The holidays are a time of celebration: family gatherings, glittering lights, and maybe even long-distance travel. But along with all of the holiday fun comes disruption to your routine—a fact that could put you at heightened risk of certain health hazards.
Now is the perfect time to take stock of your holiday plans, with an eye toward your health and safety. By making a few key decisions in advance, you can enjoy the most magical time of year without the threat of suffering a scary health episode. Read on for seven hazards experts say to look out for, so you can make the most of your holiday season.
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You may look forward to your holiday travel plans all year, but experts say you should take care to avoid one mistake while on the road: forgetting your medicine.
“Many people forget to pack their medications, or simply forget to take them while they are away,” says Nathan Fisher, DC, a chiropractor based in Illinois. “To avoid this, make a list of your medications and make sure to pack them when you travel.”
Fisher also recommends checking the expiration date of any medications you are bringing with you so you don’t run out mid-trip, and contacting your doctor if you have any questions about potential changes in your routine—including what to do if you miss a dose.
If over the holidays you find yourself exercising in unfamiliar places, experts say you could be at increased risk of exercise injuries.
“If you’re committed to your fitness routine and also traveling for the holidays, it’s important to take extra care when going for a run in a new neighborhood or using new equipment at an unfamiliar gym,” Caroline Grainger, an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer at FitnessTrainer Personal Trainer Certification, tells Best Life. “While this isn’t a huge hazard, there are increased risks of getting lost, getting hit by cars, or getting hurt on unfamiliar equipment.”
During the holidays, many people abandon their exercise routines altogether. While it’s fine—and sometimes even necessary—to take a break from working out, experts say you should be cautious about letting it derail your fitness efforts for longer than you intend.
“Many people find themselves too busy during the holiday season to fit in regular exercise,” says Fisher. “However, physical activity is an important factor in maintaining good health. To get some exercise [over the holidays], consider going for a walk with friends or family, or setting aside time each day to do some light stretching or yoga,” he suggests.
Holiday foods may be an obvious catalyst for allergies, but experts say certain gifts can cause the same unintended reaction.
“While foods are a no-brainer here, other gifts like lotions, cosmetics, bath bombs, and even some clothing items have the potential to trigger allergic reactions,” says Grainger. “Always ask about someone’s allergies before buying for them, and always check all of your gifts—even the ones you might not suspect—to make sure they’re free of any allergens.”
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You’re likely already aware that overindulging in sweet treats or high-calorie meals can undermine your health if you keep it up for long enough. However, you may not realize that holiday meals can pose a far more acute threat: that of foodborne illness.
“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people take extra care when preparing holiday meals, including washing hands and surfaces often, cooking meat thoroughly, and avoiding cross-contamination,” notes Erin Blakely, MSW, a licensed nursing home administrator and gerontology specialist. “As someone working in hospitals and nursing homes, our admission rates also increase around the holidays due to several of these circumstances,” she tells Best Life.
According to the CDC, it’s important to be especially cautious when thawing meats, preparing raw dough, or eating any food that’s served buffet-style, as these are common sources for foodborne illness outbreaks.
Whether the result of stressful family gatherings or a little too much holiday cheer at the office party, Blakely adds that another common holiday health hazard is alcohol poisoning. That’s why it’s best to limit your alcohol intake over the holidays to the recommended amounts and avoid binge drinking, which can wreak havoc on your health.
“Anyone who consumes too much alcohol too quickly may be in danger of an alcohol overdose,” explains the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “This is especially true of individuals who engage in binge drinking, defined as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher, typically occurring after a woman consumes four drinks or a man consumes five drinks in about two hours,” their experts warn.
According to Nancy Mitchell, RN, a registered nurse and contributing writer at Assisted Living, many people overlook a serious threat associated with holiday travel: that of suffering a blood clot during an extended flight. “The holiday is a high-travel season, with most people going to visit family across the country (and internationally),” she explains. “One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is sitting for their entire flight, since extended sitting reduces circulation to your extremities. It’s why you may feel your legs going numb during your trip.”
Mitchell says this can be especially dangerous for diabetics or people who have a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). “Poor circulation can aggravate symptoms and encourage blood clots to form—these can be life-threatening. Ideally, you should take a short walk in the aisle every 30 minutes to an hour to keep your blood flowing,” she says. Wearing compression socks can also help minimize your risk.