Make the most of nice days and get some sunshine. It can help you produce serotonin and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorder, which affects millions of Americans.
Walk away. Taking a walk can have a tranquilizing effect on your brain, lower anxiety, and improve sleep.
Don’t lose your daily routine in the holiday rush. Go to the gym, plan your meals, and schedule “me time.” Don’t squeeze in more than you can handle.
If your family always fights during holidays, think about getting together for your holiday meal at a nice restaurant. Being in public can discourage the fighting.
Abandon customs you don’t love. If the kids are all grown, stop bringing presents for everyone to family gatherings. Hate putting up the tree? Get a little one instead. Find ways to make the holidays work for you.
Know when to say no. Don’t feel bad for missing the holiday office party or not bringing a dish. Your priority should be enjoying the holidays, not perfection!
I always remember December from my childhood, when the weather got subzero, and the wind was playfully whipping snowflakes around. School was out for the holidays, and my sister and I always loved to play outdoors, despite the frigid temperatures.
We would come downstairs with our garb, and Mom would get us all bundled up to brave the weather. Snowsuits, scarves, hats, gloves, and boots were standard outerwear those days. My mom would secure the scarf so that it would stay put, and the hat would cover my ears and my forehead. When she was through, I could barely see and hardly move.
I remember stiffly walking out the door, hoping that with more movement, I would loosen up enough to enjoy some of the winter wonderland we called our yard. Hot cocoa would be waiting for us when we came in, and it was like magic what that cup of warmth could do!
Today, I run out of the house without a coat, hat, gloves, or scarf, thinking, I’m just going to the car, then running in to work. My days of bundling up are over. This is what happens when you go from 6 years old to 60. But honestly, what am I thinking?
Winter health risks should be a concern for our aging population. (Hey, that’s me too!) The most obvious risk is the weather itself. Midwestern winters can consist of ice and snow. Driving is a challenge. Walking is even more of a challenge. Slips on ice are a major risk, so it’s important to wear the right shoes or boots with good traction if you have to go out.
Hypothermia is also a common winter weather health risk. Hypothermia means your body temperature has fallen below 95 degrees, and once it gets to that point for a prolonged period of time, you can’t produce enough energy to stay warm.
Symptoms include shivering, cold pale skin, lack of coordination, slowed reactions and breathing, and mental confusion. It’s good to pay attention to how cold it is where you are, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Also, make sure you’re eating enough to keep up a healthy weight. Body fat helps you stay warm.
Frostbite is another health risk during the winter months. Frostbite means your skin has been over-exposed to cold temperatures, and it usually affects the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. It can be severe and cause permanent damage to the skin, and even progress to the bone.
Frostbite can affect anyone who is exposed to below freezing temperatures, in particular, those who aren’t wearing the right clothing. It’s important to wear layers, preferably 2 to 3 layers of loose-fitting clothing, as well as a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf. Covering up your nose and mouth will also protect your lungs from the cold air.
As for drinking a cup of hot cocoa, well, that is a winter weather health benefit! According to a study at Cornell University, hot cocoa has almost twice as many antioxidants as red wine, and 2 to 3 times more than green tea! This winter, enjoy the magic of the season by keeping yourself safe and warm.
Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.
The end of April and beginning of May might be the craziest month-long stretch I’ve ever planned for myself. I will be battling traveling stress each week with almost no downtime in between.
First, I spent a weekend with loved ones around Indy, going to the zoo and shopping. Then, my mom, sister-in-law, and I went on a big weekend trip to New York City to see a Broadway show. The next weekend, I’m headed to Chicago to visit some old friends. The 2 weekends after that, I’m driving home for events, and then the weekend after that, I’m off to Seattle.
No matter what, traveling is stressful, so to get through it, I’m trying to plan ahead, stay on top of things, make the healthiest decisions I can on the go, and enjoy the moments of fun that are the whole point of traveling in the first place.
Planning Ahead to Avoid Traveling Stress
While tickets and such have been booked ahead of time, the planning never ends there.
First, I spring-cleaned my apartment like crazy so that it could survive the coming month without looking like a wasteland.
I pulled tons of great tips to make this list from the helpful resources we shared in our Spring Cleaning for National Cleaning Week post, like using rubber gloves to wipe dog hair off my furniture, freshening up my garbage disposal, and more.
Organize, Organize, Organize
I’ve been making a list of all the things I need to do before each trip, so I don’t do something silly and forgetful, like making myself late by forgetting to put gas in my car before driving to the airport.
And this list doesn’t just include the things I need to pack but also the things I need to do around the house and the errands I need to run first.
This helps me stay on track and not forget all the little things that have to be pulled together at the last minute.
I try to pack as much as I can ahead. The key to-do’s I can mark off in advance:
Buy or organize travel liquids if I’m flying.
Check the weather forecast.
Plan versatile outfits, like things that can mix and match and fit the weather and planned activities, including shoes because I get blisters easily.
Organize or switch to a purse better for travel.
Never forget essentials, like headphones, a book, sunscreen, bandaids, gas in the car, and meds.
Plan driving times and routes.
