Breakfast Is Good for Grades

To Your Health
February, 2020 (Vol. 14, Issue 02)

By Editorial Staff

With all the talk about weight loss and the benefits of intermittent fasting, sometimes it’s easy to think everyone should be losing weight and skipping meals. Certainly not the case when it comes to the average child. Kids need food – and lots of it, especially if they’re active. That starts with a healthy breakfast; if nothing else, to ensure they perform well in the classroom.

Case in point: a study published in Frontiers in Public Health that evaluated academic performance among secondary-school students based on the frequency with which they ate breakfast. Children who rarely ate breakfast scored, on average, two grades lower in various course subjects (assessment tests) compared to students who regularly ate breakfast. Breakfast habits were evaluated based on self-reports by students on all food and drink consumed over a one-week period (seven days), culminating on the day of testing. Researchers defined “breakfast” as any food or drink containing at least 5 percent of total daily energy expenditure consumed before 10:00 a.m. on a school day.

grade a+ - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

So, what’s a good breakfast (beyond the energy requirements stipulated above)? It can vary by the child and their preferences. As long as it’s balanced and as low as possible in sugar / processed carbs (both of which will burn quickly and lead to fatigue later in the day), it doesn’t necessarily matter. Just get your child to the breakfast table and send them off to school in a position to achieve.

More Steps = Longer Life

To Your Health
February, 2020 (Vol. 14, Issue 02)

By Editorial Staff

Sounds simple enough – and research is proving it. If you’re a senior, particularly an older woman, remember this simple formula: more steps equal a longer life. That’s the conclusion of a large U.S. study involving more than 18,000 women (average age: 72 years) from the Women’s Health Study. Participants agreed to wear an accelerometer to track steps during waking hours over a seven-day period. Steps and several measures of stepping intensity were variables assessed, and researchers tracked mortality (death) from any cause over a four-year period to correlate steps taken with mortality.

According to findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, “as few as approximately 4,400 steps/d was significantly related to lower mortality rates compared with approximately 2,700 steps/d. With more steps per day, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7,500 steps/d. ” Just as significant, “Stepping intensity was not clearly related to lower mortality rates after accounting for total steps per day.”

family hiking - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

In other words, it doesn’t really matter how you get your steps as long as you get them! And keep in mind that while this study involved older woman, one can reasonably assume that older men can also benefit from taking a few more steps every day. Talk to your doctor to learn more, especially if you have a health condition that increases your risk of balance / falling issues when walking.

Wanted: An End to Back Pain

To Your Health
August, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 08)

4 Ways to Prevent an All-Too-Common Condition

By Kevin Wong, DC

When was the last time you or someone you know suffered an episode of back pain? Chances are it wasn’t that long ago. It might have forced you to miss work, take painkillers, anti-inflammatories or other medication, or just deal with the pain longer than you wanted to. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do some simple things to try and prevent back pain from happening in the first place? Here are a few easy ones to get you started.

In the new millennium, the health care pendulum has swung from treating symptoms toward prevention. It is a way of thinking that is analogous to going to the dentist for your six-month check-up or taking your car in for regularly scheduled maintenance – you avoid problems before they start, rather than waiting for something to happen and then “dealing with it.” By that time, your car may be in the junk yard and you may be relegated to long-term medication or even surgery.

Back pain is the perfect example of a symptom too many people treat instead of preventing, and the consequences are staggering. It is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old. Approximately one quarter of U.S. adults reported having low back pain lasting at least one whole day in the past three months and 7.6 percent reported at least one episode of severe acute low back pain within a one-year period. Low back pain is also very costly: Approximately 5 percent of people with back pain disability account for 75 percent of the costs associated with low back pain. Americans spend at least $50 billion per year on back pain – and that’s just what gets reported.

Backpain - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

With all that said, how are you going to prevent back pain? Here are four things you can start doing today to reduce your risk of suffering back pain and its costly (physically, emotionally and financially) consequences:

1. Get Adjusted by Your Chiropractor

Your muscles, bones and ligaments are stressed continuously by normal daily activities: driving, sitting at the computer, lifting your kids, doing exercise and countless other things. These little stresses add up over time and misalign the joints of your spine, arms and legs. The misalignments can then lead to muscle tightness, spasms, joint stiffness and pain. Although chiropractors commonly see patients who are in pain, getting spinal tune-ups when you are feeling “fine” will keep you feeling fine. Adjustments will put the bones and joints into healthier positions, which will also help muscle tone.

