General Health Saturday December 21, 2013

How The Santa Lifestyle Can Harm Your Long-Term Health

Christmas is traditionally a time to indulge, with several days spent consuming vast amounts of food and drinking to excess. However, if you'd prefer not to begin 2014 feeling flabby and sluggish, it's advisable to keep an eye on your consumption of high-calorie food and drink over the festive season.

Father Christmas himself is a perfect example of the dangers of gluttony. Usually portrayed as an elderly man with a large belly, he may be jolly but you wouldn't want to be him. Not only because his job involves travelling 510,000,000km in a single night once a year, but because his appearance suggests that to emulate him would be to take on a number of serious health conditions. You don't have to believe in Father Christmas to be aware of the very real health risks of being overweight.

Why is being overweight a problem?

The number of obese people in the UK has trebled since 1980, and research reported by the NHS predicts that almost half of UK residents will be classed as obese by 2030. In recent times there have been calls from some quarters for the public to be more accepting of overweight and obese people. Some claim that it is possible to be overweight but healthy as long as you have normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. However, recent research disputes this, suggesting that even if you test healthy now, if you are overweight you may well be storing up problems for later life.

How can being overweight affect my health?

Overweight and obese people are at higher risk of developing a number of health conditions, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, stroke and some types of cancer.

Type 2 diabetes has been linked to being overweight, particularly for those over the age of 40. This is because excess fat around the stomach produces hormones that cause the body to become resistant to the effects of insulin. Insulin is needed to control your blood sugar level, so if it becomes ineffective, your blood sugar level will rise. This in turn can lead to various health complications such as eye and skin problems, hearing loss and numbness in the hands and feet. If left untreated, diabetes can result in blindness, kidney disease and even death.

Being overweight can also increase your blood pressure. This is because the extra weight forces your heart to work harder at pumping blood round your body. Although high blood pressure itself does not cause symptoms, it can put you at risk for heart attack, stroke and blood clots, all of which can cause death.

While being overweight doesn't directly cause high cholesterol, if you are overweight due to an unhealthy diet this may put you at risk of heart disease. In particular, consuming large amounts of salt has been linked to an increase in 'bad' cholesterol, which can narrow your arteries and cause stroke and heart attack.

How can I lose weight?

The healthiest way to lose weight is to start by improving your diet and exercising more. If you eat a lot of foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, try to replace these with healthier options. For example replace takeaways with home cooked meals, and chocolate and crisps with fruit and nuts.If you find that dieting and exercise is only having a limited effect, you may like to try taking weight loss supplements as well.

At Christmas time it can be very difficult to eat healthily, whether when celebrating with family on the day, or at parties and get-togethers in the lead up to Christmas Day. Of course indulging in the odd mince pie or glass of wine is acceptable, as long as you are able to balance this with healthy meals and moderate exercise a few times a week.

Unlike Father Christmas, try to resist the urge to binge on 2 billion mince pies and several thousand glasses of sherry in one night. You may like to follow his example of taking plenty of strenuous exercise over the festive season, however. Climbing up and down billions of chimneys is not recommended, but a gentle walk after your large Christmas dinner could be a good idea.

If you'd like to know more about treatment options for weight loss, you can take a look at our weight loss information pages on

Dr Bram Brons is an independent GP and member of the medical team at HealthExpress, the UK's leading online clinic. You can read more from him on weight management and general health at

Written by Nicola Beckett.
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