Holiday Health Rut? Making Healthy EZ is Easier than You Think!
The holidays are historically one of the most difficult times of the year when it comes to staying healthy. Stress, to-dos, and tempting treats abound, which can make staying on track with our healthy habits feel nearly impossible. But it doesn’t have to be this way…
With so much of our focus on health and immunity this year, why not take a different approach to the holiday season? Through our simple diet and exercise tips, you can adopt a few daily habits to help you fight holiday stress, keep your immune system strong, and make living healthy easier than ever!
Tips for EZ Healthy Holiday Eats
The holidays are the time of sugary sweets, nostalgic treats, and seasonal indulgences. To balance out the holiday temptations, focus your diet on the most nutritious foods of the season. The following foods are high in nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants that boost the immune function and improve our overall health1. Make healthy holiday eating EZ by loading your plate with these seasonal favorites!
- Make merry with bright orange and red produce.
Beta carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A, an essential vitamin for a strong immune system2. Thankfully, foods rich in beta carotene are featured in some of our most beloved winter recipes (like roasted sweet potatoes and healthy takes on pumpkin pie). Red veggies and fruits are also full of vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. Plan to eat at least one serving of red or orange fruit or vegetable with each meal.
- Sweet Potatoes
- Red bell peppers
- Spruce up sides with leafy greens.
Like vibrant orange veggies, dark leafy greens are also packed with nutrients and immune-supporting vitamins like Vitamin C and A3. Chopped dark leafy greens make an easy addition that blends right into your favorite salads, pastas, soups, and more.
- Collard Greens
- Swiss Chard
- Strengthen your plate with lean protein.
Protein helps conquer holiday cravings and stay energized while also helping our immune system. Immune cells require adequate amounts of protein to make and support a range of immune cells and maintain protective barrier functions4.
- Beans and lentils
- Chicken and turkey
- Lean beef
Tips for EZ Healthy Holiday Exercise
Sticking to a regular exercise schedule is challenging enough, but when the temperature drops and the holiday craze sets in, it may feel more like a punishment than self-care.
But exercise – even in winter – is worth it! It is an essential habit to keep our immune systems and mental health in tip-top shape. It boosts white blood cell activity, lowers inflammation, and reduces stress and cortisol levels (major contributors to weakened immunity)5.
Here’s more good news: you don’t need to do a certain type of exercise or train at a high level to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Research shows that regular, moderate-intensity exercise several days a week (aim for 150 minutes/week) has a stronger effect on boosting immunity than performing a particular exercise or training at a certain intensity.6
Making healthy EZ starts with establishing a simple-to-follow exercise plan that you can follow no matter the weather.
Immune-Boosting Exercises for Winter: Outdoor Activities
If you live in an area with cold, windy, and even snowy winters, you may need to be strategic about how you exercise outside. While getting fresh air is almost always a good idea, some research shows that exercise in cold temperatures may depress the immune system7, so be careful to wear comfortable layers and avoid exercising outdoors regularly if you have a weakened immune system. If you’re up for some invigorating winter exercise, however, add these activities to your routine:
- Walking: Getting fresh air (even in winter!) is important for your mental and physical health. When the weather permits, wrap up and go for a walk. Walking has been shown to boost the immune system, reduce cortisol levels, and might even clear your head of any holiday stress.
- Hiking: In addition to the benefits you get from walking, hiking may also provide an added boost of “wilderness medicine.” Researchers claim that hiking in the wild outdoors (like trails, forests, and beaches) can significantly reduce stress and increase white blood cell count to enhance immunity8.
- Snow Sports: Sports like cross country skiing, ice skating, or even a good old-fashioned snowball fight can be great ways to get your heart pumping while enjoying the beauty of the season.
Immune-Boosting Exercises for Winter: Indoor Activities
When the weather is too cold, too stormy, or too wet to safely exercise outdoors, there is always something you can do inside to keep up your routine.
- Yoga and Stretching: Yoga is the ultimate at-home exercise and is perfect for anyone looking to improve their health over the holidays. This ancient exercise is not only a great way to maintain your strength and flexibility while keeping your calm – but it also works to reduce inflammatory cytokines and boost immune cell function9.
- Dance: Dancing at home is a fun and simple way to sweat at home without any extra tools or fancy equipment. Dancing has been shown to both increase immune function and even relieve common holiday issues like stress and depression10.
- Strength Training: Strength training is an essential element of a holistic exercise plan. Exercises like weightlifting and isometric exercises (like plank or bridge hold) can modulate the immune system and stimulate white blood cell activity11. Include at least two days of strength training in your routine per week.
Holiday Health: Consistency Makes Health EZ!
When it comes to staying healthy through the holidays, consistency is key. Eating the season’s healthiest foods and exercising daily gives your immune system the strength it needs to protect you all winter long - even if you do enjoy an occasional holiday treat.
- Pham-Huy, Lien Ai et al. “Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health.” International journal of biomedical science : IJBS vol. 4,2 (2008): 89-96.
- Hughes DA. Effects of carotenoids on human immune function. Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Aug;58(3):713-8. doi: 10.1017/s0029665199000932. PMID: 10604207.
- Cell Press. "Eating green veggies improves immune defenses." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2011.
- Childs, Caroline E et al. “Diet and Immune Function.” Nutrients vol. 11,8 1933. 16 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11081933
- Rowbottom, David and Green, Katherine. Acute exercise effects on the immune system. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2000 - Volume 32 - Issue 7 - p S396-S405
- University of Bath. "Regular exercise benefits immunity -- even in isolation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2020.
- Emily C. P. LaVoy, MS et al. Immune Responses to Exercising in a Cold Environment. Laboratory of Integrated Physiology, Department of Health and Human Performance, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.
- The Wilderness Society. “Can wilderness boost your immune system? Some surprising answers.” February 19, 2013
- Falkenberg RI, Eising C, Peters ML. Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Behav Med. 2018 Aug;41(4):467-482. doi: 10.1007/s10865-018-9914-y. Epub 2018 Feb 10. PMID: 29429046.
- Murrock CJ, Graor CH. Effects of dance on depression, physical function, and disability in underserved adults. J Aging Phys Act. 2014 Jul;22(3):380-5. doi: 10.1123/japa.2013-0003. Epub 2013 Aug 12. PMID: 23945631.
- Ayla Karine Fortunato, et al. "Strength Training Session Induces Important Changes on Physiological, Immunological, and Inflammatory Biomarkers", Journal of Immunology Research, vol. 2018, Article ID 9675216, 12 pages, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/9675216