2. Practice Proper Ergonomics

Think safety: When you make your everyday activities safe to perform, it will help reduce the undue stress on your body.

This includes having your computer work stations at home and at your office set up properly for your body. Generally speaking, the keyboard height should be the same height as when your arms are comfortably at your side with the elbows bent. The mouse should also be close to your dominant wrist while your arms are at your sides.

Avoid poor posture: Whenever you sit, it is safest to sit on a full-back chair with plenty of support. Crossing the ankles is fine, but do not cross your legs. This puts tremendous pressure on the lower back, contributing to back pain. Also, if you are experiencing low back pain, it’s a good idea not to sit on the couch or sofa, since they are typically too soft and unsupportive for the low back.

Low Back Pain:
One Symptom, Many Potential Causes

(Including the Following)
• Strenuous activity, overuse or improper use (repetitive or heavy lifting, vibration, pressure, etc.)

• Physical trauma, injury or fracture

• Obesity (often caused by increased weight on the spine and pressure on the discs)

• Poor muscle tone in the core or stabilizing muscles of the back

• Tightness, spasm, injury and strain of back muscles

• Joint problems (e.g., spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal, which compresses the spinal cord and nerve roots)

• Protruding or herniated (slipped) disk

• Arthritis or degeneration of vertebrae due to stress and the effects of aging – osteoarthritis, spondylitis (inflammation of the spinal vertebrae), compression fractures, etc.

Lift properly: When lifting items, use the legs and the trunk of the body rather than the arms. Always bring objects closer to your abdomen or chest, as that is the center of gravity and support for most people. Try to avoid bending the back while you lift.

Sleep well: The most supportive position for the body during sleep is on your back with a pillow under your knees. The next best position is on your side with a pillow between your knees and your head on a pillow that is thick enough to span the distance of your neck to the shoulders. A neck pillow that is too thin will kink the neck and could lead to neck and upper back pain down the road.

3. Exercise Regularly

We all know how important it is to participate in some type of regular exercise. Some of you already do that. Whether it be walking, playing sports or going to the gym, make sure you set up a program that keeps you consistent. Exercise helps the human body in so many ways, but one of the most important aspects involves stretching and strengthening of your back muscles. Often these muscles are referred to as core muscles of the body because they are located very close to the spine.

The core muscles help move and protect your spine when it is stressed or strained. By keeping them flexible and toned, you prevent pain and injuries from happening. When you are developing an exercise plan, talk to your doctor for ideas on what areas of the body you should specifically focus on to get maximum results, both in terms of overall fitness and protecting the back from injury.

4. Avoid Unhealthy Lifestyle Habits

Stress. Emotional stress can cause muscle tension, which can lead to back pain (it also can lead to heart problems, chemical imbalances, an inability to sleep and a host of other bad things).

It’s always hard to maintain balance in your life between work, family and play, but it goes a long way toward helping your emotional stress.

Reducing stress can be as simple as scheduling some quiet time to be alone, doing yoga or meditation, taking a bath or just sitting and doing breathing exercises. Whatever activity you find relaxing or energizing, take time to do it. Down time allows you to unplug from the world and get grounded. It also allows your body to reset itself so you can deal with the next crisis or problem that’s sure to arise.

Poor nutrition. Watching what you eat is another important factor to consider, because excess weight literally “weighs you down,” which can contribute to back pain. Quite simply, losing excess weight in a healthy manner will take pressure off your lower back and reduce stress on the vertebrae.

It is truly amazing that our society is now making an active transition from listening to symptoms or pain to preventative health care. Now is the time for you to be able to take a more active role in deciding how your future health will play out. Armed with the tips discussed above, you can make changes now that will help your back and your overall well-being for years to come. The power of health is in your hands.


The Back Pain Epidemic

Back pain has become an epidemic in our modern society – up to 85 percent of all people will experience back pain at some time in their life, and it is the fifth most common reason for all physician visits in the United States. According to the statistics, if you’re in a room with three other people, one of you has suffered low back pain for an entire day or more in the previous three months and only one of you (if they’re lucky) will avoid suffering back pain at some point in their lifetime.


Kevin M. Wong, DC, a 1996 graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic West in San Jose, Calif., practices full-time in Orinda, Calif. He is also an instructor for Foot Levelers, Inc.

