6 health traps to avoid during the holidays

Don’t let the holidays wreak havoc on your health. Avoid these six health traps, and you’ll enjoy a healthier season

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holiday party

Hazards of the holidays

At this time of year, you may be more focused on festivities than your own health. But all those rich meals, fabulous parties and extra time off work could be interfering with your well-being.

"People are busy, and it's easy for them to take shortcuts or get distracted, or they'll dedicate more time to doing things for other people and not spend time on themselves," points out Dr. Scott MacLean, a family physician in Edmonton. "They're also spending time with their family, and they want to enjoy it and not worry about things."

But there are ways to enjoy the festive season and keep yourself in fine form. Here's how to avoid getting snared by health traps during the holidays.

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craving chocolate

Health trap: High-calorie treats

Has your diet been crumpled and tossed in a corner like so much wrapping paper? Don't beat yourself up just because you indulged in that delicious, deep-dish apple pie. "Everything in moderation," says MacLean. "It's okay to enjoy a big meal with family, just don't do it every day." But if you've got many more dinners marked on your holiday social calendar, there are ways to enjoy them without piling on the calories. Try substituting fruit salad for fruitcake at dessert, or adding low-fat cheese to the snack tray instead of all-dressed nachos.

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cross-country skiing outdoors winter

Health trap: Skipping the gym

Your regular morning workouts may fall by the wayside when you're not headed for the office each day. "It's very easy to cut out the normal activity when you don't have that routine," says MacLean. Plus you're probably reluctant to miss out on precious time with your family or friends. Why not combine social time with physical activity? Make plans with loved ones to go skating, or tramping through the snow. "You may not be going to the gym," says MacLean, "but anything you can do to get your heart pumping and get you off the couch can be helpful."

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drinking wine alcohol

Health trap: Too many cocktails

Whether it's the socializing or the stress, we're often drinking more at this time of year. Overdoing the alcohol isn't great for your health, nor is it calorie-free. Keep your drink count within limits - aiming for less than one per hour - by spacing out the booze with water or festive mocktails (alcohol-free punches). Don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Instead, reach for snacks with lots of protein and little salt and sugar. And when you do drink, try a mix of diet pop to lower the calorie count.

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cold flu sick

Health trap: Cold and flu germs

With so many relatives, friends and neighbours bringing you cheer at this time of year, you're doing more smooching than usual. With close contact comes the passing of cold and flu viruses. The surprising truth, though, is that you're more likely to pick up germs by shaking hands (or handing over an eggnog) than sharing a kiss. That's why frequent handwashing is important during get-togethers. "You don't need any fancy hand sanitizers - soap and water do a great job," says MacLean. "But hand sanitizer will do in a pinch, when you're coming into somebody's home and making sure your hands are safe before meeting all these people." He adds that getting the flu shot before the festive season will help you protect yourself and your loved ones.

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holiday fireplace christmas tree

Health trap: Indoor smog

If you're suddenly spending lots of time indoors, you're exposing yourself to whatever's in your air. Whether you're curled in front of the fire or scouring your bathroom with lemon-scented cleaners, you could be inhaling in a high dose of air pollution. Minimize the health hazards in your air by using non-toxic household products, keeping your fireplace and chimney well maintained, and burning nothing but dry, clean wood. Put some breathe-easy policies into place when people come calling, like no smoking or fragrance, especially if a household member or visitor has a chronic health condition. "Oftentimes, Aunt Mildred's perfume is more of a problem than the fireplace you've got running in the background," says MacLean.

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Beauty sleep

Health trap: Sleep deprivation

When you're on holidays from work, it's tempting to stay up late and sleep in. But keep in mind that changing your sleep routine can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. And that in turn can wreak havoc on your health, since we depend on a good sleep to stay in the pink. Stick as closely as possible to your usual sleep schedule, and make sure you're getting seven to eight hours of shut-eye every night.

You'll have a better holiday if you keep yourself healthy, MacLean notes. "When people feel run down, they can't enjoy the season the way they want to." But if you take steps to avoid these health traps, the only thing you'll suffer from in January is a yearning for your holidays to last a little longer.

Related:
Your at-home holiday workout routine
7 holiday health hazards (and how to avoid them)
Healthy holiday smoothie and drink recipes