Healthy Holiday Activities

Healthy Holiday Activities: A three-part survival guide


 

 Part 2: Healthy Holiday Activities

We look forward to the holiday season all year long, anticipating the fun and excitement that comes with the season. From picking out that perfect Christmas tree to decking out your home in holiday décor to celebrating at the annual family holiday party, we all have our favorite holiday traditions and activities. Personally, I look forward to cooking with my family and making holiday crafts (and of course, my Christmas-morning run!). This year, why not try to incorporate some healthy-holiday activities into your celebration of the season? Creating your own healthy-holiday traditions does not have to be complicated! Here are some simple suggestions to get you started!

  • Make a game out of holiday cooking!
    • Ask all of your family members to make a healthy dish, and give an award to the family member who makes the tastiest healthy holiday dish. You can reduce the number of calorie content of eggnog by using mostly egg whites (instead of yolks) and fat-free milk (instead of whole milk). To reduce the calories in baked goods such as muffins and cakes, try substituting applesauce of mashed banana for some of the fat, and use canola oil (instead of butter) for the rest of the fat and substituting egg whites for whole eggs.
  • Create a cookbook with your favorite healthy recipes.
    • A few years ago, I asked my family members to submit their favorite healthy recipes (along with any special stories/advice regarding healthy cooking) and created a family cookbook full of healthy, nutritious recipes and tips to give to all of my family members at Christmas. I also included family photographs, stories, and quotes to personalize it even more. By personalizing the cookbook and including only recipes from my relatives, my family members were much more excited about trying the nutritious meals in their own home. Your family (and/or friends) will love the personalized cookbook and you can be happy knowing that your gift will promote healthy eating among your loved ones!
  • Plan a family game day.
    • Over the holiday break, plan a day when the whole family can get outside and participate in a variety of physical activities. If you prefer a more relaxed activity, try walking around the neighborhood to look at the holiday decorations or taking a leisurely bike ride with your family. For those of you who like to play sports, consider organizing an annual basketball or football game with family and friends. If you want to turn it into a competition, you could have an annual “Family Olympics” and give a prize to the top family member every year.
  • Create a healthy calendar.
    • Make a healthy advent calendar (or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, create an alternative, such as the “8 healthy days of Hanukah” or “Countdown to 2012: Healthy habits to kick off the new year”). For each day, write down a healthy habit to practice (e.g. “Do 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise today” or “Take fifteen minutes this morning to meditate and clear your mind”). Make these goals reasonable and manageable so you can achieve them every day. By practicing healthy habits throughout the holiday season, you can help to prevent weight gain, reduce stress, and have fun trying new activities. If you want to include your family in the fun, make a score sheet to hang up in the house to keep track of everyone’s activities. With a little bit of accountability, you are less likely to “cheat” by skipping daily goals and the competition will motivate you to follow your scheduled activities.
  • Take advantage of the winter weather!
    • Get outside to build snowmen, go ice-skating, have a snowball-fight, or find a hill and go sledding! These activities can burn a surprising amount of calories and they are fun (free!) activities for the whole family. If you don’t live in a snowy climate, you can still make the most of the great outdoors by searching for berries, branches, and pine cones to make homemade wreaths and ornaments.
  • Do a Turkey-Trot or a Jingle-Bell Run!
    • On Thanksgiving morning, most towns have at least one “Turkey-Trot”, which is usually a 5-kilometer run/walk event. Jingle-Bell Runs can also be found in most towns in the weeks prior to Christmas. These are fun events for the whole family, as most races offer a short (I have seen them as short as 100 meters and as long as 1 mile) “Kid-Dash” for children and many races encourage people with baby strollers to run- some even have awards for the fastest “stroller-runners”! Participating in these events is a great way to burn calories, have fun, and give back to community (most of these races benefit some sort of non-profit foundation). Also, if you participate in the same races annually, you will get to know the other runners and form a special bond with them. What better way to start your Thanksgiving day than getting some healthy exercise, giving to a charity, spending time with loved ones, and meeting new friends? Oh, and one more bonus- if you are the overall male or female finisher, you win a turkey. That’s right- a whole, very large turkey for winning the race. One year when I was in high school, my brother and I ran in a Turkey-Trot together and we ended up being the top male and female finishers… meaning that we returned to my mother’s house with two whole, uncooked, very large turkeys to add to the one that was already cooking in the oven. Now those were some unique (and delicious) awards!
  • Organize a “Secret Santa Goes Healthy” party.
    • Plan a secret Santa gift exchange with your coworkers, friends, or family. Like a regular secret Santa event, everyone is assigned a specific person to buy a present for; the difference in this secret Santa party is that all of the gifts must be healthy. This is a great way to save money on gifts and promote healthy living among your loved ones!
  • Sign up for a volunteer event!
    • For years, my family has gotten together to go to the local soup kitchen to serve Thanksgiving and/or Christmas breakfast. I have also made it a habit to sponsor a child for the holidays, which is an amazing, rewarding experience. You can start your own tradition by choosing a charity that is close to your heart and inviting your family and friends to join you for a day of volunteering. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to forget what the holidays are really about. So, take some time away from shopping and decorating to help the less fortunate.
      • Bonus: volunteering can improve your psychological and physical health! Volunteering has been shown to enhance social skills and relationship-building, boost self-confidence, increase activity levels, and combat some symptoms of depression. In older adults, the benefits are even greater- volunteering may lower their risk for heart disease and alleviate chronic pain associated with common musculoskeletal problems. The bottom line? Volunteering is a wonderful way to help yourself while helping others! There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available during the holidays, so why not get started now?

I would love to hear YOUR ideas for fun, healthy holiday activities! What are you planning to do this season to make your holiday festivities as healthy as possible?

Be well, and stay tuned for Part 3: Managing Stress During the Holidays

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