Tis’ the season for hot chocolate and home cooking. With the holiday break approaching, we can understandably feel more prone to indulge this time of year. Temptations are everywhere, and once again COVID-19 has taken a seat at our holiday tables.
Sara Kirk, a professor in the School of Health and Human Performance and scientific director of the Healthy Populations Institute, specializes in health promotion and chronic disease prevention, specifically how our environments affect our health and eating habits.
Dal News spoke with Dr. Kirk about a few ways people can combat the effects of the COVID quarantines and holiday treats with healthy year-long habits.
We’ve all been there in the past two years. Sitting down to the computer and then looking up at the clock to realize eight hours has gone by. It seems there’s just not enough hours in the day.
When holiday break rolls around, it’s hard to find time to get to the gym or exercise. There’s so much work to do and it’s easy to give in to that extra cup of coffee on the couch when it’s cold outside.
Dr. Kirk gets this, too. She says most days it can feel like pushing a boulder up a steep incline, where everything around us is trying to push us back down. Her advice for this is to, if we can, get up and move.
“Ideally, we want people to move more in general,” she says, “standing up, moving around, just breaking up your day, getting up every hour, walking up the stairs, down the stairs, down the hall, wherever.”
The best thing we can do for our health is get up and outside for a bit while staying socially distanced. How long, Dr. Kirk says, revolves around your personal time schedule.
“What we really want everybody to be doing, young or old, is being active for between 30 to 60 minutes a day,” she says. “And that's the activity that gets your heart beating.”
The half-your-plate rule
Let’s be honest, it can be tough to grocery shop — especially for the bigger meals we tend to eat around the holidays. There are so many options for food and our budget dictates what we can buy.
Dr. Kirk has some guidance on how to portion our plates.
“Half your plate needs to be some sort of fruits and vegetables,” she says. “Plant-based food is the move that that we know provides optimal dietary habits.”
Knowing that produce can be pricey, Dr. Kirk says that most fruits and veggies, including canned and frozen, are good as long as they’re not overly processed.
Build habits, but the healthy kind
Though the food industry can manipulate us to consuming more than we need and health-disrupting environments make it hard to be healthy, Dr. Kirk suggests ways to create a health-promoting daily routine.
“What you want to be doing is building habits and behaviours that you can keep going all year round,” she says. “And that you can build on in the times when you are stressed.”
Getting up early to make time to exercise, for example, feels less daunting if you normalize it.
“I know, getting out of bed at six in the morning isn't particularly pleasant, but if you make it into your routine, it becomes a way that you do things,” she says, “like brushing your teeth.”
Create healthy holiday traditions
For the holidays, Dr. Kirk suggests making new healthy traditions with family such as going on a walk before Christmas dinner and enjoying the holiday views.
Agreeing that the holidays can sometimes feel like they go on forever, she reminds us all to enjoy the break the best we can because December is all too fleeting.
“Don’t beat yourself up if you succumb to an extra slice of cake or whatever it may be,” she says. “It’s Christmas.”
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