Fasting: Good for the Heart

To Your Health
January, 2020 (Vol. 14, Issue 01)

By Editorial Staff

Fasting is a buzzword these days because of its potential benefits when it comes not only to weight loss, but also overall health and longevity. Fasting also may be a literal lifesaver for patients who have a heart condition that requires cardiac catheterization – a procedure in which a long, thin tube is threaded from an artery or vein in the groin, neck or arm through blood vessels to the heart.

Catheterization may be done to diagnose a cardiovascular condition, but it also may be done to help treat one, such as in the case of coronary angioplasty or stenting. Regardless, a patient who requires cardiac catheterization generally doesn’t have an altogether healthy heart, which increases the risk of a cardiac event such as a heart attack or stroke.

heart - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

Enter fasting, which research suggests lowers the risk of heart failure or cardiac-related death in patients who’ve undergone catheterization. Among patients tracked for nearly five years following the procedure, those who fasted on a regular basis were more likely to survive compared to patients who did not fast. Other factors that could have impacted survival rates, such as medications, lifestyle behaviors (including heart healthy vs. risky behaviors) and other health issues were taken into account.

Balancing the Brain

To Your Health
January, 2020 (Vol. 14, Issue 01)

By Editorial Staff

Balance and brain health are two important health variables that can suffer dramatically as we age. Fortunately, research suggests improving one can benefit the other, particularly in terms of their interaction.

Researchers have found that senior patients who perform balance exercises improve brain neuroplasticity – essentially the brain’s ability to restructure itself – and reduce cortical overactivation, both of which can benefit overall balance.

In their study, a summary of which appears in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers divided older adults (average age, 65 years) into three groups: one that performed classic balance exercises, another that performed virtual reality balance exercises, and a control group. The study lasted 12 weeks, and neuroimaging studies were conducted at the beginning and end of the 12-week training period.

balancing - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

In reviewing their findings, the researchers concluded: “With age, postural control may become more consciously controlled (cortically). Systematic [balance training] of moderate intensity may reverse age-related cortical over-activations and appear to be a factor mediating neuroplasticity in older adults.” They also found that classical balance exercises significantly increased serum BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), important because “aging or neurodegenerative diseases are associated with a decrease in BDNF expression.” [Italics added]

Getting older? As your doctor for help developing a balance / posture program. Good for your body, good for your brain!

A Pain in the Neck

To Your Health
September, 2008 (Vol. 02, Issue 09)

By John Hanks, DC Far too often, people attribute neck pain to stress and take medication to mask the symptoms. Sound familiar? Fortunately, if you’re a chiropractic patient, you know there’s a better, safer way.

My neck feels OK right now. I can turn my head left and right and down and back. (Well, that bending back thing actually doesn’t feel very good right now.) So, maybe my neck does get a little annoying sometimes. But I have no idea when this periodic discomfort started.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. A report published earlier this year in the medical journal Spine revealed many people are often a little hazy on when their neck pain started. This monumental study, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), started about seven years ago. WHO launched the Bone and Joint Decade and assigned a special task force the job of reviewing all the research about neck and associated disorders, and then evaluating the best treatment options. They reviewed 31,878 citations, 1,203 reviewed papers and four research projects – it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Neck Pain - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

Sure enough, most people often don’t remember when their neck discomfort or pain really got started. Researchers concluded, “There is usually no single cause of neck pain.” Unless you have had an injury to your neck like “whiplash” from an auto accident, neck pain usually sneaks up on you. The study notes neck pain is quite common, and most people simply carry on with their activities of daily living. However, about 5 percent to 10 percent of people develop debilitating symptoms. Unfortunately, even among those folks who do not have disabling pain, the majority find their neck pain is stubborn and recurrent to some degree.

The task force also came up with a new classification of neck pain, which seems to be one of those things researchers like to do. They suggested four grades of neck problems, no matter whether it comes from injury, arthritis or any other cause. To paraphrase:

Grade I: Neck pain that doesn’t interfere with living.
Grade II: Neck pain that does significantly interfere with living.
Grade III:
Neck pain associated with a “pinched nerve,” causing radiating pain, weakness or numbness in the arm.
Grade IV: Neck pain associated with tumors, infections, fractures and other serious conditions.

As you might guess, most neck discomfort is Grade I and II. However, what was quite gratifying from the task force report was the acknowledgement of what doctors of chiropractic already know: “Cervical manipulation is a reasonable option for people with Grade I or II neck pain.”

