The holiday season is typically a time of year when health becomes a second thought. It can mean more emphasis on family obligations, travel, hosting, cleaning, cooking, and eating what was cooked. Feeling overburdened can potentially exacerbate lifestyle factors that feed into poor health, including stress, lack of sleep, poor eating habits and alcohol use. While it’s important for everyone to place emphasis on balancing healthy behaviors over the holidays, there are specific ways women can support their health even further over the holiday season.
For women and men alike, the winter months can bring a fear of weight gain, lack of motivation to exercise in the cold, and plenty of opportunities to stay up late and celebrate over a cocktail or two. There are ways, however, to keep health alive during the holidays with specific benefits for women by remembering a few tips:
Do Not Skip Meals
With temptation at every corner, the holidays can naturally create an environment conducive of indulging. This may also tempt us to alter eating patterns to account for sneaking extra treats or anticipating a rich dish. While skipping meals frequently may seem like a way to cut calories, you may miss out on key nutrients needed to support healthy hormone balance. Skipping meals may also lead to low blood sugar which can trigger anxiety in some individuals – the last thing we need more of around the holidays. Lastly, not getting enough calories per day can downshift the metabolism over time and may inhibit weight loss efforts. Keeping a consistent meal schedule and including a balance of healthy fats, whole food sources of carbohydrates and lean protein at every meal can support the production and regulation of hormones.
Moderate Your Alcohol Use
It should come at no surprise that limiting, or at least moderating, alcohol around the holidays is a good decision for your health. For women especially, alcohol use can affect the hormones in significant ways. Even moderate alcohol use can disrupt menstrual cycles and reproductive function, and alter hormonal levels in postmenopausal women. Alcohol use has also been tied to higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of progesterone in pre-menopausal women. Chronic drinking in women can also affect the ovaries, which can lead to fertility issues and hormone deficiencies. Celebrate appropriately but keep an eye on the frequency and amount of alcohol use, and cut back when you can.
Set Bedtime Alarms
Fluctuating hormones in women can have a significant affect on the sleep cycle. During the menstrual cycle, during or after pregnancy, and around menopause, hormone levels can spike or fall relatively drastically. Dramatic changes in hormone levels can disrupt sleep. In turn, lack of sleep can affect the regulation of other hormones that control hunger and appetite, leptin and ghrelin, as well as the stress hormone, cortisol. Sleep disturbances have been linked to insulin insensitivity, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and appetite dysregulation. One important tip to help regulate sleep patterns is to set a regular routine at night. However, social engagements, travel plans or late-night work around the holidays can place sleep lower on the priority list. Setting a reminder to start a bedtime routine can be as powerful as setting an alarm to start your day.
Stretch and Move Your Body
After age 30, physically inactive adults lose approximately 3-8% of muscle mass per decade. Muscle tissue serves many health-promoting roles in the body, from maintaining posture and alignment, to helping regulate metabolic processes. Muscle mass is also strongly associated with bone health, and higher bone density can mean less risk of fractures that lead to falls in older population. For women, muscle loss is accelerated around the onset of menopause due to a stark drop in estrogen. Preventing muscle loss is especially important for women of all ages, but even more so for women entering perimenopause phase of life. Muscle growth and maintenance can be encouraged with regular resistance training, recovery, and proper nutrition, as well as hormone balancing therapies. It can be particularly difficult to maintain an exercise routine around the holiday season, with the weather getting colder and darkness falling earlier. When you can schedule a workout a few times a week, prioritize resistance training over cardio sessions to engage muscle fibers and stimulate muscle growth.
Release The Pressure and Be Gentle with Yourself
People approach the holiday season with different mindsets and expectations. Some throw all routines and health standards out the window, while others try to maintain a perfect score. The internal battle of aiming for perfection can wreak havoc on us emotionally and psychologically. Keeping a healthy balance of expectations around food intake, exercise routines, alcohol use and sleep allotment can help moderate holiday season stress. Instead of feeling a sense of shame or punishment, indulge when it feels right but keep a steady check on other lifestyle habits. Do not beat yourself up for not keeping a “perfect” routine and know that the holiday season is temporary.
The holidays can truly be a time of overwhelm that puts health on the backburner. So, try leaning further into lifestyle behaviors that support balanced hormones which can keep your energy levels high, weight in-check and mental health steady. If you’d like a bit more insight on how hormones impact the body and would like to explore a functional medicine approach to improve any lasting hormonal symptoms, give ReVital at call.
How To Get Help
ReVital offers free consultations where you can speak to one of our clinicians about ReVital’s Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy. At ReVital, we can conduct simple blood tests to evaluate the levels of these hormones in your system and prescribe supplements or therapies to treat and control the majority of hormonal imbalances. We also encourage that you connect with your regular doctor about any changes in your health and moods.