Welcome to the holiday season complete with happiness, stress and perhaps some overeating. While you may indulge a bit more and exercise a bit less, there are some simple ways to help you get through the holidays feeling better and ready for the New Year! Small changes can make a world of difference. Here are our top 5. Pick one or do all of them, but commit to doing something for yourself this holiday season.
(1) Intermittent Fasting (IF) – When we wrote our first blog on fasting 4 years ago, we had just begun our journey into learning more about this as part of a healthy lifestyle. That is when we stopped eating “healthy” snacks every few hours in order to “keep our metabolism going,” and started regularly practicing intermittent fasting, or more correctly named, time restricted feeding (although these are often used interchangeably). We have seen and felt the difference ourselves, but over the last several years we have only become more convinced that this is something most of us should consider. It is no longer a fringe recommendation, but a science based and sound option for overall improved health. The benefits are myriad including fat loss, decreasing systemic inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, improving brain health, as well as decreasing cardiovascular and cancer risks. How can we ignore this powerful tool?!
For more information, check out this article from Harvard Health on IF, and another from A4M (American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine) on metabolic flexibility, which we should all strive for. This is a great podcast with a few different experts who discuss fasting – just a few things to hopefully pique your interest.
If you’re ready to take the plunge into IF, start with a 10-12 hour eating window and stop eating (or drinking) 3 hours before bed. It’s that simple. Your body and your brain will thank you!
(2) Post meal walk – This is a super simple way to lower glucose levels after a meal. In this article from Ben Greenfield, he discusses some studies that have shown this to be a very effective way to improve your health. Commit to an after dinner walk – a great way to lower your blood sugar and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones, your puppy or with your own thoughts without screens or distractions. We see this as a two-for-one!
(3) Get cold – This is easy (really!). Just a few minutes – ideally 11 minutes split up throughout the week – of cold exposure can give you huge health benefits. Cold exposure helps to increase brown fat (the good fat), which increases your resting metabolism, helps you burn more calories, as well as allowing you to tolerate colder temperatures (great for the ski season!). Cold exposure also improves glucose uptake and immune function.
Start with a cold shower (and only as cold as you can tolerate for as long as you can tolerate). Here’s a short video on how to do this as well as this 7 minute explanation from Stanford professor, Andrew Huberman. You can do it! And it gets easier the more you do, we promise!
(4) Breathwork – There is no disputing the positive effects of breathing. From James Nestor’s book, Breath, to Wim Hof to yoga and meditation, breathing is here to stay, and with good reason. Of course we need to breathe, but focused breathing is where we can see real changes in our ability to calm down the sympathetic nervous system. This is huge for stress relief, blood pressure, better sleep, as well as to help our relationships and our interactions with others.
Box breathing is one of the easiest breathing exercises to start with and one you can do anywhere and anytime you need some calmness. Simply breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale through your mouth for 4 counts, and hold your breath for 4. That’s it! Start with 4 rounds or set a timer for 2 minutes, and work up to 10 minutes. Try box breathing tonight when your head hits the pillow and see how you feel.
(5) Sleep – Last, but certainly not least, good quality sleep is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and stave off chronic diseases such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease. Poor sleep is also linked to anxiety, depression and obesity.
Try to get to bed early so your circadian clock stays on time! Doing some breathing exercises, like the box breathing mentioned above, will help to put you in the right state for sleep, to calm you and stop the cascade of thoughts that we all experience (especially around the holidays). Not eating or drinking 3 hours before bedtime will help you get the quality REM sleep you need to re-energize your mind and body. Also limiting screens 1-2 hours before bedtime will help you get better restorative deep sleep. This is when your muscles repair, your brain flushes out toxins and your immune system is refreshed. Better sleep is achieved in a dark room (sleep masks are fabulous) and in a cooler room. Give yourself the gift of great sleep this holiday season and beyond for health and happiness!
*Bonus – Take time to appreciate what you have, take time to listen and be present with your loved ones; take time out to laugh!
We hope you will take time to focus on small changes that will improve all aspects of your life, and will be more powerful than any New Year’s Resolution. We wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!
*Disclaimer: The information in this blog is for informational purposes only. Please always consult your doctor before considering any new diet, supplementation, or other changes to your normal nutrition and exercise routine.