The Holiday Season

By Richard Backman, MD


It is my favorite time of the year. It is time for us to spend time with loved ones, friends, and colleagues and reflect on our favorite events of the past year and move on to the New Year. All of the activities and the expectation to be “merry and cheerful” during the holidays can lead to stress and illness. My secret for staying healthy and present for the holidays is not much different from the rest of the year. We know these healthy behaviors and the benefits to our own health and to the health of those around us, however, implementing and committing to these behaviors is easier stated than done.


Sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. The science of sleep is still trying to answer why we need to sleep, but we know that sleep deprivation can lead to death after staying awake for too long. Okay, none of us is probably staying awake 100 hours or more, but even with decrease in sleep, our stress hormones increase, blood sugars increase, and immune function becomes impaired. Practice good sleep hygiene, aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep, do not read, eat, or watch TV in bed, follow a bedtime routine like brushing your teeth, using the bathroom, some guide imagery, breathing, or progressive relaxation exercises just prior to sleep. My non-medication routine sometimes includes drinking herbal mint or chamomile tea, putting lavender oil or spray on my pillow and enjoying some quiet time just prior to sleep.  Non-prescription medications, like melatonin, are generally safe for sleep and definitely can help with jet lag or time zone change insomnia treatment. Watch Ted Talk on “the emerging science of sleep.”


Physical activity is the elixir of life. We now know more than ever that inactivity and sitting can lead to muscle wasting, fatigue, and deconditioning of the and immune systems. It is generally accepted that we need 30 minutes of physical activity a day. In fact, one of my favorite videos to share with people is the 23 ½ hour day written by Dr. Mike Evans who is an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.


Eating healthy during the holidays can be challenging and at times seem like all the willpower in the world will not stop the mountain of calories surrounding us. I have enjoyed reading Michael Pollan over the years. He is a food activist and science writer. Several years ago he asked New York Times readers to share their rules for eating healthy.


Being mindful and present during the holidays and through out the year will provide you more joy and to those that spend time around you. Through the years I have enjoyed reading and performing some of the mindfulness exercises from John Kabat- Zinn. Professor Kabat-Zinn is the founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Here is an excerpt explaining mindfulness and health.


Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoy the upcoming holiday season. Have a great 2016 and stay healthy!


Richard Backman, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah

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