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Cheers to Holiday Health
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By Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD and Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD

Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton Research Group at Pennsylvania State University 


The holidays are a time to enjoy friends, family and food. And contrary to popular belief, you can have all three without putting on extra pounds! Research has shown that people do not gain 5 to 10 pounds over the holidays. They gain, on average, only one, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, who followed 200 people during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.


Even though we spend all year in the pursuit of health, around the holidays there is the risk of forgetting the importance of good health. Healthy lifestyle behaviors should be an ever present part of our lives, without it being a burden such that it detracts from "good times." Concerns about weight gain shouldn't prevent you from enjoying the festivities. After all, now is the time to celebrate your good fortune and be with friends and family. If you worry too much about how many calories you eat, you may miss out on some delicious food -- and the happy memories it creates.


By eating well and being active all year round, when the holidays roll around there is no need to be stressed if your normal routine gets side-tracked a little. It's what we eat most of the time that has a major impact on our health. It's our routine level of physical activity that determines our fitness level, not just a few days enjoying the company and conversation of loved ones.


Holidays were always intended to be special times. Throughout much of human history, holidays were a time to celebrate special occasions. Traditionally, the festivities involved many foods that were enjoyed only during the holidays. This culture continues today. During this holiday season, it is important to take good care of yourself and enjoy the food and festivities without stress or guilt. The cardinal rule is to not overdo it and be sensible in enjoying foods in moderation with family and friends. A key to this is to continue practicing heart healthy behaviors to the best of your ability during the holidays. For example, enjoy just a sliver of pumpkin pie (and make sure it is just a sliver), and skip the whipped cream. And don't eat a second desert or have a second portion of your first selection. A little discipline is the key to thoroughly enjoying the holidays.


Much of the same is true for physical activity. If you are routinely active, you will find yourself getting restless by the end of the long holiday week-end. If you don't want to leave your friends and family members behind when you exercise, encourage them to join you! Going for a walk is a wonderful way to admire holiday decorations while continuing the conversations you enjoy with loved ones. Plus, you will burn some extra calories.


Clearly, we want to avoid holiday indulgences showing up on our waistlines. But importantly, we don't want holiday cheer being missed because of an unreasonable preoccupation with health and weight control. So please keep the holiday special; build a foundation of health year-round; and practice moderation and sensible eating during this time of year. This will help make the holidays fun and stress-free with little guilt. What better way to celebrate the holiday season?

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