By Laurie Gribschaw, DPT, ATC, PRC

As we well know, holiday season is the prime time for over-indulgence and anxiety-filled errands with never ending to-do lists. Combine that with our dwindling sun exposure, cold/flu season and busy winter travel, then we’ve got a recipe for a lowered immune system and little time for self-care.  Instead of pressing pause over the holidays and waiting for a New Year’s Resolution to only to get derailed at a later date, maybe we try to do just a little bit better right now?

Breathe
During the cold/flu season, one of the easiest things to prioritize is the health of your nasal passages. The drier air during winter months and airplane travel to visit loved ones can leave our sinuses vulnerable, impairing their natural humidifying and anti-microbial functions. A dry nasal cavity becomes an irritated one, making us more likely to breathe through our mouth, giving germs a direct passage to the back of our throat. Here are some easy things to do to keep optimal nasal health this winter season:

  • Use a saline spray to preventatively keep nasal passages moist, or use a saline spray with xylitol (Xlear is a brand easily found on Amazon) when inflamed/congested
  • Use a Neti Pot or other saline nasal wash intermittently to prevent/reduce inflammation
  • Use a humidifier or cool mist overnight (with a nasal strip if congested) to moisten the air and promote as much nasal breathing as possible.
  • Bolster your immune system with Vitamin D and Elderberry tincture (check with your MD/ND for the dosage that’s right for you)

Eat
Holiday food can be tough to say no to; it’s decadent, hyper-palatable and usually filled with wonderful memories shared with family and friends. So instead of feeling guilty and shaming ourselves for taking 2 extra cookies (or maybe 3 if they are snickerdoodles…) we can help ourselves make choices that are just a little bit better by doing a little advanced planning.

  • Eat slowly. Savor that food and chew it longer, you may notice that highly processed foods simply aren’t as enjoyable when you actually stop and sense texture, mouth-feel and taste.
  • Come prepared for social gatherings by bringing a vegetable dish to get some good fiber and nutrients. Here’s one of my favorite kale salads that goes with everything and takes 5 minutes to prepare: https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/our-favorite-simple-kale-salad
  • Meal plan on the non-party days. Meal planning is one of those tools that takes a little advanced preparation, but saves you so much decision making later when you’re tired and feeling overwhelmed; vulnerable states are when those quick (less nutrient dense) options start sneaking in without us realizing it.
  • Be picky about desserts!  Will power alone is not a successful strategy to simply avoid them all together. Instead; scan the dessert table and take time to rank them, and only choose from those top tier, homemade, high quality desserts. As usual, eat it slowly and savor that amazing piece of pumpkin pie!

Move
And finally, between travel schedules, winter recitals and other extra scheduled events, it can be really tough to stick to a workout routine. Aim for just a little bit better this busy season:

  • Stay mindful about lifestyle movement: park farther away, take the dog for a walk, take an additional lap around the grocery store, choose stairs vs the escalator, etc.
  • If possible, pre-schedule workouts and block your time accordingly in advance
  • Never discount the benefit of doing body weight exercises: even a simple lunch break of 10 pushups, 25 body weight squats and 30 second plank counts!! I like to keep a kettlebell around when I’m working on the computer to interrupt my sitting and do 10-20 swings or goblet squats! Little doses of exercise help keep us mentally fresh ☺

So yes, things are going to get a little crazy during the holiday season; but having learned from the all-or-nothing roller coaster we’ve all taken a ride on, maybe it’s time for a more common sense solution? Let’s aim to be just a little more consistent and focus on being just a little bit better. After all, a teeny step toward progress weekly when performed consistently is much better than 100% commitment followed by a wall of mental exhaustion that results in eating a whole apple pie. Happy holidays everyone, remember:  progress not perfection!

References:
Berardi, J. et al The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition 3rd edition. (2018)
Gelb, M. Hindin, H. GASP Airway Health: The Hidden Path to Wellness (2016)