Then, at the last minute, I can just add in the things I’m still using, like my makeup bag, toothbrush, and phone charger, and avoid all that last-minute packing stress.
Planning for Work
Another important key to planning ahead is making sure work is ready for me to be completely unavailable.
Usually that just means talking to my co-workers in advance and making sure anything that takes place on the weekends, like social media for the next week, is done early.
One of the easiest ways to ruin your vacation is to have to drop everything for work, so make sure you’ve talked to your co-workers and set boundaries for when you’ll be available.
Then, stick to those boundaries because vacations are an important part of avoiding burnout. If you’re only going to check email once a day, stick to that and do it at a time when it won’t ruin your day.
Staying on Top of Things to Avoid Traveling Stress
No matter how much planning you do, it can all fall apart while you’re there if you focused on the wrong thing.
I like to make plans for each day with loose free time around them. You never want to have to be too many places in one day, so one meal with reservations and one event or activity that requires tickets in advance per day is probably plenty. You can munch or discover something new when you’re actually hungry the rest of the time, which can help you avoid overeating on a trip. And you’ll have more time to focus on something you love instead of rushing off to your next activity.
I also like to have extra time planned in so that if I’m exhausted, I can take a nap, shower after a hot outdoor activity, or simply enjoy downtime by watching a movie or grabbing an appetizer with my loved ones.
Get Your Bearings
Another key can be knowing your location and how to get around. I’ve lived in New York and Chicago, so I know my way around the neighborhoods and how the subways work, and pulling up a location on my phone is more than enough for me to find my way in either place.
However, I’ve never been to Seattle, so looking at maps and familiarizing myself with what’s where will be a much more important part of planning that trip so I don’t end up lost when I get there.
Identify what you need to focus on in preparation for each trip for a smooth journey to avoid hiccups in the moment.
Start the Day Off Right
Each morning of your trip, it’s a good idea to review your plans with everyone. Not only will it put you all on the same page, but it will help you remember which important tickets, confirmation numbers, or reservation details you need to bring along that day for your planned activities.
Making Healthy Choices to Avoid Traveling Stress
Traveling stress skyrockets for me when I feel guilty about it, so I’m trying to make healthy choices wherever I go.
A few weeks ago, I bought a Ringly ring. Ringly is a fitness tracker that syncs to your phone but looks like jewelry. I’d been wanting a tracker for a while, and the design of these adorable pieces made me finally get on board.
You charge it in a ring box and manage it from an app on your phone, and no one would ever know from looking at it that it’s a tracker.
Because of this new tracker, I can see how much walking I’m doing each weekend. The weekend in Indy, I walked 9.2 miles. And in NYC, we planned in time to walk the High Line and the bottom half of Central Park. We ended up walking 25.5 miles total!
I also try to choose healthier food choices most of the time without sacrificing the experience.
Enjoying the Moment to Avoid Traveling Stress
Finally, the stress-busting key for me is enjoying the fun parts of traveling. Those moments have to outweigh the stress, or it’s not worth it!
In NYC, we:
Ate at Bobby Flay’s Gato
Saw the new show Amélie
Spent a day at Chelsea Market
Walked the High Line
Had a ball at Waitress, including the perfect-serving-size, tiny Key Lime and Marshmallow Pies at intermission (And they raised $20,000 dollars in a little auction at the end of the show for charity!)
Indulged in the special Easter brunch menu at Tom Colicchio’s Craft
Explored Central Park
With more crazy weekends ahead of me, I hope my planning helps me stay sane!
Tips for Your Travels
If you need more tips to make it through your next trip and traveling stress, these can help:
My grandparents had a Chihuahua that lived to be 20 years old. Suzy had her own knitted sweaters to wear when she went outside. Every night, Grandma cooked and cut up liver in tiny, bite-sized pieces for Suzy’s dinner.
I’m not sure what the life expectancy and living arrangements for most dogs were in the 1950s and 1960s, but I would wager that Suzy’s life was particularly plush for that era. When I came along in 1968, my parents gave me the middle name of Sue. I often wondered if this was a happy coincidence or a tribute to that beloved Chihuahua.
Today, I have a yellow Labrador retriever puppy named Harvey. Grandpa’s name was Harvey. Touché.
Americans love their pets. Take a stroll through your local big-box pet supplies chain, and the number of things a person can buy for their animals will amaze you. Strollers, raincoats, probiotics, gluten-free and vegan dog food, and even memory foam mattresses. Within just a few miles of my house, Harvey can go to a doggy day camp, swim at an indoor pool just for pooches, and later have his hair and nails done at the pet spa.
Your pet pampers you in different ways. Owning a pet lowers stress, reduces blood pressure, and raises mental sharpness. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that petting a dog for 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while also lowering the stress hormone cortisol.
Pets can open up a lonely world and get you out of bed in the morning. Walking a dog (or a cat, if you are particularly brave and the cat is extremely cooperative) is good exercise. Those of us with an empty nest find a new sense of purpose. And nurturing a beloved animal gives us unconditional love in return.
