The holiday season is in full swing. It is a time for celebrating all the good things in life. But all the celebrating can disrupt healthy habits, further strain busy schedules, or raise the bar on expectations that can distract us from the true meaning of the holidays. Below are some tips for holiday wellness from the school of Health Promotion & Human Development at UW-Stevens Point.
Kelly Schoonaert, Associate Professor of Health Promotion/Wellness, says planning ahead can help. Not with massive shopping lists. Rather, “set aside a private, quiet moment, well before all the hoopla sets in, to reflect on what the meaning of the season is to YOU. What outcomes do you want?” If it’s to connect with important people to tell them how much you value their presence in your life, realizing this weeks in advance can allow you to plan the phone calls, travel, and hand written cards so they don’t fall by the wayside as things get busy. Then, the things that you intentionally determined are not important, whether it’s shopping for everyone or baking boxes of cookies, are less likely to get in the way.
Being clear on what you want out of the holidays can also help maintain healthy habits. If holiday parties threaten to disrupt your regular exercise routine, plan to arrive late after you’ve exercised. Missing 30 minutes of a party is nothing compared to the peace of mind you’ll get from your workout. Physical activity can also become part of holiday traditions, whether it’s a walk in woods while the turkey is in the oven, a star light tromp through the snow to see if Santa is out early, or an annual touch football game when there’s enough family at home to field two sides, physical activity is easily infused with the spirit of the season.
Ashley Chrisinger, RD, suggests “planning holiday menus so they include enough fruits and veggies that everyone can fill half their plate with non-starchy options.” Treats seem to be everywhere this time of year, but research shows that we will choose from what is available. “So keep the candies and cookies out of sight and keep the fruit bowl fresh and full. You can even decorate with colorful fall veggies like squash and mini pumpkins or healthy snacks like nuts, apples, and dried fruit.”
Gift giving is one way to express how much you appreciate someone. Sterling Wall, Professor of Family & Consumer Sciences, reminds us that it’s okay not to break the bank financially. “There is story after story of children leaving the expensive toys on the floor in favor of playing catch or building a snowman with visiting friends and relatives.” In a survey of his students, Wall discovered that when students described their most meaningful memories, they were often about moments connecting with someone.
Giving strengthens connections and doesn’t have cost much. Do something simple but special for someone, such as baking their favorite pie. Or by asking them for help when things get hectic. “When you acknowledge that people cannot read your mind they usually will try to provide what you need if they know about it,” says Dr. Schoonaert. Asking for help provides others with an opportunity to give something meaningful. And that’s the true spirit of the season.
Annie Wetter is President of Portage County Can, a coalition of community businesses, organizations and individuals committed to promoting healthy eating and active living in Portage County. Also, as Chair of the School of Health Promotion & Human Development at UWSP, she is pleased to share her colleagues’ wisdom on holiday wellness.