Your potential to truly celebrate increases when you take care of yourself. Why not use the holiday spirit to reinforce your commitment to a healthful lifestyle?

Why wait until the New Year to confirm your commitment to take care of your health? You will enjoy this season of fun and folic, stress and overload more if you temper the spirit of over-indulgence with that of moderation. Too much sitting, rich food and alcohol can make you more irritable and exhausted, and the holidays less enjoyable. Your potential to truly celebrate increases when you take care of yourself. Why not use the holiday spirit to reinforce your commitment to a healthful lifestyle?

Create exercise opportunities

Physical activity is the best stress-management technique around, and performs double duty by keeping you healthy in other ways as well. But travel, visitors, changing schedules and general holiday overload challenge your exercise routine.

Use some creative thinking to work exercise into this busy time. When traveling, visit local fitness centers with your hosts, or enjoy some long walks. See what’s available — cross-country skiing, hiking trails or whatever you enjoy. Find a golf course if you are somewhere warm. If you have guests, take them with you to your workout or exercise class. Children out of school? Maybe they can come, too. Or find an exercise activity you can do as a family. Turn off the television and go to the park.

Eat, drink and stay healthy

We know what to do, right? Limit alcohol, caffeine and fatty foods. Enjoy those special holiday treats, but in moderation. Try not to think in “on the diet/off the diet” terms, or you may find yourself off the path of moderation. Try for balance over the course of the day, and choose healthful foods as much as possible.

Cultivate your holiday spirit

Holidays were created for good reasons. They are part of the cycle of the seasons, and provide a sense of timeless meaning to our daily lives. Research continues to emphasize the importance of finding purpose in life and connections to friends, family and community. Make the holidays a special time by cultivating a positive holiday attitude.

Establish meaningful rituals

What do the holidays mean to you and your family? Forget all of the rushing around and busyness for a moment and examine your priorities. What holiday events work for you? Which would you like to change or eliminate? Maybe you would like to skip some of the big parties and have a small gathering of special friends. Perhaps a caroling trip to a local nursing home would be more meaningful than a visit to the mall. Limit gift-giving if the “gimmes” (or finances) have gotten out of control. Do less and enjoy more. If the holidays are a lonely time, look for opportunities to volunteer at your community center, schools, church or synagogue. I know one family that spends Thanksgiving serving food at the soup kitchen, and another that packs their bags and takes a two-week vacation to avoid it all.

Take advantage of simple healthy pleasures

No matter how hard you try, the holidays still seem to bring the stress of too much to do in too little time. Acknowledge feelings of stress before they get to be too much, and take advantage of the simple healthy pleasures that help you relax and feel nurtured. Enjoy a good book, put on music that makes you feel good, light some candles, take a hot bath. Talk to your dog, write a letter, call a friend. Look for these positive ways of relieving stress so you will be less tempted to down a plate of cookies or drink too much.

Get professional help when necessary

The holidays can intensify existing problems. Limited financial resources are taxed further with gift-giving, party-throwing and travel. Alcohol and co-dependency problems are exacerbated. Holidays can also be a reminder of loss: loved ones missing and the passing of time. People who are struggling with such problems should take advantage of community resources and professional counseling. Sometimes we need help, beyond that provided by family and friends.


Enjoyment and balance are the keys to successful merry making. Enjoy a few treats, but don’t forget your vegetables. Get enough rest and plenty of exercise. Remember that perfectionism is stressful and bad for your health. Holidays excuse some indulgence, so enjoy.

Barbara A. Brehm, Ed.D., is professor of exercise and sport studies at Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

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