On a near-daily basis, a patient with a significant neck disorder tells me their pain has decreased and they are more functional as a result of chiropractic care. Recently, a patient with chronic neck pain told me he had been sleeping in a recliner chair since he could not get comfortable enough in bed to sleep through the night. “Hands-on” manual treatment in my office finally improved his condition to the point he could once again join his wife (and their Rottweiler) in bed.

Chiropractors “adjust” the joints, muscles and connective tissues of the body in order to improve motion by reducing restrictions and nerve irritation. Concerning patients with Grade III neck problems including “pinching” or crowding of larger nerves, the Spine article suggests more research is needed to identify the best candidates for manual or manipulative treatment. Of course, chiropractors are the recognized experts in this type of care and are best trained to make that determination.

The renewed interest in neck disorders among clinical researchers has spurred some interesting studies. In the March/April issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT), Canadian scientists have shown that arthritis in the neck might affect balance. This could mean that in cases of poor balance or repeated falls among the elderly, treatment of the cervical spine might have value. This could represent a “top down” strategy, which is a bit different from the “bottom up” approach to balance training more commonly utilized in rehabilitation.

Neck Pain - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

In the February issue of JMPT, a complementary study by New Zealand and Canadian researchers suggested spinal manipulation of the neck can relax muscles in the arms and could be useful in relaxation of the whole body. This implies anything causing tightness in the neck joints also might cause muscle pain in the arms or elsewhere. Since manipulation and manual therapy are primary treatments for neck problems, a doctor of chiropractic should be among the first providers consulted for this type of pain.

So, how fast can a patient with neck pain expect to feel better with chiropractic care? By chance, in the same March issue of JMPT, British authors studied which neck symptoms might respond the quickest to hands-on treatment. Overall, considering all possible neck area complaints, about 70 percent of patients reported immediate favorable responses to manipulation. However, if patients complained about more specific things like headaches, shoulder or arm pain, reduced arm or neck movement, neck pain, or upper or middle back pain, the percentage of those who reported immediate improvement in pain rose to an incredible 95 percent!

The popular humorist Nora Ephron wrote a book titled I Feel Bad About My Neck, in which she describes her thoughts about being a woman getting older. This also has been called the “I Hate My Neck” book. Well, hating your neck won’t make it better, but chances are a trip to the chiropractor will.


John Hanks, DC, is a board-certified chiropractic orthopedist and is certified as a chiropractic sports physician. He currently serves as the senior chiropractic consultant in the Department of Complementary Medicine, Kaiser Permanente, Rocky Mountain Region.

Starting Them Off Wrong

To Your Health
January, 2020 (Vol. 14, Issue 01)

By Editorial Staff

Our children are consuming far too much sugar and they’re starting at an increasingly younger age. That’s a big problem because excess sugar, particularly if it doesn’t come from a natural, whole-food source such as fruit (although too much fruit sugar isn’t good for you, either) can contribute to the same health issues it causes in adults: weight gain, diabetes, cavities and more.

How bad is it? A recent study examined added sugar consumption among U.S. infants and toddlers (ages 6-23 months), using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Findings, which were published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, revealed that during the study window (2011-2016), 84.4 percent of infants and toddlers consumed added sugars on any given day. Yogurt, baby food snacks / treats and sweet bakery products topped the list for infants, while fruit drinks, sugars / sweets and sweet bakery products led the way for toddlers.

baby birthday - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

Overall, toddlers were more likely to consume added sugars than infants, although the likelihood was high in both groups (98.3 percent of toddlers vs. 60.6 percent of infants). Average daily consumption of added sugars.

If you haven’t noticed, sources of added sugar are everywhere. That reality raises two important points: 1) The more you can teach children of any age to avoid added sugar, the better; and 2) If you don’t, they’ll be more likely to suffer the health consequences of living in a sugar-filled world. For American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines on sugar consumption for infants and young children, including ways to satisfy their sweet tooth without added sugar, click here.

Is Eating at Night Bad for Your Heart?

To Your Health
December, 2019 (Vol. 13, Issue 12)

By Editorial Staff

Can’t seem to stop yourself from nightly trips to the fridge and/or pantry? It’s not just your waistline and sleep routine that you’re putting at risk. Eating more calories in the evening is associated with poorer cardiovascular health, according to new research involving more than 100 women.

