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EXPERTS AVAILABLE: MU Experts Offer Tips for a Healthy, Stress-Free Holiday Season

November 29th, 2011

Story Contact: MU News Bureau, 573-882-6211,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. –The holiday season is supposed to be merry and bright, but for many people, the seemingly endless to-do lists of decorating, shopping, gift-wrapping and parties can be exhausting. University of Missouri researchers say a few simple steps can help families reduce stress and stay healthy during the busy holiday season.

Beth Richards, director of the Missouri Arthritis and Osteoporosis Program (MAOP) based at the MU School of Health Professions, recommends slowing down to enjoy family time rather than worrying about preparing perfect holiday meals and wrapping flawless gifts.

“Rather than having one person prepare an entire holiday meal, ask family members and guests to bring side dishes, appetizers or drinks,” Richards said. “Instead of stressing about decorating the tree or making desserts from scratch, invite family and friends to help and enjoy time spent together.”

According to Richards, reducing stress also can reduce the effects of heart disease, digestive problems, immune disorders, mental health disorders and chronic pain. She advises simply taking time to slow down, relax and enjoy the holidays.

Tasty treats and family feasts are plentiful during the holidays and avoiding the urge to overindulge can be difficult. Richards says maintaining an exercise routine is the key to staying healthy and avoiding unwanted weight gain during the winter months. Keeping a routine schedule for exercise and bedtime also will ease the transition into the New Year.

“Plan ahead for indulgences like desserts or high-calorie drinks, and mix nutritious items with small portions of the not-so-healthy traditional holiday foods,” Richards said. “Making time for exercise, even in cold weather, is important for maintaining a healthy weight and managing symptoms of arthritis and chronic pain.”

Holidays can be challenging for people who have respiratory illness or chronic lung disease if family members or friends smoke at gatherings. Shawna Strickland, director for the Respiratory Therapy Program in the MU School of Health Professions, says exposure to cigarette smoke is dangerous for children who have asthma or adults who suffer from chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

“One way to minimize the impact on the person with respiratory illness is to ask the smoker to go outside while smoking a cigarette,” Strickland said. “Keeping the house smoke-free can lessen the chance of an asthma episode or worsening of lung disease.”