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The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year for your heart—but we don’t mean that in a physical sense. Santa isn’t exactly a fitness role model, and November and December are packed full of parties and feasts that will warm your soul and wreck your body. If you choose to opt out of the fun though, you’ll end up looking and feeling like a darn Scrooge.

Thankfully, our experts at Elitra Health Center in Manhattan have easy-to-implement tips to help you enjoy the holidays without falling completely off track with your fitness goals. You’ll have a holiday season worth remembering—without blowing up like a Macy’s Day balloon.

Follow Portion Control  

If you try to go cold turkey on all the sweets and snacks of the holiday season, you will either be miserable for weeks—or your plan will backfire big time.

Instead, research shows it’s more effective to increase your intake of foods low in energy density (so, calories) while limiting your portions of high-energy-dense foods. This means digging into a salad or loading up on roasted vegetables instead of going straight for the buttery mashed potatoes.

At Elitra Health, we get that you’re not an emotionless robot, which is why our registered dietitians can adjust your meal and snack plans to include the full scope and fun of the holidays. We’ll also educate you about the lurking dangers at the company potluck that will exacerbate any existing health conditions while preventing future problems.

We’ll also teach you how eyeball portion sizes using bowl shapes and the palm of your hand to keep you from grazing continuously and overeating. Together, we’ll help you strike a balance of well-portioned (and delicious) holiday meals.

Make workouts part of family time  

Record the parades and the holiday specials and make some time to get moving and get outside. The first turkey trot was held in 1896 and it’s since become the most popular race in America—and for good reason. Exercise during the holidays is a great way to offset your increased calorie intake, but it’s also a great time to bond with friends and family.

If getting up on a holiday morning or donning a big red suit for a Santa run doesn’t sound like your speed, try a long walk with a neighbor or a family member you haven’t had much time to spend with this year. Go during the day and boost your levels of vitamin D, or go at night, admire the light displays, and enjoy the extra benefits of exercising in the cold.

Your body will work harder to maintain your core temperature, prompting your heart to pump more oxygenated blood and increasing your calorie burn. Because of this extra work, exercise in the winter helps strengthen your heart muscles.

Set Smaller and Simpler Fitness Goals

We’re encouraging you to exercise, but we understand that the holidays are BUSY. The cooking, shopping, and wrapping are all workouts within themselves, so saying you are going to get to the gym every day can be unrealistic. Thankfully, that brisk 20-minute walk you take outside is enough to significantly reduce your chances of early death, and a simple walk around town has a similar mood-lifting effect as more strenuous exercises.

If you’d rather stay indoors and keep it even shorter, our exercise physiologists at Elitra Health Center can put together a series of five-minute workouts that fit your schedule. We lead our patients through comprehensive flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular assessments, and get know to you as people, not just patients. This relationship helps us to recommend and demonstrate exercises you will actually do during the busy season.

Stay Hydrated

The holidays are a dehydrating business. You’re either running around too busy to remember to drink water or consuming salty foods and sugary drinks that can cause serious hydration issues.

In addition to just making you feel better in the moment, drinking water helps you burn more calories by increasing your resting energy expenditure. Your expenditure rises 24 to 30 percent within 10 minutes of drinking a glass of water and maintains that increased rate for at least one hour. This means you’re burning more calories while also reducing pressure off your heart and arteries by increasing blood flow.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. However, it’s always a good idea to up that number due to the work and diet traps of season.

Avoid Binge Drinking and the Resulting Hangovers

Drinking over the holidays can be a vicious cycle of consuming massive numbers of liquid calendars, triggering your appetite for high-fat foods, and waking up in no shape to exercise the next day.

We aren’t saying to not drink and be merry—just also be smart about your alcohol. Try to stick to low-calories cocktails, like vodka seltzers, or wine and light beers. In addition to helping you keep off weight, drinking a glass of water in-between rounds of alcoholic options at holiday parties will help keep away those dreaded hangovers. Slowing down will also keep you safer. In addition to making you more accident-prone, binge drinking—five or more drinks for men and over four drinks for women within a two-hour period—is associated with heart and liver problems.

Let the Elitra Health team know about your drinking habits and social requirements this winter, and they can work with you to set healthy guidelines, negate the effects of alcohol on your diet, and recommend any supplemental vitamins you should add to your routine. As alcohol is a diuretic, it’s always a smart idea to replenish your body’s store of vitamins B and C to ensure you feel your best.

One last party tip: Steer clear of smoking and smokers. Even small amounts of secondhand smoke and low-nicotine cigarettes can increase your risk of heart disease.

It’s important to stick to your health goals over the holidays, but if you slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, New Year’s resolution season is just around the corner, and our team at Elitra Health will cheering you on every day in 2019.

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