Monday Medical: The 12 Days of Wellness

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Shopping, travel, parties, family visiting, children's activities, end-of-the-year obligations : the commitments this time of year can seem endless. With these disruptions to your normal routine, it's easy to let good health habits slide.

Rather than abandoning exercise, diet and adequate rest, it's even more important now to do the things that help you stay healthy. By taking care of yourself, you'll get through the holidays with less stress, more enjoyment and more energy.

If you don't know where to start, let me propose "The 12 Days of Wellness." Starting anytime this month, focus on a different health activity each day. Here are the first six wellness ideas.

- Day 1: Exercise. When the hustle and bustle of the season begins to create stress and anxiety, exercise is often the best remedy.

Aim for consistency when trying to get into an exercise habit, and choose an activity that you enjoy. Even if it's just a 10-minute walk at lunch, do it every day. Commitment to exercise is easier to maintain if you recruit an exercise partner.

Take a walk before shopping; get a new fitness video; go skiing, skating or sledding; sign up for yoga; or take a hike around your neighborhood to view holiday decorations.

- Day 2: Nutrition. Eating habits can suffer during the holidays with parties, family get-togethers and treats at work. Don't despair; with some planning and a little discipline, you can make it through this month with good eating habits intact.

To save calories, choose the special holiday foods that you love and pass on the foods you can get all year. Watch portion sizes. Avoid becoming famished and then overindulging.

Limit temptations by keeping candy and cookies out of sight when you're not entertaining. Try substituting fruit and vegetable trays for holiday treats at work. Cut back on drinking alcohol as it often leads to overeating. Try some low-fat holiday recipes.

- Day 3: Family. The experience of coming together as a family can be healthy and rewarding or stressful and depleting. Think about your family and your relationships with parents, children, siblings, spouse. Do you communicate well and as often as you'd like with your entire family? Are you as close as you'd like to be?

Working on family health and relationships for a day isn't enough to result in family bliss but it's a start. Here are some ideas: Start a family breakfast routine; shared meals enhance connections. Begin or renew a family tradition. Start a family scrapbook. Decorate the house together

- Day 4: Safety. Increased traffic, bad weather, icy roads, holiday parties involving alcohol, home decorations and toys add extra safety concerns during the holidays.

Think about your safety habits at home, in the car and at work. Clear stairways of all debris. Refresh the batteries in your smoke alarms, purchase fire extinguishers and review fire escape routes with family. Be sure toys are well-made and for the appropriate age. Don't drive if you have had a drink.

- Day 5: Career. This is a time to reflect on the past year's accomplishments and make plans for the future. Set professional goals for this next year as well as for five years from now.

On this fifth day of wellness, ask yourself questions such as, "Am I doing what I want? Am I capitalizing on my strengths? Am I working to improve on my weaknesses? Do I have a plan, and do I stick to it?"

- Day 6: Intellectual. As with physical health, intellectual health can be strengthened with training. Your ability to reason and solve problems is enhanced if you exercise your mind regularly. Your mind grows stronger when you push the limits of your intellect.

Cultivate creativity: Write a poem; renew or start a hobby that occupies your mind as well as your hands. Seek out new challenges: Plan to enroll in a course or take music lessons.

Good luck with trying these daily wellness activities. Next week, I will cover the remaining six days of wellness.

Lisa A. Bankard coordinates wellness and community education programs at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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