The holiday season is around the corner and while you may not be ready to start celebrating, now is the time to plan how upcoming celebrations will fit into your healthy lifestyle. This time of year is notorious for commitments that interfere with exercise and for overeating unhealthy foods. By making a plan to overcome these obstacles, you will stay on track to meet your health and fitness goals.
Make a list of your favorite seasonal foods.
There are special holiday foods that you can’t get any other time of year. Depriving yourself will only make you feel miserable and increase the chances that you will give up and overindulge. Instead, decide how you will incorporate these foods into a healthy eating plan. Make a list of your must-have foods and estimate when these foods will be available -- pecan pie at Thanksgiving, Grandma’s cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning? When you plan for special treats, you can alter your food intake around this time so that you don’t go overboard on unhealthy fat, sugar, or calories.
Set exercise goals.
Think about what the holiday season really looks like for you. You might be someone with few commitments, who only needs to alter your exercise routine for light travel right around the holidays. Or you might be a person with a packed schedule from Halloween to New Years. Plan your exercise accordingly and set goals for what you’d like to accomplish over the next two to three months. Make these goals achievable. It’s okay to drop your workouts to three 30-minute sessions for a few weeks. Maybe home videos are a better option than a trip to the gym. Set an exercise goal for each week and incorporate healthy, non-food rewards for when you achieve each.
Draft a schedule of your regular commitments.
Most people attend the same parties year after year and travel to the same family reunion. Get these commitments on your calendar and include other tasks like gift shopping and baking. Next, add your exercise sessions to the calendar. Add some longer workouts in the weeks before you know things will get busy. Follow that up with a list of options for how you will stick to healthy eating throughout the coming weeks.
Prepare make-ahead meals.
Often the problem with the holiday season isn’t that you indulge in high-calorie foods a day or two. It’s when this pattern lasts for several weeks that the pounds pile on. Save your splurges for special occasions and prepare healthy meals to have available when you are too busy to cook. Most foods will stay fresh up to two months in the freezer. Bean soups and stews, vegetable lasagna, vegetarian burgers, cooked poultry, and sauteed greens all freeze well and can be thawed for an easy, healthy meal when your schedule gets out of control.
Decide what you will skip.
It might be passing on the cookie tray in favor of a slice of pie, taking a break from an evening exercise class to squeeze in an early morning session, or eliminating a task that causes you stress every year. In order to enjoy a healthy holiday, you have to make trade-offs. Not having every dessert available will save you hundreds of calories. You may miss your regular workout group, but successfully completing your workout is better than skipping it at the last minute due to a schedule change. Some old traditions need to be let go to make room for new, healthier ones. Spend some time thinking about what you will cut out of your holiday season to make it healthier and happier.
Put the plan into action.
A healthy plan will do you no good if you fail to put it into action. Start now by making every meal a healthy one and sticking to your regular workouts. When the parties and commitments begin, you will have several weeks of healthy habits established going in. Use your calendar, set reminders on your smartphone, and ask friends and family for support. All of these steps will make a healthy holiday a natural part of your lifestyle.
A moderate amount of stress is motivating, but it can quickly increase and have a negative impact on health. While you can't always cut out stress completely, controlling stress and incorporating activities that reduce it are key to maintaining good health.
Find a Pet
From petting a dog to watching fish swim in an aquarium, animals have been shown to have a calming effect on humans. It doesn't have to be your pet, visit a neighbor or spend some time with the office cat. Research shows that as little as five minutes of interaction can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Pets have also been found to improve heart health by reducing risk factors for heart disease, such as lowering blood pressure. Time with pets has also been found to decrease depression and lower anxiety.
Meditate for Five Minutes
Meditation doesn't take a big time commitment. Simple, deep breathing and clearing your mind for a few minutes can calm you. Regular meditation has been shown to lower heart rate, promote normal blood pressure, and reduce levels of stress hormones. It also helps to clear your mind, which can lead to creativity. Set a timer, sit quietly in a place with no distractions, breath deeply, and relax.
Think About Your Happy Place
A short meditation practice, called visualization, can distract you from a stressful situation and has been found to promote muscle relaxation. Thinking about a peaceful scene in nature or at the beach, or even picturing yourself accomplishing a goal, are all forms of visualization. Simply meditate on your personal happy place. If you don’t know where to start, guided visualization can help. Listen to a CD or find an app for your Smartphone. It only takes a few minutes and guided visualization has been found to decrease blood pressure and reduce levels of stress hormones.
Laughing is unlike other methods for reducing stress because it causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, an increase in breathing rate sends more oxygen to the muscles. It’s a response similar to what happens when you exercise. Once the laughing ends and your breathing and heart rate return to normal, you feel relaxed, refreshed, and energized.
Cooking more of your own food is one way to control what you eat. When you know how much salt, fat, and other ingredients are added, you can better track your intake to meet your fitness goals. While healthy cooking isn’t as complicated as it may seem, it is easy to fall into a few traps. These cooking mistakes may affect your view of healthy foods and prevent you from maximizing the nutritional value of your meals.
