Joy to the world! Festive wellbeing for all…

It’s Christmas time. The advent doors are opening and the chances are you’re starting to stock up on festive treats. But are we really taking care of our wellbeing when we load up our trolleys with seasonal fayre?

While we all know that over-indulgence is never a good thing, a group of in-house dentists from White Glo has come up with a shopping list to help us make wise choices when we reach for the stollen and mince pies this month, to help us to reduce the 200g of sugar we could consume on Christmas Day (yes, in just one day). At four times the recommended daily amount, any reductions we can make have to be a good thing.

We all know that the chances are our normal health routines will suffer over the festive season. Constant picking and snacking puts a strain on our teeth as they don’t have a chance to recover between onslaughts (dentist James Buchanon from White Glo suggests brushing teeth once more than usual each day of the festive season) and may mean we end up consuming far more calories than is healthy. If you want to keep an eye on what you eat while still indulging in some festive cheer these ideas from White Glo may help you to make wise choices:

– Waitrose all butter mince pies contain 11.5g of sugar but Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s contain 24.8g and 20.5g respectively.
– Chocolate lover? Go for Lindt or Ferreo Rocher for lower sugar options rather than Chocolate Oranges, Quality Street or Cadbury Heros.
– Like a biscuit with your tea? Shortbread is a better choice than chocolate coated options if you want to keep a check on sugar intake.
– Coleman’s cranberry sauce has just 4.1g of sugar per tablespoon whereas the Asda and Sainsbury versions contain over double that amount.
– Go for a non-iced Christmas cake such as Waitrose rich fruit Christmas cake.
– Asda Christmas puddings are lower in sugar than those from Morrisons and Iceland.
– Tesco Finest Stollen is a healthier choice compared with Morrisons.

If you’re lucky, your pupils and their families will shower you with gifts at the end of term in heartfelt gratitude at the extra miles you go for them each and every day. But this can be problematic. Dr Sally Norton of www.vavistalife.com suggests it’s worth dropping hints about how much you love dark chocolate. “It’s good for you so you can enjoy it in moderation,” she explains. “Failing that, give the rest away before you give in to temptation.”

Sleep in heavenly peace…

Making good choices is the goal, but no one denies how hard that can be at the end of a busy term when many feel exhausted. And with the festive season around the corner, some of us will be rushing around getting ready for Christmas. “STOP!” Dr Norton says. “You seriously do need around 8 hours sleep a night to stay healthy. It is essential for keeping mind in good shape and weight under control too. So, get your 8 hours sleep in, regardless. It will make you more efficient anyway.”

So, a nightcap is in order then? Perhaps not! Dr Norton urges that washing away the term’s stresses with alcohol is not a great plan. “It reduces sleep quality and piles on the pounds as well as affecting your health in numerous ways,” she explains. “Just a unit, or two at most, a day should be your limit – you’ll feel all the better for it come the New Year!”

Keep on running…

Clearly our wellbeing over the festive season isn’t just linked to the food choices we make. Dr Sam Blacker, Reader in Exercise Physiology & Nutrition in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Chichester says that it’s really important to keep active over the festive season. “A recent research paper showed that even a single day of high fat intake can cause negative metabolic consequences such as impaired insulin sensitivity and elevated blood glucose concentration the next day in the two hours after a sugary drink, which can contribute to longer term weight gain,” he explains. “However, regular physical activity has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and keep resting blood glucose concentrations at a normal range. Even breaking up long periods of sitting with periods of walking (e.g. 5-10 min every hour) can help promote these types of metabolic benefits so it’s very worthwhile taking regular physical activity breaks away from the TV!”

There’s no need for us to do a particular type of exercise to nurture wellbeing over the festive season. Any type is better than none. Dr Blacker suggests that, “It is important that if you are not very physically active already you should build up the amount and intensity of activity gradually over a number of weeks. Walking so that you are just out of breath for 30 min a day would be a good target. Research also shows that walking outside and spending time in a natural setting such as the countryside or coast has additional psychological benefits. If you already undertake regular physical activity like walking you could use an app like MyFitnessPal, Strava or Runkeeper to look for new routes or challenges with other users in your local area.”

If you fancy stretching yourself over the festive period, Dr Blacker says that, “The latest physical activity guidelines also encourage resistance training (like push-ups, sit-ups or squats) and lots of fitness trails for adults have now been built in parks and open spaces. You could set yourself some challenges between colleagues to do some of these activities at home or in a local park.”

Keeping up the good work…

Being mindful of making great food choices and getting the exercise we need may well be easier during the holidays than once back at work in January. Dr Blacker has suggestions: “To maintain good habits when back at work in January it might help to form small groups and agree times you can undertake physical activity together then encourage each other to keep to these. Other people like to set targets like taking part in a park run or completing a 10 km race.”

The key to success is building steadily on your current physical activity levels. But if you find it tough to stick to new year resolutions, don’t worry. According to Dr Blacker, “some research suggests starting them in March is actually better when the days are longer and weather is warmer, so if you slip up in January don’t disappear and try to use the 1st March as a new start point!”

With teacher wellbeing at last gaining some interest, and even being prioritised in some schools, it makes sense to do what we can to stay well over the festive season. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean complete abstinence! But some savvy choices here and there just might do us all some good.


Author: Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth holmes photo

After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.

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