Holiday season is generally joyous– but it has a dark side.

Any time you have an abundance of high calorie food mixed with a high number of festive gatherings and an equally high amount of stress, you’re looking at a perfect recipe for disaster.

Following are five general tips for making sure your holiday season remains both healthy and happy.

Fight stress

Stress makes you fat, lowers immunity and screws up your thinking. It can depress immunity (so that you’re more likely to get sick in the first place) and slow recovery. Take a short break from your routine, sit quietly, close your eyes and do some deep breathing—even four to five minutes will calm you down and lower blood pressure. And take extra helpings of vitamin C and B-complex, both of which are eaten up by stress. Consider some herbal adaptagens (like ashwaganda, rhodiola and schisandra). Adaptagens work in the body like a thermostat, turning down the heat when you’re too hot (stressed), and warming it up when you’re too cold (fatigued).

Don’t Neglect Your Immune System

Here’s where supplements can really come in handy. Though extra vitamin C is always a good idea, zinc is equally important- take 15-50 mg a day. Probiotics give the immune system a charge by producing enzymes that promote health, keeping the gut healthy and preventing bad microbes from growing and causing disease. Sambucol® is a unique black elderberry extract rich in immune supporting flavonoids. An Israeli study showed that it shortened the duration of flu symptoms. L-theanine is a wonderfully relaxing amino acid found in green tea that stimulates alpha wave activity in the brain associated with a relaxed yet alert mental state. (Make sure to buy products formulated with SunTheanine, as it’s the most clinically studied and purest form of theanine available.) Olive leaf complex is effective against a host of microbes. (I personally take Barlean’s Olive Leaf Complex on a daily basis both for its ability to goose the immune system and for its ability to lower blood pressure.

And curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory; since inflammation can drag down the immune system anything that reduces inflammation is going to be beneficial. (My personal recommendation: CuraMed by Terry Naturally.)

Fit in Fitness

In the time crunch of the holidays one of the first things we tend to neglect is fitness. But fitness doesn’t have to mean a trip to the gym, or even a 3 mile run. The latest research on high intensity training shows that you can get a lot of fitness (and fat burning) in much less time than you might imagine. (Think Rocky running those stairs in Philadelphia—probably less than 90 seconds!) You can devise a “mini-circuit” that lasts less than five minutes and you can do almost anywhere. Example: Run in place for a minute, do 20 jumping jacks, drop down for 10 push-ups and follow up with 20 chair squats. Two sets like that and you’ll be breathing like you ran the marathon. Variations are endless. Even a brisk five-minute walk will clear your head, get your heart rate up and improve your mood! For more of a challenge, run full out for a minute, slow down and walk for another minute then repeat. End with a one-minute cool-down. Total time investment: five minutes. If you’re ambitious, throw in some push-ups!

Eat Protein

In case you hadn’t noticed, holiday food is carb and sugar heavy. Sugar depresses the immune system, and high carb meals can cause a precipitous drop in blood sugar leading to a huge decrease in energy and a hugeincrease in cravings (usually for more high sugar food!) Protein speeds up the metabolism, has far less of an effect on blood sugar than carbs, and is needed to make virtually everything in the body from muscles to neurotransmitters. Eat it at every meal and snack.

Use this trick to prevent weight gain

In a number of studies, Penn State researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, found that folks who ate a small green salad or a cup of non-creamy soup (about 100 calories worth of either) spontaneously consumed about 12% less calories during the main meal.

If you follow these five suggestions you’ll go a long way towards preventing the holiday season from being all about expanded waistlines and diminished vitality. And you’ll be doing yourself—and your health—a huge favor.

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