The holiday season is a flurry of events, like decorating, family get-togethers, parties, shopping, gift-giving, eating, eating and more eating. How to manage? Here are 12 holiday health hacks to try:
1. Plan a Holiday Strategy
If you’re watching your weight, budget, time commitments, and sanity, a holiday strategy can be empowering. Start with putting yourself at the top of the list. What do you want to accomplish this month? Maintain an exercise schedule? Stick to a gift budget? Avoid a weight gain? Limit stress? Avoid conflicts with relatives? Sets goals that are specific and realistic.
2. Know Your True Health Status
Are you current on this year’s medical check-ups and lab work? No? It’s to your advantage to find a hidden health problem sooner when a condition is more treatable. With the holiday season’s additional activities and obligations, maybe you think there aren’t enough minutes in the day to squeeze in a last-minute annual physical exam or blood work. But consider that a medical check-up can be both reassuring and life-saving.1
3. Leverage Your Health & Wellness Program
Some company health & wellness programs offer incentives for completing certain medical exams and screenings. This year, my husband and I got our annual physicals, lab work, dental exams, skin cancer screenings, etc. Next year we’ll save $750 on our medical insurance premium—that’s equivalent to two car payments! We used our flexible spending account (see next item) to cover copays and other medical expenses, saving even more money. If your health & wellness program requires data input from you in order to qualify for an incentive, make sure you provide all doctor exam and lab info before the annual deadline, which may vary depending on your benefit plan’s renewal date.
4. A Health Spending Account Saves $$$
If you’re enrolled in a health spending account, such as a flexible spending account (also known as an FSA), health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement agreements (HRA), you’ve set aside a certain dollar amount from your income to cover copays on physical exams, lab work, eye glasses, and other healthcare expenses. Did you use all of your stashed cash this year? The rules for each of these health spending accounts vary—some funds can be rolled over, others have limitations. If you have money remaining in your health spending account and are not clear on the rollover rules, check with your HR Department.
5. Take Care When Traveling
Stuff happens. People get sick and injured during the holidays and these situations can and do happen far from home. If you’re flying to a ski lodge in the Rockies or driving across the state to Grandma’s, take your medical insurance ID card. But keep tabs on your ID card—it’s a target of medical identity thieves.
Here’s a more obvious holiday health hack: don’t forget your prescription medications.
Traveling overseas for the holidays? Certain prescriptions and over-the-counter medications that Americans use for pain, insomnia, allergies and colds are actually illegal in some countries.2
6. Watch Alcohol Consumption
Too much wine, beer or hard liquor weakens inhibitions and sets off the alarm on the Dumb Behavior Meter. If you plan to imbibe at a holiday get-together, make advance plans for a safe drive home. Take an Uber or Lyft, call a taxi, ride with a designated driver, spend the night at the host’s house, or get a ride from a sober friend to a nearby hotel. Also, combining medical marijuana and alcohol can make a person downright dangerous behind the wheel. There is nothing that ruins a holiday more than a DUI or traffic accident.3 Don’t be a statistic.
7. Go for Healthier Food Options
It’s tempting to recon the holiday cookie platter like an invading army, but there’s the waistline’s circumference and artery health to consider. The American Heart Association recommends moderation as the key to non-destructive holiday eating4. Enjoy seasonal fare in smaller portions, make healthy substitutions where possible and if you’re entertaining, and prepare meals that include fruits, vegetables and other healthier options. Your scale with thank you.
8. Prevent Illness with Vaccinations
The season brings people together; unfortunately, some of them will be sick and germy. Case in point: on Christmas Eve morning when I was six years old, I woke up with a raging fever and two kinds of rashes. Diagnosis: measles and chicken pox, which swept through my school and ruined the holidays for a lot of families. Back then, holiday health hacks didn’t exist and measles/chicken pox vaccines were still a few years in the future. Translated into a health hack for today: keep up to date on doctor-recommended vaccinations. A good place to start is to get a flu shot.
9. Find Time to Exercise
Physical activity is a great way to get and stay fit and healthy, and it’s especially important during the holidays with their ever-present food temptations and time constraints. A great way to burn off calories after too much eating and merry-making is to go for a long walk (besides, those dishes can wait). The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of heart-pumping physical activity per week.5 The holidays are a time of generosity, but put yourself first when it comes to scheduling fitness activities.
10. Keep Social Gatherings Stress-free
The mid-term elections are over but count on Uncle Jack or Auntie Bev to rehash the vote count during the big holiday dinner. Here’s a hack that hosts can use to thwart testy conversations: place a festively decorated empty container in the center of the dinner table. Announce before the meal begins that anyone who violates the political-free zone is required to put a $20 bill in the jar. Leverage peer pressure to make your point–everyone else must stop eating until the violator pays up. Donate the proceeds to the opposite political party in the name of the violating dinner guest.
11. Change the World with Loose Change
Poverty, serious illness and disasters don’t take a break during the holidays. There is so much need out there, which is why charitable donation opportunities abound during the holidays. You don’t have to write a massive check to make a difference. You can have a real impact by dropping loose change into collection containers at checkout counters, or tossing a buck or two into a bell ringer’s pot. Collectively, loose change can add up to a big impact. Besides, if you donate your coins, you won’t lose them in the sofa cushions.
12. Count Blessings and Express Gratitude
With the season’s flurry of family gatherings, parties, cooking, traveling, eating, stopping to reflect on one’s blessings can put everything in perspective. Research on the relationship between gratitude and physical health is still developing, but some studies suggest that grateful people feel healthier and sleep better. They may even have physiological markers of better health.6
Health and wellness is what we’re all about. The people who write and design HealthDiscovery.org are grateful for our readers. We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday.
See you back here in January 2019!
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1 HealthDiscovery.org, “A Preventive Screening with a Priceless ROI”
2 New York Times, “How to Make Sure You Travel with Medication Legally”
3 HealthDiscovery.org Quiz, “How Much Do You Know About Drunk Driving?”
4 American Heart Association, “Holiday Eating Guide”
5 American Heart Association, “Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids”
6 Greater Good Magazine, “Is Gratitude Good for Your Health?”
HealthDiscovery.org Infographic: 12 Tips for a Happy, Healthy Holiday
Motley Fool, “Your 2018 Guide to the Health Savings Account”