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It’s that time of year again when we can allow ourselves a few extra luxuries – a few more calories with the brandy butter and chocolates on the tree; a few more hours lazing in front of the TV; and a few more mornings under the duvet! Well, that’s the idea, but for some of us, the festive season seems to take its toll on our health more than we would like and come January, we find we are feeling less healthy, less energetic, and less happy!

But this is not an inevitability if we understand that we are still in control of our health, Christmas or no Christmas, and there are few simple things we can do to keep our health on track whilst still enjoying the best of the season. It’s also important to look out for the health of our family at this time too, so read on to hear our tips and tricks.

Eat and drink healthily

It’s the season of feasting and few of us want to sit eating a lettuce leaf whilst everyone else tucks into a roast! However, it’s also very easy to clock up the calories unless you are careful. Adult women need approximately 2000 calories per day and men approximately 2,500 but this depends on age, activity and other factors. See the NHS website on calorie intake here. Children need differing amounts depending on age and other factors. There are a few things you can do here to stay mostly within your normal calorie intake, and remember it’s also about WHAT you eat not just the calories you consume, so think about:

  1. Making some simple substitutions without compromising on taste such as swapping full cream for half-cream or a cream alternative, or using a sugar substitute in your baking
  2. Reducing your portion sizes slightly – 2 roast potatoes instead of 3, one mince pie instead of 2 – that way, you still get to enjoy the little luxuries without affecting your health
  3. Taking a longer-term view of your diet – for instance, reducing food intake on one day to allow for a few additional ones on the days where you are feasting
  4. Remembering there is always another day – not everything has to be consumed in one go
  5. Going for 3 healthy options for every less healthy one – remember your 5-a-day and try to put as much colour on your plate as possible to fill up on fruits and vegetables
  6. Being mindful of children and what they eat, especially with sweets and reduce snacking by putting sweet things into the boxes/bags of an old advent calendar to help space them out. Or label them ‘morning’, ‘afternoon’ or ‘evening’ so that you remind everyone that they don’t need to eat them all before 11 am!
  7. It is advised that children do not drink alcohol before they are 18, although some families do allow older children and teenagers to taste alcohol at family festivities. However, the NHS recommends that no one drinks before the age of 15 – and if they do, the NHS recommend no more than one drink a week and children should be supervised by adults
  8. Trying some non-alcoholic alternatives this year instead of automatically going for the alcoholic ones – there are some great recipes on the internet for non-alcoholic cocktails which could also up your fruit and vegetable intake too – see BBC Food for some good ones
  9. Remembering to stay hydrated and drink water throughout the festive season

Keep up with exercise

Eating and drinking is only one aspect of keeping ourselves healthy. The amount of exercise we get can affect much of our physical health and our mental health too. But you don’t have to take the family to the gym on Christmas Day just to keep up with your exercise routine. Other ways to get some fun exercise into your Christmas are:

 

  • Go for a walk or bike ride with family and friends
  • Do your training with a friend
  • Play some energetic games with the family – why not challenge them to a sports competition on the new game console?
  • Deliver your local Christmas cards to friends on foot or by bike
  • Have a dance party
  • Go swimming
  • Take the dog out for an extra walk
  • Challenge your family to a game of football at the park

Mind your mental health

Keeping healthy is not just about your body – it’s just as important to be mindful of your mental health and that of others at Christmas too. It’s supposed to be a time of fun but for some people, all it serves to do is remind them of how lonely or isolated they are, or they feel. For others, it just turns into a stressful and overwhelming occasion. And for more, it serves to highlight dysfunctional relationships or family life. If you recognise this is how you, or someone you know feels about Christmas, then take the time to talk to someone about how you feel, sooner rather than later. There are a lot of mental health charities that have helplines and counsellors operating around the clock. We’ve listed some of these at the end of the article.

Remember to be kind to yourself if you are the organiser – and delegate what you can, even if it is just laying the table!

Planet health

Remember that our planet also needs a healthy Christmas this year too, so follow the rules to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle wherever and whenever you can. Remember to:

  • Reduce your consumption – don’t buy more than you will use
  • Buy wrapping paper and gift wrap that are from sustainable sources and which can be recycled – some types of glitter or plastic covered papers cannot
  • Recycle bottles, card, paper and gift wrap
  • Recycle your Christmas tree

Staying healthy at Christmas doesn’t mean having a miserable time! It’s easy to have a healthier time with these few tips and tricks and it will mean that you will face January and the New Year with renewed energy, and feeling fighting fit!

References and more information

BHF advice on having a healthy Christmas

BBC Good Food – How to stay healthy at Christmas

Children and alcohol

Tips for exercising over Christmas

Help with mental health

The Samaritans

Mind

Young minds

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