How To Keep Your Health On Track During The Holiday Season

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November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Whether you are at-risk or not, here are some tips to help you remain healthy and stick with your fitness goals through the holiday season. 

WHAT CAN A PERSON DO TO OVERCOME ROADBLOCKS TO IMPROVING THEIR HEALTH, ESPECIALLY DURING THE HOLIDAYS?

Obesity puts adults at risk for health issues that affect the whole body, including heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and other conditions. The holiday season may be a good time to reinforce or establish new habits to improve your health.

You can take steps to stay on track with your healthy eating and physical activity plans. Watch how much you eat and drink, reduce your screen time and limit the time you spend sitting.

If you can’t say “no” to the cakes, pies, or other sweet treats, try a smaller slice. Bring a healthier version of a favorite dish to a potluck to share with your family, friends, or coworkers. More than 2 hours of TV-watching a day has been linked to overweight and obesity, so try to turn off the devices and take a walk or have a dance contest.

WHAT ARE SOME SIMPLE THINGS WE CAN DO TO STAY ON TRACK DURING THE HOLIDAYS?

Ask for help. Having support from a friend or family member may make it easier for you to stick with and meet your goals. Be prepared for setbacks —-they are normal. Sticking with a healthy eating and physical activity plan is hard, especially as we try to juggle so many demands during the holidays. But if you plan for setbacks, it might help you regroup and get back on track as soon as you can.

Use everyday places and things to stay on track with your health during the holiday rush. Remember some activity is better than no activity at all. If you only have time for a short walk of 10 to 15 minutes, that’s great. If your schedule permits, you can be active at lunch, or even after the kids go to bed.

In addition to physical activity, think about what you eat. To navigate the food court while shopping, share a meal with a friend or order from the children’s menu. Bring leftovers home to share or have for the next day. If you can’t avoid the drive-thru, choose lower-calorie options—and skip the value or two-for-one meals. Remember, even small changes can make a big difference.

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER WAYS TO LOSE WEIGHT?

Talking with your doctor or other health care professional about your weight is an important step. It’s okay to bring questions and practice talking about your concerns before your office visit. Your doctor might know of nutrition professionals or weight-loss specialists to help. You do not have to do it alone.

NIDDK also has a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to start a Sisters Together program. Sisters Together is a guide to help Black women get moving and make healthier food choices in the community.

If you have not been able to lose weight or keep weight off using methods such as lifestyle treatment or medications, have certain weight-related problems or a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, bariatric or weight-loss surgery may be an option. For those who are eligible,, weight-loss surgery can be effective to help improve weight-related conditions, especially type 2 diabetes.

WHAT COULD BE THE PROBLEM IF YOU’RE EATING HEALTHY AND EXERCISING AND STILL NOT LOSING WEIGHT?

Your body has a system for regulating weight, and when you lose weight your appetite actually grows to compensate. We recommend using NIDDK’s Body Weight Planner online tool to help you manage your weight loss goals. The Body Weight Planner is a free, online, interactive tool for adults that helps you make personalized daily calorie and physical activity plans within a specific time period. Based on research led by NIDDK, the Body Weight Planner’s science-based technology predicts how changes in diet and exercise will affect your metabolism over time.

ARE THERE CERTAIN FOODS WE SHOULD AVOID EATING DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON?

For healthy eating, you should emphasize fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Include more lean meats and be low in saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Try to include as many unprocessed foods as well. Research at NIDDK’s clinical center found that when people eat processed foods, they tend to eat more calories and can gain weight.

As I mentioned, if you can’t say “no” to the cakes, pies, or other sweet treats, eat a smaller slice. Bring a healthier holiday favorite dish to a potluck to share with your family, friends, or coworkers and have a healthy option for yourself.

Moderation is important. To reach or stay at a healthy weight, how much you choose to eat at one time, or your portion, is just as important as what you eat. Learn more about managing your food portions.

 IS IT TRUE, WORKING OUT FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES A DAY WILL IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH?

