LACONIA — Come Jan. 1, many will resolve to adopt a healthier life style, with healthy eating and increased activity. However, that resolution often follows a couple of weeks of just the opposite, as the holiday season is rife with pitfalls for those looking to improve their health. A couple of local health experts urge soon-to-be resolvers to take a few steps that will give them a head start when the new year arrives.
One of the hazards of the holidays, noted Liz Littell, personal training manager at The Fitness Edge in Meredith, is stress. There's the emotional stress of family gatherings and pressure of finding everyone the perfect gift, and the financial stress of getting it all done within a budget. Meanwhile, all the extra events and shopping trips might leave the regular exercise regimen by the wayside.
"Make it a point to do something," said Littell. "It will help with the extra calories, and it will help with the stress."
Many people equate exercise with an hour spent at the gym. That's not always in the cards, she realizes, but urges that just a little activity is much better than inactivity.
"It doesn't have to be so intense," she said.
Find ten minutes, three times a day, to be active, and better health outcomes will follow. She suggested finding the farthest parking spot at the supermarket, instead of the closest, or climbing a flight of stairs five times instead of once. If there's a break in the day, take a walk in the woods or take a child to the playground, activities that burn calories as well as alleviate stress.
"It's the little things like that that can help you out," she said.
Laura Walker, holistic health coach at Sunflower Natural Foods in Laconia, said that the rich meals associated with the holidays can be mitigated by planning in advance. If there's a likelihood that such a meal is coming up, she suggested replacing another meal that same day with a healthy shake. Or, if attending a potluck, bring something healthy so that there's at least one good option to fill up on.
Walker said the most common mistake, especially at this time of year, is that people don't get enough water.
"Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!" she said.
Caffeine and alcohol can be dehydrating, she said, so if drinking anything that contains those two chemicals, follow it with a glass of water. Continue drinking water in between meals, she said, but not immediately before eating. That can make digestion sluggish and ineffective.
"When you chug a glass of water, you dilute the acid in your stomach," she said.
With all the stress, travel and gatherings, the holidays are a common time to get sick. Walker said that's a good reason to try and get enough rest, and to avoid too much sugar.
"All bacteria and viruses feed on sugar," she said.
Littell recommended avoiding processed foods. It might be worth indulging in a dessert that was made by a loved one, but if the cake was store-bought, take a pass. She also suggests taking a sample size, or asking someone who's already tried an item, if the pleasure of eating it is worth the calories.
"Make sure it's really worth the indulgence," she said.
But the holidays aren't really about the food or drinks, said Walker. She said, make the parties about the other people there.
"Dance, move, laugh, sing and breathe," she said. "Focus on connections and conversation."
And, it might be the best move to simply decline an invitation if the season is already busy enough.
"It's OK to say, 'No.' It's OK to favor quality time at home with the family over going to that party," she said.
Taking these steps can help put a person in a strong position to continue a healthier life style in 2016. For those that will make a health-related New Year's resolution, Littell warned against setting unrealistic goals or picking an activity that isn't likely to be kept up.
"When thinking about goals for the future, don't make them so big that they are not attainable," she said. And with exercise, she said to find something fun. "In order to have true adherence, you have to enjoy it. The people who have the most success find something that they like to do."