health over the holidays

Holiday health: looking after your mind, body and soul

Summer and the ‘silly season’ might look a bit different this year, but still bring opportunities and challenges to look after our health over the holidays. In this article, Accredited Exercise Physiologist Jena Buchan offers lots of ideas to look after your mind, body and soul.

Defining ‘health’

The World Health Organisation’s definition of health emphasises the interconnectedness of physical, mental and social well-being.

As such, thriving (not merely surviving!) this time of year requires investment across all domains. However, everyone has a unique starting point and definition of what ‘healthy’ is. Embarking on this holiday health adventure may be full of trial, error and failures, but also full of learning what works best for you. As a starting point, let’s delve into sleep, relaxation and movement.

Sleep: the best gift to give yourself

Just reading ‘sleep’ may have you reaching for coffee. While we know we need to sleep, visiting in-laws, holiday parties, kids or various other holiday ‘joys’ may have different plans for us. While individuals may get the seven to nine hours encouraged for most adults, quality of sleep may be less than ideal. Physically, sleep supports recovery, regulation of energy intake and metabolic function. It is also linked to mental and social well-being, with poor sleep linked to decreased attention, emotional regulation and more.

Here’s a few simple tips to try:
1) Make the bedroom ‘sleep-friendly’: controlled light exposure, cool, technology-free
2) Limit afternoon caffeine intake, evening alcohol intake and night-time strenuous exercise
3) Implement a ‘bedtime’ routine to signal it’s time to wind down

Kick back and relax

‘Relaxation’ may suggest beach, yoga or mountain-top meditation. Not your thing? Here’s a few other ideas!

The practice of ‘shinrin-yoku’, or forest bathing, has gained attention for its demonstrated physical and psychosocial benefits, not least in relation to stress reduction. Journaling is another simple, accessible practice growing in popularity as a stress-management technique.

Here’s some further ideas to get you started:
1) Nature-based relaxation can be as simple as kicking off your shoes and walking on the grass or watching the clouds roll by.
2) Journaling can be anything from a daily gratitude practice to ‘brain dumps’ to morning visualisations.
3) Come back to those things you loved to do as a kid! You may find activities such as drawing, dancing, puzzles or building a sandcastle make the perfect stress-reliever.
4) Limited time, space or resources? Breath! To start, try box breathing (4-count each: in-hold-out-hold, repeat) or having a slightly longer exhale than inhale.

Move and groove to good health

Movement is any activity we do, from picking something up to getting off a chair. Exercise is a small, but important, part of movement, structured, planned and intended to support our fitness (more on this shortly!).

As physical inactivity is now considered a global health crisis, with significant physical, psychosocial and economic consequences, optimal health relies on regular daily movement.

Some simple ways include:
1) Sitting on the floor, letting our body adapt various positions as we do.
2) Taking short (even just five minute) walks to break up the day. Set an alarm or download some podcasts if you need a kick-start!
3) Dance! Music can be a great motivator, so throw on a song and let yourself move.

Want to integrate or optimise a regular exercise routine as part of your daily movement practice? A great place to start is working with an Accredited Exercise Scientist for guidance on general fitness and reducing chronic disease risk, or an Accredited Exercise Physiologist if you have an existing condition. Not only is it important to move often, but it’s also essential to move well and safely!

Making it stick

Whatever health behaviours you aim to integrate, the key to long-lasting benefits is forming habits that extend beyond the ‘New Year’s resolution’ period. Start small, find things you enjoy and value and celebrate success! Even if it’s five minutes of daily walking, focused breathing or going without your phone, celebrate! It’s the festive season after all.

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist in your area, click here.

read more blogs

Written by Jena Buchan. Jena Buchan is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Lecturer/Exercise Science Practicum Convenor at School of Allied Health Sciences, Griffith University | Gold Coast campus