An older person with a pet companion can be a heartwarming love match. I reached out to Stacey Teager, from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, for some advice for those who are looking to add a pet to their home in later years.
Make sure your pet gets regular checkups and immunizations. Have your animal spayed or neutered.
Never give your pet “people” medications. Always consult a veterinarian before medicating your pet.
Have a plan in place with your family or close friends for caring for your pet should you become sick and need to be hospitalized or stay in a nursing facility.
Match your pet with your physical capabilities. My 50-pound Labrador retriever puppy can drag my mother down the sidewalk. This is dangerous for both her and the dog. A quieter, smaller animal is a better choice for her to walk around the neighborhood.
Despite my grandmother’s loving intentions, don’t feed your pet table scraps or human food. Animals can get overweight and unhealthy with just a few added ounces. If you like to bake, there are lots of recipes for animal treats that use ingredients found in your pantry.
Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.
Some friends and I made a New Year’s resolution to climb a mountain in Colorado and circled a date in July on the calendar. To prepare, one friend decided to change one thing – just one.
As a hospital nurse practitioner, she decided to take only the stairs throughout the day. She climbed to the 5th floor for daily rounds, down to her office, back up to the 3rd floor for clinics. You get the idea. When July rolled around, her legs were toned and her lungs were strengthened to the point that she climbed that mountain and lived to tell about it. One simple change was all it took – pretty impressive.
Many people set ambitious nutrition and fitness goals for the New Year. If you’re anything like me, those ambitious goals are scrapped by Super Bowl Sunday. What if we all committed to making just one change for the coming year? What if we circled a date on the calendar (January 2 doesn’t count) and stuck to it? Would the cumulative effect make us healthier?
Some small changes you could make to your eating and fitness habits:
Start by switching out your afternoon vending machine snack with a piece of fruit and some nuts one day a week.
Is lunch a fast food adventure? Switch those large fries with a small order of fries, and get water instead of soda. Better yet, trade your fast food meal with a lunch you packed yourself once a week.
Walking more is one thing we all can add to our daily lives, and it can be easier than you think. Try taking one full lap around your local big-box store before you start shopping. Chances are you’ll add an extra quarter of a mile to your daily mileage.
Tai Chi is a wonderful exercise to add. Chris Cady-Jones coordinates Tai Chi for Balance in our Omaha market. She says, “Tai Chi is a low impact exercise gaining popularity due to its positive effects on social and mental well-being, improved balance, and physical functioning. It also reduces your risk for falls.”
We won’t all climb a real mountain in 2016. But by making just one small change in our everyday lives, we might climb our own personal mountain toward a healthier and more active New Year.
Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of two terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.
I’ve changed my diet, organized my life, and made healthier choices, so the last and biggest thing on the list is exercise.
I don’t like to exercise, as I think a lot of us don’t. I’m competitive, so I liked playing sports as a kid, but as an adult, exercising by myself is boring and hard work. If I had a gym membership and could read on a treadmill, it might be different. But as it is, it’s hard to make myself do it.
But if I can (for the most part) give up candy, completely abandon soda, and stop drinking coffee for a month, I can handle anything!
I started by doing a muscle-strengthening yoga routine every day, which was a great way to start for me. It wasn’t too intense, it was calming, and it really helped me regain some flexibility and balance I’d lost over the years.
Now, I’ve been doing P90X. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it used to have infomercials on TV, which automatically makes me suspicious. But I actually know a number of people who have done it, and my goal is less to get a killer six-pack and more to get in better shape, so I don’t really need it to live up to all its TV promises.
I borrowed the DVDs from a friend, so I didn’t spend all of the money they’re talking about. I’m also not following all of their meal plans or the exact exercise plan. Each day you’re supposed to do a different workout for a different part of your body, and they’re each about an hour and a half long with warmups and cool downs.
I usually can’t make it through the whole thing yet; they’re really difficult! I also do them more like every other day because I’m so sore the day after. They make you pour sweat, and they make you want to lie on the ground in your own sweat puddle to catch your breath.
But I can already see some improvements! And that’s really satisfying. Am I out running yet? No (it’s been so rainy!). But I am getting cardio and strengthening done, in my own bedroom no less.
Plus, I’ve found some new interests by doing them. For instance, there’s a kickboxing workout that I love, so maybe in the future, I might try kickboxing classes!
Do I think I’ll stick with this level of workout forever? Definitely no! Eventually, I’d like to mix things like this up with other activities, like yoga, runs, and more simple workouts. Once it’s a habit, it will really be more about doing something every day.
It’s all about finding the things that will keep you interested, engaged, and MOVING.
There are so many reasons (and studies on) why you should exercise. Mayo Clinic breaks it down perfectly: Exercise controls weight, fights health conditions and diseases, improves your mood, boosts your energy, and helps you sleep.
And Rally, our wellness tool, knows how important it is, too. It has tons of great missions to get you moving, like exercise 30 minutes every day, work up a sweat 3x a week, swim 30 minutes, and work your core, as well as weightlifting and walking missions.
So to help you get on a great fitness track that will entertain you and doesn’t require an expensive package, I’ve rounded up some activities for you to try for some of these missions.