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Holiday planning helps cope with chronic illness
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A little motivation and moderation may be the best strategy for individuals with chronic illnesses to survive the holidays with their health intact.
Coping with a chronic illness such as diabetes, hypertension or congestive heart failure and the constant monitoring required is already stressful, said Jane Clary, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. The holiday season, with the temptation of sugar- and-fat-laden foods and interruptions in normal activity patterns, can compound the stress on persons with health problems.
“The holidays bring more social activities that can easily translate into later nights and less sleep,” Clary said. “It is important to get plenty of rest and keep disruptions to a minimum if you have a chronic illness.”
Physical stress can cause the body to require additional calories, protein and micronutrients. People with diabetes, for example, should continue to eat nourishing meals and prepare healthy snacks in a serving size compatible with their individual eating plan.
“Guessing the size of a food serving is an inaccurate way to judge just how much you are eating,” Clary said.
During the holidays, people are bombarded with foods, particularly desserts high in added fats and sugars. A person on a diet should pay attention to what he or she is eating, said Brent Fountain, a registered dietitian and Extension nutrition specialist.
“We often use the holidays as a reason to relax the rules,” he said. “We see a variety of good desserts and think we need to try them all right then and there.”
Starving all day to graze a seemingly limitless line of party foods all night is not a good idea, according to basic nutrition principles. Neither is forgoing exercise, whether remaining at home or traveling, Fountain said.
“You need to be physically active,” he explained. “Take time this season to enjoy outside activities with family and friends.”
Clary said people tend to consume more calories than they think during the holidays.
“Overeating and inactivity can lead to weight gain, so don't pattern your eating after holiday parties,” she said.
Persons with chronic illnesses also should pay attention to their medical regimen, she said. Pharmacy hours can vary during the holidays and staff may need to order certain medications in advance because of shipping and delivery changes.
“Keep tabs on prescription refills and the amounts of medications and medical supplies already on hand,” Clary said. “You don't want to find out on Christmas Eve that you are out of an item that you need to maintain your health.”
Some pharmacies extend services to customers with chronic illnesses during the holiday season, said Shannon Barrett, pharmacy director at MSU's John Longest Student Health Center.
“Ask your pharmacist if he or she can refill a prescription in advance, should you anticipate traveling,” she said. “Many pharmacies will provide a copy of a prescription for persons who need this type of documentation for a flight or special circumstance.”
Obtaining vaccinations against influenza and other communicable diseases is another way to maintain health at home or on the road. Wash hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds to avert many infections transmitted by touching, Clary said.
Seeking advice from health care professionals can be beneficial, Fountain noted.
“Any changes in your routine are important, particularly if you are planning to travel any length of time for the holidays or change your meal patterns drastically,” he said. “Consult your physician, who may suggest you work with a registered dietitian, nutritionist or other health professional to minimize the effect of changes in your routine.”
Visiting a support group of individuals who share health problems can assist coping during the holiday season, Clary said.
“You may feel better knowing that you're not alone, and you may also learn from others who have the same or similar health condition,” she said.
Vigilance, with a good dose of awareness and a positive attitude, is the best preventative against further health complications during the holidays, Clary explained.
“A person with a chronic illness must monitor his or her health daily,” she said. “If you use your knowledge about your illness to make good choices, you will enjoy many more holidays in the future.”