It’s the holidays and you’ve probably seen endless stories about how you can “stay healthy over the holidays” – tips intended to keep you from “overindulging.” Ick! It’s the holidays – and how un-fun is it to be at a party when your chief concern is avoiding the baked Brie? DELETE, Oh, and please pass the peanut butter haystacks.
As a doctor, I’m going to tell you to stop stressing. Not only do most of those deprivation-fueled tips not work (who writes those things anyway?), staying healthy without obsessing is much easier than you think. That’s mainly because there are likely things that you already enjoy – and don’t realize how good they are for you. Emphasize these four things and you won’t have to choose between celebrating and health after all:
1. Spending time with loved ones adds years to your life. Fact. Statistics in the RealAge Test show that having close connections with people and engaging with them regularly can add almost two years to your life; it also lowers your risk of heart disease and cancer. Think of the holidays as a time for seeing the people who brighten your life – rather than a series of diet-killing party obstacles – and you’ll come away with both a heart and soul that are healthier.
2. Be a kid again. When you were six, did you count calories? What’s a calorie? No! You were too busy running and playing and climbing trees to worry about it. Use the holidays as a time to let out your inner child – whether it’s playing with your own children (or relatives’ kids) when you’re on vacation – or just getting out and doing something you love. Extra bonus? You may eat fewer calories later. In one 2014 study from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, participants were either told that they were going on a scenic walk or an exercise walk around a lake; afterwards they were served lunch. The ones who thought they were on a walk for fun ate 35% less desserts than those who were told they were doing it for exercise.
3. Allow yourself to indulge. Avoiding foods? Skipping meals to save calories for later? Both lead to eating more calories overall than you would have in the first place, meaning that not only are you miserable, but also less healthy (womp womp). Allow yourself a cheat meal (or cheat party) here or there, where you leave the food police at home, and you’ll find that staying on track the rest of the time seems far more doable.
4. Sing (or dance) along to your favorite holiday tunes. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your local choir, caroling with friends, or in your car – singing lowers levels of anxiety and depression, dancing extends your life and even may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Even if you’re a little more Napoleon Dynamite than Flashdance, in the words of the venerated Meghan Trainor, “Prove to them you got the moves, I don’t know about you. But I feel better when I’m dancing.”
Indulging, dancing and hanging out with your best people – who knew it was healthy? Focus on them, and you’ll have a memorable holiday season that’s good for the heart – and the soul.
Happy holidays to you and your loved ones.
This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.