1 January 2013

Fit for Life
Taking the excess out of Christmas

Too much food and drink, fatigue and family stress?  To ensure that your celebrations are full of good cheer, here are some ideas on how to survive the festive season.

1   Love your heart: To avoid becoming a statistic, try not to get stressed (not always easy!) and don't overdo the rich food and drink. If you already have heart problems, don't forget to take your medication.

2   Avoid accidents: More than 80,000 people a year end up in hospital being treated for falls, cuts and burns during the festive period.   To help avoid becoming one of those, follow these obvious tips: 
  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare Christmas dinner, keep guests (apart from helpers), especially children, out of the kitchen ... and save the tipple until you've finished cooking (shame, when cooking the meal is the best time to enjoy a glass of wine!)
  • Mop up any spills immediately.
  • Keep decorations and cards well away from open fires and other heat sources. 
  • Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Falls are the most common accidents, so keep on top of clutter and make sure stairs are well lit and free from obstacles.
3    Beat loneliness: Christmas can exacerbate feelings of isolation,so in order to beat the holiday blues:
  • Stay busy and don't let Christmas dominate your life to the exclusion of all else.  Make time for other enjoyable activities, such as a trip to the cinema, a walk or reading.
  • Try volunteering: if you're not spending the festive period with friends and family, consider giving some of your time to charity, visit the national volunteering charity Time Bank (timebank.org.uk).
  • Call a friend: if it gets too much to bear, organisations such as Samaritans (samaritans.org) and Mind (mind.org.uk) have befriending services as well as offering support.
4     Keep moving:  Having so much to do often means you don't get any proper exercise, so don't sink into an 'it doesn't matter' mode.  Try to stay fit and flexible - and avoid piling on the pounds - it's vital to do some kind of activity every day, preferably something you can incorporate into your daily life.   Even ten minutes is better than nothing.  Why?  it helps to push down levels of triglycerides, harmful blood fats that rise after a rich, heavy meal, which can do untold damage to your arteries.

5   Eat, drink and be healthy: A typical Christmas day's food can tot up a colossal 6,000 calories - two to three times the recommended daily amount for most people.   Trying to eat rather less than that will definitely be beneficial in the long run.

6  Avoid the morning-after misery: The only cure for a hangover is prevention.  However, follow these tips to increase your chances of greeting the morning with a clear head. 
  • Know your alcohol limits.  What you drink is as important as how much: purer, clearer tipples such as vodka and gin contain fewer chemicals that can exacerbate hangovers - compared with red wine, whisky and cognac.
  • Slow it down as the body absorbs alcohol fastest when drunk  on an empty stomach.  Combining it with food results in slower absorption and less alcohol reaching the bloodstream.
  • Stay hydrated because drinking water between alcoholic drinks as well as before bed will help to combat alcohol's dehydrating effects, which are responsible for many hungover symptoms. If you've overdone things Vitamins B and C can help to ease the pain.
7   Want to throttle relatives?  Families are not an automatic recipe for harmony, especially as we all have our own idea of what makes the perfect Christmas.  Remind yourself that Christmas comes but once a year and remember these tips:

  • Stop trying to be the host with the most and learn to delegate.
  • Short and sweet wins the day.  some of the most successful family get-togethers are just two hours long.
  • Try to settle differences well in advance of the festive period when you're feeling calm.  If you feel a family row brewing, defuse it as fast as you can.  go for a walk to take some time out.
8   Trouble dropping off:  You may be physically exhausted, but if you're wired up with a to-do list as long as your arm, sleep can evade you. The answer is to allow at least 45 minutes to set the day aside and relax into the night.  So enjoy some downtime before turning in. Read a book, have a relaxing warm bath, listen to some music and drink a arm milky drink or chamomile tea.  The object is to chill out before your head hits the pillow.

9  Useful ways to beat the bloat:  Although I'm still not sure what 'bloat', here are some ways to avoid getting it:
  • Eat little and often.
  • Sit down to eat, chew food well and hold back the chat to avoid swallowing excess air.
  • Sip rather than gulp at least six to eight glasses of fluid a day.
  • Avoid eating too much 'windy' veg such as peas, beans, lentils, onions, cauliflower, sprouts and cabbage.
  • Limit intake of foods containing the sweetener sorbitoil, which can trigger flatulence.
10   Joints playing up?  Overdid it on the dance floor and now your arthritis is giving you gyp?  Music can act as an analgesic and help to get you on the move again.  Apparently music travels along the same neural pathway in the brain as pain, so it can help to block the twinges.  Dig out a favourite CD or put your iPod on and see what a difference it makes.  If pain persists, try taking a glucosamine supplement.  This stimulates the production of substances needed for the joints to mend and move more easily.   Also, taking omega-3 fish oil with glucosamine works more effectively than gluc. on its own, so up your oily fish intake or take an omega-3 fish oil supplement too.

11   Don't get cold feet: Freezing feet after Christmas shopping?   A hot-water bottle or bath may seem tempting but the brain needs time to register that the ambient temperature is warming up. Heat causes blood to flow too fast for the surrounding blood vessels to cope with, pushing up the risk of chillblains.  It's far better just to rub feet briskly or don thick socks and slippers and let them warm up gradually.

12   And relax!  Try this quick neck and shoulder relax-er (these are also good exercises during and after using the computer)
  • Gently look over each shoulder.
  • Slowly bring an ear down to each shoulder in turn.
  • gently tuck your chin in towards your chest and feel the stretch in the back of your neck.
... And not forgetting

Watch who's coming to dinner:  Christmas food can be a minefield if one of your guests has allergies or food intolerance. Common culprits include sulphites and other additives (found in alcohol), histamine (found in cheeses such as Brie, Roquefort, Gruyere and Parmesan, as well as chicken, sausage, chocolate), lactose (found in milk products), wheat and gluten (found in cereals) and yeast (found in breads, ripe fruit, stock cubes and salad dressings to name but a few).
Check with your guests well in advance what they can and can't eat so you can plan your menu accordingly.  Visit allergyuk.org for ideas and advice.

Fight fatigue with aromatherapy:   A sweet-smelling environment can be hugely beneficial after hectic days of planning and Christmas shopping.  Put a few drops of energising essential oils onto a electric aromatherapy burner or into a bowl of hot water or a bath, relax and enjoy their therapeutic powers.
Alternatively sprinkle a few drops on a tissue or handkerchief and inhale.  Try:
  • Pink grapefruit and juniper berry to energise.
  • Frankincense to keep you calm.
  • Geranium and ylang ylang for an instant energy boost.
And, three ways to wind down fast
  • Dab a drop of lavender essential oil on your temples and wrists.
  • Rn up and down the stairs a couple of times.
  • Physiotherapists say to try and stay loose, roll your shoulders regularly to prevent tightness developing in the neck and between the shoulder blades.

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