focussed on adults over the age of 65, who walked for 15 minutes every day showed a reduction in their mortality by 22% (2).
A light gym session can be helpful as a change of scene (if your mother-in-law is at it again and you need to escape!). Now is not the time to make significant changes to your strength training regime, best to do what you know, what feels comfortable and will leave you feeling good afterwards.
Sleep is when the magic happens, especially at Christmas. After all, Santa only arrives when the house is sound asleep right? Christmas time can be a time to park the worries of work which can help with more restful and restorative sleep.
Be careful with screens after dark as the blue light will disrupt dim light melatonin onset, which makes you sleepy. Less melatonin in the system may make it harder to fall asleep. Why not try a pair of blue light blocking glasses? We use them in the house, kids included, and they do make a difference.
Enjoy some Christmas cheer by way of a glass or two of eggnog (or perhaps a nice glass of biodynamic and organic red wine instead!) but be careful not to overdo it. Alcohol which is being broken down and metabolised overnight is more likely to disturb sleep and leave you feeling unrested the next morning, even if you got a decent 8 hours of sleep. Go for the cleanest drinks, avoid the sugary mixers and drink some water and you will sleep better and feel better the next day.
I hope you find these health tips useful and would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year ahead.
1. Mednick SC, Ehrman M. Take a nap!: Change your life. Workman Publishing; 2006.
2. Hupin D, Roche F, Gremeaux V, Chatard JC, Oriol M, Gaspoz JM, Barthélémy JC, Edouard P. Even a low-dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces mortality by 22% in adults aged≥ 60 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Oct 1;49(19):1262-7.