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Four tips for staying healthy this holiday season

The simple act of washing your hands will decrease the risk of illness for you and your family this holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Gigante) The simple act of washing your hands will decrease the risk of illness for you and your family this holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Gigante)

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The Military Health System can’t guarantee you’ll have a holly, jolly holiday season. But following these health and wellness tips may help make this the best time of the year.

Wash your hands. 

It’s simple but powerful advice, not only to avoid getting sick but to avoid spreading germs, said Dr. Terry Adirim, a pediatric emergency physician and deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Services Policy and Oversight.

“At the very least, you should wash your hands before handling food, before eating, and after using the bathroom,” she said. Other activities that call for hand-washing afterward include changing a diaper, caring for someone who’s sick, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands, and touching a pet or other animal.

For the most effective technique, Adirim passed along this advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC: Turn on the tap to wet hands – cold water works as well as warm – then turn it off. Apply soap, and rub your hands together to create lather. Keep at it long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while scrubbing the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Turn the water back on to rinse off the soap, and then dry.

Keep food hot, or cold. 

Temperature plays a critical role in preventing the bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illnesses, said Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Donald Smith, a Veterinary Corps food safety officer with the Defense Health Agency.

Smith recommends using a food thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and other cooked foods is high enough to kill germs. For both hot and cold foods in the holiday spread, make sure any leftovers are stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers within two hours, he said.

Limit drinking. 

“Alcohol should be something you perhaps enjoy for a special occasion,” such as a glass of champagne to ring in the New Year or a glass of wine with a holiday meal, said Army Maj. Kathryn Berryman, a physician at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. But too much alcohol can lead to risky behaviors that endanger well-being, such as getting behind the wheel or engaging in unprotected sex.

Too much alcohol also leads to long-term health problems including heart disease and cancer. “The more you drink, the more quickly you become physically dependent and also build a tolerance,” Berryman said.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, defines one drink as 12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol content, 5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol content, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with 40 percent alcohol content.

According to the NIAAA, low-risk drinking for men is no more than four drinks on a single day, and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women, it’s three drinks on a single day, and seven drinks per week. The numbers for women are lower because body composition and other factors typically cause women to feel the effects of alcohol more quickly than men.

Low-risk drinking doesn’t mean no risk, according to the NIAAA. People who stick to these guidelines still may have problems if they drink too quickly, have other health concerns, or are older than 60. Also, mixing alcohol with prescription and over-the-counter medications can be deadly.

Take a walk in the woods.

Exercise burns calories and helps clear the mind, and being around nature may be an added boost. Patricia Deuster, director of the USU Consortium for Health and Military Performance, is lead investigator of a team of researchers exploring whether nature has healing powers.

“I’ve always relieved my stress by going outside,” said Deuster, a nationally ranked marathoner, skydiver, and former tennis pro. “I spend time in nature every day. I know how healing it is for me, how it makes me relax and forget about all the stressful stuff.”

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