In the study, researchers examined heart health at baseline and one year later based on seven modifiable risk factors established by the American Heart Association: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, physical activity, diet, weight and smoking. Women averaged 33 years of age at the start of the study and completed one-week food diaries at both time points.

heart - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

Women who consumed more calories after 6 p.m. were more likely to have poorer cardiovascular health compared with women who at less calories at or after that time of day. Each 1 percent increase in caloric intake after 6 p.m. reduced cardiovascular health scores, as did each 1 percent increase in calorie consumption after 8 p.m.

The lesson: Eat plenty of good food throughout the day, but don’t load up on calories late in the day compared to earlier. These findings add to previous research suggesting heavy eating in the evening hours may promote weight gain, slow metabolism, and even impair sleep. Talk to your doctor for more information.

How Much Vitamin D?

To Your Health
December, 2019 (Vol. 13, Issue 12)

By David Seaman, DC, MS, DABCN

Vitamin D deficiency officially emerged as an important risk factor for chronic disease in the early 2000s. This finding was a product of scientific research, rather than a consensus statement from a health policy group or government organization.

It was not until around 2010 that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine came out with an updated official statement about vitamin D needs.1 The IOM [now known as the National Academy of Medicine] is actually a private entity that advises the U.S. government. The IOM set the estimated requirement at 400 IU/day for all age groups and set the upper-level intake at 4,000 IU/day for anyone age 9 or older.

What’s the Basis for the RDA?

This IOM report was met with harsh criticism from vitamin D researchers, none of whom was invited to participate in process that led to the recommendations. For example, Drs. R.P. Heaney and M.F. Holick stated:2

The IOM recommendations for vitamin D fail in a major way on logic, on science, and on effective public guidance. … We have deliberately avoided a mind-numbing laundry list of the vast number of factual inaccuracies and misinterpretations of the report. … For now, our recommendation to the American public is that the IOM report should be taken with a grain of salt (another nutrient the IOM finds risky).

vitamin D - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

In short, by following the IOM guidelines, many people will still not achieve adequate vitamin D levels [measured as 25(OH)D], which most labs set at 30-100 ng/mL. Some vitamin D researchers argue that 40 ng/mL should be considered the low end of normal, likely because many people do not achieve the bone protection effect of vitamin D until this level is achieved.2 My personal impression is that we should try to maintain a 25(OH)D level of at least 70 ng/mL.3

Adequate Levels, Toxicity and Other Considerations

To achieve adequate vitamin D levels, we must either get adequate sun exposure or take a vitamin D3 supplement. Unnecessary fear often enters a person’s mind when they consider how much supplemental vitamin D3 is safe. Dr. Heaney, whom I mentioned above, has explained that 10,000 IU/day should be the safe upper limit.4 I realize 10,000 may see like a lot, but that is because we typically think of supplementation in milligram (mg) or gram (g) amounts.

With this in mind, it should be understood that 40,000 IU of vitamin D3 is just 1 mg. In other words, 10,000 IU is just .25 mg or 250 mcg.

The IOM’s report states that “very high levels of vitamin D (above 10,000 IUs per day) are known to cause kidney and tissue damage.” In contrast, the DRI [Dietary Reference Intakes] book published by the IOM5 says 10,000-40,000 IU per day is the threshold for toxicity.5

It is important to understand that vitamin D toxicity cannot be determined based on how much vitamin D3 is taken on a daily basis; it is correlated to serum 25(OH)D levels. The IOM’s DRI book for vitamin D and calcium states that vitamin D toxicity is not identified until serum 25(OH)D reaches 200-240 ng/mL or higher. Based on this, you can see why it is foolish to worry about the supplemental dose of vitamin D3. Even worse, it is especially problematic that the IOM would suggest taking 10,000 IU/day causes kidney and tissue damage.

The, dare I say, sole focus related to vitamin D supplementation should be one’s 25(OH)D level. The minimum goal should be to reach at least 40 ng/mL, all the while knowing 100 ng/mL is within the normal range and signs of toxicity will not typically appear until at least 200 ng/mL is exceeded.

This means there should be zero emotion about taking vitamin D3 supplements. If you have normal serum 25(OH)D because you are in the sun a lot, then there is no need to supplement. Otherwise, your supplemental level should be tailored to keep your 25(OH)D at 40 ng/mL higher. This is why the RDA or RDI fails: for vitamin D, it is not about your intake, it is about achieving a proper 25(OH)D level.

