7 tips for staying healthy during the holidays

a photo of a woman doing yoga during the holidays
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It’s the holidays, and that means lots of gifts, quality time with family and friends, and an endless array of food and drinks. While most of us look forward to this time of year, many wonder how to stay healthy during the holidays.

Will those weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day completely derail your health and fitness goals? Should you really deny yourself of all the treats, parties, and merriment in order to stay on track? 

Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the holiday season while staying healthy. 

 Mindfully indulge 

A photo of a christmas turkey

(Image credit: Thomas Barwick)

Instead of forgoing your favorite holiday cookies and eggnog, enjoy these delicacies consciously. 

Food is enjoyable because it tastes good, but don’t forget that we have four other senses that are also a part of the experience. Take the time to appreciate the smells, textures, colors, and even sounds of your most cherished goodies. Mindfully focus your attention on all the aspects that make your favorites so tasty — place your utensils down while you chew, and wait until after you’ve swallowed to take another mouthwatering bite (or sip). Taking your time to indulge may help you to both eat less and remember your favorite treats in more vivid detail, as this study found.

But what if you’re at a party? How do you focus on your food when there is so much action all around you? You can always wait for lulls in conversation to take a bite - that way you can focus most of your attention on how good that cookie, slice of pie, or piece of cheese tastes. You can also take in the sights and sounds around you, and notice how that enhances your experience. 

By taking the time to mindfully indulge in your favorite foods, you’ll find eating them even more gratifying than you did in holidays past. Plus, you may find you need to eat fewer of those favorites to feel fully satisfied. 

Take a “time out”

a person sitting chatting at a christmas dinner table

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Have you ever left the dinner table feeling moderately full, but then later you feel like you’re about to burst? That’s because it takes approximately 20 minutes from the time we begin eating for our stomachs to tell our brains that we’re full. So while we continue to chow down on turkey and stuffing, we might be stuffed already without even knowing it. 

If you’re feeling a strong urge for a second, third, or fourth helping, give yourself a five to ten-minute “time out.” Start a conversation at the table, suggest a quick card game with your family, or give a good friend a call. After that time is up, revisit the idea of another plate. You may still want more - if that’s the case, go for it! But you may also realize that you’re full enough as it is. 

Get a little exercise

A photo of two men running over the holidays

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There’s no doubt about it — the holidays can get very busy. And for a lot of us, a tight schedule can mean skipped workouts. But even if you can’t find the time for an all-out gym session, try committing to at least a few minutes of exercise every day. 

Moving your body intentionally is obviously important for your physical health, but it’s important for your mental health too. According to this study, exercise can reduce your risks for severe depression by up to 26%. You don’t even need to run for miles — something as simple as a 10-minute walk can come with mood-boosting benefits. 

If you’re lacking motivation, try giving yourself a long-term goal, like digging out your running shoes and running your first 5K (here's how to run a 5K) or doing 20 pushups in a row. Even better — challenge your friends and family to join you! Having a specific goal (and some friendly competition) makes exercise more focused and enjoyable.    

Stay hydrated

A glass of water at the Christmas dinner table

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The holidays are full of spirits — both figurative and literal. If you imbibe, all those spirits from the holiday party may leave you feeling less than “well-spirited” the next morning. Stave off a nasty hangover by staying hydrated. A good rule of thumb? Have one full glass of water after each alcoholic beverage you consume. 

Even if you don’t drink, it’s still a good idea to get plenty of water. Take a bottle with you when shopping for gifts or running holiday-related errands. 

Remember your meds

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With time off from work or school for holiday breaks, your day-to-day routine can get thrown off. When that happens, it’s easy to forget daily medications, vitamins, or supplements. Try placing pill bottles in conspicuous places so you’ll see them — on your nightstand, by your toothbrush, or on your coffee table. 

If you still have trouble remembering, set a reminder on your phone or watch.  

Reach out for help

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The holidays aren’t necessarily a happy time for everyone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (for those in the Northern Hemisphere), grief, trauma, loss, and strained relationships can all impact our mental and physical health this time of year. 

If you need help navigating the holidays, reach out to a qualified mental health professional. You can find one through your health insurance, by asking your doctor for a referral or even via smartphone apps.

Everything in moderation — including moderation

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Sure, it’s important to exercise and not overindulge. But the reality is — it’s the holidays, and they come around once a year. A night of eating too much or a skipped workout is not going to undo all the work you’ve done. Don’t feel guilty! Instead, enjoy the holidays for all the wonderful experiences they bring, and do what you can to feel connected to your mind and body. 

If you do find yourself craving some green vegetables, or a killer workout or two after the holidays, we’ve found some that’ll help get you going: 

Tone your abdominal muscles with the Lily Sabri 7-day ab workout or the Pamela Reif six-pack ab workout. Boost your running motivation with these tips on how to run faster in 2022, or shop for one of the best exercise bikes to up your cardio indoors. 

Jennifer Rizzuto

Jennifer Rizzuto is a freelance writer and certified personal trainer based in Long Island, NY. She covers various fitness-related topics and reviews for Tom's Guide. She also writes sketch comedy and short films, and performs frequently as an actor, singer, and improviser. When she's not writing, working out, or performing, you'll find her trying to convince her husband to get a dog.