General Health Saturday December 14, 2013

Seven Rules for a Healthy Christmas

Christmas is a time to eat, drink and be merry. But with the big day just around the corner, you may not have considered the impact of all that indulgence on your health. Unfortunately, the festive season is also a time when many people fall ill. Read on for our seven rules for a healthy, happy Christmas.

Keep an eye on the Christmas calories

According to the British Heart Foundation, your Christmas dinner alone can contain a day's allowance of calories, and then there's the alcohol, sweets, and turkey sandwiches for tea. All that indulgence over the festive season can result in a waistline of Santa-esque proportions. So if you'd prefer not to begin 2014 on a diet, it's worth being sensible when it comes to festive treats. There are several ways you can reduce your Christmas calorie count, for example by removing the skin from your turkey or roasting potatoes in oil rather than fat.

Don't get too merry

With endless parties to attend over the festive season, it's easy to find yourself drinking alcohol every day. Whether you're usually a heavy drinker or not, you may think that this level of indulgence for a short period is not harmful to your health. In fact, according to, drinking to excess for just a couple of weeks can be enough to cause 'fatty liver'. This is because alcohol can affect the way the liver turns glucose into fat for the body to use, meaning that the fat stays in your liver instead. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, feeling sick and loss of appetite. More seriously, fatty liver can develop into hepatitis if you continue to drink heavily.

Swap your Christmas slippers for trainers

Christmas Day is often spent slumped on the sofa in front of the TV, groaning under the weight of a huge meal. A sedentary lifestyle has been found to shorten your life expectancy, and failing to do the recommended amount of exercise a week is linked to the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and breast and bowel cancer. So consider going for a walk or run after your Christmas dinner instead, as well as making the most of your time off work to get plenty of fresh air and stay active.

Stay safe at Christmas parties

Research shows there is an increase in both STIs and pregnancies during the festive season, with the FPA reporting a peak in calls to their helpline in January. This is in part due to the amount of alcohol being consumed at Christmas parties. So if you want to have a good time while staying safe, make sure you stock up on contraception before Christmas, particularly if you're going away. To protect against STIs, ensure you use condoms as well. If you do have unprotected sex over the Christmas period, it's important you are tested as soon as possible to avoid unpleasant symptoms or even infertility.

Avoid seasonal stress

These days there is a lot of pressure on families to create a 'perfect' Christmas, from the food, to the presents. There's also Christmas shopping, overexcited children and visits from relatives to contend with. Prolonged stress can have negative effects on the body, causing headaches, upset stomach, trouble sleeping and high blood pressure. To avoid these undesirable effects, it's a good idea to plan your Christmas beforehand. Get family and friends to help you prepare dinner so you don't end up taking on too much. If there are any issues between family members, try to resolve these before the big day. It's also a good idea to get out of the house, particularly if there are children present, so head out for a walk at some point on Christmas Day.

Don't get festive flu

Colds, sore throats and flu are all more prevalent in winter, and the cold weather can also be a trigger for asthma sufferers. This, combined with several days spent surrounded by friends and relatives, means that you are more likely to catch a virus than at any other time of the year. To reduce your risk of spending Christmas tucked up in bed, you may want to have a flu vaccination or purchase a prescription flu treatment, which can prevent and reduce the symptoms of flu. This is particularly advisable for those in a high-risk group such as the very young or elderly, or people with underlying health conditions.

Cook the turkey thoroughly

Food poisoning on Christmas Day is definitely not a surprise anyone wants. It takes hours to fully prepare a turkey, so make sure you follow the instructions and allow it to completely defrost before cooking. The NHS website has more advice about cooking turkey properly.

It can be particularly difficult to get a doctor's appointment during Christmas. If you find yourself requiring non-urgent medical treatment over the festive period, you can have a free online consultation with a qualified doctor with, as well as get information and support for various health conditions.

Written by Nicola Beckett.
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