Healthy Holiday Habits

Isabel Valdez, physician assistant and assistant professor of general internal medicine in the Department of Medicine, shares some healthy reminders for the holiday season.

A colorful tray of shaped holiday cookies.

Diet and alcohol use

Make room for indulgences and don’t shame yourself for enjoying food. Prepare for a larger meal by consuming less the day before or having a healthy snack prior to going out. Eat in moderation, focus on portion control and use small plates when possible. Sugary drinks like punch, eggnog, and hot chocolate are packed with calories, so pour smaller servings and sip slowly.

Mocktails are a great alternative to alcoholic drinks, but they are not calorie-free. Think of mocktails as a dessert.

Remember that portion control is just as crucial with wine or cocktails as with foods. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the standard size of a glass of wine is 5 ounces, while the standard serving for a cocktail is 1.5 ounces of liquor. If you count calories, keep these numbers in mind:

  • Red wine – 130 calories
  • Shot of vodka or gin – 100 calories
  • Beer – 150 calories or more


A common excuse to skip your winter workout is, “It’s too cold and dark outside.” Maintain your routine by bundling up with several light layers that you can easily remove as your body temperature increases during your walk or run. Stay hydrated just as you would in summer; drink plenty of water before and after your jog. Stretching is crucial and shouldn’t be skipped, especially in the winter.

A big issue with outdoor activities in the winter is that it gets darker earlier. Find safety in numbers by walking with a friend or exercising as a family. Bring a flashlight to light your path so you don’t trip. Wear bright reflective clothing while you exercise outdoors. When exercising indoors at a gym, clean your equipment before and after use to prevent transmission of any virus. Space yourself as much as you can by leaving a machine unused between you and others or go at off times when fewer people are working out.


Avoid using food or alcohol as comfort during stressful times. Journaling can be a healthy alternative. Write one positive affirmation for the day or scribble a ‘Thank You’ to yourself or a loved one. Consider speaking with a therapist, and be sure to check resources available from your employer or educational institution if you’re a student. For virtual options, try apps such as Calm, TalkSpace or Sanvello. Remember to check in on your loved ones as well.


Don’t wait up for Santa; You should aim to get 6-8 hours of sleep each night. Avoid staying up late with holiday tasks by making a to-do list, planning ahead and delegating. For trouble falling and staying asleep, use a mild sedative that is not habit-forming like melatonin or chamomile tea. Avoid alcohol as a sleep aid. Put down your phone 30 minutes to an hour before sleeping and read a book. White noise may help you fall asleep.


As vaccines and testing are more available, holiday gatherings are in full swing, but we should still follow precautions we used before vaccines to lessen the risk of transmitting or contracting any type of seasonal virus. Get vaccinated for both flu and COVID. If you are on the fence about either vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider or check the CDC site for trusted information. Take a COVID test before going to gatherings.

Gathering outdoors is still recommended for holiday parties to help stop the spread of COVID. Wear a mask indoors if you have not had your vaccine, and consider it even if you have. Physically distance or stay for a bit less time to limit exposure. Lastly, if you have any cold-like symptoms, raincheck the party and get tested. You can always extend the holiday celebration by meeting up with family and friends when you’re feeling healthy.

Before your gathering, you can also check out the risk assessment tool created by Dr. James McDeavitt, Baylor executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs.

-By Kathleen Franks, senior communications and corporate affairs associate with the Department of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

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