Guide to a Healthy & Happy Holiday Season

by Joshua Goldman, MD, MBA |

The holiday season is both an wonderful and hectic time of year.  Along with holiday cheer comes cross-country travel, quality family time, celebratory feasts…and unfortunately the seasonal flu, stress, sleepless nights in strange beds and post-feast weight gain.  The House Call, MD team has been diligently working around the clock to find proven ways to keep you safe and healthy this winter.  Follow our Holiday Survival Guide below to make it through the season just as happy and healthy as you started it.

1. Prevent the Spread: The holidays are a prosperous time for everyone, including viruses and bacteria.  The increase in travel combined with stress and  weather changes creates the perfect storm for infection.  Do your part to prevent an infection and to keep yourself healthy while traveling.  Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth (yes, you can get an infection by touching your eyes).  Hand sanitizer is just as effective as hand washing (and often more effective) as long as your hands aren’t visibly soiled (i.e. you don’t have a giant snot rocket on your hand thanks to the boogery kid in the seat next to you).

2. Get your Vaccinations: They prevent diseases and save lives.  It’s science.  We know that your great aunt Matilda told you that they can cause autism.  Here’s the thing: she lied.  Don’t believe us?  Read more about the research disproving this theory here: Vaccines & Autism: Why the Controversy? Vaccines can cause some local swelling at the injection site leaving you with a sore shoulder for a day or two but that’s about it.  Go get your flu shot (this year’s flu shot protects you against two different strains of influenza plus swine flu) and save yourself a week in bed with Kleenex, NyQuil and Sex in the City re-runs.  For more information and updates about the flu, read our guide to the flu season in 2010.

3. Stay Hydrated: The winter months are notably drier and can cause you to become dehydrated more quickly than other times of the year.  In addition, airplane travel is notably dehydrating as the air circulating in the cabin of airplanes is not humidified.  Lastly, when frantically running from airport to train station to hotels, we often forget to drink enough water.  Make a point to drink plenty of water over the holidays.  How much, you ask? A recent study by the Institute of Medicine found that men require125 oz (3.7 liters) of water per day while women require 91 oz (2.7 liters) of water per day.  Time to start drinking!

4. Manage Stress: Countless studies have shown that stress increases your body’s levels of neuroendocrine hormones which then, through the action of these stress hormones, has detrimental effects on immune function, immune cell proliferation, antibody production and reactivation of latent viral infections (1).

  • Don’t over-commit yourself: Attend the parties you really want to go to, not the ones that you just feel obligated to attend. Realize that you can’t do everything and only plan activities that you know you can comfortably fit into your schedule without losing your wits.
  • Be more efficient: Streamline your shopping. Use the Internet or mail-order catalogs. Shopping from home will save you gas and energy. In addition, you will avoid crowded stores packed with all types of germs.
  • Set aside some alone time: Relax, read, take a bath – time for yourself will rejuvenate and refresh you.  Deep relaxation, if practiced regularly, can strengthen the immune system and produce a host of other medically valuable changes including reducing your blood pressure, alleviating insomnia through melatonin production and improving irritable bowel syndrome.  It may sound like voodoo but each of these benefits has been supported by scientific research.  Ready for your alone time yet?

5. Go easy on the “Merry”: Avoid excessive drinking. One too many Hot Totties and you may find yourself with with a wicked hangover and/or feel drained and fatigued. Drink 8 to 12 ounces of water for every alcoholic beverage you drink and realize that your body (on average) can only process one alcoholic drink per hour.  Also (not that we need to remind you), don’t drink and drive.  During the holidays, 11% of drivers on the road on the weekends are under the influence. That number shoots up to 16% at night.  Don’t be part of that statistic.  Nothing will ruin the holidays more than a DUI or a horrific car accident.  Spend the $10 on a cab so that you can wake up worry-free in your warm bed to the smell of pancakes the next morning. If you find yourself unfortunately feeling the effects of holiday “cheers,” you can always follow our step-by-step approach to hangover management.

6. Prepare your food safely. Follow these simple steps: wash hands and surfaces often, avoid cross-contamination, cook foods to proper temperatures, and refrigerate promptly.  Salmonella does not go well with grandma’s sweet potato pie.

7. Eat Healthy: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit your portion sizes and foods high in fat and sugar.  Follow our Holiday Healthy Eating Guide to enjoy your celebratory feasts without destroying your waistline.  Avoid getting into the fast-food routine simply because you’re busy.  If you find yourself stuck at a fast food joint in the airport or on the side of the freeway, use one of the many Smart Phone apps to help you navigate the menu  with a little calorie counting insider trader information (we recommend the free application, CalorieHunterLite, to find out how many calories are in your favorite fast foods).

8. Stay Active: A combination of vigorous exercise (20 minutes three times per week) plus moderate exercise on the remainder of the days was associated with a 50% decreased mortality risk in individuals 50-71 years of age (2).  Pretty significant if you ask us.  It has also been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression (remember what we said above?) (3, 4).  Make simple changes in your daily routine like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking father away from the mall to incorporate more physical activity into your routine.  Involve the whole family in exercise with family football games, 5k races or living room yoga/pilates sessions.  If you don’t know where to start with exercise, you can follow the monthly TRAINER program designed by our very own medical professionals.

9. Get Enough Sleep: Even if your routine is interrupted by guests, travel, blizzards or midnight door-buster sales, maintain a regular sleep schedule as much as possible.  Sleep deprivation has been linked to two-fold increase in obesity, immune system suppression increasing your chances of coming down with a nasty bug, increases your risk of Type II Diabetes, and notable cognitive impairment (5, 6).  A study of medical residents showed that interns working in the “traditional schedule” made 36% more serious medical errors than interns did under the “intervention schedule” that included more sleep (7).  While you may not be pulling all-nighters like the Seattle Grace surgery team on Grey’s Anatomy, you will definitely see a decline in your cognitive performance with sleep deprivation leaving you having to explain why you bought your mother-in-law a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret.  How much sleep do you need? Take a look at the data from the National Sleep Foundation below to find out:

10. Remember what the holidays are about: In today’s commercialized society, it’s easy to lose track of the meaning of the winter holidays.  Darting from the mall to holiday party to school play to the mountain slopes, we often forget what it’s all about.  Regardless of your religious beliefs, think of the holidays as a great time to enjoy the company of friends and family, to reflect on the year gone by and to plan for the future.  Happy holidays!

Send a Healthy Holiday E-Card compliment of the CDC here.

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1. Webster Marketon JI, Glaser R.Cell Immunol. 2008 Mar-Apr;252(1-2):16-26. Epub 2008 Feb 14.

2. Leitzmann MF, et al. Physical activity recommendations and decreased risk of mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Dec 10;167(22):2453-60.

3. Herring MP, et al. The effect of exercise training on anxiety symptoms among patients: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Feb 22;170(4):321-31.

4. Martin CK, et al. Exercise dose and quality of life: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 9;169(3):269-78.

5. University of Warwick (2006, July 13). Sleep Deprivation Doubles Risks Of Obesity In Both Children And Adults. ScienceDaily.

6. Gonzalez-Ortiz M. Effect of sleep deprivation on insulin sensitivity and cortisol concentration in healthy subjects. Diabetes Nutr Metab. 2000 Apr;13(2):80-3.

7. Landrigan CP, Rothschild JM, Cronin JW, kaushal R, Burdick E, Katz JT, et al. Effects of reducing interns’ work hours on serious medical errors in intensive care units. N Engl J Med 2004, 351: 1838-1848.


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