It is important to get 30 minutes a day of physical activity to improve your health, however it does not have to be all at the same time. It could be as simple as taking the steps instead of the elevator or going for a walk. Research has shown that even short bursts of activity may have health benefits. Anything that gets your heart pumping can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity and sleep quality. You can learn more in the new United States Physical Activity Guidelines.

Physical activity is an important step you can take to improve your health and quality of life. Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. If you have one of these health problems, physical activity may improve your condition.

WHEN IS SURGERY A GOOD OPTION FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE WEIGHT-RELATED HEALTH CHALLENGES?

Having weight-loss surgery is a serious decision. Surgery may be an option if you’ve tried other things to lose weight and you meet certain criteria, like having a BMI of 40 or more, or having a BMI of 35 or more plus a serious health problem linked to obesity like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or sleep apnea.

Just as weight-loss surgery is a serious decision for adults, it is especially serious for kids under 18. Surgery has been shown to improve health in teens with severe obesity, and new research funded by NIDDK found that earlier weight-loss surgery may have greater benefits than waiting until later in life. But all surgery comes with risks and should be a conversation between you and your doctor.

ARE THERE ANY HEALTH BENEFITS OF DRINKING RED WINE?

Researchers have identified a naturally occurring chemical in red wine that may have health benefits. However, everything in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure and add extra calories, which can lead to weight gain. It can affect people with diabetes more because alcohol blocks the production of glucose in the liver. Also, if you are taking other medications, drinking too much alcohol can cause other problems, including damage to your liver.

WHAT OTHER HEALTH ISSUES CAN OCCUR WHEN YOU DON’T GET ENOUGH SLEEP?

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

Ongoing sleep deficiency is also linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Learn more about how sleep affects your health.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS ESPECIALLY THIS TIME OF YEAR?

Holidays can fill you with joy, but can also be stressful from time to time. Some ways to manage stress during this time can be to exercise regularly, build a social support network, set priorities and say no to tasks if they are putting you into overload.

Getting enough sleep is also key to resilience and stress relief—although stress itself can interfere with sleep. To improve your sleep habits, go to bed the same time each night and get up the same time each morning.

Relaxation methods, like mindfulness meditation and yoga, can reduce stress and have a positive effect on the immune system.

If you feel overwhelmed by stress, talk with a health care provider or mental health professional. Medications or other therapies might help you cope. In the long run, reducing stress may help you to slow down and enjoy your time with the people and activities you really care about.

Dr. Rodgers answers your questions below:

Is keto diet good for diabetes?

There is no one-size-fits all diet for people with diabetes. The challenge with “diets” in general is that they tend to be short-term because they are hard to stick to. Nutrition, as well as physical activity, are some of the foundations for a healthy lifestyle. There are several dietary patterns—from Mediterranean to vegetarian, to low carb—that can be part of a good nutritional plan for people with diabetes. Your health care provider and/or nutrition professional can help you choose a diet that works for you.

Some general tips include:

  • Watch portion sizes.
  • Choose foods that are lower in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and salt.
  • Eat foods with more fiber, such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta.
  • Choose foods such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, bread and cereals, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.
  • Drink water instead of juice and regular soda.

You can find specific information about diabetes, eating and physical activity on the NIDDK website. I also encourage you to talk with your health care provider about your diet and goals.

Any updates on NIH sisters walking program?

Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better encourages black women ages 18 and older to reach and maintain a healthy weight by being more physically active and making healthier food choices. In 2018, NIDDK created a video to describe the Sisters Together program and updated the Sisters Together guide which outlines six steps to help you start your program.

Anyone who sees a need in his or her community and wants to help can start a Sisters Together program. Included in the guide are sample forms, letters, emails, and social media posts you can copy and modify to suit your specific needs. These resources were designed for black women ages 18 and older, and you can adapt them for other groups.

What does it mean when your left leg stays swollen?

A number of conditions can cause leg swelling, including edema or fluid buildup, which can be caused by heart or kidney problems, inflammation or infection, varicose veins, and blood clots. I encourage you to contact your doctor to discuss your concerns.

Griffin P. Rodgers is director of the National Institute Of Diabetes And Digestive And Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). 

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