I think it’s fair to say that everybody loves the holidays! Whether Thanksgiving, Las Posadas, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or New Year’s Eve, the holiday season is filled with family, friends, fun, festivities, and of course, food. Problem is, a lot of people struggle with maintaining good health habits during the holidays. Many eat too much, do too little, stress more and sleep less, all of which can become long-lasting habits. Over time, these lasting habits can be especially difficult to break and ultimately lead to long-term health consequences.
Now, with all the freshly baked pastries, decadent desserts, craft cocktails and other indulgences that surround us during the holidays it’s not necessarily the best time to make drastic lifestyle changes. But there’s no reason why we can’t embrace healthy habits.
Even small habits can have a big impact. In the here and now, this can involve the formation of one or more keystone habits. A term coined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Charles Duhigg, “keystone habits” are fundamentally simple and very doable changes (or habits) that almost instinctively lead to bigger, better choices. During the holiday season, keystone habits could be anything from enjoying a salad a day, to sleeping longer, to moving your body within an hour of eating a meal.
While these habits might seem small, over time, they can lead to better choices and big improvements in your health. Here, I’ll highlight five super simple keystone habits that’ll keep you healthy and fully thriving this holiday season (and beyond).
1. Fill Half Your Bowl (or Plate) With Non-Starchy Veggies
You’ll always get more nutritional bang for your buck by filling half your bowl or plate with non-starchy vegetables. So, when eating at home or during those holiday parties, think non-starchy veggies first and treat any proteins and/or starches as side dishes. Besides being high in disease-fighting antioxidants, of all foods, non-starchy vegetables are the lowest in calories and sugar and have little to no impact on blood sugar levels. They’ll also fill you up due to all the fiber they contain. This’ll help reduce holiday overeating and unwanted weight gain.
Quick Tip: Aim to eat at least three different types and colors of non-starchy vegetables every day. You’ll get the most nutrients from deeply colored varieties like leafy greens, red peppers and carrots. Enjoy them in your favorite holiday soups, stews, smoothies, stir-fry preparations and salads, of course. Non-starchy veggies are great for on the go snacking too!
2. Be More Spontaneous with Your Physical Activity
Sticking to a structured exercise routine is already a challenge for many, but holiday travel, family obligations and colder weather can make it even harder. This is where spontaneous physical activity comes in. Unlike structured exercise, spontaneous physical activity is essentially any body movement that works your muscles. This can include anything from cooking or performing household chores, to taking the stairs during shopping trips, to parking your car far away from destinations. All these activities help you burn more calories each day.
Quick Tip: Whether structured exercise or spontaneous physical activity, try to get in at least 60-90 minutes each day. During the holiday season, these calories can really add up! In fact, every minute of up-stair climbing, or just five minutes of walking burns an average of 20-25 calories. A calorie burned is a calorie burned no matter what you do.
3. Breathe Deeply Throughout the Day
Staying healthy during the holidays (and overall) requires having a little breathing space for yourself each day. With balancing holiday chores, budgets and family demands, taking just a minute out of every waking hour to breathe can do wonders for your wellbeing. That simple 60 seconds of stillness can help calm your mind, clear your head, reduce tension, relieve stress, and even help you fall asleep. As the daily hustle and bustle of the holiday season can really take a toll on the body and mind, we all need that!
Quick Tip: When it comes to breathing, focus on taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose until your belly fully expands, and then purse your lips to exhale slowly through your mouth. That’s it! In just 60 seconds, you’ll experience the difference in your mood. Up it to 5-10 minutes, 4-5 times a day, and you’ll be well on your way to stressing a whole lot less.
4. Drink Up (And I Don’t Mean That Type of Drinking)
Of all possible keystone habits to adopt, drinking water is by far the easiest and among the most important – not just during the holidays, but as a lifelong practice. Besides supporting every single bodily function and life process, drinking water will help you stay energized during all those holiday festivities. It also helps boost metabolism, delay feelings of hunger and even prevent holiday hangovers. To keep the juices flowing, aim to drink at least 8-12 glasses of water a day. In general, pale-yellow colored urine is a good sign that you’re drinking enough.
Quick Tip: Make a daily ritual of drinking a big morning glass of water. Drink it as soon as you wake up or even while the coffee or tea is brewing. Believe it or not, this’ll set the mood and tone for your entire day. If you don’t like the taste of water, infuse it with holiday flavors like cinnamon, apple, ginger, pear or mint.
5. Make Resting a Top Priority
My final suggestion for a healthy holiday season involves resting. No matter how resilient you are, your body needs sufficient time to rest. This is how the body repairs and refuels itself. While rest and sleep are the same thing to most people, there is a real difference between the two! Without a doubt, we all need 6-8 hours of quality sleep each night for overall good health, but we also need rest, especially amid the holiday chaos. Resting can be as simple as sitting down alone and doing absolutely nothing. There’s remarkable power in that.
Quick Tip: When it comes to prioritizing rest, consider your time as a personal budget. Like money you get to spend it however you choose each day. Consider ‘rest’ as being very cheap and ‘busyness’ as being relatively expensive, as it comes with a high cost – your mental, physical and social health. Just as you wouldn’t recklessly spend all your money on expensive things, you don’t want to spend all your time being ‘busy’ without incorporating adequate time for rest.
And there you have it – Five simple keystone habits you can embrace today, during the holiday season and beyond! While there are many more where these came from, I don’t want you to bite off more than you can chew. It’s important to understand that changing habits is a gradual process that involves slow, steady changes, as they tend to be easier to maintain. Most important, progress should always be the focus, not perfection.
As a healthy living coach, I help others make better lifestyle choices largely by adopting small keystone habits that actually stick. Remember this equation: small changes + time = big gains. Since it generally takes at least 21 days of consistent practice to form a real habit, by embracing one or more of these simple keystone habits you’ll get a good head start and be well on your way to a healthier and happier new year.