Staying healthy this festive season
The festive season is rapidly approaching, and with it come opportunities for overindulgence and a break from healthy habits.
While there is little long-term harm in this for most, experts say that it is in the best interests of all to make sure that healthy routines for eating well and staying active do not slide amidst the fun.
Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE, says: "As a nation, we need to ensure our diets are healthier and that we engage in more physical activity. This is particularly the case during the festive season, when healthy routines can easily slide.
"Sedentary lifestyles and poor diets can lead to a range of health problems, and so it is important to ensure we continue to stay active and eat well over the holiday period."
Maintaining a healthy weight
Given how easy it can be to gain a few extra pounds over the festive season, it is important for all to be mindful about maintaining a good weight for optimum health during this period.
But for certain people carrying excess weight can be more of a pressing health issue.
Being overweight and obese were recently revealed as among the main risk factors for ill health in the Chief Medical Officer's first annual report on the nation's health.
High cholesterol and a low intake of fruit and vegetables were also highlighted, with only ten per cent of those aged 11 to 18 achieving the recommended ‘5 A Day' portions, compared with 30 per cent of those aged 19 to 64, and 37 per cent of those aged 65 and over.
NICE's pathway for lifestyle advice on diet and physical activity contains advice on how to maintain and achieve a healthy weight through eating well.
The guidance recommends eating a low-fat diet and avoiding increasing fat and/or calorie intake to maintain optimum health.
People should try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day in place of foods higher in fat and calories, and try to eat as little fried foods, and those high in fat or sugar as possible.
NICE also recommends eating breakfast, watching the portion size of meals and snacks, and to be mindful over how often one is eating.
Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, agrees that to maintain optimum health it is important to watch what one eats, especially during the holiday period.
"We advise people to get try to keep getting their 5-a day during Christmas," she says.
"Fruit and vegetables are low in fat, low in salt and a good swap for snacks. They're good items to snack on if you're trying to keep a healthy weight."
She adds: "On Christmas day itself, it's good to try and stick to a regular meal pattern. Start the day with a small breakfast as you would normally so that you can avoid overeating later on."
Further recommendations from NICE on diet include basing meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, and pasta, and that wholegrain should be chosen where possible.
Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods is also recommended, such as oats, beans, peas, lentils, grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables as well as wholegrain bread, and brown rice and pasta.
While most adults will look forward to having the odd festive tipple, NICE also recommends minimising the calories taken in from alcohol in order to maintain a good weight.
Keep active during the holiday season
In addition to the many temptations for overindulgence, the holiday season brings the opportunity to sit back, spend time watching more television than usual, and to take a bit of a rest.
But while some relaxation is undoubtedly welcome, experts suggest that it is of equal importance to ensure we remain active.
This is especially given the range of long-term health benefits that being physically active can bring.
Professor Kelly says: "Regular physical activity is key for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and can reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by up to 50 per cent.
"It has also been shown to be good for mental wellbeing, which is important during a period that can be stressful for some."
Advice on how one can incorporate more regular physical activity to maintain healthy lifestyles was recently given in NICE's guidance on walking and cycling.
It says that more people should be encouraged to keep fit by incorporating walking and cycling into their everyday lives.
Aimed at organisations such as schools, workplaces and local authorities, the guidance recommends coordinated action to identify and address any barriers that may be discouraging people from walking and cycling more often or at all.
Professor Kelly says: "Walking and cycling is not just beneficial for physical health, it is fun. Our guidance aims to make it easier for people to do this, as well as encourage people to walk or cycle for any journey where you don't really need to take the car."
He adds: "Simple measures, such as walking or cycling more for everyday travel, and keeping such routines during the holiday season, can be effective in ensuring we maintain a good level of physically activity."
Ms Taylor agrees that getting out and about, and staying active over the festive period is an easy, and effective way of maintaining health
"People might feel like they have to join the gym to get fit come the New Year, but there are other ways of staying active," she says.
"For example, walking short distances rather than taking the bus or the tube is a good way of including exercise into your daily routines."
Visit NICE's pathway on physical activity for guidance and recommendations on physically activity in settings such as the workplace, and in schools, and for more lifestyle advice on diet.
12 December 2012