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Maintaining Well-Being Amidst the Festivities: Dr. Jerry Reves' Prescription for a Healthy Holiday Season

Jerry Reves, M.D.
December 05, 2023
A couple smiles while holding a wrapped gift; a lit Christmas tree is scene in the background.

One biggie down and a bunch more to go. Congratulations on passing Thanksgiving, the preamble to the big series of holiday events. 'Tis the season for a seemingly endless season of parties and special occasions like Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's.

Obstacles to a Happy Holiday

What are the hazards for this annual gauntlet that we have coming? First and foremost, there's the break in our routine. For most of the year, things are normal, and we have our regular schedule. Not so at holiday time. The change means hosting guests or being a guest, along with irregular or lost sleep, altered mealtimes and sometimes travel. All these changes present challenges and require some strategic planning to manage our health.

Eating and Drinking

Let's begin with the first big challenge. Libations are plentiful and part of the celebrations. Alcohol in excess, however, leads to accidents, both physical and emotional. The rule about alcohol consumption is still in effect. Two drinks for men and one for women, and if over 65, it is one for each gender. That's a tough rule to observe when at every turn, someone is offering another glass of wine or a cocktail. At prolonged family or guest meals, it's almost impossible to limit one's intake.

In addition to accidents, excessive alcohol can cause us to shed inhibitions, leading to socially unacceptable actions and/or conversations that we may regret. It might be best for you and your spouse or a friend to agree to monitor and advise each other on a pre-agreed drink limit. Everyone will be healthier and happier if this can be done.

Eating is another unhealthy temptation. Caloric intake limits and judicious eating are well-known factors that impact healthy aging. It is, of course, permissible to have the occasional great meal, but one must be mindful the day before or after so as not to exceed dietary recommendations. A strategy to avoid overindulging is to eat something healthy at home before going to the event.
Your appetite will be reduced, and so will temptation. The strategy will backfire, of course, if you eat at home and at the party. Avoid the sweets and high-cholesterol offerings. At a seated dinner, eat in moderation no matter how good it all is. Take small or moderate helpings and do not go for the "seconds" no matter who offers them.


This is the season for visitors. Whether friends or family, house guests are inevitable. This disturbs the routine and can ratchet up stress, but solutions are at hand.

Hosting a party during the season is an occasion for fun and joy. Keep it that way by planning:

  • Put a plan in writing and be sure everything needed is procured well in advance.
  • Make any food that can be prepared in advance ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Avoid the frenzy of doing everything in a disorganized, last-minute fashion.
  • Remember: It's OK if everything isn't perfect, whether it's the house, table, food, etc. The focus should be on social interactions and not a perfectly produced party. People will enjoy being with a relaxed host far more than an uptight one.

Having house guests is the same as hosting a party but just far more challenging since it is for a greater length of time. The same strategy applies for house guests as hosting a party. Plan, prepare ahead, and allow guests (family or friends) to dictate what they want to do – not you.

Be flexible in expectations, even if it means foregoing something your guests may not want to do. If the agenda involves eating out, be sure that dinner reservations are made well in advance. If eating in, allow guests to help, and be sure to shop before they arrive. The goal is to enjoy the company even if it means quiet time in separate living quarters.

Physical Health

Regular readers of this column know that exercise is one of the few things we totally control that contributes to healthy aging. It is just as important, if not more important, to maintain a regular exercise routine during this most abnormal time of year.

Try these tips:

  • Schedule your workout and stick to it.
  • If caloric intake is higher than usual and weight is a concern, increase your workout.
  • Don't skip planned exercise and instead invite guests to join you or just excuse yourself. It's important for physical and mental health to keep exercising during this season.
  • Be sure to stick to medications as prescribed and try to get your normal amount of sleep and rest.

Mental Health

It is generally appreciated that the holiday season is stressful. Moreover, the time of good cheer and joy to the world is actually depressing to many. Part of this is because the shortest day of the year comes right in the thick of the holidays. Seasonal affective disorder is real, and the lack of sunshine can contribute to it.

Additionally, it is inevitably a time of remembrance of previous holidays and people who are no longer with us to enjoy the time. The sense of loss can be profound.

No matter how close the family and friendships are, the bonds can be tested for a great variety of reasons, primarily because of extended visits in close quarters. And, of course, there are relationships that are strained all the time. Holidays force interactions that, frankly, one would rather not have. All this combines to potentially turn the holidays into an unhappy time.

Talking about your feelings with a trusted person can be helpful. Rely on things that work during the rest of the year to avoid or alter depressive thoughts. Remember: A new year is just ahead, and the holidays will become another memory until next year.

The Bottom Line

The holidays are like the spring, summer, and fall and come once a year. It is a time to see people, be with people, and enjoy it all. Manage the time by remembering that your health can and should be part of the celebration. Finally, do not put unreasonable expectations on this festive time. Enjoy it, and look forward to a healthy new year.

Want to learn more about healthy aging? Check out Dr. Reves' monthly Healthy Aging column.