The most wonderful time of the year! For many of us, the holidays are a time for celebration, family and friends. It can also be a time where we are surrounded by masses of food, alcohol and temptations.

Here are 10 tips to staying healthy this holiday season:

1. Exercise each day, even a little
2. Aim for 5 a day
3. Stay hydrated
4. Increase your vitamin C and vitamin D intake
5. Avoid the all or nothing approach
6. Drink alcohol sensibly
7. Get enough sleep
8. Monitor your stress levels
9. Plan and prioritize
10. Don’t feel guilty

The festive season is a great time to have some fun and unwind after a busy year, however, it’s important to not let one month destroy all the hard work achieved over the past 11. To keep you on track during the party season, here are 10 tips to stay healthy this holiday season.

1. Exercise each day, even a little


Whether you are a regular gym-goer, a marathon runner or a couch potato January-November, moderate exercise and fresh air is key in keeping you mentally and physically well through December.

Research has shown that exercise encourages the release of endorphins, which can boost our mood as well as reducing stress and anxiety. For some, the holidays can be a source of stress due to financial pressures, uncomfortable family gatherings, or even the lack of control of a normal routine.

Make sure to take some time every day to get out and about, whether it’s going for a jog, taking the dog for a walk, a short cycle or a yoga session, be sure to incorporate 30 minutes a day to look after both your physical and mental health this Christmas.

2. Aim for 5 a day


It’s normal to fall out of our usual routine during the holidays.

We are surrounded by boxes of sweets, and finger food for the entire month. Whether you’re at home or in the office, it is very hard to avoid.

On the flipside, it can be easy to replace our mid-morning banana with a mince pie. Our usual vegetable consumption can take a hit, due to all the lovely festive foods we’re surrounded by.

Remember in December to make the effort to include 5 fruits and vegetables a day. It’s important that we are still getting all of the vitamins and fibre we need to stay feeling healthy.

At breakfast time, try and get at least 2 portions in, such as a glass of orange juice with avocado or banana on toast. If you know you are going out for a big Christmas lunch, then maybe make a fruit smoothie for breakfast to kickstart your day. If you are going out for a nice dinner in the evening, try and snack on fruit during the day, and make the most of any veggie side options.

3. Stay hydrated


During the festive period, it’s even more important to be mindful that you are drinking at least 2 litres of water a day due to all the extra salt consumed.

You may not be directly adding salt onto your food, but cheese, crackers, nuts and nibbles that are popular during the holiday season may increase your overall salt consumption. What’s more, drinking plenty of water will help aid in the digestion of all the extra food. If you know you are heading out that night, be sure to drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids before you hit the tiles to help your system flush out all of the toxins.

4. Increase your vitamin C and vitamin D intake


During winter, it’s particularly important to look after your immune system, as the winter cold and flu viruses spread easily when we are all indoors together.

What’s more, with all the busy days and late nights celebrating, our immune system may be compromised. There are no dietary remedies or supplements scientifically proven to prevent a cold or the flu, however having adequate vitamin C stores can help in recovering from them quicker. Make sure to include vitamin C rich foods into your daily diet such as oranges, strawberries and bell peppers. Food is always the best way to meet your daily vitamin C requirements so aim for at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.

December time brings shorter nights with little or no time in the sunshine. The body makes vitamin D when exposed to UV rays, which is another great reason to get outside and exercise even during the festive season.

5. Avoid the all or nothing approach


The holidays are a time when everybody deserves to loosen their belts a little and enjoy all of the treats on offer, without feeling guilty about it.

On Christmas Day, enjoy your turkey, ham and all of the trimmings, have that extra helping of pudding if you so desire, however, try to avoid viewing the whole of December as a ‘free pass’.

Too much indulgence will inevitably bring about a harder January. When it comes to all the Christmas parties, pick one or two where you can really indulge, if you’re going to attend every event on the calendar, try and eat before you get there, this will take the edge off your appetite and help you stop after one or two pigs in blankets, rather than six or seven.

