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Three Simple Steps to Feeling Great this Holiday Season!

The holiday season is here! December is a great time to get together with friends and family, sample delicious holiday fare and enjoy breaks from work and school. We celebrate the winter solstice (days finally start getting longer!), New Year's Eve and Day, and a host of religious traditions. Unfortunately, many of us spend the holidays feeling tired, sick and depressed. These feelings are due in large part to a trifecta of factors that greatly affect our health and well-being: lack of meaningful sunlight, lower levels of physical activity, and poor nutrition.

How do these factors cause us to feel terrible and what can we do about it?

First, the length of our days are very short, with only about 9 hours of daylight. Most of that daylight is during work or school hours, so the quantity of sun exposure is low. The quality of vitamin D absorption is also very low this time of year since the extreme angle of sunlight entering the atmosphere blocks most UVB rays. This lack of quality sunlight often leads to a gradual drop in our internal vitamin D levels. Once vitamin D levels are too low, you can feel tired, achy, and be prone to frequent infections. Low vitamin D may also play a part in depression, incidence of flu, cognitive impairment and much more.

Second, due to short days and cold weather, most of us significantly curtail our outdoor physical activity. It is too uncomfortable to take a long hike, play tennis, or even walk the dog. When we cut back on day to day physical activity, many of us let our intentional exercise (high intensity weight training) slack off as well. This drop off in physical motion and exercise can lower our metabolism, lower our level of mood improving, stress lowering endorphins, and negatively effect circulation, heart rate, blood pressure and more.

Third, during the holiday season, we are all tempted by holiday food and drink. While this is ok for most of us in moderate amounts, we usually end up over-indulging in sweets, alcohol, and holiday snacks and overconsuming calories in general. We all know about New Years resolutions to exercise and eat well. Well, resolutions exist because we overdo it in December! This humorously reminds me of the quote from the movie Animal House when Dean Wormer is addressing the members of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity and says "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son!"

What can we do to avoid these health and nutrition pitfalls of the holiday season? Below are three simple steps we all can follow so we can feel healthy, strong and energized througuout the rest of the year.

1. Supplement with Vitamin D. I prefer Carlsons 2000 IU softgels, but do some research and find something you like. The Vitamin D council recommends 5000 IU per day, much more than the 600-800 IU the Food and Nutrition board recommend. I typically take 2x2000IU per day for 4000 IU total.

2. Overemphasize physical activity. Yes, you should keep doing your weight training workout through the holidays, but as importantly, you have to get out of that office chair and off that family room couch. Bundle up in multiple layers and get outside every morning and/or evening for a long walk. Take a hike on weekends. Restack your firewood, rake your leaves, help a neighbor with their decorations, throw a football around, or play fetch with your dog.

3. Severely reduce/minimize sugary food and drink. Small samples are fine, but no one is better off eating a huge portion of cake or other sweets, or drinking heavily sugared drinks. Instead, eat plenty of protein at your meals. Protein is very satiating so your appetite will decrease for other food.

Follow these three simple steps over the next few weeks and you will feel (and look) better during the holidays than you have in years. Your energy will be up, your mental focus will be improved, and your mood will be brighter. Good luck and happy holidays!

Posted December 15, 2017 by Tim Rankin