Children's Hospital Colorado

Staying Healthy During Holidays: Physically, Mentally and Emotionally

A close-up of a girl with long brown hair, wearing a yellow knit hat and a yellow scarf, laughing as snow falls down around her.

In the U.S., many wintertime holidays are about being thankful, spending time with family and making lasting memories and traditions. Keep your family happy and healthy this holiday season with these tips.

Holiday healthy eating tips

Between desserts, special holiday drinks and decadent casseroles, you can expect plenty of tasty treats this holiday season. But while these holiday favorites are delicious, they often aren’t particularly healthy additions to our usual diets. Still, delighting in food together is one of the best parts of the holidays, so we’ve provided a few ideas for healthier indulging.

  • Share with a friend: Buddy up with someone before a holiday party or meal and agree to share a serving of your favorite desserts or treats. There’s no need to say "no" to decadent food, but it can help to say "yes" to smaller or shared portions.
  • Water, water, water: Consider decreasing high-calorie holiday beverages in favor of a big glass of water. Water is especially helpful to your body right before sitting down to dinner or heading to a party because it’s common to mistake hunger for thirst. Ensure you’re properly hydrated by drinking water first.
  • Make time to rest: We often get worn out this time of the year. When we don't get enough rest, we sometimes turn to food as a source of energy. Lack of sleep can have several negative health impacts and being well rested will ensure that you feel your best both physically and mentally.
  • Be a healthy host: Consider serving healthy holiday food options or healthier takes on holiday favorites when guests come to your home. You can make clever swaps in some recipes like replacing butter with bananas and subbing Greek yogurt for sour cream.

Staying active during holiday breaks

Winter holidays are a great time to relax, eat comforting foods and relax some more. As cozy as this time of year can be, it can also leave you feeling a bit lethargic and less healthy than usual. Here are some fun ways to get a metabolic boost during your holiday activities while making new memories with your family.

  • Participate in a holiday run or walk: Or make up your own run for your family. Map a route in the neighborhood and hand out festive prizes for all participants.
  • Add variety to your workout: During the holidays, you can have fun participating in seasonal activities such as snowshoeing, sledding, cross-country skiing or ice skating.
  • Horse around with the kids: Play tag, keep-away or have a snowball fight. You could also gather family and friends for a game of touch football in the yard.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt: Make at least 10 paper cutouts of holiday-themed images. Have someone hide them inside or outside. After dinner, everyone goes on a hunt. The first person to find the most cutouts wins.
  • Get your hands dirty: Gather the family to rake leaves, clear the garden for winter, plant bulbs, build a planter box for next spring, paint the garage or stain the deck. You could also use this as a time to hang holiday lights.
  • Take visitors on a tour of your neighborhood: Walk or bike to nearby sites with your kids and be sure to check out the holiday lights or watch the snow fall.

Staying mentally and emotionally healthy: Reduce stress and simplify

Ongoing stress is a major contributing factor to poor health, and it makes this time of year much less enjoyable. Check out these stress-free holiday tips:

  • Focus on what really matters: It can be helpful to create a list of your holiday tasks and then circle the activities you truly enjoy. For activities that cause stress, consider ways to modify or eliminate them, or ask for help reduce the workload.
  • Don't be afraid to say no: Sometimes holiday stress can come from overcommitting your time. If you don't want to go to a party or don’t have time, it’s OK to send a kind thank you card instead.
  • You don't have to be perfect: It took a team of professionals to create those beautiful decorations and delectable-looking cookies in that magazine, so be careful not to set that standard for yourself. What people will remember about your holiday gathering is the time spent with special people.
  • Remember why you are doing this: Ask yourself why you celebrate certain holidays. If this task or that errand doesn't contribute something meaningful to your celebration, cross it off your list.
  • Accept help: Who said you have to decorate and shop all by yourself? Teach kids the meaning of gift giving and ask them to help pick out gifts. Teach a significant other how to make your favorite cookies. Turn that holiday dinner you're hosting into a potluck.
  • Revisit the gift list: Ask yourself if you're buying gifts just to buy gifts or if they will make a meaningful impact. If not, consider giving time instead of gifts. For example, offer a free night of babysitting or a homemade meal come January. Chances are that your friends and family will remember these meaningful gestures more than something you picked up at the store at the last minute.

How to travel safely during the holidays

Holiday gatherings, and especially those that require travel, can carry an additional risk of contracting respiratory viruses like COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu. That’s why it’s important to follow CDC travel guidelines for your itinerary and destination and ensure you and your family are up to date on any vaccines and boosters. Practice good hygiene, and remember to eat healthy, stay active, get plenty of rest and make the most out of your holiday season.

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