Be smart when it comes to food shopping. It’s very easy to fill up the trolley with boxes of sweets and tins of biscuits. However the more you have at arms reach, the more you will eat trying to get rid of it all before January 1st. Stay conscious of what you’re eating, whether you’re hungry or not, avoid the mindless snacking in front of the TV or at your desk. This way you can really enjoy the treats you love when you want them.

6. Drink alcohol sensibly


The majority of us drink more in December than we do at any other time of the year.

Know your alcohol limits, and make smart choices. Choose sugar-free mixers and avoid alcopops.

Have sparkling water or a diet beverage for every second drink, this will not only reduce the calories but will also help you feel better the next day.

Drinking 1 or 2 pints of water before you go to bed is one of the best ways of avoiding hangovers, it;s also very important to eat before you drink, alcohol is absorbed more slowly by the body if you have eaten a well-balanced meal ahead of a night out.

Remember that alcohol is a depressant, and although it can help you feel relaxed at first, it can also be responsible for the anxiety or depression you experience the day after. Remember that alcohol doesn't have to be part of every social situation to have a good time. So to make sure the night before doesn’t affect your tomorrow, practice sensible drinking. Like most things in life, moderation is key.

7. Get enough sleep


The holidays are a very sociable time of year, with lots of late nights.

Try and get a proper night's sleep, ideally 6-8 hours a night. If you know you have a party later on in the week, then make the effort to get to bed a little earlier a few nights before.

Drink alcohol sensibly, when you drink alcohol before you go to bed, you can fall into a deep sleep quicker. As the night goes on, you spend more time in this deep sleep and less time in the ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ (REM) stage of sleep, which is more restful.

This can leave you feeling tired the next day, no matter how much sleep you get. If you are drinking alcohol over the party season, drink sensibly and try and avoid drinking close to your bedtime. Your body needs time to process the alcohol before you try to sleep.

8. Monitor stress levels


It’s okay to feel overwhelmed during the lead up to Christmas.

For a lot of people, the holiday season can be a source of pressure and anxiety.

When we feel stressed, our brain releases cortisol, which is a stress hormone that gives us energy, we tend to take all our problems to bed with us, stressing and worrying about our ever-growing to-do lists. To combat additional stress, related to Christmas, consider carrying a notebook with you throughout the day and write down whatever worry comes into your head.

Put the notebook beside your bed, and if any worry creeps into your mind while you are trying to sleep, mentally direct it to the notebook. By having a place to put your worries and stresses, they don’t have to occupy as much space in your mind, reducing that burden of stress.

9. Plan and prioritize


It’s always a good idea to plan ahead, as it lets us prioritize what’s really important.

If you know that there is a busy week ahead, full with after-work meetups and Christmas shopping, then be sure to allocate time to get your day to day jobs done earlier in the week, this will ensure that amongst all the festive frenzy, you will still feel in control, and maintain some structure.

If your Monday yoga class or weekly run is what helps you feel good, then make sure you still find time to fit it in. If you have a long list of parties or social gatherings, don’t feel obliged to attend them all. Make sure to prioritize time with the people who you want to spend time with, and celebrate the holidays in a way you want to.

10. Don't feel guilty


The most important thing to remember over the festive season is to enjoy yourself, and remember there is no reason to feel guilty. Don’t feel like you have lost all of your healthy habits because you took a few days or weeks off.

Treat every day like a fresh start, and if you decide to get back on track on a Monday but it doesn’t happen, try again on Tuesday. Stop comparing your Christmas to everyone else’s. It’s important to remember that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone. Remind yourself that it is only for a short while, it is a season which comes and goes. The most important thing to remember is to celebrate it in a way which makes you feel happy.

Written by Niamh Brosnan, RD, BSC | Edited by Gwen Murphy PhD, MPH