You could be forgiven for thinking the festive season is pretty terrible for our health – but actually there is plenty of positives which can be taken from this time of year too. Instead of adding to the stress of the season, it’s important to look at all the good this time can bring us and the health benefits it has.
Spending time with friends and family doesn’t have to be stressful, in fact it can do wonders for your mental health. Researchers have found that the average family manages just 36 minutes of quality time together a day, despite 95 per cent of parents believing the key to happiness lies in spending quality family time together.
Christmas is a fabulous chance to make this happen. And generations being together with time to talk and play is of massive benefit to both age groups. Younger members of the family have been found to learn life skills and also be better able to accept ageing later in life while older members of the family are less likely to suffer depression and will gain a sense of purpose.
It’s also a great time to try and build bridges with friends or family from whom we have become estranged. Or work through the feelings being away from them brings up. These may be simmering in the background all year, this is a chance to confront them and find a resolution.
Shopping for presents and even that mega food shop can really help your fitness. You would be surprised at how high your step count can get when tackling a shopping mall or large supermarket. It’s been calculated that covering one of the average shopping malls in the UK would mean you walk around two miles – if you are zig-zagging around the shops within then that is only going to add more to your distance covered total. Walking is a great way to lower blood pressure and diabetes risk and improve bone strength, especially if you are also carrying bags which makes it weight bearing exercise too.
When the shopping is finished, giving and receiving presents is good for our health too. Studies show that when we give and receive gifts, our brains release the feel-good chemical dopamine and also release the hormone oxytocin, which is what we get a shot of when we have a cuddle.
Giving our time to help others, whether it be through a charity to help the elderly and lonely or lend a hand at the school Christmas Fair has a similar effect. Sometimes called a ‘helper’s high’ a study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, found people who gave support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. They also had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who didn’t. So taking a moment to give your time as well as material gifts is good for you too.
Although we all panic about the blow-out nature of Christmas food and drink, actually it can be a good time for getting your nutrients. In fact, a traditional turkey lunch can be a healthy option. “The basics of Christmas dinner aren’t the things that we need to worry about: turkey is a lean, protein rich meat, and piling on the seasonal vegetables can mean getting a whole range of nutrients,” explains Emma Brown, nutritionist for Nutracheck. “Think about introducing some different veg into your festive meal alongside the traditional Brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots like roasted squash or braised red cabbage and apple. And try steaming your veg rather than lathering on the butter or sauces.” You can even have the ‘naughty’ side and still enjoy the health benefits. Emma says: “It’s the extras that are the less healthy options – think pigs in blankets, bread sauce, stuffing balls….you don’t have to forgo these, but think about portion sizes, and fill up your plate with the healthier options such as lean turkey breast, and loads of veggies before you tuck into the extras.”
And, don’t be shy about cracking open the festive nuts later in the day. “Nuts are a highly nutritious food that many families will only buy at Christmas – often the bowl of nuts gets overlooked until the New Year, and then thrown away as the New Year’s resolutions kick in,” says Emma. “But a small handful of nuts is a great source of protein, and contain unsaturated fats, which are linked to heart health.” Similarly those bowls of satsumas are well worth tucking into and roasting some chestnuts on an open fire would be great for your health too!
Every family has their own Christmas traditions, whether it be when the presents get opened to who lights the pudding. These routines are incredibly important to making us feel secure. “There is so much value that different generations get from being together and traditions, which give children an overall sense of safety in the world and safe attached relationships,” explains Bettina Hohnen, clinical psychologist.
If you have resigned yourself to starting January feeling bloated and ready for a detox, there are ways to have the best of both worlds. Don’t forget to take your Lumity capsules, every morning and before bed. And, if you overdo the Champagne one evening, it doesn’t mean you have to carry on with it the next. You can squeeze in some exercise classes, and in fact, a trip to the gym, followed by a swim plus a sauna and steam is a really luxurious way to spend time during the holidays, as you won’t have to rush back to the office and can really take your time and make a day of it.