Healthy for the Holidays: SLU Experts Share Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, Your Family
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can take its toll on health. In addition to maintaining healthy habits for yourself, it can be a surprise to see that the health of family members may have declined since last you saw them.
Saint Louis University and SLUCare experts share their best recommendations for managing your health and that of your family during this busy season.
One way to manage holiday stress, as well as the extra calories from holiday get-togethers, is exercise. Ethel Frese, DPT, professor of physical therapy who teaches exercise physiology at Saint Louis University, suggests that instead of viewing exercise as a chore, consider instead how daily exercise contributes to your overall health.
“It’s a great thing you can do for your day,” Frese said in a 2017 story. “You give yourself a mood boost, an energy boost, more oxygen flowing to the brain, your mind works better, you have a sense of accomplishment you can bring to the next thing you attempt and you have better strength and stamina.”
A few highlights of the researched benefits of regular exercise include:
- Stress Relief - Exercise reduces stress hormones and boosts “feel good” neurotransmitter endorphins.
- Improved Sleep - Exercise can lead to better sleep.
- Cognition - Studies show that exercise supports your brain, leading to improved memory and thinking.
- Preventing Falls - Strength and balance training can decrease the likelihood of falls for older adults.
- Blood Pressure - Aerobic exercise helps lower blood pressure.
- Blood Sugar - Both aerobic and weight-bearing exercise are great for glucose control, insulin sensitivity and reducing risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Weight Loss - The more muscle mass you have, the more metabolically active your body will be.
- Do you struggle to hear on the phone? Do you have the volume setting on high?
- Do people tell you that your TV is too loud?
- Do you struggle to keep up with conversations?
- Do you say “what” a lot?
- Do you frequently misunderstand what people are saying to you and get frustrated?
If the answers to any of those questions was yes, Harris recommends a non-invasive, painless hearing test.
An unexpected illness can wreak havoc on holiday plans. In 2016, a SLU germ expert shared a few tips for avoiding an illness while traveling.
- When flying: Wipe down seat trays and armrests on planes and trains with disinfectant wipes because cold and flu viruses can live up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces.
- When checking into a hotel: Give your hotel room the once over before you unpack. It should smell fresh and not look dirty.
- Drink plenty of water: Among many benefits, proper hydration keeps your body cool, promotes cardiovascular health and keeps things flowing in your gastrointestinal track, which prevents constipation.
- Practice personal hygiene: Keep your hands away from your “T-zone” – your eyes, nose and mouth where germs can easily enter the body. Wash your hands regularly.
Being in a vehicle with a family member for the first time in a while can showcase if driving skill have slipped at all. George Grossberg, M.D., Samuel W. Fordyce professor and director of geriatric psychiatry, recommends that family members concerned about the driving of an loved one involve the older driver’s physician in the conversation.
“As health care professionals, we need to accept responsibility for bringing up this subject,” Grossberg told the AARP. “If your loved ones’ physician doesn't bring up the topic, ask the doctor to address it.”
Grossberg also recommends scheduling an older driver evaluation, which might steer an older relative into realizing on their own that it is best to stop driving at night or only drive in familiar areas.
Managing the Holidays with a Chronic Disease
Stress, travel and last-minute changes can be difficult for those already managing a chronic condition. Florian Thomas, M.D., professor emeritus of neurology, offered several suggestions in 2015 for strategies to keep the holidays manageable for all parties.
Those strategies include:
- Manage expectations: Set realistic expectations. Take an honest look at your limits and assess how much you’re likely to be able to do. Identify traditions that are most important to you, and prioritize them.
- Manage communications: Communication is key. Remember that your family can’t always tell how you’re feeling. For family members, encourage your relative to let you know how they are doing.
- Pace oneself: Fatigue can plague everyone this time of year. Honor everyone’s efforts to conserve their energy.
- Manage Travel: Travel can disrupt sleep, eating, self care, and medication schedules. If possible, pack your medication in hand luggage to make sure it arrives with you.
- Manage routines: The bustle of the holiday season means disruptions to regular routines. Changes to sleeping patterns, overeating, and drinking alcohol can pave the way to problems. The best thing for those not feeling well is to maintain their lifestyle as steadily as possible.
Carrie Bebermeyer and Nancy Solomon also contributed to this report.