Winter holidays are a time for gathering with family, friends and co-workers, but the season can also wreak havoc on normal diet, sleep and exercise habits. In preparation for celebrations, Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Dr. Brian Guthrie offers the following tips for keeping one’s immune system strong:
1. Get your flu shot
“When people are going to parties and family gatherings, I think the one gift that no one really wants to receive is the flu,” he said. “Aside from hand washing, which is the single most important thing to keep healthy during the holidays, the flu vaccine is the best bet to preventing the flu. Most years it is highly effective.”
Those who feel ill, especially if they have a fever, should stay home from work, school and gatherings, Guthrie said.
“People will understand and be much happier if you’re not sharing your illness,” he said.
The flu has not turned into an epidemic just yet, so there is still time to get the vaccine because it takes two weeks for it to be effective, Guthrie said.
“It’s like a tsunami every year,” he noted. “We’ll see one or two cases of the flu a day and suddenly we’re seeing 10 or 12 a day.”
The intranasal FluMist has been taken out of circulation this year because it wasn’t as effective as the injectable vaccine, Guthrie said.
2. Stick to your year-round diet
With plenty of pies, cookies, fudge and other homemade treats being passed around during the holidays, it’s easy to ignore your diet — and the scale — until January. But the extra sugar and calories isn’t good for the body, Guthrie said.
“Decide ahead of time that as a family you’re going to change the way you do Christmas and pick some better treats or less treats than you normally would,” he advised. “There are a lot of things to look out for — for adults there’s eggnog and alcoholic beverages, which can really pack on the calories.”
3. Get some sleep
“Sleep habits tend to change dramatically during the holidays,” Guthrie said.
It’s understandable to let children have a bit more leeway when it comes to bedtime during their three-week winter vacation from school, but don’t let them sleep in more than an hour later than they would normally wake for school, Guthrie advised.
“Teenagers typically want to stay up late and sleep in, but it doesn’t help reset the body’s clock,” he said. “That’s an easy way to get jet lag without even crossing any time zones.”
4. Baby- and toddler-proof your home
Special care should be taken with holiday decorations in homes with small children, Guthrie said.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that each year about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms. About half of those injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions or sprains from people tripping over cords. Electrical burns to the mouth account for half of the extension cord injuries to young children.
December is also the peak time of year for candle fires.
“If you have toddlers, or know toddlers will be visiting, put certain decorations and poinsettias away or where they can’t get a hold of them,” Guthrie said.
Keep an eye out for sharp, weighted or breakable decorations, or decor that resembles candy or food that a small child might try to swallow.
5. Continue to exercise
With the freezing temperatures and fog in the Valley, “a lot of people will say ‘It’s too cold to do anything,’” Guthrie said. “But there are other options than going out in the cold.”
He suggests walking inside the mall; Sierra Vista Mall opens at 6:30 a.m. daily for mall walkers, except on Christmas.
“Use the gym, do indoor stationary cycling or weightlifting and calisthenics in your home to help stay in shape over the holidays,” Guthrie said.
6. Avoid overscheduling to manage stress
“Christmas is really hard, particularly in today’s society where a lot of kids are in separated homes and having to share time between mom and dad’s house,” Guthrie noted. “It can be a really chaotic time for kids and parents.”
Families should allow for time to decompress and relax instead of filling every hour with an activity or outing.
“As a society we tend to overschedule our lives and don’t allow for any down time,” Guthrie said. “Spending time just being with your family instead of going out and doing things can keep that stress level to a minimum.”