Too much stress. Too little sleep. Waaaay too many cookie exchanges, hors d’oeuvres, and libations. When you think about everything you put your body through during the holiday season, it starts to sound a whole lot less jolly.
But you don’t have to abandon your healthy lifestyle this winter—after all, it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. With a few smart tips, you can not only survive the holidays, but actually thrive throughout the season. And that doesn’t mean forgoing all the fun.
See, socializing and celebrating—as we can all agree after nearly three years of crowd avoidance and caution—aren’t just nice-to-haves. They’re some of the most fundamental building blocks of a fulfilling life: “Intimate relationships and companionship are extremely important,” confirms Robert G. Lahita, MD, author of Immunity Strong, who is based in New Jersey. He’s all for maxing out on merriment, just as long as you take care.
To do that, identify potential hurdles to practicing healthy habits and develop a game plan. “Without a plan of action,” says Bianca Vesco, a certified trainer based in Nashville, Tennessee, “we leave a lot up to chance. And that is a very slippery slope.”
For a happy *and* healthy new year, follow these tips from Lahita, Vesco, and Meme Inge, MS, RDN, intuitive eating dietitian and food blogger at Living Well Kitchen.
Tips for Staying Healthy During the Holidays
To avoid illness:
- Take 10 to meditate. Chronic stress can weaken your immune system. But a regular meditation practice might help, according to Lahita: “It does a lot to relax you and help your immune system cope with stress,” he explains. Try listening to a 10-minute meditation track at a designated time every day to help create a healthy lifestyle habit that will serve you well into the New Year.
- Set a bedtime you can stick to. “Sleep loss is a form of stress that can leave you vulnerable to sickness,” explains Lahita. Set a daily phone alarm for about 45 minutes before your predetermined bedtime as a reminder to begin washing up and winding down. (No online shopping or Instagram scrolling in bed!)
- Go ahead and nap. The thing is, festivities often interfere with your best intentions. After evenings when your holiday party runs late or present-wrapping really can’t wait, treat yourself to an afternoon nap—doctor’s orders. Lahita recommends napping for 20 minutes. That’s the optimal nap length, according to Sleep Foundation, because it allows you to boost your alertness without going into deep sleep, from which you might wake up groggy.
- Sip H2O between alcoholic drinks and tomato juice the next day. Since the holiday season probably won’t be the time you decide to embark on an alcohol-free challenge, remember to drink in moderation. When it comes to alcohol consumption, think no more than one or two drinks when you’re out and about, ideally not every night—and to rehydrate, since dehydration can make you more susceptible to illness. Lahita recommends drinking about one liter of water per alcoholic beverage (or alternating sips of alcohol and water) and always starting with something in your stomach to help absorb the booze. To replenish your electrolytes the morning after imbibing, he suggests sipping tomato juice in addition to your regularly scheduled beverages.
To maintain your fitness:
- Add small bursts of movement to your day. Between traveling and celebrating and all the prep that goes into both, it can feel impossible to find the time or energy for your workout routine. That’s why Vesco recommends “habit stacking,” or incorporating exercise into habits you’re already practicing (and definitely won’t drop even on the most hectic days). It can be as simple as squatting while you brush your teeth or doing a short yoga flow while your coffee brews, she says. For extra exercise motivation, be sure to download the Paceline app so you get rewarded for 150 minutes of weekly activity.
- Schedule your workout. If you’re really set on doing longer workouts, Vesco suggests scheduling a calendar “meeting” with yourself in the morning before everyone else wakes up. Why? Calendarizing a habit requires you to think of and prepare for hurdles that lie ahead—and be realistic about when you’ll have time to take that run or Peloton class. “Even if it’s only 20 minutes, you’ll be so glad you did,” she says.
- Set your morning-after intention. Instead of dragging yourself out of bed for a punishing workout the morning after indulging in a holiday meal or one too many cocktails, opt into an activity that makes you feel good. For Vesco, that’s a long walk, yoga, stretching, or weight lifting—not a HIIT session or a new routine. “Move to feel good, move to wake up, move to celebrate being alive and with the people you love,” she advises—not for redemption. “Every meal, every step, every breath is a chance for a reset if you need it.”
- Do three rounds of three moves. When Vesco is on the road with no gym or equipment, she does 10 reps each of three bodyweight exercises (like squats, good mornings, and push-ups) then repeats the series for at least 3 rounds. The practice, she swears, preserves mobility to protect against injury: “The more we move, the easier it is to move and the healthier our joints and muscles become,” she says. Even better: This travel-friendly routine takes less than 10 minutes.
- Set active goals. While the holiday season isn’t typically the best time to set a lofty fitness goal, setting an active goal, or an intention to do something rather than stop doing something, can help you maintain a positive mindset, Vesco says. So instead of, “I won’t skip any workouts,” try “I will work out three times this week.”
To keep food feelings in check:
- Eat enough. If your plan is to bank calories for later by skipping meals ahead of a holiday event, change it. “It’s hard to enjoy experiences and be present when you’re hungry or dehydrated,” says Inge, who recommends consistently nourishing your body with ample food. “When you meet your needs, it’s easier to feel balanced.” And merry!
- Focus on your favorite holiday treats. Some foods are only available during the holidays. (We see you, white fudge-dipped Oreos!). So take advantage: “Allow yourself to enjoy these foods, knowing that all foods are morally equal, meaning you are not a good or bad person based on what or how much you eat,” Inge says.
- Practice self-care, not punishment. So you ate more pie than you’d planned to. Now what? Don’t beat yourself up. “It does nothing to improve the situation and only makes you feel worse,” Inge says. Alternatively, try a walk around the block, a warm cup of peppermint tea, a kitchen dance party, or a nap. The goal is not to compensate for what you’ve eaten, she says—it’s to figure out what your body needs next to feel better.
12 Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holidays is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.