December 25: On the first day of Christmas… eat slowly
The preparation has taken weeks, so on the big day, tuck in slowly to your Christmas lunch and savour every mouthful. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signals from your stomach that you’ve had enough.
“Eating more slowly stops you piling on too much and reduces calories by around 20 per cent,” says food psychologist Brian Wansink.
December 26: On the second day of Christmas… go for a walk
Burn off those mince pies and clear your head by stepping out with the family on a healthy stroll. The National Trust runs guided walks with a festive feel, winter solstice wanders, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day strolls, and health walks in January.
December 27: On the third day of Christmas… watch comedy
The American College of Cardiology recently suggested the positive effects of funny films on cardiac health: lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and boosting the immune system. So try to squeeze a bit more “laughtercise” into your life by watching a few more funny family DVDs.
December 28: On the fourth day of Christmas… go ice-skating
Ice skating is a good form of cardio exercise that improves balance and coordination. The movements work out small stabiliser muscles that don’t normally get exercised in day-to-day life, and it’s particularly good for the muscles around the hips, knees and ankles.
December 29: On the fifth day of Christmas… get cracking
Bypass the Quality Street and stock up with chestnuts to roast and “proper” nuts to crack. Chestnuts are low-fat, nutrient-dense and, deliciously warm from the oven, make a great snack in front of a film.
Or opt for Brazil nuts – just four provide your total recommended intake to fight heart disease, premature ageing and cancer.
December 30: On the sixth day of Christmas… sing out loud
The carol services may be over until next year but get into the habit of singing. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that choristers’ heartbeats synchronise when they sing together, bringing about a calming effect that is as beneficial to health as yoga.
December 31: On the seventh day of Christmas… toe the line
Firstly, buy party shoes in the afternoon when your feet are at their largest. And think about comfort as well as looks: “A shoe with a platform under the toe provides height but lessens the drop from your heel to your toes, putting less pressure on your arch,” explains podiatrist Serena Naidoo.
“Open-toe shoes provide more room and if you can’t wiggle your toes in your shoes, they’re too tight.”
January 1: On the eighth day of Christmas… consider a dry January
Taking a month off alcohol can help prevent serious illness in later life. New research from the Royal Free hospital in London shows how abstention can heal the liver and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Patients who gave up for four weeks were also at lower risk of developing cancer and diabetes. Volunteers had a 40 per cent reduction in liver fat and they lost about three kilograms in weight.
January 2: On the ninth day of Christmas… go to bed earlier
It’s tempting to get into the habit of late nights and lie-ins over the festive break, but beware: “A change to your usual bedtime routine can throw your sleeping patterns out of sync,” warns sleep expert Sammy Margo. “Lessen its impact by trying to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time.
January 3: On the 10th day of Christmas… put on Barry White
A fifth of couples reckon sex at Christmas is better than at any other time of the year – with more than a quarter claiming they’d prefer to get jiggy with a partner than receive presents.
And that extra sex is good news for your health: it not only boosts your heart health, relieves stress and boosts immunity, it’s also great for your self-esteem and wellbeing, and can even make you look younger!
January 4: On the 11th day of Christmas… think SPA
Diabetes expert Dr Sheri Goldberg says:
“Studies show that people who interrupt their sedentary time by standing up – for as little as 60 seconds – have a smaller waist diameter.” So now’s a good time to up your spontaneous physical activity (SPA) by using any excuse to keep moving in your everyday life.
January 5: On the 12th day of Christmas… play Monopoly
Switch off the box and get out the playing cards or board games. This allows kids to practise essential cognitive skills such as problem solving.
The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex especially benefit from playing board games and are responsible for complex thought and memory formation.