Holiday health tips probably aren’t top of mind for you, but our mental and physical health deserve to be among our top priorities. This holiday season may still look different this year, so the usual stress associated with crowds, travel, crammed schedules, food overload, and social pressures, may or may not be there. One of the best ways to ensure that you stay on top of your health is to be mindful and plan ahead. It’s also important to keep it front of mind that just because you’re looking out for your health, it doesn’t mean that you have to miss enjoying things – it should just be done in a more mindful way.
Holiday Health Tips:
Choose healthy indulgences
OK, healthy indulgence might seem like an oxymoron, but wait–there’s dark chocolate! Dark chocolate is a decadent treat that offers up health benefits along with indulgence. There is research showing cacao has circulatory and stem-cell stimulating properties. Chocolate also has positive effects on the gut microbiota. A study by researchers from Louisiana State University found that fiber found in cacao feeds healthy gut bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. These bacteria use the fiber to generate useful short chain fatty acids called SCFAs that help have been shown by researchers to reduce inflammation and improve glucose and lipid metabolism.
Managing your stress is also key for wellbeing. A little stress in your life is fine and might even give you an edge to succeed in life. But chronic stress harms your health defenses. Stress increases cortisol secretion from your adrenal glands, places undue demands on your heart and alters your microbiome for the worse. It also disrupts angiogenesis, impairs the function of your stem cells, and lowers your immunity. In short, chronic stress damages your health defenses.
Foods to manage stress
There are a few foods that can help when it comes to stress. Green tea is amazing. Not only does the tea have wonderful health benefits, but also the mere act of drinking tea is relaxing. Green tea is a powerhouse when it comes to keeping you healthy and protecting against disease. Green tea lowers your cancer risk, helps reduce blood pressure, and protects your DNA from oxidative stress. To learn more about this healthy beverage, read Are you tea savvy? Health benefits are just the start.
Dark chocolate can also help with stress. According to a study from researchers at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, when high anxiety subjects ate dark chocolate for two weeks, levels of the stress markers cortisol and adrenaline decreased. Chocolate reduced these biomarker high anxiety subjects down to levels seen in the subjects reporting low anxiety. This study showed that for stressed out individuals, eating dark chocolate for two weeks helped improve gut bacteria and reduce stress markers in the body.
I know it can be hard, but you’ll thank yourself later if you avoid overeating. You should try to stop eating when you’re 80 percent full to allow your mind to recognize that you are no longer hungry and prevent you from eating too much. Overeating causes inflammation and lethargy. Your future self will thank you. One tip is to eat a small healthy salad with protein before going out to a holiday cocktail party. That way you can enjoy some of the cocktail appetizers without feeling famished and eating too many unhealthy options.
A lack of physical activity can change your gut microbiome for the worse. So even if it’s just getting out for a walk, it’s important to stay consistent with your movement. For instance, if you’re looking for a way to catch up with friends over the holidays and have flexibility, schedule a regular walking date instead of lunch. The exercise will leave you feeling energized.
Be mindful of your food choices
You should focus on whole, plant-based foods for your main course and build your plate from there. When it comes to the dessert go for the dark chocolate — just make a better choice to go for the selection without added refined sugar.
-Dr. William Li
Dr. William Li is the author of Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science Of How Our Body Can Heal Itself. His other Smart Lifebites stories include Dr. Li’s Favorite Heart Healthy Foods and Dr. Li’s Favorite Immune Boosting Foods. Find him at www.drwilliamli.com