You don't experiment with reducing cooking oil
Follow the recipe the first time you prepare a dish. If it becomes a favorite, try experimenting. Many stovetop recipes for sautéed vegetables use two tablespoons or more of oil. While sometimes this is necessary, other recipes cook just fine with less, which will save you 120 calories per tablespoon you are able to reduce.
You salt before you taste
Many recipes save adding the salt for the final step, after the food is fully cooked. Do you toss in all the salt before giving it a taste? Everyone's preferences for salt are different, and as you decrease your sodium intake, it's likely that your taste buds will be happier with much less. Try adding half the salt suggested by the recipe, and then taste the food. You may find that extra salt isn’t necessary.
Your oven over-bakes
Sometimes the reason you don’t like a food is simply because it hasn’t been prepared correctly. Fish can easily over bake and become tough, roasted vegetables can cook unevenly, and cakes using fruit purees in place of fat or alternative flours can dry out. By getting to know your oven, you can work around these obstacles to make healthy foods that taste delicious. Calibrate your oven temperature and identify hot spots that tend to overcook food. You can learn to lower temperatures when necessary and rotate pans to always get the best results.
You don't weigh and measure
Unlike baking, cooking doesn’t always require an exact balance of ingredients, but a little too much freedom in your technique could mean extra calories. Adding oils and sauces to pans without measuring, not portioning out an appropriate serving of pasta, and tossing in extra toppings like nuts and seeds can cause your final dish to contain more calories than listed by your recipe. Use your measuring tools to ensure you don’t turn an otherwise healthy dish into a high-calorie meal.
Walking meetings can add activity to your work day
Finding ways to incorporate more activity into your day is important for living a healthy lifestyle. Even the calories burned through the smallest activities add up to help you lose weight. Activity also refreshes you mentally to keep you sharp and alert as you plow through your to-do list. Create a more active lifestyle with some of these ideas.
Take a break from the conference room and meet while on the move. A walking meeting burns calories and the change in environment may spark some renewed creativity. Mobile devices make it easy to verbally document any notes. Those involved can return to the desk refreshed and ready to take on a new project.
You don’t have to walk or bike to work every single day to take advantage of active commuting. Try it twice a week or just one way and arrange a ride home with a coworker. If walking or biking is out of the question, get creative with how you can make the commute more active. Can you park further away, complete errands and get to nearby meetings on foot, or take the stairs to your floor?
Research shows that sitting for long periods may be bad for your long term health, even if you workout. Get out of your chair for a stretch break at regular intervals throughout the day. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds while breathing deeply. Stretch all major muscle groups paying special attention to the areas most affected by long periods of sitting -- the shoulders, lower back and hamstrings.
Incorporate more movement into sedentary activities
Some sedentary activities present opportunities to move more. As you watch your favorite television shows, try circuit workouts. Do strength exercises when the show is on and switch to cardio activities like jumping jacks or walking stairs during commercials.
Join a team and invite your friends
The time enjoyed with your friends doesn’t have to be sedentary. Form a team and join the local softball, volleyball, or bowling league. If you aren’t into competitive sports, get the group together for a hike or hit the water for a leisurely paddle in canoes or kayaks. These activities keep you active while you spend time catching up and creating great memories.
Staying constantly connected via your cell phone or computer creates an environment that can prompt the ‘fight or flight’ response and the release of stress hormones. Research shows that playing computer games can cause some of the same physiological effects as stress, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Links have also been found between technology use, reduced quality of sleep, and increased stress.
Whether or not everyday stress is directly related to poor heart health is still being evaluated, but stress can promote other activities that do increase risks for heart disease. Eating high-fat and high-calorie comfort foods, smoking, and excess alcohol intake are all risk factors that are made worse by stress. Escape from all forms of technology for at least a short period every day and consider taking longer breaks over the weekend or during vacation.
Monitor your sodium intake
Eating high sodium foods can cause sodium levels to build in the blood resulting in increased blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease. National health recommendations suggest that sodium intake be limited to 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults, however, some organizations suggest limiting intake even further to 1,500 milligrams per day. The best way to reduce sodium is to limit your intake of processed foods such as chips, crackers, condiments, and frozen meals or meal kits, and reduce the amount of salt you add to prepared foods before eating.
Eat more fiber
Soluble fiber can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease risk for heart disease. Many grains, legumes, and fruits are rich in soluble fiber including oats, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, and citrus. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, which includes soluble and insoluble fiber.
Commit to regular workouts
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease by clearing excess cholesterol from the blood to prevent it from causing clogged arteries. Research shows that two months of regular cardiovascular exercise can increase your HDL cholesterol by as much as five percent. This can be achieved by exercising 30 minutes, five days per week. When planning your program, keep in mind that a healthy heart is not only linked to aerobic exercise. The American Heart Association also recommends strength training as a way to reduce heart disease risk.
Get some sleep
Sleeping fewer than six hours per night has been linked to to an increased risk for high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart attack, and stroke. While incorporating more hours of restful sleep each night can help reduce your risk, be sure not to over do it. Research shows that sleeping more than nine hours a night can also increase your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.