Why Vitamin D Matters: A Profound Micronutrient

Here is why you should care about your 25(OH)D level. Vitamin D is involved in the modulation of more than 1,000 different genes. In particular, vitamin D modulates immune cell expression. A deficiency in vitamin D leads to an overproduction of pro-inflammatory Th1 cells and an underproduction of anti-inflammatory Th2 and T-regulatory cells. The outcome is an overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-1, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor; and an underproduction of IL-10, which is a key anti-inflammatory cytokine.3

The same shift to overproduce pro-inflammatory cytokines occurs when one lacks magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Obesity also leads to the same state of chronic inflammation. This should alert you to the reason why just supplementing with vitamin D to achieve normal levels may not relieve patients from pain, depression and other pro-inflammatory conditions.3 Studies that report about the ineffectiveness of vitamin D do not comment on the other nutritional factors that promote the same state of chronic inflammation as vitamin D deficiency.

My suggestion is to normalize the many pro-inflammatory markers that are easy to measure, of which vitamin D is just one. Lipids, glucose, body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio are other examples to take into account. Talk to your doctor for more information.3,6

References

  1. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Brief Report, November 2010.
  2. Heaney RP, Holick MF. Why the IOM recommendations for vitamin D are deficient. J Bone Miner Res, 2011;26:452-54.
  3. Seaman DR. The DeFlame Diet: DeFlame Your Diet, Body, and Mind. Wilmington, NC: Shadow Panther Press, 2016: p.p. 213-218.
  4. Hathcock JN, Shao A, Vieth R, Heaney RP. Risk assessment for vitamin D. Am J Clin Nutr, 2007;85(1):6-18.
  5. DRI Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium and Vitamin D. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2011.
  6. Seaman DR. Body mass index and musculoskeletal pain: is there a connection? Chiro Man Ther, 2013;21:15.

David Seaman, MS, DC, DACBN, is the author of Clinical Nutrition for Pain, Inflammation and Tissue Healing. He has a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, Conn., and lectures on nutrition for Anabolic Labs (www.anaboliclabs.com).

4 Ways to Keep Your Holidays Sane

To Your Health
December, 2016 (Vol. 10, Issue 12)

By Editorial Staff

As we’ve discussed several times already this year (and on an annual basis), the holidays bring not only the joy of the season, but unfortunately, their fair share of stress as well. Running through malls, organizing events, wrapping up end-of-year work details, and myriad other activities specific to the holiday season can take their toll on even the most calm, low-stress person.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

With the right attention to stress-reducing strategies, you can avoid the madness (or at least mitigate its impact on your quality of life) and keep your holidays sane. Here are four ways to do it:

1. Two for the Price of One: When you’re crumbling under the weight of an oppressive To-Do List you think you’ll never complete, multitasking can be your best friend. It all starts by organizing that list to group responsibilities / to-do’s that can be accomplished at the same time or in close proximity. Need to run to the mall for a few gifts, grab some lights for the tree and stop by the in-laws for dinner? Determine the best route to ensure you’re not running around town or consuming your entire day. Simple scheduling tactics can help, too: perhaps a holiday lunch can be switched to breakfast if you have other duties to attend to in the morning, so you can take care of everything in the a.m. and have your p.m. to enjoy, stress-free.

holiday shopping - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark

2. Stick to the Plan: Now is definitely not the time to stop exercising and eating right. You may think this is actually the perfect time to take a well-deserved break … but how will you feel? For most people, routine is a source of comfort and self-confidence, particularly when it involves how they look and feel. So stick to the plan that’s worked all year; your body and mind will thank you for it.

3. Rise and Shine: No, we’re not recommending you wake up early every day during the holiday season, although many people find getting up early and going to sleep at a reasonable hour is preferable to the other way around from a stress perspective. We’re actually talking about reducing your stress this time of year by getting things done early. No doubt you’ve got your fair share of things to do in addition to your “regular” daily responsibilities. One thing’s certain: If you leave things until the last minute, you’ll increase the likelihood that you won’t get everything done, and you’ll undoubtedly elevate your stress levels.

4. The More the Merrier: We’ll end today’s lesson with the one too many people completely overlook, not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year. A top cause of stress is feeling overwhelmed; thinking you have to get too much done all by yourself. But why? Unless you’re a hermit, you’re not alone, so rely on friends, family and loved ones – the very people whose company you should be enjoying and celebrating this season – to help with the kids, your shopping list, meal preparation, or just giving you an hour or two of peace and quiet. It’s a great way to keep stress at bay as the year winds down.